by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
Now: where were we, before being so rudely interrupted...?
Oh. Right. Really Geeky and Awful Comics.
It's all coming back to me, now.
"A Mystical Realm, A World Gone Mad" [TEEN TITANS #32; March, 1971; Steve Skeates, author; Nick Cardy, artist] stands alone -- head and shoulders; towering -- as the single lamest and most staggeringly inept TITANS story ever published, from their very first SHOWCASE appearance to the present day...
... which -- when you stop to consider that said canon also includes such notorious lame-o offerings as the first appearance of the villainous "Ding-Dong Daddy" and the wretched fiction entitled "A Killer Called HoneyBun" -- certainly is quite the impressive little achievement, isn't it...?
The story opens up right smack-dab in the middle of things, with Kid Flash (carrying [then-]recent Titans inductee Mal Duncan in hyper-
accelerative tow) rocketing his way through the time barrier from an as-yet-unspecified collaborative adventure of some sort.
"Well," Mal offers, by way of storytelling preamble. "We sure got out of that mess in time! Now what?"
"Simple," Kid Flash replies (still just a-speedin' away). "I just stop vibrating, and we whiz right back to the 1970's! Hang on! Here we GO!"
As it turns out, however: the '70's are an even uglier decade than any of us might have dared remember, as amply demonstrated by the rather large-ish Big, Green Scaly Monster which promptly attempts to devour our pinheaded pair, upon their emerging from the swirls and colors of the DC timestream and well into corporeal substantiality once more.
"If this is the 1970's," Mal sagaciously observes; "... they sure have changed a lot since I last saw them!" The little smartass.
"You can say that again," Kid Flash replies; and -- if only for the briefest, most illusory of moments -- it looks as if writer Skeates is about to surrender all to the sultry, siren allure of aged and decrepit vaudevillian humor.
Tragically, however: said gentleman had far bigger, stinkier meta- fictive fish to fry.
You see: the reason both Mal and Kid Flash are jointly be-bopping their clueless way through the tunnels of temporia in the first place is that the former had managed, earlier, to blunder his way (in a scene not entirely unreminiscent of the "Lucy-and-Ethel-manning-the-assembly-
line" episode of I LOVE LUCY) into the midst of a super-duper-tip-top-
secret experiment being conducted by the Titans' (then-) adult mentor and resident moneybags, Mr. Jupiter.
Quicker'n you can say "idiot plot device," the hapless Mal is unceremoniously sucked into a gaping temporal anomaly roughly the size of George Wendt's refrigerator... and (with no more fair warning than that): we're off to the races.
Mal finds himself standing, dazed and alone, on a high, windswept patch o' mountainous terrain... and (with no more clues or indicators than that, mind) immediately makes the following cognitive standing broad jump: "Good God! That machine Jupiter was working on! It had something to do with time!"
(Writer Skeates often underwent similarly absurd storytelling contortions, throughout his TITANS tenure, in the thankless [and never ending] quest to rationalize and/or justify why the anything-but- "super" Mal was sharing the same mailing address as the likes of [say] Kid Flash and Wonder Girl. Whereas this was [certainly] a laudable enough goal, racial inclusion-wise... it had the unfortunate [and, doubtless, unintentional] effect of rendering Mal a sort of one-man "Plot Exposition" Teammate, rattling off increasingly lengthy strings of who/what/when/ where and why, ; the team's resident P.E.T., in other words.) [*rimshot*]
Anyhoo: whether achieved via painstaking, Mycroft Holmes-like ratiocination or else merely One Damned Lucky Guess, Mal's working theory is quickly elevated to the status of virtual certainty by the sudden Stage Left entrance of Barney Rubble's ugly half-brother and his assorted beer cronies.
"ULP! Neanderthals!" Mal thinks to himself. "Guess that answers that question! I've gotta get outta here!" (... and go... like... where, dude? Someplace where it isn't the latter part of the Stone Age, locally? Geeeeeeeez -- !)
The unwashed and hirsute cave dwellers, for their part, are all peering intently at the nervous Mal and (doubtless) thinking one of the following:
A.) [dubiously] "... I dunno, Trogg... don't look like no baby brontosaurus I've ever seen; that's for dang sure! You go ahead and take the first bite, dude."
B.) "Yew shore do got a real purdy mouth, stranger. Yup... a reeeeeeal purdy mouth... "
C.) [staring fixedly at Mal's boots] "Jeezus Christ, Herbie... check it out! The poor bastard was born without any freakin' toes -- !"
D.) "Good hips. Will bear many strong children. Karrg wants her."
E.) [resignedly] "Oh, great. There goes the bloody neighborhood...!"
"Then again," Mal observes; "... they don't look like they're planning to attack... or anything like that! They're almost bowing toward me! Look almost reverent! Could it be that they suddenly saw me appear out of thin air -- and -- ?"
