It should almost be a mantra by now, that middle films in a trilogy are the weakest ones because they are denied the focus of a beginning or an end. The Back to the Future Trilogy fares better than most because it isn’t telling an integrated story over three films but rather a succession of complete but interlinked stories consecutively. This allows Part II to stand up on its own to a higher degree than most such films, and it does go into territory unenvisaged by the first film before dropping back into its original scenario. But it not only tries to go to too many places for a single film, but its complex storyline ends up depending entirely too much on the first film for it to really stand alone.
We begin at the end of the first film, except that it’s not re-used footage, because Claudia Wells isn’t reprising the role of Jennifer Parker and has been replaced by Elizabeth Shue (and I didn’t notice, that’s how alike they made her). The whole thing has been re-shot, practically identically, except for an additional couple of shots to show Biff Tannen seeing the hover-DeLorean disappear.
Both Director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale have gone on record regretting tying their own hands by having Jennifer accompany Marty and Doc to the future of 2015, and as a result, Jennifer is quickly dumped on arrival (one reviewer declaring this an act of rampant misogyny), though she does get her own sequence when 1985 Jennifer Parker is taken to the home of 2015 Jennifer McFly and her family and sees just what a future awaits her, and it’s not good. Clever, maybe, with Fox playing himself aged up thirty years, his near-identical loser son, Marty Jr and Marty Jr’s sister Marlene, dragged up. But things have… er, will have gone disastrously for the McFly family, thanks to Marty’s newly-introduced inability to handle being called chicken, which in 1985 or somewhen close, caused him to accept a challenge to a drag race in which he suffers a hand injury that denies him his future as a major rock guitarist and turns him into George McFly version 1 (and Marty Jr. into a total klutz and loser that comes over as if on stupid drugs throughout).
But Doc has dragged Marty into his future to keep things from getting worse. Marty’s near-exact resemblance to his son (which ought to be weirder than it’s played given that I infer very strongly that Marty hasn’t yet had sex with Jennifer. or maybe I’m just extrapolating too much, given I have written about a very similar situation in my Tempus Infinitive novel) should enable Sr. to impersonate Jr. to turn down an offer to join in a robbery organised by Griff (Biff generation three). If unchecked, both McFly children wind up in jail.
The film introduces the ‘chicken’ motif here to generate another slapstick chase around the modernised Hill Valley town square, ending with Griff’s gang being arrested for massive criminal damage and, once Jennifer is retrieved, heading home.
Thus will end phase 1. Zemeckis didn’t like this bit at all, as he hates all films that try to predict the future. The tone was to present a normal scene, neither dystopia nor utopia, so as not to wind up looking stupid when set against the real 2015 when it hove into view, though a great many technological developments were accurately foreseen. However, the look, in terms of fashion, were outlandish to a degree that I can only think was deliberate – Marty Sr. wears two ties, side by side – and that visual idiocy undermines the whole sequence.
It was no doubt this lack of enthusism for the Future that led to this phase being so brief, and the film’s ostensible purpose being achieved so quickly. The whole treatment tries to have fun in itself in a slightly mechanical fashion but it can’t escape a sense of relief at being a McGuffin for the real story.
Because Marty buys a souvenir of 2015 in the form of a Sports Almanac giving ALL major sporting results from 1950 to, don’t look now, 2000. Ought to be able to make a buck or two betting on foreknowledge. Doc, of course, won’t let him do it, but the argument takes place in the hearing of old Biff who, whilst Doc and Marty are recovering an unconscious Jennifer who’s shocked by meeting her 2015 self, he steals and returns the Time Machine.
So Doc and Marty return to 1985, dump the shocked-out Jennifer on her porch swing to keep her out of the rest of the film, and go back to normal. Except that this isn’t 1985, it’s 1985A, and for the middle sequence we are granted a tour of Hell, as Zemeckis and Gale go wild on the complete Pottervillisation of Hill Valley.
You see, old Biff went back to 1955 to pass the Almanac onto his high school self, who makes billions betting on sure things and makes over Hill Valley into his crude, vicious and stupid self. Along the way, he has secretly murdered George McFly and coerced Lorraine into marrying him (not to mention having monstrously large – and unconvincingly plastic – breast implants fitted: Lea Thompson sells herself as a broken woman, an even worse alcoholic than the first Lorraine), and once Marty starts asking about the secret almanac, tries to kill him.
Guess what that means? Back to 1955, November 12 to be precise, the day of the dance and the initial return to the Future in film one, giving the film its cast iron climax as Marty has to retrieve the almanac from Biff without interfering with any of the events of that day, or even being seen by George, Lorraine, Doc or ‘Calvin Klein’.
It’s a well put together slapstick, though it runs a bit long, and through too many setbacks to fully work. Marty has too many setbacks to overcome, all the while flitting around the edges of, and in between, the first film’s setpieces, which we see from different angles. It’s very clever and the whole sequence is played with conviction, but the problem is that at least one viewer was sat there admiring how clever the film was without getting into the story as a story as opposed to an exercise in ostentatious smartness.
Still, all’s well that ends well, with the disturbed past left without further disturbance, the Almanac burned and the ‘real’ (i.e. disturbed) 1985 resolving itself around Jennifer who, let us not forget, has been left sleeping on a porch swing for two-thirds of the film (maybe that guy was right…)
Now, contrary to what I said last Sunday, Back to the Future was made as a standalone film, the ‘cliffhanger’ ending being just a piece of fun. Part II came about as a deliberate attempt to cash in on a massive commercial phenomenon, so the fact it’s as good as it is, despite the flaws, is a testament to the people involved. But Zemeckis and Gale were ambitious. There wasn’t just going to be a sequel but an entire trilogy and, in parallel, Part III was being filmed. We just need a link.
Doc’s in the hover-DeLorean, trying to negotiate the high winds that precede the storm to land safely and pick up Marty. And just as Marty’s warning him not to get struck by lightning, he’s struck by lightning (that is so bad writing) and disappears. Leaving Marty stranded in 1955.
But at that very moment, as it starts to absolutely pelt it down with rain, a car drives up behind Marty and a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be from Western Union, delivers a letter they’ve had since 1885 with instructions to deliver it to the guy who looks like Marty on this spot at this exact time. It’s from Doc who, as foreshadowed a couple of times, is in the Old West. That’s where we’re heading next, once Marty races into town and finds 1955 Doc who, having just sent Marty back to the future, sees him back within ten seconds and faints in shock…
Back to the Future Part II, as you’ve now seen, is at one and the same time a discreet episode, and part of a sequence of adventures that ultimately add up to a long story. It avoids several of the pitfalls of a middle film, but its convoluted story, and its own internal crossings between three distinct time periods (four if you count the reshot opening, which takes place in 1985 instead of what the film calls 1985A, ignoring the fact that 1985 is itself an A-version).
Ultimately, whilst it’s good in parts, it tries to be ultra-clever with its time manipulations that are meat and drink to the SF fan, but which the film deliberately treats simplistically for fear of losing its audience. And having been conceived as an attempt to replicate a big hit instead of a genuine enthusiasm for what happens next to the characters of the first film, it creates limitations for itself that it can’t exceed.
