Back in December, I wrote about the departure of Dick Giordano from his position as an editor at DC Comics. Giordano’s last day on staff at the publisher appears to have been November 4, 1970 — but, since the processes involved in producing periodical comic books don’t stop (or start) on a dime, the fruits of his stewardship would continue to appear in the titles he’d supervised for another few months, even after he was no longer the editor of record. The same principle had of course applied at the beginning of his tenure at DC; and thus, just as Giordano’s first issue of Teen Titans (#15, May-Jun., 1968) had featured a story almost certainly procured by his predecessor, George Kashdan, the first issue edited by his successor, Murray Boltinoff, would present a tale that had actually been written and drawn under Giordano’s direction.
Well, mostly written and drawn under Giordano’s direction. While the story in Teen Titans #32 is solely credited to writer Steve Skeates and artist Nick Cardy, its actual provenance is… rather more complicated.
Discussing his time as Titans writer in an interview published in Alter Ego #84 (March, 2009), Skeates had this to say:
I became (supposedly) the full-time writer of that book starting with issue #28… I continued scripting the Teen Titans adventures through the first 14 pages of issue 32, losing this assignment due to Dick Giordano’s departure from his DC editorial position, the book then being given to Murray Boltinoff, who adroitly decided he’d much rather work with Bob Haney than with me, Haney actually scripting those last nine pages of issue 32.
This mid-issue shift in authorship isn’t something I had the faintest suspicion about as a thirteen-year-old reader in January, 1971 — though, re-reading the story a half century later, I’m inclined to think that maybe I should have. But let’s take a look at the book together, and you see what you think.
“Well, we sure got out of that mess in time. Now what?” Skeates begins his story in medias res — almost aggressively so, you might say, as it’s virtually impossible to read Mal’s opening line of dialogue and not worry that you’ve missed something, somewhere, even if you’re a faithful Teen Titans fan (circa 1971) who’s never missed an issue.
Cardy, who at this time had either pencilled, inked, or (as in this instance) done full art chores on practically every Titans issue to date, seems to be enjoying himself considerably with the story’s “trippy” opening sequence. Indeed, Cardy will prove to be in exceptional form throughout the story, turning in some of the most innovative layouts and assured rendering of his career (in my opinion, anyway).
Luckily, Kid Flash is able to speed both himself and Mal into a nearby cave before the dragon can make a meal of them:
Just in case you’re coming in late… Mr. Jupiter (described in Teen Titans #25 as “the richest man in the world“) is the team’s current adult mentor, having taken them in under his wing following their failure to prevent the killing of a Nobel Prize-winning peace activist, and then enlisting them for his “secret training project”, designed to prepare today’s youth to cope with the problems of tomorrow. To the best of my knowledge, this story is the first to clearly state that Jupiter is himself a scientist, rather than merely an immensely wealthy dude with access to advanced technology.
There was nowhere for Mal to run, but things weren’t actually all that bad — because, having seen him suddenly pop into view out of thin air, the Neanderthals concluded that he was a god.
Meanwhile, back in the prehistoric era, Mal was hanging out around his newfound worshipers’ cave dwellings, pondering his next move…
Lilith’s psychic “impressions of cavemen” really don’t seem like very much to go on — but hey, Kid Flash is the time traveler around here, not me.
As the scene shifts back to Mal, Cardy gives us a lovely wordless page…
…followed by another which cleverly plays with panel borders to emphasize the sheerness and precariousness of the cliff:
At this point, I’d like to call your attention to the fact that we’ve now reached page 13, and also to remind you that Steve Skeates, by his own account, wrote only the first fourteen pages of this story as published. Assuming the writer’s memory was accurate when he gave his Alter Ego interview, a transition to Bob Haney’s scripting should be imminent…
For the record, Skeates has said he doesn’t remember exactly how he himself originally planned to end the story, though he believes it probably would not have continued into the next issue — unlike Haney’s version, as we’ll discover anon.
I may be wrong about this, but the dialogue in the top tier of three panels on page 15 “feels” to me more like Skeates’ writing than it does Haney’s. The last panel might be by Skeates, but I’m inclined to think it’s Haney’s.
And by the time we get to page 16, I have no doubt that we’ve moved completely into Haney country.* The patter-like rhythms of both the narrative caption and the dialogue on this page are very much in the vein of Haney’s writing for Teen Titans in the George Kashdan days:
And then there’s the sudden propensity of both Mal and “Flasher” to reference the fact of their different racial identities — something we didn’t see at all before page 15, but encounter twice within two pages once Haney takes over.
