Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Early Black Comic Book Heroes: Mal Duncan (3/4)

In that early 70s transition period when DC were preparing to move from a 15c to 20c cover price, there's that spell where readers were treated to giant size 25c issues that also sported covers with a new look. Teen Titans 35 is one of those, and typically for the few issues around this point in the series, contains a story about an individual Teen Titan. In this case it's Mal Duncan, in "A Titan is Born" (Sept-Oct 1971). With art by George Tuska and Nick Cardy, this 7 page short story by Bob Haney has Mal faced by the escape from limbo of Dr. Victor Heller, alias Gargoyle. As we'd learned from Mal's previous appearances in the comic, he didn't feel completely ready to take on the mantle of being a Titan, but after successfully dealing with this threat, he experiences a kind of coming of age that boosts his self-efficacy and helps him accept his membership of the group. Note the stereotypical reference to limbo dancing, an Afro-Caribbean cultural item, which Mal appears to be preserving as part of his heritage. Unless his family moved to the USA from Trinidad or one of the other Caribbean nations, this makes little sense, unless he considers it part of a much broader African expression of culture.

The next detailed coverage of Mal as a character comes in Teen Titans 38 ("Through These Doors Pass the Bravest Titans of Them All", March-April 1972, art by Tuska and Cardy, story by Bob Haney), which features Wonder Girl, Robin, Mal, and Lilith, and involves Mr. Jupiter's version of a hypnotherapy session. Disguised as a balloon seller, he induces a hallucinatory 'trip' in the minds of Donna, Dick, and Mal, in which they confront their secret fears. In Mal's case he suffers from a kind of agoraphobia, that originated in his childhood when he was chased and beaten up by a white gang in an open space in the city where buildings had been demolished. I have to say that some of these panels have a very Colanesque feel to them. It's almost as if the combination of Tuska and Cardy looks like what I imagine Gene Colan inked by Murphy Anderson would look like.

Similar stuff happens to Robin and Wonder Girl, and they all meet up back at Mr. Jupiter's lab, looking for answers.

Jupiter reveals that he was the balloon seller, and this whole thing was his way of helping the Titans overcome their fears.

Teen Titans 41 again features Mal prominently, in a ghost story, "What Lies in Litchburg Graveyard" (Sept-Oct 1972), that takes readers back to the terrible days of slavery. Art is by Art Saaf and Nick Cardy, with story again penned by Bob Haney. What Mr. Jupiter had failed to tell the Titans until now was that he had an African American aunt, who was born in slavery, escaping north with her father on the Underground Railroad. Jupiter's aunt Hattie is very old and dying, so he's taken some of the Titans with him to visit her for the last time at the family home.

I'm unable to find any academic reference to 'moojum dolls', so it may have been something concocted for this story by Bob Haney. It could be a combination of something like a voodoo doll and a Hopi kachina doll. Thanks to stereotyping in the Judeo-Christian majority world view in America, Africans have been associated with superstitious following of pagan belief systems, and those belief systems themselves have been stereotyped in a derisive manner. So there's the danger of a bit of negative stereotyping creeping into this story, unless we can give equal respect to traditional African/Native American world views, which actually seems to be the tack taken by Haney. On the other hand, there's the assumption that all slaves brought from Africa followed traditional African belief systems, but of course vast numbers of the people brought against their will from Africa were Muslims. Anyway, back to the story, and Mal being haunted by the ghost of the slave catcher who was chasing Jupiter's aunt's father, Ned Jackson, back in the day, but was killed, we discover, by the moojum doll given to Hattie by a shaman when she was a little girl. The ghost thinks Mal is Hattie's father, due to the uncanny resemblance between the two. Hattie knew that the only way to put the ghost to rest once and for all was for him to re-experience his death at the hands of the moojum. First the ghost attacks Mal in his sleep...

...but then there's a running battle in the world of the living, which ends with the moojum doll intervening and taking the slave catcher's ghost to his final demise.

The first series of Teen Titans was approaching a hiatus, with issue 43 being the last before a break of nearly 4 years. Teen Titans returned to publication in December of 1976, still with Mal Duncan, and as we shall see in the fourth and final post in this series about Mal Duncan on Out Of This World, there were efforts to make his identity a little more 'super'.


The recent and untimely passing away of African American comic writer, Dwayne McDuffie, has been covered by a couple of blogs that I follow, and you can read about him here:

Has Boobs, Reads Comics
Black Superhero Fan
The Comic Book Catacombs

And for the remains of Dwayne's own website and Facebook page:

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