The Teen Titans Project, Part IV: The “Joker’s Daughter” Years (1976-1979)

 “They’re back at last!”  At least that’s what DC proclaimed on the cover of Teen Titans #44 (Nov. 1976).  After a three-year hiatus, the Teen Titans were back in costume and back on the newsstands. 

The late ‘70s saw a slight resurgence for superheroes and DC tested the renewed interest with the return of an old title, the Teen Titans.  Paul Levitz and Bob Rozakis wrote the first issue together before Rozakis took the lead for the rest of the run.  Pablo Marcos provided art for the comeback issue, before making way for a rotating cast of artists that included Irv Novick, Jose Delbo and Don Heck. 

This time around, Teen Titans would be a straight-ahead superhero title.  They put their costumes back on and weren’t afraid to use their powers.  Even Mal Duncan got a costume and a codename.  Just as importantly, they squared off against a line-up of supervillains for the first time in their history.  Dr. Light led off but he was followed by The Fiddler in issue #46, Two-Face (#48) and Captain Calamity (#50-52). 

Bob Rozakis clearly modeled his version of the Teen Titans on Stan Lee’s work at Marvel Comics.  The Titans squabbled with each other, just like the Fantastic Four.  The team itself was in constant flux.  Members were joining or leaving in almost every issue, kind of like the Avengers.  Individual heroes went through multiple costumes and codenames, similar to Hank Pym’s journey from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket.  They changed headquarters not once, but twice.  Rozakis planted subplots for several issues before allowing them to blossom.  The story progressed from issue to issue, with a clear continuity despite the constantly shifting status quo.  He even introduced the first three-issue tale in Titans history in issues #50 through 52. 

Unfortunately, Rozakis’ Marvel approach comes across as derivative.  It’s a decent mimicry, but it pales in comparison to the real thing.  The squabbles between Titans are forced.  The early rivalry between Speedy and Mal is particularly egregious and seems racially tinged in retrospect.  Their change of heart to become best friends is then all-too-sudden and equally forced.  In addition, Rozakis’ Marvel-ous aspirations feel dated.  He’s aping Marvel comics that are a decade old, while Marvel itself is moving forward with a new generation of writers and artists like Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, John Byrne and George Perez. 

The problems of this era are exemplified in – and often identified with – two characters: the Joker’s Daughter and Mal Duncan.  Mal Duncan joined the Titans in 1970 during their relevance era.  Rozakis dropped Lilith, the other relevance character, but he kept Mal.  However, the old Mal didn’t exactly fit the new straight-ahead superhero approach.  Rozakis smartly made that a plot point.  He had Mal don the Guardian costume from the old Golden Age hero.  Then, in issue #45, the angel Gabriel gave Mal a horn with special powers.  Mal didn’t have a consistent costume or codename but at least he had a gadget.  Regrettably, the powers for Gabriel’s horn weren’t clearly defined.  Again, Rozakis uses that as a plot point and has Mal admit that he doesn’t know what it can do.  However, Rozakis never gets around to defining those powers for the reader.  They seem to change depending on the story and Gabriel’s horn becomes a deus ex machina.  Rozakis also abandons the initial limitation that Mal would die if he ever loses a fight.  Mal loses plenty of fights in subsequent issues without dying.  He eventually loses the horn before finally putting the Guardian costume back on. 

The Joker’s Daughter is equally problematic.  Robin introduces her to the rest of the team in issue #46 and she promptly joins up.  Over in the Batman titles, she had recently learned that she wasn’t the Joker’s child after all, but the daughter of Harvey Dent.  She therefore abandons the inappropriate moniker.  However, she struggles to come up with a new name.  The Titans don’t know what to call her, and neither do the readers.  She eventually settles on The Harlequin, but it’s too late.  The name might not be permanent, but the confusion is.  It doesn’t help that she continues to use the Joker’s shtick as Two-Face’s Daughter. 

The continual changes for Mal Duncan and the Joker’s Daughter are supposed to be story points- part of their character arcs.  Unfortunately, the indecisiveness of the characters feels like indecisiveness on the part of the storyteller.  It seems wishy-washy instead of carefully planned. 

That isn’t to say that this era is entirely bad.  The relevance era worked well on occasion in individual issues but didn’t hold up as a continuous run.  The Rozakis era has the opposite issue.  When I first read these issues out of order, the randomness of the character arcs was intensified.  But when I read them again in order, I could better understand what he was trying to accomplish -- even though I don’t think he successfully pulled if off.

More importantly, Rozakis demonstrated that the Titans could work as a straightforward superhero title -- something that had rarely been tried in their history.  Later writers would take ideas introduced in this era and make them work.  Dr. Light would become a major thorn in the side of the Titans for years to come.  The Teen Titans West, introduced in the multi-part story in issue #50 to 52 would become the precursor to numerous other superhero franchises, from the West Coast Avengers to Justice League Europe.  Even Mal Duncan and the Bumblebee would get new life in the Teen Titans cartoon, with well-defined powers and interesting costumes for both.  In a way, the Rozakis run was a successful failure.  It only lasted ten issues from 1976 to ’78 (plus a final guest appearance in the Brave and the Bold #149 in 1979) but it laid the groundwork for a more successful future. 