To wit, note the following exchange which occurs as our two young heroes attempt to vault over the moat, using poles they’ve fashioned from saplings growing nearby:
The scene introducing Jupiterius’ “vassals” in the Hall of Judgment was my favorite thing in Teen Titans #32 when I first read it in 1971, and has remained vivid in my mind for half a century. It was therefore a little disconcerting to learn, as I did only recently, that it wasn’t actually the idea of the writer whose name is in the comic’s credits — Steve Skeates — but was rather a notion of Bob Haney’s.
OK… so these incarnations of four of my favorite Justice Leaguers appear to be jerks. But back in the decades before Elseworlds, alternate versions of DC’s heroes (especially cool medieval knight-like ones) were damn hard to come by, so we took what we could get, alright? And besides, Cardy’s armor designs were, and are, delightful (though his incorporation of literal American flag imagery into “Superman’s” armor is somewhat curious).
Things get a little confusing here, at least so far as your humble blogger is concerned. If these doppelgängers of Speedy and Lilith are alternate-timeline versions of the real deals, why aren’t they dressed in medieval-fantasy style a la Jupiterius and the “Judgement” Leaguers? Have their outfits been conjured up by the wizard out of our heroes’ heads, just to mess with them? The use of the word “parodies” could be taken as implying that they’re magical constructs rather than “real people”, but that word is used to describe the “counterparts of our world’s big super-daddies” as well. Somehow, I suspect I may be giving this whole setup more thought than Bob Haney (or his editor, Murray Boltinoff) ever did…
What’s waiting beyond that door? Like the caption says, we readers of 1971 would have to wait until the next bi-monthly issue of Teen Titans , published on March 18, 1971, for the answer to that and other important questions, such as: How will our heroes ever set time aright and find their way home? not to mention, How the hell did Kid Flash ever make that shot? And so, I must ask you to wait as well, faithful readers, until sometime in March, 2021, when we’ll all take a nice, long look at Teen Titans #33.
In the “Tell It to the Titans” letters column for TT #32, new editor Murray Boltinoff fielded a couple of questions from new-ish readers wondering who Lilith and Mr. Jupiter were. After advising that he was referring these questions to writer Bob Haney (kind of curious, since Haney had not handled either character prior to this very issue, which was of course credited only to Skeates), the editor gave a brief run-down of the writer’s credits, and then added:
A couple of issues later, in the lettercol for Teen Titans #34 (Jul.-Aug., 1971), reader Jeff Haskins of Fairview, NJ expressed some concerns at the wording of that announcement, stating, “I would like to know if ‘reclaiming the Titans past glories’ means a return to camp. The recent changes made in TEEN TITANS were for the sake of relevancy and realism, and brought the Titans up to a more sophisticated level… They have grown up, as you may realize, and for the past two years have steadily progressed to an elite group of teen-age heroes–no camp, no ‘hip talk’ and no ‘monsters.'”
Boltinoff’s reply read, in part:
As for relevancy and realism, which brought the Titans up to a more sophisticated level, as you put it, we’re all for it… Certainly, we want to be realistic because we, like you, consider the Titans to be living, breathing heroes, but whether the plot is relevant in terms of our present-day economic or socio-systems is something we can’t offer consistently without alienating the majority of our loyal fans whose sole purpose in plunking down 15c is not to be preached to but to be entertained.
I have no idea whether or not this response mollified Mr. Haskins, but at least one other interested party continued to have grave doubts about Bob Haney’s ability to build on the work that previous writers had done under Dick Giordano’s editorship to bring Teen Titans “up to a more sophisticated level”. His name was Steve Skeates.
Skeates’ status at DC had become somewhat uncertain in the months following his losing his Teen Titans gig. He had originally come to the publisher in 1968, following Giordano over from Charlton, and virtually all of his work for DC through 1970 had been done for his old boss. With Giordano’s return to the freelance world, however, assignments became harder to come by. Eventually, Skeates would develop a good working relationship with editor Joe Orlando, becoming a regular contributor to the latter’s “mystery” anthologies, as well as other titles; but in the earliest post-Giordano days, the DC editor most likely to send work the writer’s way was Julius Schwartz. Along with running several Skeates-scripted “Kid Flash” stories as backups in Flash, Schwartz also accepted a couple of the writer’s scripts for World’s Finest Comics, which had recently adopted a format that saw Superman teaming with a different DC hero every issue. Skeates’ first such story appeared in World’s Finest #203 (June, 1971), and featured Aquaman — a character whose book he’d written for almost three years, from issue #40 up to its recent cancellation with #56. His second, reasonably enough, featured another set of characters with whom the writer was already quite familiar — the Teen Titans.