Four of the first film’s five stars return, though Lea Thompson only has a very limited amount of screen-time, bolstering the misogyny argument. Crispin Glover turned down a reprise, alleging he was being offered a fee less than half of the rest of the cast: hence George McFly was dead in 1985A, and the extremely limited use of George in other parts of the film were made-up of either previously unused footage from the first film, or a very-heavily made-up Jeffrey Weissman, whose only extended appearance was spent upside down. Glover sued the Producers and won a verdict that led to Screen Guild rule changes prohibiting things such as these to manipulate an actor’s apparent appearance.
So: back to the mantra about the middle film. Unfortunately, it still applies. But, as we all now, third time pays for all. It’s Old West time next Sunday…
I was always a fan of Oasis. Not from the first moment, nor from the first time I heard them, which was performing ‘Shakermaker’ on Top of the Pops. Properly, though I liked each succeeding single, it wasn’t until ‘Whatever’ that I bought anything by them. From there it went back to picking up the CD singles, and Definitely Maybe. And I’m still a fan of Oasis, or at any rate those first two albums and the singles that came out from them.
I know all the criticisms that have been made of them, and I whole-heartedly agree that if John Lennon had never met Paul McCartney, Christ knows what Noel Gallagher would have done with his life but that doesn’t alter the fact that he wrote some bloody good songs whose lack of originality becomes immaterial in the face of their melodies, their gut-grasping choruses and sheer bombastic self-confidence with which the band performed them.
The day I bought (What’s the story) Morning Glory?, I took it home after work, played it and, about halfway through, phoned my mate Steve, the only other Oasis fan I knew, to tell him it was ‘fucking brilliant!’.
By that point, I’d already heard ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. I was waiting for it, it had been picked out by Noel Gallagher as the best track on the album, I heard the story about how Liam had insisted on singing ‘Wonderwall’ which, as the acoustic track, would have been Noel’s to sing, so he’d refused to let his bother have this one. And what a stunning decision that was! Noel’s voice was perfectly suited for this mid-tempo, ballad-structured song. That calm, considered piano introduction, mined from ‘Imagine’, yes, I know.
And Noel sings out, building lyrics that, a quarter century later he claims to still not understand. That was the way of Noel’s lyrics, they were sounds, they were rhymes, they didn’t mean anything because they weren’t intended to mean anything, and I still await someone explaining just why that makes them despicable unlike, say, Keith Reid’s stream of consciousness lyrics on ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’?
Step inside the eye of your mind, don’t you know you might find, a better place to play. If the song is about anything, it’s about letting go of what happened, accepting the past is unchangeable, and looking to make the future what it can be. So I start a revolution from my bed, echoing Lennon’s bed-in of 1969, the original Give Peace a Chance. Instructions to stand up beside the fireplace, take that look for off your face, step outside into the blooming summertime. It’s building up, the music is looking for release and that denial that comes cast in doubt and suspected double-negative, you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out…
And so Sally can wait. Who Sally is, what she can wait for, why her soul slides away, all of these things are unknowable, even to Noel Gallagher but he’s tied all this into one of the purest, soaring, most yearning choruses I’ve ever heard. Don’t Look Back in Anger, I hear him sing, and I hear an answer to John Osborne’s play of so long gone, the Angry Young Men dissatisfied with the world behind the War, when really he’s answering a David Bowie song I’ve never heard, but I don’t care. Don’t Look Back in Anger. Be free of the past, I hear you say.
It’s a brilliant sound, a wonderful song, one that they’ll still be listening to in a hundred years time. This and ‘Live Forever’. Everything else about Oasis is disposable, but these two songs will live forever.
That’s what ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ meant to me for over twenty years. Then, in 2017, a madman, a religious fanatic, a crazy, stupid, evil bastard, set off a bomb in the Manchester Arena, at the end of a concert by Ariana Grande. His target was young girls, and their mothers, girls whose only crime was to love the music of a young idol. The bastard disapproved: not for anyone to like of what he disapproved. He set out to kill and he killed. Among the dead was a 14 year old girl who’d come down from the Hebrides to see her favourite singer.
Most of the dead, the targets, were from Manchester. A Memorial service was held in Albert Square three days later, at which the amazing poem in tribute to our City, ‘This is The Place’, was read out by Tony Walsh. In the crowd, a young woman started singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. The night after the bombing it had been sung by student at Chethams School of Music, but in Albert Square ordinary voices took the song up until the whole crowd were singing it.
It’s our answer to the lunatics, the madmen, the religious fascists. Do what you like, you can never win. You cannot beat us because we will never let you beat us. This is our City,and we are born of it and because we are Manchester we will always be us, and your hatred that extends to even the music we enjoy, to enjoyment and life and happiness is answered by our song that tells us to forgive, but we will never forget.
All of this and more has been wrapped up in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ since that young woman began singing in the clear evening’s silence, and I could not extract it if I wanted to. Our souls slide away, but Don’t Look Back in Anger we sing. This song belongs to everyone who is and was and will be Mancunian, including Ariana Grande, who came back and stood beside us when she could justifiably never have visited Manchester again.
Today we remember the tragedy of the Manchester Arena bombing, the event that touched many of us and as we reflect on 3 years now passed, we are a society that have never been stronger and closer. We are flying the Manchester Bees on the windows of the office today to show solidarity with those who were most affected.
We will never forget watching the news on this night or waking up to the news the next day.
We will never forget those who lost their lives and those injured.
We will always remember the resilience we learned and the strength, as a city , we showed.
We are proud to be from Manchester. We hope there will always be one last time and we will never look back in anger.
Bee strong our kid 🐝🐝🐝
I cannot believe how bad this episode was. In fact, in my eyes it doesn’t even qualify as an episode, given its structure as the first half of a two-part story which then never produced its second part. The story just vanishes up itself on a procedural point and stops abruptly with every plate left spinning in mid-air.
The episode is about exposing the National Enquirer for what it is, namely a supermarket scandal sheet devoted to exaggeration, distortion and lies to sell sensationalist stories about the rich and famous. Does this sound in any way familiar? Of course it does (it even has the cheek at one point to suggest the blame belongs to Britain).
The point of the story is that this is 1980, and the National Spectator (as the paper in the episode is named, as minimalist cover) is the only paper doing this, and very successful it is. We enter the story via popular and successful married couple tennis star Eddie Daniels (James van Patten) and fashion model Monica Daniels (Irena Ferris, a genuinely gorgeous woman with the most modern look I’ve yet seen in the whole series). Monica discovers a front-page banner headline story claiming the baby she’s carrying is not Eddie’s but rather that of a photographer, one of many with whom she’s sleeping around. The stress and upset leads to a car accident in which she loses the baby. Sent to interview Eddie, Billie Newman is berated by him just for being a reporter.
That’s the entree, though Eddie also crops up later, provoked into giving the Spectator a sensationalist photo. From here, Lou Grant decides to do a piece on the Spectator as a disgrace to the entire newspaper business.
The story was oddly dull, or perhaps that was just because nothing in it shocked or surprised the way it was hoped to do in 1980. Even then, the Spectator was not the (massively successful) outlier that the programme clearly hoped it was, but the forerunner as newspapers in general were dragged – completely willingly – into its wake until that is the norm these days, even among the so-called quality press.