... annnnnnnnnnnd: yup. It's venerable Comic Book Cliché #287, in action: "Any 20th century individual who happens to appear in front of a large group of cavemen shall immediately be worshipped; adored; fawned over; and made much of, in direct inverse proportion to their actual knowledge and/or abilities." [See panel reproduction, below]
"Yup!" Mal enthuses inwardly, impressing the assembled troglodytes mightily by demonstrating his native ability to hold his hands together over his head. "They think I'm a god, all right!"
Not even a TEEN TITANS scribe of the era in question could possibly follow up on that with a perfectly straight face... so: it's back to the present day, at this point, where Mal's teammates and adult mentor are sifting through the smoke and rubble of their ruined laboratory in frenzied, futile search of their vanished friend and comrade (or at least some recognizable piece of him, at any rate).
"No sign of him!" a mournful Speedy intones. "Do... do you think he could have been -- ?"
"No!" Kid Flash asserts, decisively. "He wasn't completely transformed into energy... if that's what you're thinking!" (... and you know this for a stone fact how again, O Mister Junior Rocket Scientist, sir...?)
(For that matter: who in their right mind would even leap to such a hopelessly bizarre assumption in the first friggin' place? I mean... have you ever turned on the evening news and listened as your local blow-dried talking head solemnly informed the viewing audience: "There was a massive explosion at the Red Devil Fireworks Factory this afternoon, completely demolishing said site. Several employees are still listed among the missing, as of this hour. Policemen on the scene refused to comment as to whether or not said vanished individuals had been completely transformed into energy or not"...?)
"How can I call myself a scientist?" Mr. Jupiter hammily emotes, sensing an all-but-certain Eisner Award nomination in the offing if he plays his dramatic "cards" right. "I should have known better than to experiment with something this unstable with you kids around! It was complete irresponsibility!" (Mind, now: he's making this particular mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in front of confirmed junkie Roy [Speedy] Harper and future sex maniac Wally [Kid Flash] West. I'm just sayin', is all.)
... annnnnnnd: speaking of uncontrollable sexual urges, our time- tossed Mr. Duncan is also finding himself to be naught but Passion's Plaything, as one of the local cavegirls is busily lobbing some none-too-subtle "come hither" looks his way.
(... and -- incidentally -- check this out: said prehistoric poopsie is cleanly and completely shaven of leg; sports far less simian-like facial features than those of her male counterparts; and has [apparently] made a few early, crucial flint-age discoveries, re: the creation and application of baseline Max Factor products! Boyohboy... site regulars Carmen and Louise are just gonna have themselves a bloody field day with this one, by golly -- !)
"Looks like she wants to hold hands with me, or something!" the ever-intuitive Mal deduces, given such subtle, tell-tale clues as (f'rinstance) the fact that Miss November, 70 Million B.C. is kneeling before him, all submissive and dewey-eyed.
(What do you suppose a prehistoric Playmate's mandatory bio sheet would read like, anyway? "TURN-ONS: Long, romantic strolls through the tar pits; gnawing my way through a mastodon's lower intestine; opposable thumbs. TURN-OFFS: Sabre-tooth tigers; Being KaBonked on the head by some neanderthal and dragged by my hair into his cave; men who say 'Yabba-Dabba-DOO!' at odd and/or inopportune moments. MAJOR GOALS IN LIFE: children; evolution; not being mauled and messily devoured by roving packs of large, blood-crazed velociraptors.")
"Don't really know what holding hands means to these people," Mal muses. "But... I guess it won't hurt!"
Apparently, however: "what holding hands means to these people" is the prehistoric equivalent of Paul McCartney yodeling "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?" circa THE WHITE ALBUM, because one of the resident cave studs takes immediate and extreme exception to same.
Said disapproval takes the form of The First Recorded Instance of a Can O'WhupAss Being Opened, as the loinclothed lothairo proceeds to pretty much kick a frantically backpedaling Mal's hinder all over the place, really...
... and: after being unceremoniously clubbed and drubbed like a playground pigskin for the better part of a page or three, Mal (eventually) finds himself clinging for dear life from the lip of a rocky precipice, staring up into the red, piggish eyes of a seriously torqued-off Yarrgh, Son of Blarrgh (or whatever).
This scene might well have been our first real bit of dramatic tension, thus far -- and as soon as Page Twelve, mind! Fancy that! -- had author Skeates not (stupidly) already punctured that particular meta-fictive balloon by bloody showing us, back on Page One, that Kid Flash had already effected said rescue, courtesy of the ubiquitous "Cosmic Treadmill" of FLASH lore. (And: if a frog had wings, he wouldn't bruise his buns a-hoppin'.)
Instead, things take an extremely odd storytelling "turn" when the normally competent Kid Flash -- demonstrating a hitherto long unsuspected gift for broad, physical comedy -- ends up knocking himself unconscious with the very club he slaps out of the irate troglodyte's meaty, upraised paw (!!).
