Batman in the Brave and the Bold: The Bronze Age volume two

By Bob Haney, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8582-1 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Pairings for Festive Fun Seekers… 10/10

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format that mirrored the contemporary movie fascination with historical dramas.

Written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Golden Gladiator, the Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. From #5 the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but such manly, mainly mainstream romps still carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like sister publication Showcase.

Issue #25 (August-September 1959) featured the debut of Task Force X: Suicide Squad, followed by Justice League of America (#28), Cave Carson (#31) and Hawkman (#34). Since only the JLA hit the first time out, there were return engagements for the Squad, Carson and Hawkman.

Something truly different appeared in #45-49 with the science fictional Strange Sports Stories before Brave and the Bold #50 triggered a new concept that once again truly caught the reader’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding issues: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII combatants Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie and the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom and Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – swiftly evolved into the Teen Titans. After Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter, new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

Then it was back to superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time this particular conjunction (Batman with Green Lantern) would be particularly significant.

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans in #60, the next two issues highlighted Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary, whilst Wonder Woman met Supergirl in #63.

Then, in an indication of things to come, and in anticipation of the TV-induced mania mere months away, Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64. Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol (#65) and Metamorpho/Metal Men (#66), Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth to be a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

For the sake of brevity and clarity and according to the wise ones who dictate such arbitrary demarcations, it’s also the point at which Comics’ Silver Age transitioned into the Bronze Age…

This second selection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #92-109 (spanning October/November 1970 to October/November 1973) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment. At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers.

It thus signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as an innovative illustrator: his short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments is still startling to see five decades later.

Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, as in the eccentric thriller in #92 wherein Batman travels to England, embroiled in a moody, gothic murder mystery with a trio of British stereotypes fancifully christened “The Bat Squad.” Although the scratch team never reappeared, ‘Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!’ remains a period delight and a must for those who still remember when “Eng-ga-land Swung”…

At the end of the 1960s the Comics Code Authority ended its ban on crime and horror comics to allow publishers to exploit the global interest in the supernatural. This had instantly affected comics and more and more stories had macabre overtones. It led to the revival of horror and suspense anthologies, such as the venerable House of Mystery and unquestionably the oddest team-up in B&B history.

Scripted by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Dark Knight’s sombre shtick counterbalanced by the musings of the sardonic laconic Cain, ethereal and hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

Haney, Cardy and the Teen Titans returned for powerful counter-culture bomb-plot ‘Rebels in the Streets’ after which a forgotten mystery hero (I won’t spoil it for you) helps Batman get the goods on ruthless, fat-cat industrialist Ruby Ryder in ‘C.O.D. – Corpse on Delivery’ in #95 before – somewhat more palatable for continuity bugs – Sgt Rock’s second engagement with the Bat was set in contemporary times rather than in WWII. Here the honourable old soldier becomes a bureaucrat’s patsy in compelling espionage thriller ‘The Striped-Pants War!’

Haney clearly had a fondness for grizzled older heroes as former pugilist Wildcat made another comeback in #97’s South-of-the-Border saga ‘The Smile of Choclotan!’: an epic of exploration inked by Cardy over the husky he-man pencils of the hugely underrated Bob Brown.

The Phantom Stranger guested next in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil worship which found Batman thoroughly out of his depth in ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, illustrated by the man who would soon become the only B&B artist: Jim Aparo.

Brown & Cardy returned to draw the Flash saving the Gotham Gangbuster from ghostly possession in ‘The Man who Murdered the Past’ and Aparo illustrated the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary had to take over for a Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’.

Aparo stuck around for the outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assists the Caped Crusader in foiling the World’s most deadly hitman, but Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity.

The Teen Titans again featured in an angry tale of the generation gap but ‘Commune of Defiance’ began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed political thriller, after which Brown and Frank McLaughlin illustrated ‘A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!’: a doomsday saga of military computers gone awry featuring the multipurpose Metal Men.

Aparo was back in #104 for a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in the enigmatically entitled ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman resurfaced after a long absence in Haney & Aparo’s superb revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ as Diana Prince and the Darknight Detective become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

Newly penniless social reformer Green Arrow is then sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in #106’s ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain, before Black Canary co-stars in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973). Inflation sucks: “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession and old soldiers never dying follows as Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’ before this bronze bonanza concludes with superb supernatural thriller ‘Gotham Bay, Be My Grave!’ wherein the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then newest sensation Etrigan the Demon battle an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century…

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by some of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Can you…?

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.