The story spent a lot of time pursuing its target and exposing to the unsuspecting audience the tactics. There was a warning line early on when Joe Rossi interviewed the Publisher, George Lester (Alan Oppenheimer), a waistcoated, sleek, smooth, confident man who was clearly far cleverer than anyone on the Trib. Lester’s eager to show off his paper’s humanitarian awards for re-uniting families, exposing health scandals, but the moment Rossi starts creeping up on the scandals he’s accused of having come with pre-conceived notions, intent only on a hatchet job, and the interview is over. The funny thing is, Lester is spot on.
I’ll mention the British angle briefly. This is ex-Spectator editor Claude Whitcomb, who you know is British because he’s called Claude, he’s played by Bernard Fox (who once played Dr Bombay on Bewitched) with a fruity voice, Whitcomb’s an import from the London Daily Mirror – The Sun would have been a better example though the Mirror, which I used to get in my pre-Guardian days, wasn’t off the mark – and cheerfully outlined the tactics the tabloids used to get their stories, including lies. Fox also got to drape his arm across Linda Kelsey’s shoulders for an unconscionably long time without her kicking him in the nuts which was a bit of a character-breaking detail. Whitcomb even contrasted the Mirror and it’s fun appeal to a tired worker in the evening with the serious and off-putting stories of the ‘Manchester Guardian‘ which was a seriously outdated reference to the roots the paper had long since abandoned even then. Ok, that wasn’t all that brief a mention.
All of this is set-up for the immediate response of the Spectator, which is to sue the Trib for $60,000,000 for malicious intent and irreperable harm to reputation (manifesting itself in increased cirulation, hah!). The rest of the half-episode was all about the legal aspects of handling such a serious case, culminating in Lou exploding in deposition and refusing to answer questions about his state of mind, his doubts, etc., when editing the story.
It was a matter of principle, a refusal to let outsiders into his head, on behalf of editors everywhere. It would cripple journalism. It even had Adam Wilson second-guessing and self-censoring himself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a legal defence. Lou ended up being fined $100 a day until he agreed to answer these questions, and the paper not paying for him.
So, after five days and $500 he couldn’t afford, Lou backed down, told the paper’s legal representative that he’d testify, but under protest, slammed down the phone and it was fade-out, closing theme music, end of episode and an immense feeling of being cheated. I checked: the story does not continue next week.
All the issues the story raised, and in particular a lawsuit that could close the Trib for good if it were won, not to mention confirm that the bad guys win (as indeed they have done in real life), vanished like that, never to be resolved or mentioned again.
Whatever possessed the show to imagine that this was in any way a satisfactory story, I have no idea. The best I can think of is that it was planned as a two-parter but the National Enquirer got wind of it and threatened, the perfect irony, a massive libel suit if the second half, in which they got chopped down, was made. That would explain an episode that, on any kind of artistic or even professional level, is incomplete, badly-structured and just plain inadequate.
Seriously, if anyone’s following this series and watching the episodes for themselves on YouTube, don’t bother with this one.
This is an occasional series, about books I read many years ago, usually from Didsbury Library, that I seek out to re-experience, to see if the things that appealed still affect me the same way, and to measure the change in myself between then and now.
The books in this feature usually come from the Library, but this is only the second that I actually bought with my own money. Of all places, I brought it home from Headingley, Yorkshire CC’s ground, the club shop, where I saw it one lunch interval in an Eighties Roses Match.
William Rushton, better known as Willie, was from the great satire boom of the early Sixties, and the early Private Eye, of which he was a co-founder. He was a great, jovial, bearded figure with a very posh accent and a gleeful, mocking sense of humour, which made him very popular as both a writer and a performer. W.G.Grace’s Last Case was one of two books by him that I owned, the other (Superpig) being a humourous look at how to live a bachelor life that I actually found to contain much practical advice in amongst the witty remarks, which made it very useful when I finally found myself looking after myself.
I always thought this was Rushton’s only novel but Wikipedia corrects me by confirming there were two others, the last being a spoof of the infamous Spycatcher. It’s a cross between W.G. Grace, the great Victorian cricketer, and a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, and the premise, plus a read of the first page in the shop, was enough to persuade me to buy it.
Just as with Paperback Writer, I found the book incredibly funny at first, but on subsequent re-readings, diminishing returns set in until I let it go, or at least so I thought. Having had the book recalled to mind, a cheap Amazon copy was easy to procure, and I started again. Not long after, a bout of re-organisation brought about the discovery that I still had my original copy from all those years ago.
Exactly as the first time, I found the book instantly funny. I’d forgotten however just how dense it was with jokes, and with literary references that were out of copyright. To give you a quick example, the book opens at Lords with Grace just putting up a half century and plotting to delay his hundred until there’s a decent crowd and a decent collection. His batting partner is A.J. Raffles.
The bowling, by Castor Vilebastard (pronounced Vilibart but not by Grace), is interrupted by an Apache arrow between the shoulder blades. The first Medical Doctor on the scene to pronounce a pretty obvious death is Dr John Watson, currently on the look-out for a new stream of articles for The Strand magazine, his usual leader having gone over the Reichenbach Falls.
In short, everything is being set up for a madcap meeting of characters from all over the place, all mingled into some amazing and confusing piece of mischief which just happens to be taking place in the year of an invasion by tripod like creatures from another planet… Stir frequently and watch the pot bubble.
And the book is dense to the point of head-whirling with its references and jokes, line after line knowing and silly and hilarious. A decent familiarity, of not an expert eye for Victorian fiction, and sometimes not fiction, such as Oscar Wilde and Toulouse Letrec, is needed to keep up.
Unfortunately, Rushton almost immediately bogs the book down with a long, no, interminable flashback, narrated in persona propre by the Doctor himself, of an MCC Cricket tour of America and the Wild West, organised by the Vilebastard Brothers, who are twins. This goes on for nearly half the book, addressed by Grace to Watson and Lestrade, and it kills the story especially due to how Rushton has framed it. An unbroken narration would have let the flashback stand on its own terms and had the advantage of some brevity, though to be frank it’s too long-winded as it is and far from funny. Filtering it out piecemeal, with continual ‘editorial’ comment from Watson’s thought processes, and Lestrade’s rising eagerness to go off and arrest someone, only drags it out and, worst of all, echoes the reader’s growing indifference to this elephantine explanation. Watson and Lestrade want Grace to get to the point in the same way the reader wants Rushton to get there: it’s like a feedback loop.
By the time we catch up to the present day and can return to the point of the story, i.e., to cram in as much and many of the period’s figures, all trace of momentum is lost and whilst Rushton regains a lot of ground, he can’t recover that freewheeling rush of hilarity with which the book opens.
Nevertheless, the plot rumbles forward, taking our intrepid heroes to Paris to meet the Impressionists, to experience the Folies Bergere (there’s a rather out-of-place sequence where Dr Grace experiences the rather wider-ranging possibilities of intercourse with La Goulue, a famed Can-Can dancer, whilst Dr Watson has to make do with getting off with Queen Victoria…) but the steam is leaking out by now and the story is starting to merge into War of the Worlds, with the Eifell Tower as a rocket ship…
The ending is weak, as if Rushton ultimately didn’t know where to stop. Grace, Raffles, Watson, Lestrade and everyone else involved in defeating the Martians wind up on the moon, eighty years before Armstrong and Aldrin. The invasion has been thwarted and the only ones who might expose the story are stranded without a return ticket. Or are they?