This, in turn, occasions a sudden, brutal battle to the death between Early Dawn Man and The Earth's Gravitational Field; a set-to which -- while very nearly an interesting one -- ends both predictably and off-panel. (Never a pretty storytelling combination, really.)
Upon regaining whatever he's been utilizing in place of consciousness throughout this story, Kid Flash's first words are a pained, desperate: "Th-that caveman! Going over the cliff! I've got to -- !"
"Take it easy," an eerily phlegmatic Mal counsels. "You've been out for quite awhile! He hit bottom long ago!" (Mal, you see, was the caring, sensitive Titan.)
This brings us full circle, of course, back to our time-tossed Titans; huddled together in a cavern, waiting out the big, hungry dragon-thingie from Page One. (In other words: we've all been "treated" to what is -- essentially -- a thirteen-page-long teaser. TThe real story -- pale, blind and crawling thing that it is -- hasn't even started yet, really.)
Not to worry, however: in lieu of genuine plot, Mr. Skeates has spared no expense in importing great, heaping gobloads of the finest, high grade Expository Comics Gobbledygook that money can buy. So: it wasn't fifteen cents completely wasted, then.
"That caveman who got killed!" Kid Flash explains to his uncomprehending teammate. "That's why we've ended up in this crazy world -- instead of the world we knew! [...] If we hadn't been there, he [the fallen caveman] wouldn't have died! We altered the course of history!"
(... and -- somewhere; upon hearing those words -- Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov spin like dreidels in their respective graves.)
(I mean: one caveman kicks off a week or two earlier than he probably woulda, otherwise... and we get an Earth populated by dragons -- ?!? Oooooooookay.)
(The indica of this comic informs us that the editor in question was one "Murray Boltinoff." And I certainly hope he enjoyed his little two-week vacation that year.)
Resolved, therefore, to journey back yet again to that precise historical moment when two accredited, card-carrying members of one of DC's flagship superteams managed to screw up all of recorded human history... a grim Kid Flash points out that: "... only trouble is, I'm not sure I can get back without the treadmill! Also, Flash warned me if I meet myself in the past [sic], I could be destroyed! I've got to time-trip accurately -- hit that past moment right on the old tick-tock!"
"I dig," that crazy, happenin' Mal replies. "But that means we need help -- special help! Where do we find that... in this place?"
(It seems, at this point, that Kid Flash and Mal require the services of either: a.) a writer; or b.) old Jay Ward character "Mr. Peabody," and his Wayback Machine. Note, if you will, that one is just about as likely to surface unannounced, at this late date, as the other.)
(Actually: I'd be willing to grant you slightly better odds on the talking dog with the glasses and the bow tie.)
Mal and Kid Flash espy a castle in the distance, and set out towards it on the grounds that the residents therein (in the latter teen's own words; I kid you not): "... they could be scientists! And they might know something about time travel! It's a long shot, but still -- !"
As the opening caption on the very next page so breathlessly informs us: "Castle looming! Castle sinister! Titans two; Titans brave -- a primitive life; a world themselves to save! Poetry -- but: it tells it like it is!"
Just makes you wanna dig your own eyes out with a spoon, doesn't it...?
As the pair approaches the castle, they are confronted by a snarling, ravening horde of various and sundry beasties; occasioning, in turn, the following observation on the part of Mal Duncan:
"Wally, like the old honky saying... have I gone white with fear... 'cause I'm really scared, man!?" [sic. sic, sic, sick]
"No, Mal," Kid Flash responds -- resisting the perfectly understandable urge, at this juncture, to inquire as to whether and/or when his former Titans teammate had been temporally replaced by radio comedian Jack Benny's old sidekick, "Rochester" -- "black is still beautiful on you, buddy!"
(DC Comics, you see -- and TITANS scribe Skeates, in particular -- lived in mortal dread, back in the day, that the readers would somehow just... well... forget that Mal Duncan was an African-American, unless said point was piledriven home a bare minimum of three or four times per issue. In the vast majority of instances -- such as the one shown here; and the ones you'll be seeing a little later on, as well -- said "reminders" were as heavy-handed [and deeply offensive] as would have been scenes in which Mal evinced a fondness for fried chicken and watermelon; or a propensity for "natural rhythm." Just so nobody coming across these things for the very first time is caught completely flatfooted and unawares, is all.)
"Place like that has to have a magic-maker," Mal opines; "... like ghetto flats always come with rats!" (See what I mean...?) "But how do we get across that moat -- ?"
Without inflicting any more damage or psychic trauma upon my readers than I have already by detailing their eventual stratagem -- oh, all right; they pole-vaulted over the beasties and into the castle proper. Happy, now? -- we'll jump ahead to the scene in whicch the two Titans confront the owner of said keep: a moons-and-stars-robed Mr. Jupiter!
