Thursday, April 26, 2012

That Zany Bob Haney: The Brave and the Bold 102

The Brave and the Bold #102 (July 1972)
"The Commune of Defiance!"
Bob Haney-Jim Aparo/Neal Adams/Dick Giordano (cover by Nick Cardy)

Doug: I was super-excited (hey, this is a comic blog; I can say that) last week to finally receive my copy of Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo, volume 1 from Amazon. I'd pre-ordered it around six months ago, and I'm glad I did. This volume is huge! It has over 500 pages and retails for $50 -- pre-ordering guaranteed me an introductory price of only $19 and some change! Talk about getting it for a song! It's a really nice-looking book, reproduced in standard four-color and the pages are not too glossy. This volume reprints Aparo's B&B work in chronological order. About my only complaint is that the covers that Aparo did not draw are not included. It makes thumbing through the book a little difficult, but overall I am really glad I bought this. Having done a Teen Titans review just last month, I thought we'd revisit our teen sidekicks and see how Haney and Aparo handled them. You might notice the presence of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano in the credits; according to the Comic Book Database, Aparo drew (and inked) the first half of the book and Adams and Giordano brought it home. The Grand Comics Database supports that as well, although for my eyes the change is pretty seamless. Let's check it out!

We begin this tale with quite possibly the worst Batman characterization I have ever seen -- and that includes the goofy 1950's stuff. Check out this panel at left. Really? Bats walking right down the street in a "posh" neighborhood, and in costume in broad daylight?? I'll admit right off the bat (no pun intended) -- I am not a Bob Haney fan. I know many of our readers are. I'll express my reasons why as we go through the story, but this opening panel just self-affirms why I was about an 80% Marvel Zombie in the Bronze Age of comics.

Batman spies a mugging in the distance and takes off after the perp. Apprehending him, he hears voices behind telling him to get lost -- they'll take over. It's a group of young adults who call themselves the "Young Aquarians". They claim that they are the law in Barclayville, an apparently run-down "ghetto" in Gotham City. Living near Chicago, I know that the difference of a block or two can make a big difference in the status of a neighborhood, but this seems strange, as Haney had just told us that Batman was on one of the "poshest avenues" in all of the city. Batman tried to reason with the crowd, but is told by "Lawyer", one of them, that there is a statute on the books that allows citizens to enforce the law in the absence of police or other officials. When Batman informs them that he's taken the man into custody, they call him a hypocrite -- one vigilante speaking to another. Batman assures them that Fast Frankie will do time. The kids want to change Barclayville -- their way. Batman says he will do what he can.

Unfortunately, Fast Frankie could not be ID'd by his victims, and didn't have the wallet on him he'd allegedly stolen. Batman returns to Barclayville and is confronted by the Young Aquarians, who have the wallet and ridicule Batman's detective skills. They then point across the street to "Sonny's Travel Agency", where Frankie is accosting Angel Lee. Angel is the girl of Sonny Trask, a hood doing time in the state pen. Sonny and his gang "run" Barclayville. Inside the office, Frankie backhands Angel. As the Aquarians move in to help, Frankie gets away. Rather than be grateful, Angel admonishes the kids for butting in. Back outside, the police arrive and attempt to arrest the Aquarians. Batman intervenes and accuses Gotham's finest of being part of the problem in Barclayville, then assures them that Commissioner Gordon will get a lecture from him on police behavior and methods in Barclayville. As the scene ends, Batman tells the youngsters that he will help them to reform their neighborhood.

An editorial comment on Haney's script: he is trying way too hard to be Stan Lee. With terms like effendi, tiger, right on, true believers, rapping, etc. there is an effort to be "hip" that is way over the top. And given that it's 1972, not 1968, I'm not so certain that he's a little past due with much of the lingo and speech patterns. I'd comment, too, that I am having a difficult time believing that Barclayville is some sort of neglected ghetto given the racial make-up of the characters. At this point in America's history, urban issues tended to focus on African-American communities; that most of the characters in this story are white makes Haney's premise a tough sell to me. Anyway...

