A Tribute to the of






In 200+ reviews here at the dear old Silver Lantern, I have analyzed (and pretty well trashed) a total of one Teen Titans story when they were still mere waifs in the Showcase title.  I've decided to give them a shot at redemption for this edition of the Silver Age Sage by spotlighting the Titans in their own title, issue #18, to be precise, from November/December of 1968.  I love that dramatic cover and while I freely admit to my strong bias in favor of the man, I'm particularly taken with the creative lettering of the great Gaspar SaladinoNick Cardy took care of the rest of the cover art, while the interior had another team altogether with Bill Draut on pencils and inks and Jon D'Agostino doing the letters.  The tale is entitled, "Eye of the Beholder!" and was written by longtime collaborators Len Wein and Marv Wolfman and the whole shebang was edited by Dick Giordano.  Whew!  Lotsa credits.  Now, let's see how they did:

As you may have noted from the cover, the setting for this adventure is somewhat unusual, in that it takes place in Stockholm, Sweden, and the international flavor doesn't end there as Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl, having just landed, meet teen-aged Russian superhero Starfire.  The five teenaged heroes have been enlisted by the Swedes to guard a display of the Crown Jewels from Andre LeBlanc, master jewel thief.

When Starfire arrives, he's got some attitude and states flatly to the welcome from the Titans that he is there strictly out of duty to his country.  It seems Starfire has taken on LeBlanc before, but the thief escaped.  

At the hotel, Starfire reveals the origin of his powers when he and his father, an archeologist, investigated the Yenesei River meteor mystery in Siberia.  As it turned out, the "meteor" was giving off heavy radiation and was in reality a manmade apparatus.  The young man investigated out of curiosity and touched a control panel that sent a massive surge of energy through his body, sending him flying.  The results were impressive, with an infusion of speed, strength and stamina that resulted in Starfire.

The next page shows LeBlanc inside a dark building in Stockholm.  The security guard is unconscious and the master thief quickly goes to work, using a sophisticated mirror and telescopic pole system to thwart an electric eye security system.  Having gained entry, he expertly uses a glass cutter to gain access to a large gem.  Meanwhile, the guard regains enough of his wits to activate the alarm and the heroes confront Andre, who seems relatively unconcerned about their appearance:  "Zee Teen Titans…and my old foe…Starfire!"  Kid Flash lunges for the criminal, but the criminal trips him up with a hastily thrown cube, and then uses some impressive acrobatic skills to clip Starfire on the chin with his heel and swing through a window to escape.  

In the aftermath, Starfire upbraids Kid Flash for ruining his chance at capturing the thief:  "What they say in the Homeland is true…you Americans are just a bunch of spineless, whimpering toy soldiers!"  Yep.  '68.  Right in the deepest freeze of the Cold War.  Kid Flash takes umbrage at the Russian's insults, but Robin jumps between them.

Shifting scenes again, LeBlanc has finalized his master plan to steal the crown jewels and crows that he cannot be stopped by the likes of Starfire and his uneasy allies.  Thus ends Part I.

The next morning Starfire and the Titans are summoned by Interpol and given a written challenge by LeBlanc to try and stop him.  Robin wads up the paper and the Teen Titans stroll off determinedly and without the Russian.  

Elsewhere, Andre prepares for his heist, hiding in the ventilator shaft of the men's room of the Sheldorf Diamond Center and waiting patiently to execute his plan.    

The Teen Titans have set up watch at each of the four jewel centers.  LeBlanc, meanwhile, is making his move, working his way through the ventilation system until he is following a zip line over a 50-foot span between buildings with a flair that would make the Batman proud.  He next deactivates the floor alarm and heads for his objective; the jewel case.  

At that moment, he is spotted by Aqualad, who decides to try and take him down alone after alerting his teammates via a Dick Tracyesque wrist communicator.  Andre heads back for the ventilation shaft and Aqualad follows, but does not notice that Starfire is a grim observer.  The Frenchman leads Aquaman's sidekick on a merry chase, but in the process traps him in the shaft.  The teen hero soon realizes his dire predicament.  His hour out of water is nearly up, which could prove fatal.  

Next up, Kid Flash arrives on the scene, but the cagey criminal puts him out of commission as well with a modified eye beam that is wired to dynamite.  The speedster must not move for fear of activating the explosives.  The thief goes back to the jewel case with Starfire looking on, ending Part II.

Part III opens with the Boy Wonder interrupting the felon with a right cross, but he recovers quickly, and kicks the Titan into unconsciousness.  Swiftly binding the young hero, LeBlanc sets up another booby-trap, tying Robin to a chandelier with a spike-like projection that will impale him if he moves.  

