Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Early Black Comic Book Heroes: Mal Duncan (2/4)

After his introduction to the Teen Titans and the DC universe in Teen Titans 26 & 27, Mal Duncan wasn't again a main focus of a Titans story until issues 32 & 33, a time travel tale begun by Steve Skeates and completed by Bob Haney. Art in both issues was by Nick Cardy, with finishes on issue 33 by George Tuska, and features the first appearance of time-displaced Neanderthal caveman, Gnarrk. Issue 32, "A Mystical Realm, A World Gone Mad" (Mar-Apr 1971), begins with an outcome, and then flashes back through the events leading up to that point. Mal is accidentally transported back in time by a temporal experiment being conducted by Mr. Jupiter. Kid Flash travels back to the Paleolithic using the treadmill by means of which Flash had traveled in time, after Lilith's powers identify the time period he's trapped in. Mal, meanwhile, inadvertently gets roped into a life and death battle with a caveman over a girl. Kid Flash arrives in time to see Mal clinging to a cliff top, about to be finished off by the club of his Stone Age adversary. In saving Mal, Kid Flash is rendered unconscious, and the cave man falls to his death. When Kid Flash comes to, he and Mal realize that the caveman's death has altered the future, hence the early 1970s looks nothing like it's supposed to.

In this alternate 1970s, Mal and Kid Flash find its equivalent of Mr. Jupiter, here a sorcerer, and some Justice League heroes, as well as Lilith and Speedy. They are subjected to a test, after realizing that he is the source of the monster illusions they have been experiencing.

In issue 33 ("Less Than Human?", May-June 1971) we see that a ghost of the dead cave man is apparently behind that door. Passing the tests of Jupiterius gives them the chance to go back in time and correct the mistake they made when the cave man was killed. They succeed, and the alternate reality they had entered upon their first return from the Stone Age is replaced with their own. The 1970s are really back how they should be, with one exception...

...there's just a slight snag - the Neanderthal was holding on to Kid Flash as he returned to his own time, and now finds himself lost in the 1970s. Gnarrk, as he comes to be called, is thoroughly bewildered by his new environment, and lashes out such that Mal has to land a hay-maker on his jaw to quieten him.

So Mal is back where he started, and Gnarrk is now a feature of the 1970s. Readers would see Gnarrk develop a relationship with Lilith fairly quickly, although his adjustment to his future was overall quite traumatic for him. Note that in the last panel on p.7 of "Less Than Human?", there is a printing error with Mal's skin color, suggesting lack of familiarity, on the part of the staff concerned, with inclusion as a policy for the DC universe.

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