Friday, July 13, 2012
That Zany Bob Haney: The Brave and the Bold 108
The Brave and the Bold #108 (August/September 1973)
"The Night Batman Sold His Soul!"
Bob Haney-Jim Aparo
Doug: I found it! I finally found a Bob Haney-penned piece that was way more enthralling than zany. This is a really good story, and the team-up of Batman and Sgt. Rock isn't forced or unbelievable. This should be a nice little romp for us today. So shall we?
Doug: We open in upstate New York, near the Canadian border. Batman has cornered a hood named Mad Dog Dorn, who happens to be holding a young boy hostage. His demands are a ransom of $250,000 -- I guess inflation these days would drive that up a bit, huh? However, Batman informs Dorn that he has the wrong kid. The kid laying passed out in the shack in which Dorn is holed up is a poor kid who happens to be very sick. Batman tries to convince Dorn to let him in so he can give the kid some medicine. Of course, fish ain't bitin'. So, Batman storms the place, hurtling himself through a window. Dorn doesn't spook, though, and levels Batman with a bullet to the torso. And again -- if you'd just whacked the Batman, wouldn't you want to see who he really is under that cowl? Heck no! You'd drag him by his feet and dump him down a well, that's what you'd do!
Doug: The water revives Batman, who laments his wound and the amount of blood he's losing. Helpless to get out of the well, he cries out, "I'd give my soul to get out of here! I don't want to die! Batman wants to live!" OK -- I'll buy that. But wouldn't it have been a bit more noble, I mean if you're going to make a deal with the devil, to at least say you'd like to live long enough to save the little boy? Anyway, suddenly a bucket on a rope descends, and Batman grabs hold. He's drawn up and out by a mysterious stranger -- an old man in a top coat and hat, his face obscured. Batman notes that the man has an accent and walks with a limp. Batman's wounds are treated by the man, who muses to himself how strong Batman is, and that he's glad he saved him. As Batman comes round, he thanks the stranger -- who walks toward a 1940's-era car. The old man again tells Batman how happy he was to aid him. And with that they part company and Batman returns to the shack.
Doug: Mad Dog's nappin', and a karate chop to the back of the neck ensures that he won't awaken any time soon. Batman is able to give the child some medicine, and that's that. Back in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon is holding a press conference to announce the capture of Dorn. Suddenly Bruce Wayne strolls by, remarking in a quite haughty manner that Gordon should be sure to give the Batman credit for the capture. Gordon thinks to himself what a fop Wayne is, and questions how he could ever be a friend to the Batman. Wayne exits, but once outside his wounds act up and he about goes down. Cue the mysterious stranger who appears without warning. He refuses to name himself, but says that he has gone by many names. He also reminds Wayne of their bargain. This is obviously off-putting to Bruce as his secret is out. Wayne again expresses his gratitude, but as the man leaves he shouts back "Do not come any closer!" Wayne's injuries won't allow it anyway.
Doug: But that doesn't stop Bruce from shuffling after the guy, and as he wearily reaches out, grabbing an arm, he's shocked to see that the man he's touched is not his benefactor, but Sgt. Rock! Rock tells Wayne that he's been trailing the same guy we've seen -- and that he's really Adolf Hitler! Heading into Part 2, Rock is at Bruce Wayne's place and they discuss Rock's allegations. Rock takes Wayne back to the end of the War, and they discuss the long-held rumors that Hitler had several body doubles. Rock says the last time he saw Hitler was actually a few days after his April 30 1945 suicide. He then spent years trailing him, to Greece, Paris, and now to Gotham City. This is an interesting scene, because Rock is played as hard-as-nails, while the Batman seems doubtful -- of Rock and of his own feelings about the situation. Rock asks Wayne if he'd like to go back to the cabin near the Canadian border; Wayne concurs.
Doug: Rock and Wayne fly back to the shack, and upon further investigation discover that it's a Nazi hide-out. After flying back to Gotham, Wayne enters a cab. And who should already be seated in the back? That's right. He speaks of an "empire of evil", and of needing strong soldiers under its banner. Batman will be one such soldier. Wayne again says he is grateful for his life being saved, but that he owes nothing further. The man says that he will indeed serve evil, and that they will meet again. The next evening, Batman accosts a hood -- he wants to check in on the guy. But instead, he spooks him. Scared, Willie Gans runs right into the path of an oncoming truck and is killed instantly. The Batman is later told by Gordon that Gans had gone straight; Gans' widow blames Batman for her late husband's death. Later, the phone rings and a now-known voice says that he told Batman that he would end up doing the work of evil. The Batman has blood on his hands!
Doug: Soon Batman receives another call, from Gordon about a riot at the Gotham airport. Batman arrives to find Sgt. Rock being restrained. He'd seen the man he thinks is Hitler, but was stopped from killing him. This leads Rock to reassemble Easy Company. At this point all of our heroes change scenes, to the Alps. Once there they follow leads and end up on a train. As he leaves Easy Company, he tells Rock to wreck the train if Batman isn't out by midnight. Batman boards, but is immediately stopped by the Federal German police. He's shown an old man -- apparently the man they seek. He claims to be a Doktor Ritter, who is a Nazi-hunter. He is not, as Rock continues to claim, Adolf Hitler. Batman is shocked at this revelation, and blurts out that Rock is about to destroy the train. This is all the German inspector needs to know, and his men fire on Easy Company. Batman now sees this as a trick, but he's knocked unconscious.
Doug: Batman begins to rise, still in the cabin car. But the voice he hears is not that of Ritter, but of the old man who'd saved him! Batman is told that he has indeed committed acts in the name of evil, and it's intimated that this cloaked figure may be the Devil himself. Batman finds out that Rock is alive, he's pumped about that, and then a brawl breaks out on the roof of the train. As they speed along, the train tracks shift and the train pulls into a cave -- filled with Nazi symbols and weapons. All hell breaks loose, and as Easy Company fights hard, Batman takes off in pursuit of the mystery man. A hand grenade slows him down, and he loses the trail. Rock isn't happy about it at all -- he's still convinced that the guy is Hitler. Batman philosophizes that whether he is Hitler or not, the spirit of Hitler's evil is still alive. And then we cut to the final panel, as a grizzled old man limps away -- a man who looks an awful lot like a bent, gray-haired... Hitler.
Doug: This, as I said above, was a fun story. Bob Haney did a good job of keeping us in a state of "is he or isn't he?" about the cloaked man. I still find Haney's handling of Batman all over the radar. Sometimes he's the Dark Knight Detective, but at other times he's just a doofus. But as we've remarked about Silver and Bronze Age DC's, that's sometimes what you got from their bullpen. Jim Aparo was solid as he has been; I particularly liked his rendition of Rock sans helmet. The white hair and steel-strong complexion made me think of him as George C. Scott's Patton. In closing, unless anyone has a better suggestion, I think the next time I revisit the Brave and the Bold, I'll look at issue #104 with Deadman.