Calling himself "Jupiterus" [*snicker*] in this cock-eyed reality, the grim mage escorts our heroes into "The Hall of Judgment," where they meet... they meet...
... well: just see for yourselves, kiddies.
For me: it's a toss-up which one's the absolute goofiest-looking of the lot, quite frankly. (Although -- that being said -- anyone whose costume involves a giant boar's head in any capacity probably has more than a decent head start on the nearest competition. I'm just sayin', really.)
"Noble lords," Jupiterus inquires of the four extras from Monty Python and the Holy Grail assembled before him. "These youths have come seeking my mystic aid! Should they gain it so easily -- or earn it so hard?"
"NO! NO!" the freaky foursome all bellow in unison, pounding their massive fists against the table. "THE TEST! PUT THEM TO THE TEST! THE TEST! THE TEST!" (Boy... some "Super-Friends," huh...?)
"Aye," the Knight of the Bat rasps. "In the test lies truth!"
"The test separates the men from the boys," adds the Duke of the Galaxies, helpfully. (Why, O why do I suspect that -- in this castle, at any rate -- the men are generally separated from the boys with a crowbar...?)
"The test -- because we command it!" an imperious Lord of the Lightning insists.
"I'm wearing the hollowed-out head of a friggin' pig," the Thane of the Bow sums up. "I can't even see where I'm walkin' half the time! I crashed into three walls just getting into the room! I @#$%ing hate everybody, awright? Grease the @#$%ing little nancyboys!"
(No, no; he didn't really. Unca Cheeks is just tired, is all.)
Well: with "The Test" proving to be quite the little capacity crowd-
pleaser, Jupiterus waves his silly arms a few times; mumbles something under his breath which sounds suspiciously like "Ooo-Eee, Ooo-Ahh-Aah, Bing-Bang, Walla-Walla-Bing-Bang" --
... and: Titans Speedy and Lilith are ala-kazammed into the room!
But not really. These are, you see, merely two more of this alternate reality's quasi-heroic doppelgangers, if you will: "Trueshot" and "Cerebella," to be precise.
"You, varlet in scarlet," Jupiterus informs Kid Flash, "will face Trueshot in an archery contest! The target -- the keyhole of yon door!"
Trueshot takes the first... ummmmm, shot; and scores big time, placing his shaft smack-dab dead center within the aforementioned keyhole. (Probably thinking of his world's version of Donna Troy, all the while.)
"We're shut out -- zeroed -- SUCKERED, Flasher!" Mal cheerleads, helpfully. "Why shoot? You can't hit a blocked bull's-eye? And if you luck it in -- it's still a tie!"
The Teen Tornado takes his shot, nonetheless, and -- believe it or don't; at this point, I'm way, way too drunk to care -- manages not only to cleave Trueshot's arrow with his own, but puts enough "spin" on his shaft to cause it to turn itself in the lock... opening the door, and revealing --
-- revealing --
Please gather up your things before making your way into the adjoining auditorium. The management will not be held responsible for any giant boar heads left in your seats or on the floor. Thank you.
Okay. All of that stuff you read about on the previous page for this entry? The stuff with the impossibly stacked cavewenches; the have-I-gone-white-with-fear? dialogue; the tres cheesy Justice League of America knock-offs; and suchlike...?
That was the good part of this tawdry little two-issue tale.
From this point forward: things really get lame in a great, galumphing hurry.
For one thing: we have an entirely new writer and artist for Part Two (previous penciler Nick Cardy having, apparently, decided that some things simply can't be justified by paycheck alone; and prior scenarist Steve Skeates -- one hopes and prays -- having had his typewriter slagged into molten ingots, just on general principles).
"Less Than Human?" (TEEN TITANS #33; May, 1971; Bob Haney, scripter; George Tuska, penciler) provide something of a mixed blessing, replacement-wise: the former being a more lucid plotter (and possessing a marginally better ear for dialogue) than his immediate predecessor; and the latter being one sharp, vertiginous step downward from the underappreciated Mr. Cardy. So: you pays your money, and you takes your chances.
In any event: upon Kid Flash having bested Trueshot's true shot with the bow and arrow -- for which no lucid explanation is eveer offered, by the by; if Kid Flash (say) used his super-speed to move invisibly and "rig" the contest in his favor, no such mention exists in either issue -- the mysterious door swings open, and reveals --
"Oh, God, Wally!" a terrified Mal shrills. "It's... him! The caveman whose death we caused! I'd know that club and gunman's walk even in my nightmares!"
(You will all kindly bear it to mind: I did say "a marginally better ear for dialogue.")
(... he recognizes the club...?)
"Wally!" Mal shrieks. "I... I can't stick it... got to run... if I'm able...!"
"Stand your ground, Mal!" Kid Flash orders him. (Which -- given that he's the one with the honest-to-Gardner-Fox super-powers in this little tag-team combo -- certainly does come across as rather mean- spirited and bullying, doesn't it...?)