It’s an equivocal ending, and far from the kind of organic conclusion that a well-considered story demands, but maybe I’m being too demanding, expecting high standards of plotting to accompany the intended silliness. But it is a disappointment.
Overall, it’s the plotting that let’s the book down. A firmer, more carefully constructed story would have allowed Rushton full rein with the gags. It’s like the early Goon Shows. Spike Milligan’s writing was hilarious and anarchic but unfocussed and sloppy. Pairing him with Eric Sykes as a writer was an act of genius on the part of the Producer who first conceived it: Sykes imposed a structure that anchored Milligan’s flights of lunacy to a storyline that, instead of restricting him, disciplined him to a more effective, and funnier way of writing. Rushton lacks a Sykes and the book ultimately fails because of it.
Though whilst it fails it’s still very funny. Just not as funny as it could so easily have been. Still, having kept it for so many years, I’ll keep it still.
Most of this latest episode of Person of Interest was a primarily procedural thriller, developing the ongoing strand of the Brotherhood, building up the character of its imperturbable and strategic leader, Dominic, and setting up next week’s episode whose Number has been identified for us this week: Dominic has established a hold over all the gangs in New York save one. Next week, he plans to bring down Carl Elias.
But that’s for next week, which is rather more of proximate interest for the episode’s secondary strand. Remember that last week Smaritan constructed a very shadowy, blurred and completely unrecognisable picture of Sameen Shaw? A picture that it’s constantly refining, deblurring, bringing closer to recognisability throughout the episode. Meanwhile, Greer has set Martine Rouseau on the trail (always a pleasure to see Cara Buono).
The problem is, as it always is, as she and Greer cynically observe, relationships. Their underground friends overlook this. Leverage. Contacts. Trace them from one person to another – Katya, the woman replaced in Tomas’s gang, Romeo, who recommended her replacement, an online dating, and therefore contact app, called Angler – gradually closing in on the point of origin…
And there was a tertiary strand, reintroducing Dr Iris Campbell (the delightfully red-headed Wrenn Schmidt, I am being spoiled this week), psychologist to one Detective ‘Riley’, who’s not really playing fair, avoiding appointments. Iris’ commentary on ‘Riley”s supercop persona is a delightful in-joke, but she’s got him a pass to temporary re-assignment as a Training Instructor as the Academy, where he is watching the Number of the Week, trainee Dani Silva (Adria Arjona), who’s behaving very mysteriously towards her training group, especially the smitten Alex Ortiz (Mike Figueroa).
Not to mention that she’s savvy enough to kneecap ‘Riley’ in a training exercise with paintball guns.
It’s another switch episode, with Silva’s actions setting her up to be Perpetrator when she’s actually going to end up being Victim: already a cop, working undercover long-term, identifying a mole sent by the Brotherhood to inflitrate the Police (a callback here to Mike Laskey in season 3). Reese is sympathetic over and above his duty to both her and Team Machine (not to mention his hero-complex): she reminds him of Carter.
Things start to go pear-shaped. Silva’s cover is blown, ‘Riley’ saves her from being gunned down on the street, despite Iris bugging him over his psychology. Silva’s handler is murdered, and she is framed for it. The mole is, and I’m sure you will be surprised by this, Ortiz, whose naivete in thinking he’s doing a one-time job for the Brotherhood is almost laughable. His job was to steal Police files from the computer, years of investigative detail about Elias and his gang, gleaned in a moment. And Shaw and Finch identify the big thug Mini, the quiet boy at the back of the class who everyone thinks is stupid, as Dominic. Enemy sighted, but not yet enemy met.
It all works out. ‘Riley’ and Fusco bring in Ortiz, clearing Silva’s name. She has lost her trusted handler, but gained a friend on the force (she will pop-up again: irrelevant, I know, though perhaps the show’s own terminology justifies this aside, but I hadn’t recognised her as Anathema Device in last year’s Good Omens).
A good thriller, though not a great one, through ultimately becoming nothing but a preliminary to something larger. There’s no space for Root, and only a limited role for Finch, isolated in the underground, speaking to the others only by phone, not even Bear for company because he’s got an action role.
But a hell of a place to end an episode. Rousseau’s traced the Angler app to a department store, cosmetics section. Shaw, in her day job, won’t answer her phone. Samaritan says the target isn’t there. Rousseau requests the latest photo. It’s still unclear but it’s enough to enable Rousseau to recognise one of the assistants. Who’s staring back into her face, with recognition.
If I was looking for a gorgeous melancholy love song as played by Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills on Warren Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene, I may have missed out with ‘Reconsider Me’, but I was not to be disappointed. The R.E.M. instrumentalists had their shot and played with distinction on a side 2 track, ‘The Heartache’.
Musically, the two songs are on a par. ‘The Heartache’ is taken at a slower pace, the instrumentation is more lush, there’s a piano in the mix that carries the main, rippling melody. Zevon sings in a more relaxed voice, a slightly lower register.
But it’s in the words that the songs depart from each other. ‘The Heartache’ is about loss, about love unreciprocated, but it’s sung in a voice of resignation: things are, and they cannot be changed. There isn’t even a former relationship to be revived. In that sense, the song is a cousin to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ma Cherie Amour’.
In terms of a Warren Zevon song, ‘The Heartache’ is unusually straight. It’s simple, it’s direct. Zevon sings of shadows falling in the noonday sun, of blue feelings to the maximum, creating a symbolic picture, before turning to the concrete. Look what happens, he sings, when you love someone. And they don’t love you.
And that rich, gentle, unself-forgiving chorus comes out to remind us all who’ve been there of the heartache that comes when you undergo the risk of falling in love with someone who does not respond to you.
Though Zevon doesn’t specify, in the true Sixties tradition of seemingly superficial lyrics that conceal a more complex story behind them, what he’s singing about doesn’t seem to be the ‘Ma Cherie Amour’ situation of worshipping an ideal girl from afar (or anear) without her knowing you exist. I get from this that Uncle Warren has declared himself to her, has enjoyed a time together, but that now he has been rejected: sadly, sympathetically, but finally.
That leaves him in a rotten place, one he never expected. He never thought he’d be alone like this, but he’s sensible and rueful enough to realise that he should have been a realist. It’s the basic problem with relationships, they end, and it’s always too soon for the lover who is left behind.
‘The Heartache’ stems from the same estrangement from his wife, Crystal, that Zevon sung about in ‘Reconsider Me’, which places earlier on the album. There he pleads for what, in his heart, he knows will not happen. Here, he accepts that the time has past, that everything is past, and it will not return.
It’s resignation, it’s realism. Something beyond his control has denied him what he wants. Who among us hasn’t been there? Yet who among us could make such an ending so rich and emotional an experience? The heartache, the risk you run, the chance you take when you love someone.
And the sorrow of the lonely one, when the heartache comes. Berry, Buck and Mills join in making the sorrow as palatable as things could be, but not even they can uplift this heart.
It’s Trilogy Time again, three in a row between Working Sundays, though not in the sense of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Though the Back to the Future trilogy does tell a complete story over its three parts, it is closer to the James Bond series in spirit in that each film is complete in itself.