Once again, Andre returns to the case and removes the crown jewels, but of course now it's Wonder Girl's turn.  Sadly, she fares no better than the other Titans when LeBlanc takes her lasso from her and ties her up with it, while "wiring" her to an electrical outlet.  Now it's up to Starfire, who confronts his nemesis.  LeBlanc again uses his acrobatic prowess to flee through a window and into a storm drain with the hot-headed Russian in close pursuit.  The jewel thief is apparently too good for this youth, too, as he kicks him into unconsciousness onto subway rails.  Feeling triumphant, the Frenchman turns only to see the Teen Titans.  Kid Flash reveals that Starfire freed them, but wanted first crack at the crook.  Before they can act, however, the thug lets fly with a grenade.  From that point on, the teamwork of the Titans kicks in with Wonder Girl lassoing the "pineapple" and flinging it harmlessly into a storm drain, while Kid Flash swiftly pulls Starfire from the path of the train, but loses his balance.  The Russian reciprocates and pulls his American ally out of the way.  LeBlanc seems to be getting desperate as he tosses the crown down a sewage drain, but Aqualad is on hand to retrieve the priceless artifact.  Now Robin engages the criminal, ultimately delivering the knock out blow.

The closing panels show a fond farewell taking place and a somewhat humbled Starfire shares his thoughts with his new friends:  "No matter what else you Americans may be…you have taught me something…that all men, regardless of their belief must learn to live together!  For when your ideologies and mine have long since turned to dust, man must still survive!"

By golly, I wasn't sure it could be done to my satisfaction, but this was actually a pretty good Teen Titans story.  What a difference good writing makes and I do believe this is my first exposure to the artistic skills of Bill Draut.  He had a pretty clean style and I like the way he spotted blacks.  I wish he were still around as I'd love to interview him.  I'll rate this issue with a 7 on my 10-point scale.

Since Bill Draut isn't available, perhaps my short e-mail conversation with co-writer Marv Wolfman will be something of interest to you.  Ladies and Gents, Marv Wolfman:

Prof:  Len Wein told me that both of you got into the business on the coattails of fandom and that you'd done some fanzines.  Did you enjoy the transition?

Marv Wolfman:  It's partially why I did fanzines; I felt a need to tell stories and that*s what was available to me.

Prof:  They say you were pretty heavily influenced by science fiction.  That almost seems like a gateway to comics.  Would you agree?

MW:  When I was younger I love(d) SF. I don't read it as much these days as so much has gone into fantasy, but SF opened my mind and let me see other possibilities in ideas. SF is something that let's you realize there could be more than just what you can see. It's not a gateway to comics; it's a gateway to letting your imagination run wild.

Prof:  Several of the characters you've written for have gone on to big screen fame, like Ghost Rider, Transformers, and Iron Man, to name a few.  Do comic book characters transfer well to the big screen?  Is it gratifying to see them there?

MW:  You picked characters I may have written but had nothing to do with in any way. Blade, Bullseye, Titans, etc. those among others are characters I created that went on to movies and TV. Some characters can transfer well if they have interesting stories to tell as people. Some are better meant to be done in comics because of the strengths of the comics medium. Movies and comics may both be picture and story but that doesn*t mean they are interchangeable. Some work as film and some don*t.  As for any gratification on seeing my work on the screen, there is in that it means I crated something that resonates with millions of people.

Prof:  Full script or Marvel method?

MW:  I write both plot style and full script, depending. Both have strengths.

Prof:  You became an editor at a relatively young age.  Did you feel you were ready?

MW:  I started as an editorial assistant, moved up to assistant editor then became an editor. Because I had the very best editors training me at the time, I felt I was ready. Of course, I started full editing at Warren so it made it a bit easier. My strength as a writer is structure so that is good for helping others and knowing the basics of story and helping someone tell their story in a clear, concise fashion.

Prof:  You worked with some true legends over the course of your career.  Would you give me some of your recollections of…

Jack Kirby

MW:  Jack was the King for a reason. An incredible artist, thinker and more important, a dear, dear person. They don't make people like him anymore.

Steve Ditko

MW:  I was such a fan of his and really enjoyed working with him. He was someone I very much enjoyed talking to.

Ross Andru

MW:  Ross was incredibly smart and one of the best story-tellers I*ve ever known. He was great to work with.

Carmine Infantino

MW:  I grew up a fan of his Flash, Adam Strange and Space Museum stories so it was a thrill to work with him on Nova and Spider-Woman.

Cary Bates

MW:  A much better writer than anyone at the company realized at the time. We worked together on V and then a number of other projects nobody knows about. A real solid writer.

Nelson Bridwell

MW:  Didn't really work with him bit I enjoyed talking to him. One of the smartest people I've ever met.

Gene Colan

MW:  What can I say? Brilliant artist and a real great guy. He was a wonderful partner on so many different comics.

Gil Kane on the animated Superman project?

MW:  Gil drew a great Superman and we seemed to be somewhat in synch on it. I was a huge fan of his and again it was great working with him on Superman for the cartoons, in the comics and also on John Carter.

Prof:  I think you've written for every genre, to include jungle, science-fiction, superhero, comedy, action, western, war and horror.  Where were you most comfortable?

MW:  I like writing everything so I keep fresh. If I did any one genre I*d be bored in about ten minutes.

Prof:  You've written and edited on some iconic titles, such as Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman in World's Finest.  Was your approach different depending on the character?  How much research did you do, or did you try to stay true to history?