His partner's inspiring, Dale Carnegie-ish exhortations notwithstanding, however: Mal bolts like a panicky palomino, launching himself in the general direction of the aforementioned JLA wannabes of this patently ridiculous otherwhere; and yanks the Superman clone's helmet right off his pointed little head in a single, frenzied lunge.
"THE ARRANT KNAVE -- HE'S FILCHED THE HELMET OF THE DUKE OF THE GALAXIES!" the pseudo-Batman shouts, in a line I'll betcha five bucks the estimable Mr. Haney never so much as dreamed he'd ever be forced to pen for his meager pay, back in the days of his beardless youth.
"THIS CALLS FOR AN EXECUTION!" the boar-headed dinkwater bellows. "LET ME KNOTCH A KILLING SHAFT!" (... yeah, yeah... I gotcher "killing shaft" right here, doofus. Does your mom know you went out and killed "Babe" for that dopey-lookin' hat of yours, incidentally...?)
As it turns out, however: Mal has the right idea, after all. The lumbering, skeletal caveman is -- in actual point of fact -- nothing but an illusion, cast by the sorceress "Cerebella" (nee Lilith); and placing the cast-iron helmet over his own noggin allowed Mal to "block out" her fear-
inducing witchery. (... and never mind how, precisely, the powerless Titan knew that this scheme was a viable one. Writer Haney wants out of this silly faux "Elseworlds" riff very nearly as badly as we do, at this point; he has his own thoroughly rotten story to tell. Any train that takes you where you're going is a good train, ultimately.)
"You have passed the tests!" Jupiterus announces (and rather sulkily, if you were to inquire of moi). "As a reward, I shall aid you to return to your world! Follow me... to the Well of Time!"
("The Hall of Judgment." "The Well of Time." Blamed near everything in this cockamamie world has a fancy-shmancy title of one sort or another, really. Jupiterus is probably wearing "The Shorts of Bermuda," underneath those funky robes of his.) (God alone knows what they call toilet paper, in this dopey dimension. I'm just sayin'...)
Jupiterus offers each of our heroes some chunks of water from the aforementioned Well -- that's right; I said chunks. The actual water, you see, is solid. Or frozen. (Look... I just work here, all right...?) -- and counsels them to the effect that: "... your journey to time past will last only as long as the crystals in your mouths."
"Okay," Kid Flash assents, popping the stuff into his mouth. "I'll try anything once!"
"Likewise, soul brother!" Mal agrees, doing the same. (Have I mentioned, by the way, that Mal Duncan is black...?)
"A funny tingling on two Titan tongues," the next caption provides, with an accompanying mental image I spent a good many years attempting to banish from my consciousness; "... a whirling, warm rush of blackness... and then -- !"
... and then, Kid Flash and Mal get a second chance at taking down a completely powerless opponent, between the two of 'em, without performing any miscellaneous atrocities upon the time-space continuum in so doing. (Doesn't actually sound all that damned impressive when you put it that way, does it...?)
What happens next is very definitely a classic instance of the old "Good News/Bad News" riff. The good news is: Mal is rescued without Wally turning any stray Cro-Magnons into prehistoric pizza; and manage to find their combined way back to their proper time and place, to boot.
The bad news, however...
... they (inadvertently) brought a dinner guest along.
Rather less overcome with the simple pleasure of no longer being big-"D" Dead than one might otherwise consider the norm, the ticked- off troglodyte proceeds to pretty much hammer and wail on everyone and everything in plain sight, until the resourceful Speedy -- in true heroic fashion -- inflicts some mild skull trauma by caving said opponent's head in from behind. With the world's biggest socket wrench, no less. "Titans TOGETHER -- !!"
"I never hit anything -- anyone that hard!" a huffing Speedy confesses, hunched over his shaggy victim du jour. (Well, geez... I should bloody hope he hasn't, anyway!) "Is he alive...?"
No thanks to the team's resident Boy Bowman: the answer is an affirmative one. (Good thing, too; otherwise, we'd all be right back where we bloody started, story-wise. With people wearing dead pigs on their heads, and whatnot. "There, but for the grace of TruValue Hardware...")
After hearing the particulars of their recent temporal shenanigans, an incredulous Mr. Jupiter responds with: "Fantastic story!" [AUTHOR'S NOTE: boy... is he ever easily impressed...!] "But this is quite a situation -- a pre-history Homo Sapiens, trapped here... and I've no way to send him back to his own time!"
"I'm reluctant to fool around with time travel anymore... it's too risky!" the team's adult mentor (and part-time Mad Scientist) continues. "This cage, for apes whose behavior I was studying, will keep him from attacking us!" Plus -- as an extra "side benefit -- it makes it that much harder for "Captain Dime Bag" to whack at him with any stray tire irons which may happen to be laying about the lab. So: it's a real "win-win" scenario, you see.
