Monday, November 13, 2017

Teen Titans #26 (1970)


Teen Titans #26 (March-April, 1970)
"A Penny for a Black Star"
Script - Bob Kanigher
Art - Nick Cardy
Editor - Dick Giordano
Cover Price: $0.15

Welcome to a we-e-e-e-eird time for the Titanic Teens.  No longer acting on their own as a force for good, they now answer to the enigmatic Mister Jupiter!  Well, least that means we'll be getting some Lilith!

As you read along, keep the story title in the back of your mind... it turns out that it's a bit of a play on words.  Though, perhaps I'm just thinking too hard.

Let's get to it... and while we're at it, let's meet Vox, er... Guardian, um... Hornblower... ehhh, ya know, Mal Duncan!

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We open with the Teen Titans, though here they're dressed more like Challengers of the Unknown... or, with those collars maybe like the SuperFriends Wonder Twins.  They are being led through the darkness by a robot named Angel, before being sent through a string of death-traps!


The team emerges safely from the terrifying obstacle course, entering into Mr. Jupiter's strange office... through some holes in the wall.  Really don't like seeing a bunch of holes in a surface... makes my skin crawl.  Anyhoo, Mistuh J tells the Teens that they were never in any real peril, and informs them that they've all "passed".  The second-half of this assignment is to... well, that's for the kids to find out, it seems.  He hands them each a shiny penny, and sends them into Hell's Corner (which, I'm assuming is something like Hell's Kitchen... and I'll very likely use the terms interchangeably from this point forward!


The confused kids leave Mr. Jupiter's office, and try to wrap their heads around just what in the hell he expects from them.  Suddenly, Lilith pipes in with the idea that they use the penny to find... a black star!  Lilith, you're babbling again.  Turns out she briefly tuned-in to a psychic message... which, is kinda cheating.  Thought these "street clothes" Titans didn't use their powers... maybe Lilith doesn't count.


The Teens finally arrive in Hell's Corner... where they find a young girl selling cups of lemonade for... a penny each!  Well, ain't that a fine howdoyado?  The thirsty Titans all pony up their pennies... when they are descended upon by super-tough street gang... Hell's Hawks!


These geeks try to shake the poor girl down for a "kickback" of her profits.  I mean, c'mon guys... she's selling lemonade for a penny a pop!  Anyhoo, the Hell's Hawks proceed to kick over her lemonade stand, and knock the drinks out of the Titans' hands.  Wow, these guys mean business!  Hawk... that is, Hank Hall clenches his fists... until Dove reminds him of their secret shame.


Flashback time!  Ya see, last issue the Titans failed to save the life of the most important Peacenik on the planet Earth... Dr. Arthur Swenson.  Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination occurred just a couple of years earlier, and I would assume that this was DC's answer to it.  Anyhoo, it was after Swenson's passing that the Titans swore to never again wear their costumes... or use their powers.  Gotta wonder how somebody like Robin or Speedy "stop" using their powers.  I mean, Robin's just a smart acrobatic kid... and Speedy can fire arrows.  Is Speedy just never going to pick up a bow again?  This new status quo doesn't really take... which isn't really a surprise.


Back on the street, the Hell's Hawks go to grab the gals... and, get this... the frickin' Titans allow it!  Are you kidding me?  Wally actually holds Roy back from intervening because... they're "down".  Down with what, jackass?  Wonder Chick getting molested?  Well, to be fair... it also seems like Donna's down with it too... lest they act, and another Peacenik drops dead!  Remember the old saying, "Every time a Titans balls his fist... a peace-loving man dies!"


Well, luckily that doesn't apply to neighborhood do-gooders, like... hey, it's Mal Duncan!  It turns out that the lemonade girl is actually his little sister, Cindy!  He hops to and starts beating up the baddies.


The Titans, who are still standing their twiddling their thumbs realize... hey, if we don't step in, this Mal is gonna get bum rushed.  So, finally... we get some Titans fighting.  I counted about ten punches, which likely means ten Peaceniks just bought the farm.  When the dust settles, the Hell's Hawks have flown the coop... and Mal leaves with his sister.  Lilith suggests that they haven't seen the last of him.


Now, without their shiny pennies, the Titans realize they're going to need jobs!  Donna and Lilith break away to apply for a gig at a dress shop... and it turns out these groovy chicks are pretty good at slinging outfits.


Nearby, the fellas are approached by a coordinator for a local "boy's club"... like an after-school program to keep kids (boys and girls) off the streets.  He asks if they're willing to work long hours for crappy pay... and boy howdy, are they!


That evening, the Titans share a meal with the club coordinator... and Donna has her first taste of Soul Food... delicious!  The Titans learn that the next day will feature the club's big boxing matches... more on that in a bit.


