Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Worst Black Heroes Ever! Mal Duncan

From Banana Oil: Circa 2005

Mal Duncan Mal "MAL!" Duncan: The Forgotten Teen Titan!
Long before Cyborg, Beast Boy or even Pantha, the Teen Titans hired their first person of color. The plucky sidekicks club first encountered him in Teen Titans #26, where he was confronting a street gang all by his lonesome in the tough neighborhood of "Hell's Corner," Anytown, USA. Impressed by his blackness and streetwiseness, the Titans invited him to join the team, despite the fact that he had no powers, no costume, and no superhero name.

{above: Mal displays his power of no-self-esteem-having} Mostly, Mal (superhero name: Mal) just stood by while the Titans did things, wearing an orange jumpsuit and occasionally providing much-needed exposition. Soon afterward the Titans adopted a hippie chick and an unfrozen caveman. By then Mal's duties had shifted to watching over headquarters, and he seriously considered changing his superhero name to The Janitor. The Teen Titans briefly returned from cancellation in 1977. By this time heroes like the Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Black Lightning had gained popularity, and this led DC to conclude that maybe Mal should be more of an actual superhero and less of a token black guy in a jumpsuit.

{above: Teen Titans #44, 1977...Mal's first try at being superheroic probably led to "Identity Crisis" #1-8} It was decided that Speedy, aka Roy Harper, would now be revealed as the nephew of one of DC's third-string golden agers: Jim Harper, aka The Guardian. For the flimsiest of reasons, i.e., Speedy somehow having the Guardian's old suit in his closet, Mal Duncan decided to embark on a career as the new Guardian. This career lasted one issue, as Julie Schwartz was reported to have said "what the fuck are you guys doing?" and so the time had come for yet another identity for Mal. In Teen Titans #45, someone claiming to be the archangel Gabriel gave Mal some sort of enchanted bugle, and so began the legend of Hornblower.

{above: Teen Titans #47, and note that Mal is always credited as "Mal!" on the covers. It's like they were ashamed to call him "Hornblower" or something} For the following year, Mal switched between the guises of Hornblower (until his horn was stolen; oddly, nobody tried very hard to find it again), The Guardian (now The Golden Guardian), and "Mal!" This led to very little confusion, since nobody was reading Teen Titans anyway, and the comic mercifully ended with #53, but not before Mal's girlfriend started dressing up as a giant bee. But that's another story.

{above: Mal, seen here as Herald, the post-Crisis version of Hornblower. Yes, someone at DC actually thought "Herald" would be a less embarrassing name} These days, Mal! only gets trotted out for anniversary issues and Titan weddings or funerals. But his years of exemplary service have made him a glorious asterisk in the annals of Titans history. There have been other lame black heroes, but no one was as lame as long and in as many different ways as Mal Duncan.


Anonymous said...

Well...Everything you wrote was largely true. The good folks of the time just couldn't bring themselves to back their "good intentions" with actual effort so "Mal Duncan" just lingered in backgrounds and sidelines for his "career". Still I'd give some credit that he didn't get called on to "die from the team".

Unknown said...

I'd go so far as to say they tried to back it up with action but in Mal's case, there's only ever so much one could do.