"What do we do with him now?" the ever-practical Wonder Girl... ummmm... wonders. "We just can't keep him caged like an animal!" To which the other Titans respond (Pick One):
A.) "... but... but we always keep Roy in that cell, Donna! It's his special pla -- oh. Oh, wait. You meant... oh. Okay. Right. Yeah. Gotcha."
B.) "Hey! I've got an absolutely gear and ginchy idea, fellow teensters! Let's dress him up in some real hip glad rags and make a rock'n'rollin' teen singing idol out of our fabulous frekazoid, here! It'd be... like... the ultimate utmost!" [NOTE: don't laugh; had this story seen print but a scant two or three years earlier...]
C.) "Ohhhhh... I dunno... a few throw pillows... maybe some curtains, over there... I'm thinking: 'fixer-upper.' "
D.) "Why is she licking her lips, anyway, fellahs? I -- Donna! Stop rubbing yourself up against the bars like that! Donna! GRAB HER, somebody -- !"
E.) "You're absolutely right. Let's just eat him, instead."
None of the above-referenced possibilities, however, are any sillier, really, than what the Titans do settle upon as a course of action: attempting to civilize their hirsute houseguest, in order that he might "fit in" with the rest of American civilization, circa 1971 (!!).
"[The] next day" (sayeth the accompanying caption), the Titans are startled by the sudden appearance on the scene of founding member Robin, the Boy Wonder -- complete with an armload of various and sundry textbooks.
"Robin-Bobbin!" a stunned Wonder Girl exclaims. (... and -- if it were me gadding about in those trademarked "shorty-shorts" -- I'd make it my personal business to throttle the life out of anyone who called me that, by God.)
"Okay team," the Boy Wonder instructs his fellow Titans. "Our baby's 17 years old, according to bio-correlates from the computer print-out! We haven't got all that time to build his personality... but just days... weeks..."
... and then -- as if in sudden afterthought: "What's his name?"
"GNARRK!" the caged savage snarls, by way of uncomprehending reply.
"Narc -- ?!?" a shrilly-bleating Speedy panicss, diving headlong behind the nearest sofa and curling up into a fetal positi --
... oh, all right. I'll lay off the poor s.o.b. for the remainder of this article. Solemn word of honor. (You Roy Harper fans are so gosh-darned touchy all the time. What're you, on heroin or something...?)
Having thus been ingloriously christened, the Titans' ambulatory "homework assignment" gets to experience the simple, everyday pleasures of 20th Century living: being forcibly sedated by tranquilizer darts; groomed and shaven, while unconscious, in accordance with the airy personal whims of two part-time super-heroines; and having one of these breathlessly coo such studiedly embarrassing and imbecilic things in his ear as: "He's beautiful... like some sleeping young god, waiting for the awakening of a new age -- his own Age of Aquarius!"
The young cave-strippling's initial reaction to his total fashion make-over, however, upon awakening -- only to discover that he now most closely resembles a peculiarly musclebound "Maynard G. Krebbs" (THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS); complete with turtleneck and oversized sandals (!) -- is to take out his violent frustrations on: a.) his mirror; and b.) an unsuspecting Lilith, in that order.
"Stop!" the team's resident telepath commands her panicked Titans. "Don't do a thing... he's not going to hurt me!"
"YOU CRAZY MYSTIC!" Speedy shouts -- casting his eyes about, frantically, for some tell-tale sign of a stray claw hammer; or lug wrench; or what-have-you -- "He'd kill his own brother oveer a bone!"
It seems, however, that the infuriatingly placid precog is spot-on, in this particular... for Gnarrk's confused thoughts are as follow (and I want you all should brace yourselves for this one):
"Why is my hair short? Hair is a man's strength in my tribe! Would you want me to be like a weak woman?"
(Apparently, the women of Gnarrk's long-ago tribe all ran about the veldt and plains in military-style "buzz-cuts," you see. Otherwise: your guess is certainly as good as mine.)
"We did not take all your hair," Lilith responds, telepathically. "In our tribe, a young man can be brave with a smooth face! No one mistakes you for a woman, Gnarrk!" (At least, no one who hasn't ever seen the Russian Women's Olympic Weight-Lifting Team, at any rate.)
Well... once that's all been settled, then: the Titans escort Gnarrk (who is becoming steadily more fixated and dependent upon Lilith; who, in turn, is breathing a whole lot more heavily, of late, and taken to wearing tight-fitting t-shirts bearing the words "Yabba-Dabba-DO ME!" in large, friendly red letters) on his first public "outting," a few days later.
After intemperately forcing his size fifty-six fist through the grille of a nearby Chevvy (he thought it was an animal, you see; yup... a bright, blue, shiny animal) and being frightened out of his simple, stoneaged gourd by the sight of an elevated train... Gnarrk bolts like a big, mesomorphic bunny.
