Now available, Part Six!
"And the 100th issue. That was a good issue."
Well, look, what do you want? That's all he said. I'd like to transcribe the entire section about how Bob Haney got jacked out of the job by Paul Levitz and Paul's terrible idea of teaming up Batman with Aquaman's wife Mera, but I'm sure there's a limit to how much you can copy out of a two year old Comics Journal issue before Michael Dean and Gary Groth show up at your house with the head of Harlan Ellison swinging like God's own testicles. Besides, it fits.
Well, if you're looking for covers that seem unbelievable while still totally in correlation to the story it's hawking, then here you go, it's Brave & The Bold's 100th issue. Page one? Batman, shot in the heart! The left chamber, to be exact. Crippled in a wheelchair, waiting for the famous Dr. Hellstrom to save him--and all just scant days before the biggest heroin shipment is to arrive in Gotham. Again, it's movie time: it's the fear of The French Connection, with the ankle weights of The Bone Collector's plot device! (Now, I've never seen The Bone Collector, but am I correct in assuming that Angelina Jolie doesn't end up doing it with a paralyzed Denzel?) No misdirection here: Batman's chest-sucking wound sidelines him for the entire issue. He ends up struggling to maintain a grip on his "operatives" and carrying on a feverish one-sided conversation with the world's hungriest spider. The best part of that conversation comes when Batman dispenses with the whole "talking out loud to a spider" conceit and just sits there trying telepathy. It doesn't work, and he gets mad and says "You're not listening, Spidey?" Well, of course the spider isn't listening. You were thinking. Sure, this spider eats a lot, and it serves well in the position of being a blatantly obvious metaphor for The Batman Incapacitation Situation, but that doesn't make it the Martian Manhunter.
Batman's squadron of warriors is made up of Green Arrow, Robin, Green Lantern & the Black Canary. After some requisite "this happened in another comic" moments, wherein Green Arrow yells at everybody for ignoring the fact that Speedy is suffering from a drug problem--ah, there's nothing that gets people as excited as referencing that comic book--it's time for job assignments. The team goes off individually, tracking down various false leads and pretty much just showing off their various tricks: Green Arrow shoots stuff with arrows, Green Lantern makes magic pincers with his magic ring, Black Canary ignores her assignment because she is getting her hair done. Wait, really? Yes, really. When Robin's informed that Black Canary is persona non grata, his response is pretty priceless: "The flippy female's probably got her wrist radio jammed with a bobbie-pin!" Geez, Dick. That's pretty sexist. Of course, it's not that far removed from the truth, after all, Black Canary isn't forced back into work until after Robin tracks her down at the beauty salon. Her assignment, the infiltration of a book-reading at the local "No Men Allowed" club is met, and you get the experience of the most baldly ridiculous setting of the issue, wherein a French author with a ridiculous accent delivers a non-stop anti-man jeremiad from a Third Reich-ish podium. Black Canary quickly figures out that the author isn't just a bra-burning man-hater, but also works as a touchy component in a massive heroin smuggling ring, and hardcore shitkicking ensues. By the time we get back to the oh-yeah-don't-forget, Batman is at death's door, it seems like the action of the issue is probably exhausted--after all, it's just regular old open heart surgery time, it's not like anything can go down now, right?
Wrong-o! Even under a massive dose of anesthesia, Batman--who does happen to wear his Bat-clothes during open heart--realizes that the tender hands caressing his naked flesh are not those of esteemed surgeon Dr. Hellstrom, but actually belong to the heroin smuggler, and with a couple of well-placed pokes and screams, his team of associates bust down the door to dispense some more violencia. It's a tasty stew, only thing missing is the throwaway gags. While the Batman presented here is quite a bit more professional then the one Noah's spent the last few issues dealing with, he's still a bit impotent here--of course, he's in a wheelchair the entire issue, so that's to be expected. But still, there's a little something missing here--maybe it's just that the recent issues in this little excursion have been funnier, maybe it's that the excitement of having Jim Aparo come on board was met by the memory that a really great artist isn't the be-all end-all for a super-hero comic, maybe it's just that the Black Canary jokes are just kind of mean and not that funny--but yeah, it's a bit of a let down. Oh well. More to come, as they say.
"It's kid's junk. Kid's poison. Adults have their junk. Whether it's booze or sex or whatever. Kids needed junk. And the junk was comics for years."
Well, this puts the lie to a common myth--Neal Adams and Frank Miller were hanging in the shadows of Haney. This right here--as well as plenty other Haney tales--is where the uber-obsessed Bat was built. Not in a "oh he set the stage" variety. Not in a "oh they took what worked and refined it" type thing. No, not at all. What Haney did was he took one series and gave you whatever Batman worked best for the story, meaning one time you'd get an inappropriate, near-incompetent poser who goofed his way through an adventure with an unseen Plastic Man, whereas in another, you'd get this guy, a cold, robotic sociopath who reserves all the cavalier behavior for when he's forced to hang out as Bruce Wayne at various nightclubs and bars. You get a guy who says closes the issue by saying that "Someday, Bounty Hunter and I'll tangle again and I'll end his killing career-or die trying!" Fuck Year One and those Adams hardcovers--if you're looking for when Batman broke up with Hokey Smokey and started grimacing at the sound of Alfred's pitter-patter, here's where the machine was built.