Back to the Future is a personal film in two respects, firstly that it’s one of the few that I took a young lady out to, though that turned out to be our last date (which I don’t hold against the film), and secondly that it’s events in the past exactly cover my birth: I popped into existence the night before the big climax.
I hardly think I need to describe the contents of the film. Michael J. Fox, then starring in the TV sitcom Family Ties, and filming that during the day, plays teenager Marty McFly, whose friendship with the eccentric inventor Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown (Christopher Lloyd) sees him sent back in time thirty years, to 1955. Marty has to enlist Doc Brown’s help to go back to the future, which isn’t going to be easy given the massive gulf between the two eras scientific levels. He also has to avoid interfering with the past so as to jeopardise his own existence, which he does by redirecting his teenage mother’s interest in his bullied loser father to himself (cue slighty queasy incest theme that has both Marty and the film nervous).
The film, which was a deserved massive success, was directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who came up with the original concept when wondering if he’d have liked his own father had he been in high school with him. The script went through several iterations and was shopped around for years before being produced under Steven Speilberg’s aegis. It is as slick and carefully assembled as any of Speilberg’s projects, a completely commercial film with nothing on its mind but entertainment, combining drama and comedy with that touch of the fantastic. Nothing wrong with that: I enjoyed it in 1985 and I’ve enjoyed it this morning, though more than thirty years on I’m aware of the aspects that haven’t worn well.
In it’s way, the film has become two historical studies, since the world of 1985 is as foreign and strange to us as that of 1955 and, to be frank, a lot less convincing. So much of that side of the film has become incredibly dated: Marty’s constant travelling around by skateboard, his sleeveless quilted jacket (and the consequent, now totally-unfunny jokes about him being a sailor because he’s wearing his life-preserver), the DeLorean car, the hair-styles, Huey Lewis and The News – but then ‘The Power of Love’ was horribly naff at the time.
And the film now seems very slow-paced for an action comedy. Though a scene in which Marty pretends to be an alien called Darth Vader, from the planet Vulcan, was cut for length, few Directors in the Twenty-First century would allow scenes to take so long to develop.
Fox is clearly having the time of his life playing Marty, who is clearly an outsized reflection of the actor, brash, self-confident, busy. That produces the film’s only false note: at the start, Marty’s band is rejected within seconds for the School Battle of the Bands contest, leading to Marty’s instant decision to quit music, and his fear of rejection. This intended to be a reflection of his father George (Crispin Glover), a put-upon weakling bullied by his Supervisor Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), but once we see Marty in action in 1955, it becomes increasingly implausible that he should be so vulnerable.
In fact, the acting standard is consistently high throughout. Glover is a miracle of ineffectuality throughout, down to his near-total lack of physical co-ordination: you expect him to fall over all the time. Wilson is actually the weakest link here, playing his bullying role with evident glee, only for the role to be insistently one-note. Lloyd has a wonderful time, overacting from start to finish in a role that demands being played as an OTT eccentric: mad scientist, anyone.
The heart of the film, to the extent it has one, belongs to Lea Thompson, as Lorraine, Marty’s mother. We meet her as a bloated, fat-suited, vodka-drinking frump, discontented, unfulfilled, a blob whose interest in life has expired. Lorraine has rewritten her own history to portray herself as the archetypal virgin, brought to life by her first kiss with George at the School dance, disapproving of Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells), just for phoning him (the hussy!).
But though she first appears to be the pedestalled virgin of her reconstructed memory, the young Lorraine is an absolute doll (which is why they cast Lea Thompson) who pursues Marty throughout the film (or Calvin as she calls him, since he has his name written on his underpants: Calvin Klein), drinks beer, smokes and claim to have ‘parked’ with several boys. No, she’s not a floozy, just a rather more real teenage girl.
And she met George McFly when her father knocked him down in his car and brought him into the house, went to the dance with him, and fell in love on their first kiss. Only now Marty, still in shock at meeting his father when he’s the same age as him, automatically pushes him to safety and gets hit by the car himself. So the fair young Lorraine meets him instead and immediately develops a case of the hots that nothing Marty can do to insert George into her life and her arms can overcome.
The incest aspect of this is plyed very gingerly, with the intention being to only focus on the jokey idea of a mother having the hots for her son. The attraction is only ever one way, and Thompson plays it straight and serious, but Marty is wierded out by the whole idea, only reciprocates to the extent the plot demands of him and in their only kiss is not so much an unwilling as a terrified participant. The film is so anxious not to put a serious toe over the line that the kiss is shot in such a way that we don’t see Lorraine and Marty’s lips meet.
Of course Marty’s going to go back, and of course there’ll be thrills and spills and last minute dramas about it, plus the unikely sight of Doc getting 1.21 GW of lightning-spread electricity through him without getting flash-fried (this is not that kind of film but even so…), but the irony is that whilst Marty succeeds in bringing his parents together (and reversing the erasure of his elder siblings and himself from existence), this can only be done by George standing up to Biff for the first time in his life. So, in order to repair the past, Marty has to break it again.
And he returns to an idyllic 1985 where his parents look and dress in modern clothes, are confident and happy and still obviously humping each other all over the shop and Biff Tannen’s an oily auto-repairman. In short, everything has changed for the better, except Marty himself.
That the film is a purely commercial product and an expected success was demonstrated by the closing scene, which sets up the sequel, with Doc returning from thirty years in the future in a DeLorean that’s now a hovercraft, to spirit Marty and Jennifer off with him to help save their kids… That’s confidence for you.
Back to the Future is still a good fun, unpretentious, enjoyable movie that despite everything I’ve said still holds up admirably this far into the future. And I will always love the scene where Marty, invited to play guitar with the dance band, teaches them ‘Johnny B Goode’. That bit may be trite, but when Fox launches into a guitar solo that encapsulates the history of rock, via Townsend, Hendrix and others I can’t remember, only for the crowd to stare in shock, it’s still a glorious joke that I love seeing, over and over.
And so, with issue 74, still under the editorship of George Kashdan, The Brave and The Bold came to its fourth, final and longest phase, the Bat-book era. Not content with Detective and Batman and Justice League of America and World’s Finest, DC turned over their team-up book to the Caped Crusader as the permanent one-half of the team.
The first victims, a term I use advisedly after reading the story, were the Metal Man. Bob Haney wrote a story that plumbed the depths beneath amateurism as Batman has to learn to expunge his prejudice against robots as Gotham City suffers a plague of robbing ones whilst spouting dialogue that makes you wonder whether it’s Haney or Bruce Wayne who’s the ten year old. It’s a very bad start.
The Spectre team-up in the next issue was considerably better but was an early manifestation of a problem that would dog B&B for ages and that was continuity. Technically, DC didn’t have it in 1967, but it had consistency. Haney held continuity in contempt, the traditional hobgoblin of small minds, insisting on writing his stories in whatever context suited them best. The Flash had gone to Earth-2 to team-up with The Spectre but this story was about the Earth-1 Batman (the yellow chest emblem) and Jim Corrigan was visiting Gotham to study its Police methods, as a fellow cop of the same Earth.
More things like this will follow. Don’t give yourself headaches trying to make them fit because they don’t.
Plastic Man was passable, the Atom acceptable, but Wonder Woman with Batgirl was a wasteful banality. It’s stone-cold bleedin’ obvious that the superheroine pair are only pretending to be madly in love with Batman to con villain Copperhead into thinking he’s distracted, but the story suddenly turns nuts and nonsense when they decide, mid-story, that they really are. It’s pathetic, and that’s without alliteration.