We scene-shift to a city council meeting, where the mayor announces that an urban renewal project is about to commence, knocking down much of Barclayville. The Young Aquarians are there to protest, and as it gets loud, Commissioner Gordon steps forward and threatens to arrest them. But Batman suddenly emerges (in the days of post-9/11 security, it's difficult to believe that even the Dark Knight could get into City Hall) from the wings and attempts to intercede. But the mayor tells that contracts have been signed and the project will go forward. As the Aquarians walk away, Batman muses to himself that he needs help in bridging the generation gap in communication.

Cue the entrance of the Teen Titans: Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Mal. They find the Young Aquarians and tell them they're in their corner. But the Aquarians are desperate -- two of them are armed and tell that they are ready to fight. Robin talks them down, and offers that the Titans spend the night in "the commune". The Aquarians agree, but it's a bad sound that awakens them -- the sound of heavy equipment rolling in! As the Aquarians brace for a fight, the Titans do the unexpected: they move into the street and lay down in front of the bulldozers! Even Angel Lee joins the demonstration, telling one of the Aquarians that Barclayville is her neighborhood, too -- and she wants it the same so that whenever Sonny gets out of jail he can come back and run the place!

Batman joins the scene, swinging onto one of the bulldozers and encouraging the driver to mow down the teens! He tells him to follow his orders, that he'll get a fair trial! Of course the driver stops, and Batman uses the opportunity to congratulate the kids. Suddenly the mayor pulls up, with Commissioner Gordon in tow. He tells everyone assembled that he has decided to grant Barclayville a "stay of execution" -- they have 30 days to convince him that the neighborhood should not be changed as planned. Loud cheers dominate, and the teens move almost-immediately into action. The Titans lend a hand, with Wonder Girl decorating (ha! sexism lived at DC, too!), Kid Flash sweeping the streets, Speedy collecting rats in a gunnysack, and Robin and Mal meting out some fist-based justice against the pushers and other baddies of the neighborhood.

But Angel Lee isn't so happy. Sonny's due out of jail at the end of the week, and she tells the Aquarians that the one thing that won't change is Sonny running the 'hood. But Batman tries to work some mental magic on her, telling her that she's taking the fall for all of Sonny's rackets by signing her name to his activities. She's not buying it, though. Cut back to the youngsters, who are cheering their own urban renewal. They decide that they'll celebrate with a block party. But as the festivities get under way, who should show up early but Sonny and his toughs? And they ain't happy. As threats are made the Titans decide to stay out of it -- if Barclayville is going to move forward, then it has to police itself against idiots like Sonny. A street brawl breaks out (where were the Gotham police at this time?), and believe it or not, the denizens of Barclayville hold their own. That is until Sonny really starts kicking tail. But it's the Batman who intercedes, and exposes a roll of coins in Sonny's hand -- he wasn't fighting fairly!

Sonny isn't going to take that lying down, so pulls out a piece. But who should counter him but Angel Lee? She tells Sonny that she's not going to take a fall for him anymore. Both guns fire at the same time, and Sonny's winged and down; Angel apparently avoided Sonny's bullet. Batman takes Sonny into custody, and Barclayville's future is secured. And just to show the kids what a "legal vigilante" is, Batman produces a badge showing that he is a deputized Gotham City sheriff! Say what? Where I live sheriffs operate in the counties, not the cities... The next morning a bulldozer again rolls down the street, but this time driven by the Batman with the Titans astride -- bringing a street marker declaring Barclayville an historic site.

DC was doing a lot of this sort of storytelling in this era, particularly with the work of Denny O'Neil and Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. While my partner and I have expressed concern with O'Neil's over-the-top scripts and moralizing, Haney's certainly not innocent here. I get what he's trying to do, and I suppose raising awareness of urban issues is admirable. But his methods are questionable. As I said above, the story is off racially to truly be believable. The Titans are in the story, but are quite indiscernible. They are merely ciphers for "cooler heads prevailing" and bear no resemblance to the same characters appearing in another mag. And Batman -- I'm just not sure what to say. As we've also lamented around here, perhaps one could have shoe-horned Aquaman into this story and gotten the same result; I don't know. So the verdict? As an early Bronze Age DC, I'd give it a B. But in comparison to what the House of Ideas was doing at the same time? Now that B starts to slide...


david_b said...

