Friday, February 22, 2013

THE GLORY DAYS OF THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: Bob Haney, Jim Aparo, Murray Boltinoff and B&B #'s 98-131 (Part One)

(The following long--for a blog post, at least--piece was written a couple of years ago for Jim Main's fanzine Comic Fan.  Shortly after I submitted it, however, Jim decided to suspend publication of CF in order to concentrate on comic books.  Thus, other than the select few trusted friends whom I sent copies to for proofreading and kibitzing, this masterpiece of comics history and journalism has gone regrettably unread.  Until now, that is.  Due to the aforementioned length of the article, I found a natural breakpoint about halfway through and split it up into two posts.  The conclusion will appear here in a day or so.)
In the December 2004 edition of BACK ISSUE magazine, editor Michael Eury called THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (B&B) the most influential comic book put out by DC during the Silver and Bronze Ages. While Eury admits that his claim may be somewhat overblown, the evidence that he offers to support his theorem, in the form of a listing of important characters and concepts that first saw the light of day in B&B, is nonetheless compelling.

B&B originated the concept of the team-up comic. The book was also the first venue for the adventures of such superstars and fan favorites as Metamorpho the Element Man, the Silver Age version of Hawkman , the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans. In B&B #85, long standing second tier hero Green Arrow was given a new look, costume and attitude, beginning the character’s metamorphosis from a rather bland Batman rip-off into the lovable, liberal hothead subsequently seen in the award winning GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW series.
Eury also notes in passing the oft-repeated, though quite possibly apocryphal, legend of the golf game between Jack Liebowitz, publisher of DC Comics, and Martin Goodman, head of the rival comics house that would shortly become known as Marvel Comics, during which the DC honcho boasted of the success of DC's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, spurring Goodman to urge his editor to create a superhero team for his company. The comic that editor/writer Stan Lee and artist/co-creator Jack Kirby produced was, of course, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, the success of which led to the creation of what we now call the Marvel Universe, and, by extension, the entire modern concept of the super-hero as we today understand it.
It was also in B&B that two artists who would become closely associated with the Batman were allowed their first opportunity to make their mark on the character. Following his acclaimed eight issue stint as B&B artist, Neal Adams went on to team with writer Dennis O’Neil for a series of Batman stories that moved the character's comic book adventures away from the silliness of the Adam West TV series back toward the darker, more mysterious milieu of his earliest appearances, a movement that reached its apotheosis in the mid-1980’s with the work of Frank Miller in “Batman: Year One” and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.  Jim Aparo, who illustrated more issues of B&B than any other artist, first drew the feature with #98, and would stay with B&B for most of the rest of its run. After B&B’s cancellation, Aparo would go on to draw BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS, which he co-created with latter day B&B scribe Mike W. Barr, and to delineate the solo adventures of the Caped Crusader in the two mainstays of the Batman line, DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN.
B&B’s greatest significance to a great many readers, myself included, was as an introduction, through the well known character of the Batman, to the wider DC Universe. It was through B&B that I was first exposed to the exploits of such characters as the Atom, the Creeper, Mr. Miracle, the Metal Men, Black Canary, and Green Arrow. It would also be fair to say that it was in B&B that I saw the Batman for the first time. Prior to reading my first issue of B&B, I had really only known Batman from the live-action TV show and Saturday morning cartoons. The Batman of B&B, especially Aparo’s artistic rendition of him with his long pointy bat-ears and flowing cape, was a revelation to me. Though writer Bob Haney’s characterization of Batman was never as grim as that which prevailed in the other Batman books of the 1970’s, his tough talking Darknight Detective was still far removed from the character posing as Batman on SUPERFRIENDS.
B&B began life with the issue cover-dated August/September 1955 as a much different publication than the one remembered fondly by fans today. That inaugural issue contained a trio of high adventures stories in the vein of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant starring heroes with such names as The Viking Prince, The Silent Knight, and The Golden Gladiator. The Gladiator gave way to Robin Hood after a handful of appearances and this revised line-up would last until the magazine’s twenty-fourth issue. With the very next issue, the series switched gears to a “tryout” format, similar to SHOWCASE. Other than the Justice League of America and the revival of Hawkman, however, none of the features introduced in B&B graduated to their own titles.
The fiftieth issue of B&B ushered in the team-up format. The early team-ups featured two or more different heroes every issue. In an interview in THE COMICS JOURNAL, Haney claimed that his initial idea was to have Superman be the book's anchor, but Superman editor Mort Weisinger refused to allow it. Thus, Haney's second choice, the Batman, became B&B's permanent co-star as of issue #74. With that issue, the book settled into the formula that would carry it through the remainder of its two hundred issue run.
From my standpoint, the true heyday of B&B occurred between issues 98 and 131. It was during this period that Haney, Aparo, and editor Murray Boltinoff teamed up to produce some of the most bizarre, innovative, and just plain entertaining stories of the Bronze, or any other, Age.
In 1948, following military service with the Navy during the Second World War and completion of a Master’s degree in French history at New York City’s Columbia University, a cash strapped Bob Haney sought employment in the then still young comic book industry. Haney described himself in the JOURNAL interview as a “very bookish kid” who spent his spare time reading rather than being “ know, out creating hell.” He loved the comic strips which were among the wide range of material he read, but it wasn't love of the medium that inspired him to look for work there, however. Rather, he says that a friend of his named Ted Bratton had “...heard you could make money writing comics.” Together they produced some sample stories which Haney shopped around to comics publishers. “It was amazing how easy it was to get work,” he said, “Because everybody was humming at that point. Everybody was selling comics, I guess.”