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Enjoy the latest installment of my Teen Titans project.  I'll be taking a bit of a break before part V.  I'll be on vacation for a couple of weeks and then I have some other things I want to write about, but I definitely plan to get to the Wolfman-Perez years.  That's one of the main reasons for doing this, after all. 

Have fun! Happy Anniversary, by the way!

Thanks, Baron!

As corny as it sounds, I had no choice but to buy this book when I saw it on the newsstand! So many heroes!

 I never had a problem with Mal as the New Guardian. In fact, it was probably his best role. Nor did I dislike Bumblebee. I thought the two had a lot of potential.

The Golden Eagle was an almost forgotten bit of JLA/Hawkman history, now back with a loveable loser person.

Beast Boy returns, though he still becomes animals with green faces but he has a high profile job!

Hawk & Dove leave their 1960s milieu and enter the Disco '70s!

Lilith and Gnarrk are still together as one of comics' weirdest couples!

But I never thought that they would bring back the original Bat-Girl! I knew about her from the old  80-Page Giants and I believed that was where she would stay.

As I said, I LOVED this book!

For what it's worth, Duela Dent always knew that she was Two-Face's daughter, she just created the Joker's Daughter persona to tick him off, since he'd been feuding with the Joker in the Bat-books at that time.  During her run in Batman Family, she served as Robin's entire rogue's gallery for a while, as she was also Catgirl, Penguin's Daughter, Riddler's Daughter & Scarecrone.  When Robin finally deduced that she was really Two-Face's offspring, we got the big reveal that she'd been fighting Robin in these various guises as an audition for membership in the Teen Titans.  So naturally, she joined the TT as Joker's Daughter (continuing her goal of bugging her father) until the other members pointed out that the name was just too cumbersome for frequent usage.

Duela Dent had another identity. She went undercover as the Card Queen to help Robin stop M.A.Z.E. (I think). They figured that Two-Face's daughter would make an excellent agent but naturally she was a double-agent!

They also gave Robin his own super-villain for a while, a flying nemesis called....the Raven!

I once read an article about this era of The New Teen Titans in which Len Wein said the book was canceled this time out of sheer embarrassment over how terrible it was.

I almost mentioned the Card Queen, if only to express my surprise that she never claimed to be the daughter of Amos Fortune, founder of the Royal Flush Gang.  If I recall correctly, the Raven only showed up after Duela joined the TT, thus leaving Robin with no other recurring foes.  I really liked Duela a lot, and I really wish that someone had been willing and able to do something to live up to her potential.  And I really disliked Wolfman's dismissal of her, but not because of what it did to her--since Dick Grayson had figured out her true identity on his own, as opposed to her having just claimed to be Two-Face's daughter with him going along with it, having him take several years to realize that she was too old to be who she said she was pretty much destroyed Robin's credibility as a detective!

Philip Portelli said:

Duela Dent had another identity. She went undercover as the Card Queen to help Robin stop M.A.Z.E. (I think). They figured that Two-Face's daughter would make an excellent agent but naturally she was a double-agent!

They also gave Robin his own super-villain for a while, a flying nemesis called....the Raven!

This was the incarnation of the Titans I was introduced to -- in the last few issues, featuring Captain Calamity and Mr. ESPer. 

But I have to say. of the bunch the one I like best is the retelling of the Titans origin in the final issue, #53. I thought that was a lot of fun, and handled the generation gap with the JLAers well.

Lilith was a relevance character?

@Philip: eh, I had never noticed the coincidence of names. This Raven was of course very much unlike the 1980s character. :)

This batch of Titans stories was oddly compelling. I liked the dynamics, although it was rough on the edges. Some interesting ideas ended up in need of better handling, particularly Bumblebee's introduction. She somehow just convinced herself that she could beat the Teen Titans all by herself in order to prove a point, and she turned out to be right (about beating them, not about the point), yet there is no good reason for her to think so. She has no powers, no privileged access to items. We actually see her sewing her costume at one point, but it is never explained why she is so certain of her combat prowess. And while her motivation sort of makes sense, her behavior is reckless and odd at first, then it settles down so fast as to give one whiplash.

Mal's Horn was an intriguing idea as well, but it really needed better definition, and the concept had shortcomings that were indeed sort of glossed over.

It wasn't really that long a gap between this batch and Wolfman's, come to think of it. One wonders how close an eye he kept to this run at publication time.

Wolfman's history at Marvel and DC is interesting. He was actually Editor-in-Chief for a brief, troubled transition period at Marvel in late 1975 and early 1976. In a way Marvel and the Titans had something in common at this point in time: they wanted to acknowledge their origins while also hoping to transcend them and sort of had to learn how to by doing it.

During the mid-to-late 1970s Marv Wolfman was writing a lot of things for Marvel: Daredevil, Spider-Woman, Nova, Dracula, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, even Howard the Duck. Dracula stood out the most, for it was so unlike his other books and IMO so much more succesfull. But by 1979 it was nearing its end and Wolfman probably felt a bit frustrated by the climate at Marvel. Jumping ship to DC was an interesting, surprising choice.

As Teen Titans #50-52 were Beast Boy's only '70s appearance, they may have inspired Marv Wolfman to use the character in New Teen Titans as he was never a true member of the team nor close to Robin, Kid Flash or Wonder Girl.

In fact, as Changeling, he was usually grouped with the new characters of Cyborg, Raven and Starfire, an association that continues to this day!

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