One comment I made yesterday referred to how my vintage comic expenditures have gone up since visiting BAB; likewise, it's informed reviews have saved me a good chunk as well. My humble thanks to all, especially Doug and Karen.

A big Silver Age Titans fan, I picked up both BB 83 and 94 for their covers and some good Adams/Cardy art. I like Aparo in small doses, but his art gets tiring quickly. I had plans to track this issue down, but I knew a lot of B&B stories seemed hit/miss around this period.

The Titans shown here are simply cover eye-candy.. You can almost here the planning discussion, 'Hey, urban plight? Teens..? Just throw the Titans at them, they brighten up the cover, and kids still like seeing Batman and Robin together, like in the old days.' It was probably a ploy to help the ailing Titans title as well to stave off cancellation.

Like in B&B 94, it was Bats squaring off with the topical hippy movement; at least then you had Lilith playing a more key role in tracking down a city bomb in midst a wonky tear-jerker story. B&B 83 probably comes off the best of the Batman-Titans trio, being more a Bruce Wayne story with Titans involved because of Robin's wranglings with a plotting 'new ward' at Wayne Manor (and not to forget, gorgeous Adams art..)

But as mentioned in this review, you could have simply thrown Aquaman or Green Arrow in there and there wouldn't have made much difference. Great review, all.

Anonymous said...

Batman should have just beat the poop out of those hippies and let the bulldozers raze that heckhole to the ground. Batman's gone soft! And why isn't the Joker there to murder someone and permanently paralyze a second-tier hero like Kid Flash? What kind of story is this?

Anonymous said...

The art is clear and functional and helps tell the story...BUT, why is everyone also speaking in character...Where's Bendis when you need him!

Anonymous said...

Blazes! It's Bob Haney! Looks he's been watching the Mod Squad again. I have to say, I agree with every single criticism on Haney's writing here. He excelled at goofy dialogue and insane plot twists. Still, he was really good at telling a fast-paced story with twists and turns that swept you up in it's momentum. You just had to check your head at the door sometimes.

I do think that Aparo's art contributed a lot to making Haney's stories flow better. I remember reading this issue as a kid, and Aparo's art actually sold me on that ludicrous panel with Batman walking down the street in broad daylight. Actually, Adams & Cardy worked well with Haney as well. Ever check out any of the older ones with Bob Brown's art? Not so good.

David_B, the B & B issues I would recommend are 106-116. That's the high point of the series. Most of them are 100-page super spectaculars too. 111, 113, 115, and 116 are particularly good. But keep in mind, they're still firmly in the Zaney-Haney-verse.

James Chatterton

Anonymous said...

AFAIK, "sheriffs operate in the counties, not the cities" everywhere IRL. But that's a common mistake in fiction, and writers more conscientious than Haney have made it. Even serious "adult" Westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Have Gun, Will Travel) sometimes had episodes that mentioned the "town sheriff" or "sheriff of the town." And in some Andy Griffith Show episodes, the mayor seemed to think he was the sheriff's boss.

Garett said...

I love this art by Aparo, and the comparison with Adams is fascinating. Aparo certainly can hold his own against Adams in this era, and perhaps surpasses him.

I prefer Haney's writing in this stretch of B+B to just about any comic ever--and that's not nostalgia talking, as I read these stories for the first time about 4 years ago when the Showcase volume came out. Batman walking down the street in daytime, commenting on the pretty girls--yes!! Haney is a breath of fresh air, and there's a driving quality to his dialogue and writing that keeps the quirkiness in check. Blazes!! Batman is fiery but not grim.

I also like the social commentary, and again Aparo's gritty art and Haney's sharp dialogue propel things along, so it doesn't get overly sentimental as perhaps the GL/GA series did. I wish they had done a few more issues like this, but I love the rest from #98 to about 130. I was too young to know the difference between 1968 and '72, so to me it's all the hippie era.