MW:  I re-read everything and try to figure out what made that character work. Then I proceed from that. It's understanding core concepts.

Prof:  You're forever identified with the Teen Titans and worked on them for many, many years.  What sort of magic did you use to cause them to create such a sensation?

MW:  God knows. If I did know I'd bottle it.

Prof:  What involvement did you have with the animated Teen Titans?

MW:  I wrote some episodes.

Prof:  You pretty well stayed with the big two publishers.  You were even EIC at Marvel.  How did they compare?

MW:  Both have great characters and as a writer I loved writing both of them. As a creator there were very few differences. Business wise they are very different but I don't get into that kind of stuff.

Prof:  While you spent more time at Marvel than DC, you were tasked with the truly monumental Crisis on Infinite Earths for DC, rehashing and revamping pretty much every single character from half a century.  I can't imagine what you must have gone through, but can you describe it?

MW:  I had been reading DC since I was five so I actually spent far much more time with the DCU characters. Crisis was huge but it would take more time that I have to describe it. Suffice it to say it took several years to plot the story so it worked.

Prof:  I suppose you're aware that it looks like the new Crisis series is resurrecting Barry Allen.  I think I read someplace that you left a very subtle loophole in your story that would allow him back.  Care to share what it was?

MW:  It*s on my website under Q&A.

Note:  Indeed it is at www.marvwolfman.com:

So many people actually saw that comment I made in my forward and have asked me how I*d bring back the Flash, that I've finally gotten tired of explaining it. So that I don't ever have to explain it again, here it is now, once and for all. Please remember, this is a very comic booky answer and you can probably blow holes in it somehow (but then nobody really complained how an anti-matter villain could co-exist with a positive matter good guy, so maybe physics isn't anyone's strong suit). This is what I proposed to DC back in 1985. Please note that I didn't think it was a good idea to kill The Flash but those were my marching orders, so I did the best I could to make his death as moving as I could. Here is the given I worked from: Much of the reason the people in charge didn't care for Barry Allen was that he was considered dull. I felt if I could come up with a way of making him vital again while keeping him alive, then perhaps Barry would be given a second lease on life. I came up with the idea of Flash moving back through time, flashing into our dimension even as he was dying. So, thought I, what if Barry was plucked out of the time stream at one of those moments he appeared? What if that meant from this point on Barry knew that he was literally living on borrowed time, that at any moment the time stream could close in on him and take him to his inevitable death. What would this mean to Barry? 1: from now on the fastest man alive would literally be running for his life. 2: He knew he didn't have much time left and believed (as Barry would) that he had to devote it to helping others. 3: This meant Barry would become driven and desperate to help others with each passing tick of the clock. I felt this new revitalized attitude might be enough to make the formerly dull police scientist into someone who now had to push himself as he never had to before. I was hoping that this would make the character interesting enough to live. Earlier, I said my explanation was comic booky. In many ways it is because none of us knows when we are going to die. But this knowledge would haunt a man like Barry Allen and change him from an unassuming character into a driven hero. At least that was the plan!

Prof:  Superman is 70 years old now.  Has the superhero outlived its run?

MW:  Nope. I can still come up with ideas we've never seen before.

Prof:  Have you ever taught a writing class?

MW:  I do at conventions and people tell me they really like the class I give. Maybe some day someone will pay be to do so. It's fun.

Prof:  What counsel would you give to an aspiring writer?

MW:  Write. Listen. Then keep writing some more.

Prof:  You've written animation and television.  Do you find there's much difference in writing for other mediums?

MW:  You look at the strengths of each medium and cater to it. That's all. They are different.

Prof:  More than one creator has told me that DC has done better by them than Marvel for compensation for past work or creations.  Since you've created Tim Drake as Robin, Nova and other characters, has that been your experience?

MW:  I'm at DC. That should tell you something.

Prof:  You're writing Nightwing now for DC.  Is it good to be back?

MW:  I'm off the book; I was supposed to only do four issues but I did a year and a half. I enjoyed it very much.

Prof:  Your "Homeland" book is going great guns.  That must feel good after all the work that went into it.

MW:  It was awesome. The hardest work I've ever done and we've gotten many major mainstream awards for it (although no comic book awards). That has been very gratifying.

Prof:  Any other projects in the hopper?

MW:  Many but none I can talk about.

Prof:  Len told me that "Almost no 14-year olds are buying comics?"  Do you concur?  Why do you think that is?

MW:  I think the cost is one thing and for most of the country comic shops aren't nearby. Some cities don't even have any. I think if a 14 year could find a comic they might like it.

Prof:  If you were king for a day what would you do to bring the comic book back to its former glory?

MW:  Totally change the distribution system.

Prof:  You do something unique at your website by selling scripts.  I've never heard of anyone else doing that.  Is there a big demand?

MW:  Not a huge one but I do get requests.

A tip of the hat to Marv for his indulgence, and an even bigger tip of the hat to you, readers, for your continued patronage. I hope it continues for a long time to come.

Drop me a line anytime at my handy e-mail and let me know your thoughts: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!



© 2000-2008 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edited Marv Wolfman


This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by

B.D.S.

 





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