That night, a brick-wrapped-in-a-note is hurled through the window of the boy's dorm.  It's a warning for them to go back where they came from... and threatens that perhaps next time, instead of a brick it'll be a Molotov Cocktail.


The next day is the day of the big boxing match... turns out this year's feature bout pits our new friend Mal Duncan against... Storm from the Hell's Hawks!  Now... okay.  We've got the Hell's Hawks, right?  Real no-good jerks... who would steal pennies from a little girl.  Now we learn that they hang out at the Community Center?  Wha--? 


Mal kayos the crud with the quickness... to a mixed reaction.


... and after the bout, the Titans save him from a beat-down in the locker room.  Looks like at least four more Peaceniks just bit the big one!


Donna suggests they celebrate Mal's victory with "a little rock"... didn't think crack-cocaine was really a thing back in 1970.  Okay, okay... she means the music.  Mal has a different idea... and so, he takes them to The Cool Cat Club for some smooth jazz and dancing.


While there, Mal engages in a little bit of projection... until Lilith asks if he's down for a dance.


While they shake-shake-shake, Wally suggests to Donna that they invite Mal to join their Mr. Jupiter brigade.  After all... they spent a penny, and found themselves a... ahem... black star.  Mal doesn't take to the invite right away, but comes around before the night is through.


He runs through the same death-defying obstacles that his new pals did, and passes with flying colors.  He's certainly earned his Challengers' leisure suit.  That night, after spurning Hawk's advances, he remains awake... wondering if he's made the right decision in joining up with these weirdos.  After all, he's just a kid from Hell's Corner.


Over the next few days, we get a bit more insight as to what Mr. Jupiter hopes to accomplish... and boy does it seem pointless.  He's planning to send an unmanned spaceship on a one-way trek to Venus.  Why?  Who knows.  Why does he need the Titans for this?  Again... who knows.  Mal gazes longingly at the spaceship as lift-off fast approaches.


The night before lift-off, Mal sneaks out of his dorm.  Lilith catches him in the act, but lets him go.  He heads toward the spaceship... but why?


The lift-off is set for the following day... and it's a success!  Well, until they learn that their unmanned ship is currently... ya know, manned.  Our man Mal reports in... saying he'll provide "human reactions" for Mr. Jupiter's data.  Which really doesn't sound as useful as he thinks.


We wrap up with the Titans promising to find a way to bring him back.  If only they lived in the same universe as Superman... oh, wait.


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Toldja it was a w-e-e-e-eird time for the Titans!

We've got a little bit to break down here.  This issue has the same cover month as the first iconic Green Lantern/Green Arrow "relevant" era book (April, 1970).  So many folks attribute DC's leap into social relevancy as a result of that O'Neil/Adams run.  Let's look to the Titans though... this issue (#26) deals with the fallout of a Peace Demonstrator being assassinated (in issue #25/February, 1970).  Could the Titans have been the super-secret-start of the "relevant era" for DC Comics?  We don't really hear about the Silver-Bronze Age Titans outside of "zany Haney" references... but, who knows?

Anyhoo... today we meet Mal Duncan... and he gets blasted to Venus his first time out.  This sort of reminds me of that EC Comic that was almost banned by the Comics Code Authority for featuring a black astronaut.  The Code would be relaxed about a year after this issue hits the stands (1971)... gotta wonder if DC got any odd flack from the CCA for this one.

It's also worth noting that Mal was sort of a "one and done" here.  Wonder if DC had to compromise with the CCA to even do the story to begin with!  Like, yeah... "we really want to introduce a black hero... but don't worry, he'll only be around for one issue."  Man, the early-CCA era was a strange (and awful) time.

The "threat" (if we can call them that) of the Hell's Hawks was as silly as it gets... literally stealing pennies from a little girl... and kicking over her milk-crate lemonade stand to boot!  Still find it hilarious that these menaces to society take part in the Community Center sports appreciation day.

I hinted at it during the synopsis... but it's really hard for me to muster up feelings of urgency for some of these stories.  Yeah, Mal's been blasted to Venus... maybe one day we'll see him again.  Or... or... or, maybe we call Superman and in about eight-seconds, we've got Mal back?  I dunno.  Guess maybe the street-clothes-Titans vow doesn't allow them to use anybody's powers?

Overall, this issue was a blast... had a great time with it, silliness and all!  Nick Cardy draws some absolutely beautiful faces here, and is always a treat.  Well worth checking... and has been collected in SHOWCASE Presents Teen Titans, Volume 2.  Give it a look and get relevant with the Titanic Teens!

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Letters Page (featuring Alan Brennert):


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