The coloring here looks not bad, but as I said before I prefer the B+W version for Aparo. He really puts in a lot of detail and shading and texturing that perfectly balances out in B+W. While I generally like the bright colors of comics in that era, Aparo is one of the few who could benefit from a really excellent modern colorist, who could catch the realism and subtleties in his work. A more muted palette would work better.

Thanks for the review! Please do more B+B, even if we disagree!

J.A. Morris said...

Not to get technical, but plenty of cities have Sheriffs. My city has one, they mainly manage jails, bailiffs work for the City Sheriff. Even New York has a Sheriff:

But yeah, I don't think City Sheriffs would "deputize" anyone like they do in this story. But we are talking about a city that only exists in the DC Universe, so Haney could say that.

I'm guessing Haney's knowledge of the justice system came from old movies.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I was never the biggest Aparo fan. His 80s art doesn't really work for me. His stuff in the early to mid 70s was really good though and definitely worth owning even if the stories aren't up to snuff. I have almost all of the Adventure Comics Spectre stories that he did.

Doug, you're right: It is amazing how well Aparo's and Adams' work flow together. I never thought of them as having the same style, but the effect here is kind of seemless. The inking, perhaps?

As far as Haney goes, yeah, his plots were often kooky (not to mention throwing continuity to the wind) but I have to say I admire the way the way he commits himself to his improbable premises. Haney was crazy but he wasn't a hack and I'll take unpredictability over predictability anytime.

Frank C. said...

I love the Aparo hardcover as well! For me, it has a couple more short-comings, though. The issues of Detective Comics that Jim drew should have been in this first volume, along with any of his cover art that featured Batman. Then it could have been the start of a truly definitive, chronological reprinting of Aparo's amazing work. If they include the 'Tec stuff in a future volume, they better reprint the entire "Bat-Murderer" story, even though Ernie Chan drew the last two chapters!

Anonymous said...

Over time, Aparo's Batman has become my favorite, especially when he inked his own pencils. Even as a kid reading B&B (and World's Finest), I could pick out a Bob Haney story. Pretty offbeat stuff most of the time.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I think the Frank Robbins & Bob Brown duo is way overdue for reappraisal. I see insults heaved their way and can't help but wonder if the writers of said insults have even read those comics. The comics are great! In fact, I'll take those over O'Neil/Adams every time.

Jim Aparo I slways enjoyed on Brave & Bold with Bob Haney, and on Batman & Outsiders with Mike Barr. He drew a great Metamorpho and Black Lightning! I'm still waiting on that TwoMorrows biography of the late, great Jim Aparo.

I love Bob Haney too. That story where Hawk & Dove were grown up was really great. As for "continuity"...blech, it's used as handcuffs on creativity far too often just to appease a tiny clique of fans who want all the pieces to fit together even though they never have and never will. Consistency is where it's at!

--Matt alias Anonymous

B Smith said...

This issue had a lot going for it in my eyes, that hasn't been diminished by the passage of time.

First off, though....Batman walks through the city in broad daylight...I don't get the problem with this. If he only came out at night, it'd be easy to be a criminal in Gotham - just operate during daylight hours! If it looks silly, well, the idea of a guy going around in a bat-themed long-underwear outfit is silly enough in reality; I'd have thought you either accept the idea whole, or don't bother with it in the first place.

Now, for all its so-called Haney zaniness, this story has a lot of positive themes in it: community involvement in public affairs, concern about the legalities of vigilantism (which, without his badge is what Batman is), youth involvement in urban conservation (come on, that Wonder Girl has an interest in interior decor is a pretty minor quibble) - but most of all, the idea that issues can be addressed and hopefully resolved through civil disobedience, as opposed to fists and bat-gadgets...a fairly radical concept in a superhero book, you'd have to admit!

For all his involvement, Batman's part boiled down to disarming Whitey...while the Aquarians, the local citizenry, managed to peacefully take matters into their own hands (and only came to blows defensively, and won).

I can see from th4 othr responses that I'm very likely in the minority, but, well, I guess it's variety that keeps the world going around.

(And I do look forward to more analyses of Haney/Aparo issues)

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