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.