Saturday, February 23, 2013

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

(For the edification of those who may have missed my last post, I shall reiterate the explanation and history of this two-part series of posts as it appeared previously: 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.  Part one can be read by going here.)
Now let's take a closer look at some of the individual stories that made the Haney/Boltinoff/Aparo B&B era so great. 

The one hundredth issue, the official start of Jim Aparo's tenure as B&B artist, begins with a bang as Batman is felled by a sniper's bullet, thus forcing him to sit out the remainder of the issue in a wheelchair as he awaits a life saving operation. Therefore, he is forced to bring in outside help in order to prevent a large shipment of illegal drugs from entering Gotham City. With Robin acting as field commander, he recruits “Hard Traveling Heroes” Green Arrow, Green Lantern and Black Canary to be his strike force.
The story kicked off something of a controversy when Green Arrow kills a fleeing thug and shows no remorse. According to Mike W. Barr, quoted in the previously cited issue of BACK ISSUE, this prompted a “response story” from Denny O'Neil, which appeared six months later in the back pages of THE FLASH, in which GA accidentally kills a criminal while attempting to prevent a mugging and is so distraught that he breaks all his arrows, crashes the Arrowplane, shaves his head and joins a monastery.

In B&B #106's “Double Your Money ...And Die!”, Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, is among shareholders in something called the Starr Corporation. Heiress Salome Starr, set to inherit a ten million dollar trust fund, traded in her legacy for five million right away by convincing five investors, including Queen, to give her a million dollars in exchange for two million dollars when the trust fund matured. As the that date nears, the shareholders are being murdered one by one. It is revealed that the lawyer who helped Starr set up the corporation was Batman's old foe Two-Face in disguise. He's killing the investors because he'd set it up so that if they're all dead the ten million would go to a Swedish plastic surgery clinic, which Two-Face hoped would be able to find a way to fix his ruined face. “Double Your Money...And Die!” is one of the best Two-Face tales I've read, nicely emphasizing the tragic nature of the character.
“Death Has The Last Laugh” from #111 is perhaps the best known of Haney's B&B stories, as it features the unusual pairing of Batman with his arch-nemesis the Joker. In one of Haney's most clever plots, the Clown Prince of Crime tricks Batman into believing that he has been framed for a recent murder that he, in fact, did commit. The Caped Crusader then teams with his old foe to find the “real killer”, who is actually working with the Joker to lure Batman into an elaborate death trap.
Issue 115's story, “The Corpse That Wouldn't Die!”, is one of the most bizarre stories Bob Haney ever wrote, and that's saying something. While searching for a kidnapped heiress, Batman receives a severe electrical shock that leaves him effectively brain dead. Guest star the Atom shrinks down and literally gets inside the Caped Crusader's head, running around Batman's brain in order to manipulate his body to complete the Dark Knight's final case. Somehow, the Atom's activity serves to stimulate Batman's gray matter, and he makes a full recovery at issue's end.

Issue #118 features Batman and Wildcat captured by the Joker, who outfits them with spiked boxing gloves and forces them to fight each other by threatening to shoot a puppy. This isn't just any puppy, of course. This little critter carries in his blood experimental anti-bodies that are the only hope of saving six hundred prison inmates who were infected by Joker with a rare disease in order to kill just one former henchman who was threatening to testify against the arch-criminal.
The highlight of #119 is Batman swallowing Kirk Langstrom's Man-Bat formula to transform into a second Man-Bat when he and Langstrom are captured by the escaped criminal they'd journeyed to a Caribbean island to extradite to Gotham.
A ragtag band of humans living inside Mount Rushmore magically summon Batman to their post-apocalyptic future world ruled by intelligent animals in “This Earth Is Mine” from B&B #120. As “Captain Bat,” he ends up leading a pack of gorilla soldiers who are hunting Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, though he is secretly working to help the boy escape. It's a wild premise that seems like it shouldn't work, yet Haney manages to make this unlikely team-up of two wildly disparate characters appear perfectly natural. His efforts are amplified by Aparo's realistic rendering of Kamandi's world and of his bestial foes.

