The Other History of the DC Universe #2
Writer: John Ridley
Pencils: Giuseppe Camuncoli,
Inks: Andrea Cucchi
Colors: Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Steve Wands
Publisher: DC Comics
Issue #2 focuses on Malcolm “Mal” Duncan and Karen Beecher-Duncan, an African-American couple that saw very little exposure and use since their debut over 40 years ago. As such you would be forgiven for not even knowing who these classic Black characters are. The issue also lives up to the title of the book a little more than its predecessor, as we look at not only the evolution of the now two Black narrators but the rise, fall, and iterations of the Teen Titans – DC’s prominent and premier teenaged superhero team comprised of fledgling youngsters, sidekicks, and protégés. As such, issue #2 acts as both a personal story and a historical account over the decades.
Since we have two narrators, it was important that they both sounded distinct. Accolades are in order for Ridley’s script once again, as both Mal and Karen feel unique and fleshed out individuals, even complex, down-to-earth people. Their unique voices and interplay is something one would expect from a couple who have been through the good times and the bad for the long haul. Mal, despite his heroic streak, is inherently timid, straight-laced, and reserved. But he opens up about his bottled frustrations in the book, often trying to gain the respect and adoration of his peers/colleagues. It is quite relatable how much we’re willing to take from others just to fit in or “be one of the guys”, and it rings so true for Mal who just wants to be recognized and appreciated. Karen, the issue’s co-pilot, on the other hand, is much more confident and straight-forward, the frank, tell-it-like-it-is empowered Black woman indicative of that era. So you can see why the two inevitable fell for each other.
Mal’s induction into the Teen Titans seems like a blessing, but soon turns into an emotional burden. Lacking in any super-powers or extraordinary talents, Mal is relegated to the token Black guy of the all-white team who does not go on missions nor has a codename, costume or mentor. He’s also berated by Roy Harper (Speedy – Green Arrow’s sidekick) to the point where you’d think the angst red-head (who turns out to be a “junkie”) is a closet racist. But Mal is not alone as Garth (Aqualad – Aquaman’s ward) is often lampooned for his “lame” power set and having to be hydrated every hour. The sections with the Teen Titans plays out like a behind-the-scenes tell-all book, making us remember these are unsupervised teenagers with gifts and abilities trying to be like their adult counterparts. Innate flaws and their immaturity led to their dissolution rather than one specific event or tragedy.
The overarching theme of issue #2 is the struggle for identity and self-image (whereas self-actualization was for issue # 1 with Black Lightning). Mal is always looking extrinsically for that answer from his teammates and others, reflected in his stubborn abuse by them and his near-constant sense of worthlessness. Mal has been through several canonical “identity crises”, which are put on display; from average Joe to the second “Guardian”, followed by “Hornblower” (seriously), then “Herald” to finally “Vox”. What I also appreciate is how Ridley does not shy away from the eye-rolling origins and events in the comics and uses them as historical facts and excellent narrative kindling. Without batting an eye, Mal recounts his near-death experience where he boxes the literal angel Azrael for his life and wins Gabriel’s supernatural ram’s horn. Or where Karen becomes so frustrated by the Teen Titans under-appreciating her bae she pretends to be a supervillain so Mal could get some attention from them. And those gaudy costumes.
Compared to the previous issue, the format, art, and execution remain ostensibly the same. Since you have two narrators, however, it is a bit more cluttered with text.
In the end, Mal learns the valuable lesson that self-worth and purpose have to come from within, and not from others, ending on the same somber note as the last issue. I also love how this issue touches on the real-world consequences of being a Black hero during that racially tumultuous era of the 70s, poignantly summarized in a quote “…what people of color already knew; when you fight the power it’s not a question if you can win, but how much you’ll lose in the trying”. I am hard-pressed to say which issue I like more as they are both excellently written and drawn. It may come to a personal preference, but I would not suggest getting one without the other.
Read the review for issue 1 here.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics, or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.