The Titans split up and comb the city for their missing prehistoric playmate... but it is (you're all way ahead of me here, aren't you?) the empathic, ready-to-rhumba Lilith who manages to track him down: quivering and cowering in a grimy alleyway, and blubering like the big sissy "Pebbles" Flintsone he truly is.
We cut, shortly thereafter, to a scene re: the Titans HQ, in which a solicitous (and panting) Lilith is spoon-feeding (!!) Gnarrk some ice cream, while the oblivious Robin observes: "Tears, eh, Lilith? A good sign! His fixation on you as a mother figure, plus such human emotions, show he's developing!"
"Man," Mal mutters, snidely. "You sound like the medical shrinks who could explain everything about the ghetto, except -- why?"
[TITANS "FUN FACT": Did you know that long-time TEEN TITANS member Mal Duncan was -- in fact -- black? That's right: B-L-A-C-K! Go ahead and impress your fellow TITANS buffs with this amazing and informative bit of comics trivia -- !]
Before Robin can respond by impressing his fellow Titans with one of his patented, Batman-like deductions ("Wally... Donna... Roy: I've been observing Mal's behavior and reactions closely, these past few weeks... and: I. Think. He. May. Very. Well. Be. Black."), Lilith interjects with:
"Both of you cool it! Gnarrk's sending ESP again! Something that happened while he was lost!" And then: "Like... wow!"
(It is Unca Cheeks' understanding -- based upon various e-mails received; plus careful scrutinization of the many and sundry comics- oriented message boards -- that some of you, out there, consider yourselves to be "Lilith fans." If such is, in fact, the case: shame. SHAME.)
What happened, apparently, was this: the (then-)terrified Gnarrk -- whilst gathering his primordial wits and seeking lonely solace, hours agone, by dangling, ape-like, from an exposed steel girder at a nearby construction site -- overheard evidence of massive (if unspecified) "white collar" criminal undertakings betwixt a city councilman by the name of "Buckminster" and an unidentified rogue.
"From now on," councilman Buckminster informs his underling, "I give only verbal orders... nothing written or phoned... all pay-offs in cash!" (I never stated or inplied that the councilman was a particularly intelligent criminal, mind. I mean: wouldn't you think the very last thing in the world a politician-turned-fledgling-ganglord would want would be having all of his lowly "street" minions seeing his [comparatively] famous face in the first place...?)
(For that matter: how does Gnarrk even know that what he heard and saw was illegal to begin with, anyway? This is, you'll recall, someone who genuinely believes that cars eat people.)
" 'Santa Claus'," Mal fumes, pounding a fist into his open palm. "The mysterious Big Daddy of all the ghetto rackets!" ("Mysterious"...? C'mon; the guy has a nickname like Santa Claus, f'cryinoutloud! He's probably just a big, lovable teddy bear -- !)
"That creep's gotta pay for wrecking the lives of so many soul brothers," Mal concludes. (Why do I suddenly feel as if I were transcribing dialogue from the collected cinematic oeuvre of Richard Roundtree, here...?) ("They say that cat Mal Duncan is a baaaaad muthaah -- "; "SHUT YO' MOUTH!"; "... but I'm talkin' 'bout Mal!"; "... and we can dig it!")
"Only one answer," a grim Robin observes. "We've got to make Gnarrk a creditable [courtroom] witness! Really put our baby through a cram course!"
The following pages detail the Titans' near-obsessive efforts in service of precisely such a stratagem, by means of such educational devices as (f'rinstance; and, no, I'm not making this up) having the various team members walk around the room holding huge signs reading "Wally," "Donna" and "Roy." (... although... geez... if the big sap doesn't even know their names, after all this time...)
Throughout the endless days and nights of grueling, mind-crunching study which follow ("Okay, Gnarrk: and the seventeenth principal export of Rhode Island...?" "AAAAAIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE -- !!" "No... no, that's not quite it, actually..."), Lilith arranges for little "breaks" involving just the two of them, strolling hand-in-hand through the city streets. Seeing how amazingly well that worked out the last time and all, I mean.
An attempt is made on Gnark's life during one of said perambulations, via a car-tossed pipe bomb (foiled -- just in the very nick -- by Lilith's precognitive abilities); and the jungle juror begins to "backslide," both confidence- and intellect-wise.
The nurturing and solicitous Lilith takes matters (among other things) into her own hands, at this point; and -- leaving only a brief note for the benefit of her fellow Titans -- hightails both herself and the nervous neanderthal in the general direction of Parts Unknown.
"Blast her and her mother complex!" an uncharacteristically angry Robin emotes. "We've got to find them -- the trial's only two days off!"
"Find them?" Kid Flash blurts, nonplussed. "Where? Lilith herself often disappears for days, and we never know where!" And, then (helpfully): "She's part witch, you know." (Yeah, yeah... and this makes her different from every other woman on the planet precisely how, again...?)
