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Wein & Wolfman’s Failed Attempt to Introduce DC’s First Black Superhero

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Wein & Wolfman’s Failed Attempt to Introduce DC’s First Black Superhero

How Neal Adams Defended Wein & Wolfman’s Story, and Wein’s (Eventual) Payback

Wolfman recalled to Jon B. Cooke in Comic Book Artist #1, “Len and I, being young liberals, didn’t understand why there were no Black super-heroes-though neither of us were Black-but we lived in the real world and there were certainly Blacks all around New York. So we proposed a story featuring a Black super-hero. Dick Giordano, the editor, loved it. At that time, the company was still being run by the original owners and Dick gave this story to Irwin Donenfeld, Vice President of the company, who also loved it.”

So the two young men wrote the story and regular Teen Titans artist Nick Cardy began to draw it. The basic premise of the story was that the mob was using the rage of the era to incite and then manipulate the direction of a black gang in the city. A new superhero named Jericho showed up and he preached the power of peace over violence. In the end, it would be revealed that Jericho was actually the brother of one of the members of the gang!

The story was shaping up fine and the cover was even produced for the issue…

In the time between the story being approved and the issue actually being published, however, DC had gone through a change at the top. Out were the Donenfelds and in was Carmine Infantino. Infantino caught one look of the issue and squashed it. Infantino recalled to Cooke, ““I remember looking at it and I rejected it totally. Giordano had okayed the job, I believe, but after it was done, I thought it was so terrible that I wouldn’t print it. It was simple as that. I don’t remember any specifics about it now, but I know that I just didn’t like it so I had to use my best judgement.”

RELATED: Len Wein’s Snoopy-Inspired Batman Tale

Wein, though, recalled differently, “At the last minute Carmine got gun-shy and was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to sell the book in the South and that all these terrible things would happen. So he just pulled the issue and said, ‘Nope, we’re not going to do it.’ This was less than a week before the book was supposed to ship to the printer.”

In stepped Neal Adams, only seven years older than Wein and Wolfman, but much more established at DC as one of their hottest artists. Adams argued that the two writers be allowed to re-work their story. Infantino wasn’t having it. What’s particularly amusing is that Adams didn’t even like the story! He felt that it was far too harsh of a political statement, but he felt that it could be edited to make it work. Adams recalled, “I was sought out by individuals as the ‘defender of the faith’ and I was handed the script by an irate Len and Marv with the request to read it and see if there was anything wrong with it because Management was being crazy and they stopped the job. I read it and felt that it was going way overboard in that it offended White people just as People of Color had been offended for hundreds of years-this was not cool; I could defend it, but not in the face of total rejection. This was a comic book medium and this was the Teen Titans!… [the story] was simply too much! First I offered to edit it down to try and save it, but my edit was rejected.”

So instead, DC used blue tint on the cover to obscure the black characters and Adams just very quickly wrote and drew a story to replace the one that Wein and Wolfman wrote, with a lot of the basic ideas remaining in place, only with the gang being a white gang (and “Jericho” now being “Joshua”)…

Here are Nick Cardy’s original pages for the original reveal of Jericho’s identity…

The situation more or less forced Wein and Wolfman to move to Marvel Comics, although they each still got a little work at DC. Once they began working for Marvel, that opened up more work back at DC (which is how this stuff usually works – prove someone else wants you, and suddenly your original employer wants you even more).

Wolfman amusingly later introduced a Teen Titan called Jericho, just as a little sort of payback for the incident.

While a minor incident overall, it showed the sort of forward-thinking writing that both Wolfman and Wein would soon be known for.

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