“The Computer That Captured a Town!”, illustrated by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella, appeared in World’s Finest #205 (Sept., 1971). As the story opens, five Titans — Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Lilith, and Mal — have inexplicably taken up residence in a small town called Fairfield. Our first glimpse of their new lives is a scene in which the three male heroes catch a man robbing a grocery store and give him a savage beatdown, ignoring his protestations that he was desperate to feed his starving family. Then, after they’ve finished meting out this rough brand of “justice”…
Whoa, what’s going on here? Why are Kid Flash and Speedy suddenly behaving like racists, while Mal has somehow turned into a racist stereotype?
And as for the boys’ teammates…
… what’s caused both of them to start acting like a sexist stereotype of empty-headed, boy-crazy teenage girls?
Fortunately for our obviously mind-altered Titans, even though they’re not consciously aware that anything is wrong, unconsciously it’s a different story; at least it is for Lilith, who sends out a psychic S.O.S.,which is received by Superman. The Man of Steel flies to the scene, only to have the young heroes assure him everything’s fine; observing their behavior, however, he’s sure that’s not the case:
Eventually, the Man of Steel discovers that an alien computer located in a cave outside town is responsible for the trouble. Several years earlier, this computer — which Supes surmises fell to Earth by accident — was discovered by a Fairfield citizen named, you guessed it, Richard Handley. The computer sucked the thoughts right out of Handley’s head, killing him in the process, and proceeded to bombard the entire area with “mesmerizing rays”, which altered the consciousnesses of the townspeople to conform to Handley’s ideas of how things should be. The Titans became caught in the computer’s trap after being sent to Fairfield by Mr. Jupiter to, as Speedy puts it, “find out what small towns are like!” (Um, sure.) After defeating a fire-breathing dragon conjured up by the alien machine, Superman smashes the device to bits, restoring the town, and the Titans, to normalcy.
In the two-page debriefing session which concludes the story, Superman tells the Titans that the late Mr. Handley obviously “had many firm ideas about how the world should be run…”
Handley was apparently also a “law-and-order freak” (in Kiid Flash’s words) and an “ego-maniac” (per Mal). But, hey, at least he loved his town!
That was Steve Skeates’ final Teen Titans story. And, as you’ve likely gathered by my giving it such extensive treatment in this post, it expressed Skeates’ opinion about the team’s new direction under Bob Haney and Murray Boltinoff by means that might not be immediately evident.
As the writer explained to Glenn Cadigan in an interview conducted for the latter’s book, Titans Companion (TwoMorrows, 2005):
The guy in the story that influences the Titans, Richard Handley by name, represents Bob Haney, and I was playing around with my attitude toward the type of Titans Haney used to write and [had] started writing again, which was very different from mine. I thought he was transforming them into teeny-boppers, and so given this opportunity to write one more Teen Titans story, I thought I’d make fun of that.
The writer elaborated on his motivations in the Alter Ego #84 interview quoted earlier, referring to how, in his view, Haney and Boltinoff’s takeover of Teen Titans “put the kibosh to the thoughtful coming-of-age teens Dick had been busy (with the help of [Robert] Kanigher and myself, among others) transforming those kids into (in an attempt to be one with the tempo of the times, to be a part of that crazed all-consuming youth culture of the ’70s) — a giant step backwards then, seeing as (in more than merely my own opinion) Haney had a tendency to treat these characters like some sad silly batch of brainless teenyboppers…”
Skeates’ characterization of Haney’s Titans as “some sad silly batch of brainless teenyboppers” may be at least partially justified, based on how Haney had written the teen heroes for the first four years of the feature’s existence. But depicting them as racist? Sexist? Mercilessly brutal to minor offenders? Those character flaws work in the context of the World’s Finest story as a satirical commentary on how “the good old days” of small-town America weren’t really all that good, at least not for everyone. But as a parody of Haney’s Titans — and, by implication, a statement about “Handley”/Haney’s personal values — they fall not only wide of the mark, but seem patently unfair to the older writer. Speaking as someone who definitely preferred Skeates’ Titans to Haney’s back in the day — and still does — I wish the younger writer had resisted the temptation to “get even” with his predecessor/successor in this way.