Haney ended up writing for a wide variety of comics publishers, including Quality, Fawcett, Fox, Hillman, and Ziff-Davis, before landing at DC in 1954. He began at the company as a writer of war stories, as well as a contributor to B&B during its early high-adventure phase, working under editor Robert Kanigher. When George Kashdan became the book's editor, he brought his star writer, Haney, with him. Haney told THE COMICS JOURNAL that it was he who suggested the change to the team-up format.
Haney also penned the initial installment of the long-running SGT. ROCK, and created or co-created many of the quirkier characters in DC’s Silver Age stable, including Metamorpho, B’Wana Beast, Eclipso, and The Doom Patrol. Some of his other assignments during his three decades with DC were the Superman/Batman adventures in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and The Unknown Soldier. Today, he is primarily remembered for creating and writing the original Teen Titans, and, of course, B&B.
It was while sick in bed as an eight year old that Jim Aparo first became enamored of comic books and decided that he wanted to make his living drawing them. Thus, he took all the art courses he could in high school and studied the comics themselves, especially the adventure strips. After high school, he claims that he was actually rejected by the Cartoonists & Illustrators School because, after looking at his samples, they said that they couldn't teach him anything he didn't already know. Nonetheless, he failed to find work in the comics industry, and ended up spending the next decade in advertising. Finally, in 1967, he was hired at Charlton Comics by editor Dick Giordano. When Giordano moved over to DC, he brought many of Charlton's top creators, including Aparo, with him. Aparo soon became the artist for AQUAMAN and THE PHANTOM STRANGER.
When the Stranger was set to guest star in B&B #98, editor Murray Boltinoff asked Aparo to draw that issue. This led to his being given the assignment as B&B's permanent artist with #100, a position that he held for the remainder of the title's life. During the 60's and 70's, Aparo was perhaps the only artist working in mainstream comics who not only inked his own pencils, but did the lettering as well, giving each of his pages a uniquely personal look. Aparo was also known for adding celebrity “cameos” in crowd scenes. If you look closely, you can spot Peter Falk as Columbo at the Gotham pier in #109 and Sammy Davis Jr. hanging out at an auction in #131. 
In addition to B&B and the other Batman titles, Aparo is also remembered as the artist on Michael Fleischer's Spectre stories in ADVENTURE COMICS. His final assignment was on GREEN ARROW in the mid 90's.
Murray Boltinoff was hired as an assistant to DC editor Whitney Ellsworth in the 40's at the suggestion of his brother, cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. During his long career at DC, Boltinoff served as editor of such titles as DOOM PATROL, SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, and THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE. He was co-editor, with George Kashdan, of B&B for the first few team-up issues, and returned as solo editor with issue #78. Besides giving Neal Adams and Jim Aparo their first shot at drawing Batman, Boltinoff's main contribution to B&B seems to be leaving Bob Haney alone to create his quirky masterpieces.
With the Haney/Boltinoff/Aparo triad in place, B&B settled into what later editor Paul Levitz would refer to as “...a fairly successful rut.” It is true that there was a lot of repetition in the B&B guest stars during this time. According to Haney, he and Boltinoff studied the sales figures and repeated team-ups that sold well. Apparently, Green Arrow, Wildcat, Sgt. Rock and the Joker were wildly popular with B&B readers, as they put in three appearances apiece between #98 and #131. Those characters were probably favorites of Haney's as well, as the issues featuring them stand out as some of his best work. Aquaman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, the Atom, Metamorpho, Two-Face and the Metal Men show up twice each. There were also return appearances by former B&B guest stars the Spectre, Deadman, the Teen Titans, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man.
Newer characters making their B&B debut included Kamandi, the Demon, Mister Miracle, Swamp Thing, and Man-Bat. The only one of these to become part of the B&B family was Mister Miracle, who made his B&B debut in #112, and would make a total of three appearances during Bob Haney's tenure as writer, two of which occurred during the period I'm focusing on here.
In Haney's B&B the guest stars often behave quite differently from the way they do in other comics of the time. The most glaring example is Plastic Man, who, in Haney's world, is a self-pitying whiner bemoaning his status as a “freak.” Following the loss of his fortune in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #75, Green Arrow in B&B was shown getting involved in a series of dangerous get rich quick schemes from which Batman would inevitably have to rescue him, whereas in other books he is portrayed as being much happier without the burden of all that money. Also controversial among fans was Haney's teaming of supposedly Earth-2 based Wildcat and Spectre with Batman in stories that ostensibly took place on Earth-1 while offering no explanation of how this was possible. These quirks of characterization and continuity have caused many fans to relegate Haney's B&B stories to their own alternate Earth, which they term Earth-B. To me, the more important concern is whether or not these were good stories, and, more often than not, they were.
For inspiration, Haney drew on a wide range of the trends and events of the time, giving them each his own unique spin. For example, issue #118's story seems inspired, at least in part, by the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, while “Dead Man's Quadrangle” in #127 is Haney's take on the tales of the Bermuda Triangle. Native American rights and the celebration of America's Bicentennial are thrown into #121's mix along with Batman, the Metal Men and a runaway train. The two part story in issues 129 and 130 combines elements of “The Maltese Falcon” with the legendary curse of the Hope Diamond. Although classic Batman foes such as Joker, Two-Face and even Catwoman do show up, Haney's villains are more often drug kingpins, terrorists, or foreign despots.. In one team-up with the Spectre, he even encounters human-sacrifice practicing members of the Indian Thuggee cult.
(Continued in Part Two)

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