But issue 79 saw the appearance of Deadman, and with it a change of art as the Andru/Esposito team gave way to the only man that DC would allow to draw Deadman at the time, Neal Adams. And Deadman inspired Haney to write his best story thus far, with only one dumb moment that, out of respect, I won’t detail.
Disappointingly, the next issue, featuring the Creeper, is missing from the DVD. But Adams wasn’t here just for Deadman but for a regular gig, and very popular he was. What the reader didn’t know was that the new, dynamic, hyperrealistic Batman was being produced in conflict between writer and artist. Adams had clear, definitive ideas about how Batman should be produced, including the belief that his natural metier was night, not day, and he was changing the times and settings of Haney’s scripts, much to the veteran writer’s annoyance.
Flash, Aquaman, the Teen Titans – the latter a back issue I remember getting – were all decent enough stories but a war-time team-up with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company was stretching things again with Batman and Bruce Wayne looking identical in both the 1944 of the tale and the 1969 of its appearance. Also inside, editor Murray Boltinoff put paid to a reader’s suggestion of reviving some of the discontinued heroes with a short sharp statement that they were commercial failures and there was no chance.
But the landmark was issue 85, guest-starring Green Arrow. This was the famous story, “The Senator’s been Shot!”, that buried the boring, characterless archer of so many years and introduced the new look GA, with the goatee and moustache and the green leather costume that suddenly looked so sharp, Neal Adams’ design, with emphasis now firmly upon sharpshooting instead of trick arrows. It was a tremendous moment.
Deeadman was back next time, followed by the new, depowered Wonder Woman, complete with I Ching, in a story written and pencilled by Diana’s current scribe, Mike Sekowsky. It was considerably better than her last outing, but then an illustrated telephone directory would also have been an improvement.
Haney was back next issue, but not Adams, whose already noted deadline issues combined with how he’d antagonised the writer (especially given that Boltinoff only cared about getting a comic out on time and its quality a long way after) saw him officially relegated to a ‘pool’ of artists but in fact only to return once. Novick and Esposito drew an issue I bought back then, in the fading days of my interest in comics, shortly before I grew out of them forever. I suspect I can recall exactly where and when I bought this, on 13 August 1970.
The co-star was Wildcat, which brought back the issue of which Earth this was happening upon, the one Haney ignored, although it was actually Ted Grant who co-starred, with Wildcat appearing in a total of five panels only, across two pages. The recently-revived Phantom Stranger dragged Dr Thirteen along to issue 89 in a modest story but the Adam Strange story that followed was another exercise in looseness and implausibility making very little use of the peripatetic archaeologist.
Nick Cardy dropped in along with Black Canary – still new girl on Earth-1 – for issue 91, with Dinah Lance, under an assumed name, falling for its Larry Lance, just because he looked like her dead husband. It was another of those demeaning women-in-love-and-brain-drops-out-through-her… -ears stories since Larry was set up to be the villain from early on. And Cardy remained for the following issue which was even more demeaning, if you were British, being set in foggy London town with a ‘Bat-Squad’ of three Brits who talked like nobody under the sun has ever talked. London 1970 looked like a compendium of Jack the Ripper rip-offs. Ghastly, old chap.
Adams was back for a final flourish, bringing with him a long-promised Denny O’Neil script nominally joining Batman to the now mild-horror oriented House of Mystery, in reality an Ireland set supernatural affair, but Cardy was back next with the Teen Titans and a hip, relevance story that wore its heart on its sleeve with its ignorance tied over it. And the mystery of Batman’s surprise co-star the following issue was undermined by a) the clues dropped and b) my remembering it was Plastic Man from before. But another modern day team-up with Sergeant Rock, third personing himself and with bright orange hair was a plain old mess.
Issue 97 was the first of the run of 25c comics, as DC tried to get out ahead of inflation. Wildcat was back, and the back-up was a reprint of Deadman’s origin story. The Phantom Stranger returned the following issue, drawn by his current artist, the late, great Jim Aparo, one of the few DC artists allowed to do both pencil and inks. It was Aparo’s first B&B job, but before long he would be the regular artist for a very long run.
And after a Bob Brown/Nick Cardy job on The Flash in issue 99, Aparo took over with a special for issue 100, featuring those hard-travellin’ heroes, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, not to mention Robin. Unfortunately, Haney had to mess things up in his usual manner by having Green Arrow kill a thug with an arrow to the heart and without the slightest qualm. Then he had Robin constantly talking Black Canary down for being female, and then by proving the Teen Wonder’s point by having the Canary go to a hairdresser’s mid-case, to get her hair dried after being caught in the rain: it’s a bloody wig, Haney, you arsehole.
Many of these issues now are familiar to me. Though it’s still only 1972, and it was not until January 1974 that I started reading comics again, I did get into B&B through Aparo’s art after seeing him on The Spectre, and back-issues were plentiful and cheap. Metamorpho’s return, three years after his title’s cancellation I had but not the Teen Titans in a part-Neal Adams drawn story, taking over from Aparo after the latter fell ill.
From hereon, I’m not going to comprehensively list every guest star, just those who, for one reason or another are notable, such as Oliver Queen in issue 106, for being listed on the cover as still The Green Arrow and, some three or more years after losing his fortune which caused a fundamental change in his character, suddenly still/once again a billionaire. It’s not just Haney but also Boltinoff who didn’t give a shit for consistency.
Although the title now has a good, reliable artist, and Haney is starting to outgrow that get-down-with-the-kids hip talk of the late Sixties, I’m actually finding these stories a lot weaker, and often dull to read. Part of it is that Haney is making the stories fit ill with the guests. Nobody is quite ‘there’, because Haney is deliberately averse to an accurate depiction of the guest’s reality: it restricts his story to do so
And it’s astonishing how ‘wrong’ Batman feels to the modern eye. Because the Batman of nearly fifty years ago is almost as alien a creation as the infamous Fifties Batman of Jack Schiff. He’s clumsy, he’s amateurish, he’s constantly getting shot or knocked out, he pals around with Commissioner Gordon most of the time, he works hand in hand with the Police and orders them around, as if he’s one of them of senior rank, and he actually is a duly deputized officer. Worst of all, he has no intensity. Batman is not driven. He is nothing at all like the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths/Dark Knight Batman. And it makes the stories very weak indeed.
With issue 112, Brave & Bold joined the ranks of DC’s growing 100-page titles: twenty new pages, here featuring Mr Miracle and eighty reprint, all stories from earlier phases of the title that I’ve gone through in earlier instalments. But the following issue, reprints of The Green Arrow and the Challengers of the Unknown made it clear the title wouldn’t just confine itself to its back pages.
Even with the extra pages and some well-chosen reprints, I’m finding the comic a trial to read. These are the stories I returned to, that impressed me so much as a University student, albeit one only aged 18, that I found them such an improvement over those I still kept from the Sixties. It’s a back-handed testament to the impact Frank Miller and The Dark Knight Returns had upon Batman that this erratic, constantly injured and fallible character is now an alien being, linked only by the costume.
