Saturday, January 24, 2015


DC Comics' THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD holds pride of place as the first of the "alternating crossover" titles. The title technically began teaming up its heroes in issue #50, but a few "spotlight" features showed up to interrupt this pattern. Batman, the hero whose presence defined the team-up title, debuted in the title alongside Green Lantern in issue #59-- dated April-May 1965. But the Caped Crusader did not become the dominantly featured character until after the January 1966 BATMAN teleseries had debuted as a runaway success-- and the first of these new "Batman-centric" issues is the one on which I focus, BATMAN #64 (February-March 1966). However, that's not the main reason I chose it to be representative of the feature, which lasted until 1983.

Like the Marvel team-up features that followed later, BRAVE AND BOLD was not known for consistent quality. The dominant gimmick-- that the Darknight Detective would be teamed up with very nearly every starring character in the DC universe-- meant that there was no consistent tone: Batman could have a grim-and-gritty urban adventure with Wildcat or Black Canary in one issue, and then jet off to Rann to meet Adam Strange or have magical misadventures with the Spectre or the Phantom Stranger.  Similarly, though there's some very good art in the feature at times-- Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, and Neal Adams (who debuted his very influential version of Batman in this feature)-- even good artists could do little with workmanlike scripts.  

However, for some devotees the feature's lack of consistency, its tendency to favor wild, attention-getting gimmicks over slick, streamlined storytelling, is BRAVE AND BOLD's greatest strength. And it's a virtue most fans associated with Bob Haney, who wrote the most BRAVE AND BOLD scripts, though he certainly was not the only contributor,

Haney's scripts fall into two main categories: the workmanlike formula stories and the wild gimmick-stories. The latter are the ones that most fans remember with affection, and I tend to agree with that preference. When forming this list I decided that I only wanted to represent each of the "alternating crossover" comics with just one selection. I might have chosen the crazy story in which both Wonder Woman and Batgirl break away from their normal characterizations and spontaneously fall in love with Batman, or the one where Batman and Sergeant Rock must keep a terrorist from killing Jim Aparo, the artist drawing their team-up tale. But I chose #64 because the Batman-Eclipso crossover is one of Aparo's daffiest Bat-outings.

The opening deals with Batman encountering an old flame, a rich girl named Marcia Monroe. In his flashback Batman reveals that he almost gave up being Batman in order to marry Marcia, until she did a "Casablanca" on him and left without explanation.  If that by itself sounds rather uncharacteristic for Batman, it should, because Haney tended to write the Caped Crusader as if he was some latter-day derivation of Mickey Spillane's PI, Mike Hammer.

However, in some adventures Haney's Hammer-esque Batman is so dumb that he ought to have been called "Mike Dumb-as-a-Bag-of-Hammers." Marcia feeds the crimefighter a story about how a fabulous stolen emerald came into her hands, and she wants Batman to help her return to the museum so that her dead boyfriend, the original thief, won't be implicated. Batman buys the whole story, hook-line-and-sinker, and he sneaks the jewel back into the museum. But it's a set-up: Marcia has Batman photographed so that it looks like he stole the gem, and then she re-steals it, so that the Dumbass Detective is arrested.  While Batman's in jail, it's revealed that Marcia is actually a costumed villain, the Queen Bee, and the head of an international crime syndicate named Cyclops.  One of her first acts after jailing Batman is to liberate Eclipso, the demonic other-self of altruistic scientist Bruce Gordon. Gordon's secret self was not a subject of public knowledge, but apparently during one of Eclipso's earlier peregrinations outside his Jekyll-side's body, he had something to do with instituting Cyclops-- though Haney's script is far from clear on this.

Batman breaks out of jail and seems to get killed by police bullets. However, he survives and tracks one of Cyclops' agents to the villains' HQ. Artist Win Mortimer wasn't the most dynamic artist ever to work on the BRAVE AND BOLD feature, but Haney gives a fast-paced pulp-tale full of wild incident: desks that spring up and hit people, flying bee-men, Eclipso's black-diamond death-rays, and Batman pretending to be a Cyclops assassin for no good reason whatever.  But the stand-out moment is when the Queen Bee helps the Bat-dude out of a jam because she really still loves him; she just put him in jail so that she wouldn't be forced to have him killed.  By story's end the Cyclops HQ has been raided by police and Eclipso has been returned to Bruce Gordon's body without anyone, including Batman, knowing of the phenomenon. Marcia gets away, leaving behind her Queen Bee costume, while Batman manfully swears to bring her in despite his tortured feelings. Happily, to the best of my knowledge neither Haney nor anyone else ever brought Marcia back, and that's the way I like it: having her disappear forever into Haney's dopey, lovably corny Haney-verse. 

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