Ironically, in the same month that World’s Finest #205 came out — July, 1971 — the lettercol of Teen Titans #35 featured a lengthy address to the book’s readers by Haney, himself, defending his approach. After delivering his response to some queries about the way he’d resolved issue #32’s alternate reality crisis in the pages of #33 (don’t worry, we’ll cover all that stuff in March), the writer moves on to a more general statement of principles:
The tone and intent of future Titan issues? As originator and sole scripter of TT for some years, I feel I can speak with some authority. We are not giving the Titans teeny bopper qualities… A book, like a man, cannot be all things to all readers. We’ll try to strike a balance of action, human interest, and themes that today’s teens can relate to.
Hip dialogue? I plead guilty. Some readers say teenagers don’t speak that way. Personally, I know many who do, including my own two and their friends. It depends on where you live and your life-style. Besides, a team of kids living in a fantastic lab with a genius mentor, wearing costumes, and having bizarre adventures can hardly be expected to speak Middle America Teenese. No put-down on anybody!
Finally, in taking over a book, literally in the middle of an issue (#32), with a new editor, was no easy task. I apologize for rough spots. unexplained lapses, or such — and ask all old, loyal Titan fans to hang in there. Right On!
Say whatever else you want to about Bob Haney — he wasn’t shy about sticking up for himself, was he?
For the record, I didn’t actually see this manifesto when it was originally published. That’s because the last issue of Teen Titans I purchased was #34, which had been released in May. While I don’t recall ever making a conscious decision to drop the book — certainly, I never had a moment where I went, “Gee, the Titans sure are a bunch of brainless teenyboppers now. Guess I’m done here.” — for whatever reason, following #34’s Gothic-tinged “The Demon of Dog Island”, I didn’t pick up another issue of Titans for the rest of the series’ run. Perhaps I was turned off by Haney’s “hip dialogue”, or by other aspects of his writing on the title; this late in the game, all I can do is speculate.
Obviously, though, I wasn’t the only reader who grew disaffected with Teen Titans in the Boltinoff-Haney era; eighteen months after I bought my last issue, the book was gone, cancelled with issue #43 (Jan.-Feb., 1973). Of course, one can’t assume that the book would have run longer had it continued to be edited by Giordano and written by Skeates; the Seventies were a challenging decade for mainstream comics in general, and Teen Titans was but one of many DC titles that met its end in the early years of that decade. Still, the incontrovertible fact remains that the Titans’ demise occurred on Boltinoff and Haney’s watch, rather than their predecessors’.
But enough of this postmortem, at least for now. We still have one more issue of Teen Titans to discuss before the blog bids the book farewell — so make plans to join us in March, when we’ll finally find out how Kid Flash and Mal get themselves out of that medieval mess we (and Bob Haney) left them in at the end of issue #32.
*UPDATE, Jan. 24, 2021: Since the above was posted, your humble blogger has received new information regarding Steve Skeates’ original plans for Teen Titans #32… and beyond! Evidently, Skeates hadn’t intended to wrap up his storyline by the end of the issue, after all. Rather, he’d planned for a trilogy, which would have found Mal and Wally pulled into a full-fledged adventure in the alternate world created by their time-tampering — an adventure which wouldn’t have included medieval-fantasy analogues of the JLA, but would have featured fully-realized versions of their fellow Titans in that mode, as well as a wizardly take on Mr. Jupiter fairly close to the Haney version. Skeates’ story would also have included a literal encounter between the two reality-displaced Titans and the tentacled menace featured on Nick Cardy’s cover, which obviously would have made that cover decidedly more representative of the issue’s contents than it turned out to be for TT #32 as published.
Also, for what it’s worth, the transition from Skeates’ writing to Haney’s in the published version takes place exactly where I’d guessed, in the middle of page 15, as indicated by this page from Skeates’ original script:
I have to say, the differences in style and tone between Mal’s original dialogue for the last panel, in which he explains his very good reasons for not wanting Kid Flash to carry him, and his published lines referencing “the fuzz” and “hungry ghetto kids” seem pretty… stark. Even more than I’d imagined, frankly.
Unfortunately, I still can’t tell you how Steve Skeates would have ended his story, given a chance — because the last few pages of his script for issue #34 (!) remain missing. Ah, to come so close… and still be so far away.
(Many thanks to Mark Waid for sharing this material with me, so that I in turn could share it with you.)