And I’ve also got to admit a distaste for editor Murray Boltinoff. It’s not just his determined rejection of consistency but his attitude to the readers. Boltinoff’s letter pages don’t print letters. They might contain two very short letters and then a host of part sentences and a very stiff attitude to readers who challenge this unique approach. According to Boltinoff, readers only write letters for their own ego-boost, and he’s not going to feed that, damn straight he isn’t. The impertinence of them! For a comic whose direction is set by the popularity of Batman’s guest stars, Boltinoff would really rather not have the readers get above themselves by doing any more than plop down their 60c. Miserable bugger.
The highlight of issue 117 for me was a reprint of the original first Secret Six story, by E. Nelson Bridwell and Frank Springer. I found it fresh, lively, individual, especially coming from Bridwell, whose other writing was usually, with respect, bland. This felt different, full of potential. It was, however, still the only original Secret Six story I’d ever read. Another reprint was planned for issue 119, but by then, B&B was no longer 100 pages long.
Indeed, it was back at 32 pages the next issue (Wildcat and the Joker), after exactly a year of supersizing, and boosted for the first time in its existence to eight times a year. Nothing else changed, though. Except that issue 120 was double-sized for 50c and carried that promised Secret Six issue 2 reprint, also very intriguing. What made the Secret Six unique at DC was being the only team whose members didn’t like or trust each other – more so even than the Doom Patrol – which was very Marvelesque.
Meanwhile, issue 121 reverted to standard 25c size.
Of course, the true peril of reading mid-Seventies comics that you used to read in your late teens is remembering stories you wish you’d never had cause to forget in the first place. A passable Swamp Thing led to another story mishandling Plastic Man, but these were nothing when set against yet another Sgt. Rock team-up into which Haney wrote himself, Aparo and Boltinoff as a team working frantically to complete the story according to script before the terrorist villains forced Aparo to draw Batman and Rock being killed, because if he drew it it happened. I can see that look of disbelief from here, you know. It’s like The Flash and Mopee: it did happen but it was first for the bonfire when the continuity got rebooted.
Despite Boltinoff’s contemptuous words about Golden Age characters being off-limits because they were failures, Wildcat was a regular guest, returning in issue 127. The team-ups are really with Ted Grant, Wildcat only getting a look-in, and every time, Ted’s life has been rearranged to be whatever’s convenient for Haney’s plot. This time round, he’s running a health spa in the Caribbean Sea and has killed a boxer in the ring on his second comeback. How? When? Forget it. Next time round he’ll be something and somewhere completely different.
In late 1976, with effect from issue 132, co-starring the no-longer current Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter, Boltinoff was out. DC were restructuring under new Publisher, Jeanette Kahn, with Joe Orlando in as Managing Editor, with responsibility for the line, and Denny O’Neil as Story Editor, taking direct responsibility for B&B.
But nothing really changed. John Calnan and Bob McLeod stepped in to draw issue 137’s team-up with The Demon, in a sequel to the Spectre team-up in issue 75, and with issue 139, Paul Levitz stepped into the editor’s chair. At the same time, the series went back to bi-monthly.
Issue 143 was the one that came out in the DC Explosion, a big boom to 25 pages and 50c. Cary Burkett shared writing credits on Batman’s team-up with The Creeper, a second part to the previous issue’s Aquaman adventure, with Len Wein’s Human Target the back-up. And it was one of the very few to enjoy a second issue in that format. But good intentions were far from enough and the next issue was back to 17 pages for 40c, though with the compensation of elevation to monthly status for the first time ever.
With the landmark issue 150 coming up, assignments were jumbled up. Aparo was rested for 146’s first team-up with a new character in years, the war hero The Unknown Soldier, Haney in favour of Burkett for 147 and Aparo only inking Joe Staton in issue 148. The big issue itself was billed as ‘Batman and ?’ and the guest – who had never appeared with Batman in B&B before – was kept a secret until the end. Unfortunately, if you know who it was, it was easy to work out who it was: Superman
The Batman team-up era had now lasted for 77 issues. Bob Haney had written 117 issues overall, and Jim Aparo drawn 49. Few of that last fifty or so were worth reading twice. Haney’s stories were permanently unanchored in time and space, and it was a long time since he had gone beyond the formulaic.
The new monthly schedule meant fill-ins were necessary. Burkett and Don Newton contributed issue 153’s unprecedented appearance by the Red Tornado but it was Haney and Aparo who were responsible for the nadir of issue 155, with Batman and Green Lantern pursuing an interplanetary villain and Batman determined to have him tried on Earth out of sheer pigheadedness. It was a story that should have been a sacking offence, and that goes for editor Levitz too.
Burkett and Newton filled in again in issue 156, a rather intelligent little story using Dr Fate which didn’t lose too much space to the problem of getting him off Earth-2 and into the action, but when Gerry Conway wrote the Wonder Woman team-up in issue 158, it was the end of Haney’s long tenure as B&B’s regular scripter. Denny O’Neill with R’as al Ghul and Cary Burkett with Supergirl followed on.
Though a horde of Brave & Bold regulars would have disagreed with me, I was glad to see an end to Haney’s hokey stories. New viewpoints, indeed a range of them, were very welcome, and a few different artists didn’t go amiss. Paul Levitz was certainly more willing to try new guests, unlike the fervently conservative Boltinoff, and was a lot more responsive to reader’s ideas. There was also a run of guest artists as Aparo completed another assignment.
The ‘DC Implosion’ was now nearly two years back and the company had recovered its balance sufficiently to try again for the better package. With issue 166, B&B went to 25 story-pages and a 10c increase, cutting out eight pages of ads and substituting a new back-up, Nemesis, by Cary Burkett and Dan Spiegle. A moody, atmospheric series featuring Thomas Tresser balancing the scales of Justice after his brother assassinated a prominent Security officer.
Aparo was back from issue 168, and drew a full-length story teaming Batman with Nemesis in issue 170, which closed off the first arc of the latter’s story but left him just an everyday not-specially-motivated crimefighter in future. However, Burkett reacted by making Nemesis into a serial to keep things complex.
Paul Levitz’s editorial term came to an end with issue 176, handing over to Dick Giordano. As editor of the three Batman titles (imagine that, an era with only three Batman comics every month!) Levitz had aimed to inject a different feel into each one but Giordano swore to make them all the same.
There was no immediate difference to Brave & Bold, but Alan Brennert wrote a nice team-up with Hawk and Dove for issue 181 that put in place an ending for the original Sixties series that probably wouldn’t have suited Steve Ditko or Steve Skeates but worked for its time. And he came up with a superb one the following issue, sending Batman to Earth-2, where his older counterpart had died, to team up with not just the adult Robin but the original Batwoman. That was a tangled spread of emotions.
No such similar effect was achieved by Mike W. Barr’s Xmas story in issue 184, inviting The Huntress over to Earth-1 for the festivities. Charlie Boatner did find the right buttons to press in 187’s Metal Man team-up, reminding everyone of Nameless, Tin’s girlfriend from their Sixties series, and bringing her story to a conclusion with a fine and worthy flourish. On the other hand, did Doc Magnus really invent Metal Women?