Why “Small War of the Super Rifles” from B&B #124 has never been included in any of the various greatest Batman stories ever collections published over the years is truly a mystery to me. Perhaps its because the true stars of the issue are not the cover billed Batman and Sgt. Rock but the creative team of Bob Haney, Jim Aparo and Murray Boltinoff, who all appear in the story. The story starts off routinely enough, with Batman and Rock teaming up to track down terrorists who have stolen the super rifles of the title from the U.S. Army. Suddenly, the scene shifts to the studio of Jim Aparo, which has been infiltrated by those very same terrorists, intent on forcing Aparo to draw the story so that Batman and Rock are killed. Aparo escapes to an abandoned lighthouse and contacts Haney and Boltinoff. Together, the trio revise the story on the fly in order to guide Batman and Rock's actions, while attempting to stay one step ahead of the terrorists. Honestly, its hard to describe this tale in any way that's going to make sense, and thinking about it too much will just make your head hurt, but it all somehow works in the end, creating the most unusual single issue of Haney, Aparo and Boltinoff's B&B run.

B&B #128 was the first issue of the series that I read, but the real reason that it merits mentioning is Haney's choice of adversary for Batman and co-star Mr. Miracle. When super villains were featured in B&B, they were either members of Batman's rogues gallery like the Joker or Haney creations such as Copperhead, the Hellgrammite, or the Gargoyle. Thus, #128's story, “Death by the Ounce,” is unique in pitting Batman and Mr. Miracle against the latter's perennial nemesis Granny Goodness.
Up until 1976, the team-ups in B&B had been squeezed into just one issue, despite being packed with enough plot to fill two or three. The book's very first two part story took up issues 129 and 130 and featured Batman, Green Arrow and the Atom facing off against the Joker and Two-Face. The story centers around Green Arrow's efforts to possess a supposedly cursed ancient statue known as the Emperor Eagle. GA's obsession brings the three heroes into conflict not only with Joker and Two-Face but also the dictator of the small central Asian country where the Eagle had been forged in the time of Alexander the Great. Haney is at the height of his creative powers here and weaves a complex, globe spanning tale that incorporates influences from pop culture, urban legend and history into one breathtaking epic, beautifully illustrated by Aparo, also turning in a career best performance.
Once again, the most notable thing about #131 is the uproar it caused amongst fans, as it depicts Catwoman committing murder, an act she had explicitly stated elsewhere that she could, and would, never stoop to.
Issue #131 was also Boltinoff's last as B&B's editor. With the next issue, the reins passed to Denny O'Neil as DC moved to consolidate all of its Batman titles under the aegis of one editor. It was immediately apparent that B&B's glory days had come to an end, as #132, which teamed Batman with O'Neil creation Richard Dragon-Kung Fu Fighter, is one of the series' weakest entries.

When Paul Levitz became B&B's editor as of #139, Haney found himself under increased pressure to bring his version of Batman in line with the continuity of the other Bat books and overall DC universe. This would lead to many of his scripts being extensively revised and, ultimately, to his departure from B&B following #157. He was replaced by a rotating roster of writers including Cary Burkett, Gerry Conway and Mike W. Barr. The once prolific Haney was left writing only THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER. He continued to do so until that title’s cancellation in 1982, at which point his nearly three decade long association with DC Comics came to an end.
While many of Haney's later B&B tales, and those of his successors, are quite enjoyable, and Jim Aparo continued to provide stunning illustrations to accompany them, the book never again reached the heights that it had during the Haney/Boltinoff/Aparo era, and eventually came to an end with issue #200.

If you're interested in reading the stories I've discussed here, and I would highly recommend that you do, they are all reprinted in the second and third volumes of SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE BRAVE & THE BOLD—THE BATMAN TEAM-UPS. In these volumes you'll discover two of comics' most masterful storytellers at the peak of their careers working together to produce some of the most fun and entertaining superhero comics ever. 

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