Meanwhile: in a trailer parked near the outskirts of town (woo-woo!), Lilith and her beetle-browed beau are effecting a meeting of true minds. (... and -- amazingly enough! -- neither one has to stoop all that far to meet the other halfway!)
"What... you do... Lil-uth...?" Gnarrk inquires, reasonably. (Translation: "Are you a professional model, by any chance? An actress, mayhap? If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me...?")
"Your horoscope," the flame-tressed femme replies. (Translation: "Me... engaged... in stupid... 'New Age'-y... horse poopie.") "But it's difficult to trace how the stars were aligned when you were born." (Translation: "This... not even... close... to being... real... science.") "Maybe your palm will tell me." (Translation: "Gimme... all... of your... hot... monkey... loooooovve... bay-bee.")
"Your hand," Lilith purrs, holding his meaty paw in her daintier own and all but licking the blamed thing. "So strong... yet so vulnerable!"
"Don't read... Gnarrk's hand... Lil-uth," the Homo Erectus heartbreaker implores her. "Read... my... brain!" (I'm just guessing here, mind... but: I'm thinking "Big Little Book," in this instance. Maybe -- maybe -- Where the Wild Things Are. Or possibly just Go, Dog, Go!)
Lilith -- sensing, in her peculiarly empathic way, that she probably won't be needing CliffNotes for this particular study session -- does so; and is greeted by an outpouring of Rod McKuen-esque sentiment and adoration from the big lug's Inner Tarzan. ("When I am a full-fledged man of your time, you will be my woman...") (Oh, God... I take it all back. This is genuine The Poetry of Leonard Nimoy territory, here...!)
Tragically, however -- before Lilith can respond with something sane and sensible, by way of reply; something involving stiletto heels and a pair of stainless steel handcuffs, perhaps -- a pack of councilman Buckminster's paid jackals start taking some well-aimed pot-shots at the star-crossed lovers; and the gentle Lilith takes a bullet right through the sleeve.
Gnarrk promptly reverts to savage and primordial type, barreling into the stunned and disbeliving gunsels like a seven-foot-tall bowling ball from Hell... and: it is at just the precise moment he's about to play "Pop Goes the Weasel" with the final no-goodnik's neck that the rest of the Titans team comes galumphing over the far horizon.
The Boy Wonder manages to talk Gnarrk out of placing the hysterical hitman's head and torso in separate area codes (a severely disappointed Speedy -- the ball-peen hammer dangling limply at his side -- sulks for weeks afterwards); and -- hey, presto! -- it's the following morning, and time for the case of The People of New York State (and One Seriously Homely and Repulsive Monkeyboy) v. Councilman [No First Name] Buckminster. (Judge Judy, presiding.)
"Now, Mr. Gnarrk," the prosecuting attorney says -- and with a perfectly straight face, I might add; he must have been simply hours practicing in front of the mirror, at home -- "this man whom you saw and heard conspiring to criminal ends... IS HE IN THIS ROOM?"
There is a profound and pregnant silence which seems to last an eternity, as Gnarrk deliberates... and then: the Teen Troglodyte looks the D.A. directly in the eye and responds:
A.) [puzzled]: "... 'room'...?"
B.) "When I am a full-fledged man of your time... you will be my woman..."
C.) [staring at clock on far wall, transfixed; then]: "Oooh! Oooh! TeleTubbie Time! TeleTubbie Time -- !"
D.) [stands up; drops pants; bellows]: "I AM GNARRK... THE MIGHTY! BEHOLD MY MASSIVE WAR-CLUB, PUNY MANLINGS -- !!" [court stenographer leans in for a closer look; smiles appreciatively]
E.) [a la Beavis and Butthead]: "... heh-heh-heh... he said 'ends'... heh-heh-heh... "
(Look: allow an old man his few, simple pleasures, all right...?)
"Yes!" Gnarrk ringingly declares. "That is man... THERE!" An exquisitely dramatic turning point, surely; ruined only by the fact that he was pointing directly at Speedy, at the time.
(Ohhhhhh... all right, then. Killjoys.)
Councilman Buckminster is summarily convicted of... of...
... well: of whatever naughty thing(s) he was doing. (It was a one-witness trial, all right? An influential and powerful New York State politician got a one-way ticket to the pokey on the word of a freakin' caveman, f'chrissakes! We're not talkin' L.A. LAW, here! Sheesh -- !)
" 'Ape Boy' -- ?" loyal Lilith indignantly exclaims,, upon seeing the resulting newspaper headlines. "That's wrong!"
The now-acclimated Gnarrk -- when asked for follow-up comment -- responded by slaughtering every living thing in the room; clubbing a screeching, backpedaling Lilith unconscious; and -- toting her under one arm -- scaling the outside of the Empire State Building, where he was promptly shot down by the U.S. Air Force.
God, but I love a happy ending!
*Whew*! Now: that was a ripe'un, by golly!
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This piece is © 2002 by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
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