For what it's worth, the story itself is a solid one as well--like the previous one, it's a bit low on the fun side, but hey: it's a Metamorpho story. Even when Metamorpho is being serious, which he is, all the way through, he's still fucking Metamorpho. Out of all of DC's various C-level characters, he's a gem of a find--he can do anything with his body, like Plastic Man, his physical appearance is one that's actually gross enough to pull off the rarely believable "that man is a monster" moments, and his always-in-the-wings supporting cast consists of a mad scientist with Wolverine's haircut, a walking ape-man who wears a business suit, and the dumbest, most brilliantly stereotypical piece of female plot device of all time. While the plot of the issue attempts to focus on a group of six individuals--including Bruce & the gloriously stupid Sapphire Stagg--who are marked for death by the mysterious and Bat-hated assassin plainly called "Bounty Hunter," the truth is that it's just another classic Metamorpho story, which means that Sapphire is dumb, and therefore must dumb her way into a problem. "Saving her" ensues.
While some of the other Bravers and Bolders have goosed around the idea of having a team-up that doesn't really occur, this one comes rather close to pulling it off. While there are times when Batman appears on the same page as Metamorpho, their paths only intersect twice, and both times they barely speak to each other. It's still sort of a team-up in the sense they both have the same general goal--Batman wants to stop the murder of those on the death list, Metamorpho wants to save one of those people--but it's more like a team-up in the same way that you'd call Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Magnolia a team-up. They just bump into each other on the way to their respective goals. While your mileage for this sort of thing--standard, done-in-one super-hero stories--may not allow for a detour into the back catalog, it's an excellent piece of work, made even more interesting for the behavior of it's protagonists and the near-perfect work of Jim Aparo. It would be nice to say that there's a super-hero comic on the stands right now as well put together as this one--but honestly, there isn't. Somewhere along the way, whether in pursuit of better sales or in a desire to make art, the skill it took to do stories like this got lost. There's not enough snark in the world to regret the absence.
Bob Haney, regarding his dialogue: "Some of that stuff you did hear around here. That's what some of the people who were criticizing me didn't appreciate. Around Woodstock, you did hear some of that. You heard a better form and a more raunchy form. You couldn't put that in the comics. I had to water it down and make it kind of juvenile."
Of all the stories I really wanted to read a remix version of, I think the last one would have been the concentration camp one. Good for me. Commence with the quotations!
"Aquarians are positive--preservers of the groovy values...so we can't let 'em tear our turf down around our ears, guys! We gotta FIGHT BACK! Get WITH IT, tigers!"
Okay, while this issue isn't an anniversary one, it's a team-up extraordinaire: Batman finds himself hanging, A-Team style, with a local youth gang/focus group called The Young Aquarians who need some assistance keeping "their hood" clean. He calls the Teen Titans, the standard phone call he makes whenever he runs into local people in the under-25 set. (I'd assume he would've started writing down what "groovy" meant by this point.) By the end of the issue, it's difficult to discern who he hasn't teamed up with. Hell, at one point, he starts a teams-up with the local bulldozer captain, and yes, the scene depicted on the cover actually occurs. Why lay in front of bulldozers? Let's ask the Young Aquarians.
"Aquarians are life-givers...not takers!"
"The ghetto's a life taker, baby!"
The Teen Titans take the motto to heart and show up for a little civil disobedience, with the help of a very convincing reverse psychology trick where a bloodthirsty Batman gets on board and starts screaming "Turn on the speed--RUN RIGHT OVER THOSE TEEN ANARCHISTS!", the tricks pay off, and before you know it, it's time for the music montage, where 30 days of clean-up are dealt with in one four paneled page. Kid Flash sweeps up the entire ghetto, Robin and the Young Aquarians beat the shit out of drug dealers, Speedy gets put on rat-killing detail--I guess they couldn't trust him around pushers--and Wonder Girl puts up wallpaper. Wait, seriously? Wallpaper? Can't she fly and do all kinds of strong girl things? Putting up wallpaper? Oh well.
While of course everything works out fine, with the ghetto becoming a magical place, fit for a multicultural block party--who knew urban renewal required so little--a couple of bad pennies show up to try and intimidate the local citizenry back inside to live in fear. While most, scratch that, all, of these kinds of scenes always play out exactly the way you'd expect, with the good guys winning, this one is particularly ridiculous--the mean drug guys that show up? There are seven of them. Seven people versus Batman, the Teen Titans, the Young Aquarians, the mayor, the police force, all of the happy and grateful citizens, a dog, two cats and I wouldn't be surprised to find out Plastic Man is there, boinking some girl while pretending to be a fishmonger. Batman, in vain hopes that it will help to entertain the reader, tells absolutely everybody to hold back, so that the Young Aquarians can "stand on their own." Wha..wait a second. These kids are stupid and irritating, I get that, sure, but seriously: it's been a month! They haven't proved themselves at this point? Hell, the black guy with an afro has been Robin's beat-the-shit-out-people partner all that time! Speedy's been off shooting rats with a bow and arrow! If anybody has proved their commitment, these goofballs certainly have.
Now, this issue is far more entertaining then the "kids with an atomic bomb" story, but honestly: who gives a shit. Urban renewal by way of non-violent peace movement? How does the audience for that kind of comic meet the Batman-team-up audience? Is this it? It's nowhere near as obnoxious as the previous one, if only because the kids in the previous version of this story came across as being smart enough to care about things besides rats, whereas the Young Aquarians are clearly a bunch of navel-gazing dickheads, but that's really besides the point. No matter how much less obnoxious you make the story, it's still a fucking Batman comic about dealing with rat-infested and new wallpaper-needing blocks of apartments that deals out emotional relevance by having the nosy old man realize what a nice bunch of kids those damn hippies are. It's got some charm to it, sure, but so does an ice cream sundae.
Oh yeah, the art. Well, it's Jim Aparo and Neal Adams. They do a good job of illustrating something inconsequential. Still, not all is lost. After all, the issue ends with this little ditty:
"The future belongs to those who fight for it--today! Future issues of Brave & Bold belong to those who keep the faith! 'Til then, faithful ones! The start!"
Start of...okay, no. I don't get it.
-Tucker Stone, 2008