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...