As B&B went into its final year, Mike Barr did an excellent job on an Adam Strange team-up for issue 190, bringing in Carmine Infantino for one last, sentimental union with Adam and Alanna. Cohn and Mishkin produced a complex story teaming Batman with The Joker – genuinely – and with Len Wein taking over the editorial reins after Giardino’s promotion to Managing Editor, his first job sent Superman out with Superboy, both these stories displaying Jim Aparo art. Aparo was no longer the artist-in-residence, but he was once again the principal artist for the series.
Cary Burkett wrote the Superboy story, dealing quite intelligently with the time paradox aspect, and he was on hand again for issue 193, which teamed up Batman with his creation, Nemesis. I have a lot of time for the Nemesis series, a well-handled, street level story. Sadly, in a manner reminiscent of the long-ago team-up with Manhunter, this was to end Burkett’s series in the same fashion as Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, by Nemesis sacrificing himself to defeat the overwhelming opposition he’d fought all along. It was a shame that the art was given to Aparo rather than Nemesis’s artist, Dan Spiegle, and also that there was no room for Valerie Foxworth as there had been for Christine St Clair at the finish, but the final page saw Batman entering Marjorie Marshall’s home and adding the weight that finally balanced out the Scales of Justice for the death of Ben Marshall.
It made the swap-villains team-up with the Flash look the weak thing it was, despite Infantino art. No back-up meant extra pages for the main story, though only 23 now, which benefited the I… Vampire team-up in issue 195, which for a moment looked liked writing that series off without completion.
Suddenly, excellent stories were exploding. Robert Kanigher brought his short-lived Ragman, for whom I always had time in his original form, into an excellent story for issue 196, but Alan Brennert was on hand next issue, combining with Joe Staton, for one of my all-time favourites, teaming the Earth-2 Batman with his Catwoman in the story of how they came to admit their love for another and to marry. A gem in every page: Brennert wrote few comic book stories but those he wrote were superb, because he never needed to burn out his ideas on routine issues.
Brennert’s story overshadowed a poor and misguided Karate Kid team-up, and was too much for an otherwise decent Spectre team-up in issue 199, flirting with the old Fleisher touch but ending up by taking a new, cleaner route.
But time was up. The era in which a series devoted to nothing but team-ups between a static character and a random other was ending. Brave & Bold, by its very nature, could have only very limited continuity within its own pages. It had outrun its time. Mike W Barr had become the nearest to a regular writer in the title, and he proposed a change. Barr wanted to separate Batman from the Justice League, where he was still an anomaly, and make him leader of another team, of outsiders.
DC approved of the idea and, to make room for it within the Batman universe, cancelled B&B with its 200th issue. The swan-song was almost obvious in its unpredictability, teaming Batman with Batman. That is, a story crossing two time-periods and two Earths, drawn, rather wonderfully, by Dave Gibbons. Barr’s story featured a gloriously Golden Age style Batman and Robin tussle with their villain Brimstone, who’s defeated but ends up in a coma. When he awakens in 1983, it’s to learn that Batman is dead so, somehow, he psychically imposes his mind on his Earth-1 counterpart to resume a battle that Batman is bemused with, but still wins.
There was also a sixteen page preview of the new Batman and the Outsiders series which was, respectfully, crap.
But The Brave and the Bold, one of the few DC titles to reach 200 issues, was gone, it’s fourth and final phase terminated, with few landmarks of any note, but those which were of note being of very high quality indeed. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of my time spent on this series, but I wouldn’t have missed the good stuff for the world.
Let’s face it, you’re on an uphill struggle trying to sell an episode with the title of ‘Goop’, and the more so with a light-hearted – here being a word that means trying to be funny but not being – open about a bubble of earth appearing overnight in the backyard of a property in a smell-ridden town called Sackett. As a twist, we had word processor lettering crossing the screen representing the story writing itself.
Nevertheless, there was a serious story to be had from this unfortunate scenario.As well as the bubble, and the all-pervading stink (reminding me of the day my family and I visited Halifax, when there was some sort of massive sewer problem), there was a tarry, black goop seeping through someone’s basement wall. When analysed, it was shown to contain the highly toxic substance, C84, a petrochemical by-product responsible for brain-tumours, birth defects and cancer.
The nearest possible source of this was Diller Chamicals, in Alta Mira, but tht was more than 100 miles away. And according to their Press Officer, to Rossi, they had a neutralising plant on site, and complied diligently with industry Regulations.
But then there’s the truck found abandoned on the highway, full of drums of pure C84, one of which was leaking (hence the abandonment). And the ones pouring the goop directly into streams a hundred miles from Alta Mira. No, the show didn’t allow doubt as to Diller’s guilt to creep into the mind.
Where it made its mistake was in conflating this straightforward story with another issue, that of misrepresentation. To get the story, Billie applies for and gets a job at Diller, in the office. She does it under her real name, and with the LA Tribune as her previous employer, but nevertheless there is much earnest argument about the ethics of getting a story – any story – by deception.
As a side issue, it was not of itself a bad move. Lou’s all in favour. Charlie Hume has concerns about the issue in principal, and Mrs Pyynchon is dead set against it and wants Billie recalling, but is persuaded otherwise by Charlie’s insistence that these matters have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and this story is too important to be ignored.
Billie, naturally, gets the story. Rossie confronts the Press Officer, who blusters weakly that the public want the luxuries that the petrochemical industries bring, that the Press is trying to harrass the industry out of existence, but doesn’t deny the charge, a fact duly noted in the word processor screen type.
But Billie is conscience-stricken throughout. Everyoine at Diller’s so nice to her. They like her, and she likes them. It makes her feel rotten, fooling them like this. and the episode loses its head and shoves the issue of toxic waste threatening people, land, livestock and birds into the corner to symbolise this in the form of work programme student Teri Wilk (Dominique Dunne), a sweet-faced, quasi-confident young woman, who likes Billie immensely, confides in her her interest in a truck-driving hunk and, you couldn’t have guessed this, has a downer on reporters.
Teri’s devastated by Billie’s betrayal. Her uncle might lose his job, her would be boyfriend drove the truck that Rossi and Animal follow and report on, and she is deeply wounded by being used, by Billie pretending to like her to get her story. she can’t accept that Billie did like her, does like her, and somewhat obtusely hopes to stay friends.
And that’s precisely where the episode veered off course, by making Billie’s relationship with Teri the focus, instead of the more important toxic waste story. It was a failure of moral imagination on the show’s part.
Overall, the issue of misrepresentation was one of those matters that pointed up the gulf between 1980 and 2020. There was, as I said, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over Billie going overcover, gentile protestations that the ‘deception’ had to be made explicit in the story, proclamations that doing so automatically made the reporter the focus of the story, not the fact. Yeah, I know, the irony, right?
Forty years later, nobody would blink. I certainly didn’t. To me it’s obvious: when the story is as important as this, going undercover to get it as not merely acceptable but practically mandatory, and to have it discussed as virtually a greater moral wrong than fly-tipping poison was eye-rolling.
One other point. I’ve only mentioned Dominique Dunne among this week’s guest stars because she was central to the story and the other guests were interchangeable. There was something familiar about the name, but it was not what I expected to see when I googled her. Ms Dunne appeared as a significant guest star in an episode of Hill Street Blues, broadcast two years to the month after this appearance in Lou Grant. It was her final appearance and it was posthumous: two weeks earlier she had been killed by an abusive boyfriend. The bruises in Hill Street were not make-up.
Sometimes the real stories are worse than the fictions.