Friday, August 10, 2012
That Zany Bob Haney: The Brave and the Bold 104
The Brave and the Bold #104 (November/December 1972)
"Second Chance for a Deadman?"
Bob Haney-Jim Aparo
Doug: True confession time (again) -- I don't think I've ever read a full Deadman story. I will say that the character is intriguing to me, and the original stories handled by Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams (particularly Adams) are somewhere on the "to find and read" list. So while we've taken a nice tour of the Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bolds, I'll be coming to at least half of this team-up tabula rasa. I'm thinking Haney could get real zany with this subject matter. By the way, as I was preparing to read/write this, my sons came home from work, and the 20-year old (who is somewhat "into" comics) asked what was in the Legends of the Dark Knight - Jim Aparo, Volume 1 book. I thumbed through it with him, showing him the various Batman team-ups. But when I got to that one with the Atom I stopped and explained it. They just cracked up and the older says, "Who would write a story like that??" Bob Haney, dude.
Doug: If there's one thing I've come to appreciate about Bob Haney, it's that he doesn't give a rat's rear end whether or not Batman is in or out of character, if the plot makes any sense at all, or how much collateral damage he leaves as he sews up a story. Continuity be damned, sayeth he! So when Batman grabs a machine gun and takes off after some heavily-armed hoods, to the chagrin and amazement of Commissioner Gordon, we have a Batman not seen since the Golden Age. But it's all a ruse, as the machine gun was loaded with blanks. Gordon's men were able to cover the Dark Knight as he made what appeared to be a suicide run. But it made the car thieves nervous, skittish. And when one had the courage to level his pistol at the Batman, it was Gordon who saved his friend's life with a bullet of his own. When the two lawmen approached the corpse, they discovered that the leader was a Waxey Doyle; but Gordon said the deceased didn't look like Doyle. Once in the morgue, Batman ordered a complete autopsy -- and you know what? Ol' Waxey had received, at some point, a total makeover. A further investigation by the Caped Crusader showed that several of the Most Wanted had been turning up in no way shape or form as they should have appeared. Something big was going down with the world's elite criminals.
Doug: Batman's aware that there are places who will totally remake a criminal's identity, but neither he or Gordon know where to find one. Until they find a matchbook in Doyle's pocket -- the Pygmalion Spa in Cornucopia, Florida. The Dark Knight is on the next plane. Landing, he wears the guise of Mr. Howard Sanford and is introduced to Lilly Lang, his "directress to a new life". She shows "Sanford" around the place, and he begins to engage in the activities. Different denizens remark at what good shape he's in, but it's played off. One day Batman spies Lilly with a man; he's told it's her boyfriend, and he watches them steal away to a part of the compound he's told is off-limits. What more could a Batman need? The next night, "Sanford" swims across the lagoon and hops the fence -- only to receive a beatdown from a couple of guards. This begins a trend in this story that we've seen Haney employ in the other tales I've reviewed, and that is the "unaware" Batman. For a guy who is supposed to be the world's greatest detective, the ultimate human fighting machine, and a peak physical specimen, he sure gets taken down pretty easily.
Doug: Sensing that he's going to need a little help on this one, the Batman takes out an ad in a newspaper -- we don't know which paper, though. It's designed to draw out one Boston Brand -- Deadman! And the strategy works right away, because we only have a limited amount of pages to tell this story. Wherever Brand had seen the ad, he hits the winds and makes his way to Gotham City, where the Batman has returned and is in counsel with the Commissioner. Brand drops into the room, and indeed into the Commissioner to possess him. Once aware that Gordon is no longer himself, Batman and Deadman cut the deal -- Deadman will go back to the Pygmalion Spa, take over the body of Lilly's boyfriend, Richie Wandrus, and gather enough evidence to blow the lid off the operation. Before he leaves on the mission, however, Deadman is visited by Vashnu and the spirit of Rama Kushna (you'd have to have read some previous Deadman stories to be fully up to speed on this -- fortunately, I've read a few articles about Deadman, so I wasn't totally in the dark). Rama Kushna tells Brand, "Hark to me, my son... a man, a spirit in love, may only gain his heart's desire by... losing it! For is not love stronger than death itself?"
Doug: Once at the spa, Brand immediately infiltrates Wandrus and begins to interact with Lilly. He soon realizes he may be in over his head, as he begins to encounter hoods who know him. But he sells it well enough to get by. But as he gets closer to Lilly, Brand finds that he rather likes this return to the corporeal world -- in effect, he's falling for Lilly! To make matters worse, he's apparently a better lover, more sensitive guy, you name it -- but Lilly likes the change in "Richie" as well! They even talk about going straight, making enough money to retire from the spa, and going away together. Boston Brand is falling hard. But when the Batman confronts Brand about the lack of evidence he's gathered, Brand reveals his struggles with his feelings. The Dark Knight will hear none of it, and orders Deadman to see this through.
Doug: Deadman, now grasping at straws as to how to please both Batman and himself, decides the only way to handle all of it is to come clean with Lilly. He decides to fess up to her... and you know what? She buys it! Brand is more committed than ever to get Lilly to go straight, so they can indeed retire together. He gets the evidence Batman had already stored up, invading Bruce Wayne's body while Wayne slept. With the situation now irrevocably complicated, Batman feels that he must now do this alone. Heading back to Pygmalion, Batman takes the guise of one Whitey Blaine -- but just as clumsily screwing it up as he'd done before, Batman had picked the identity of a recently-deceased hood! Lilly orders the plastic surgeon staff to now make Holt Gannigan -- Public Enemy #1 -- look like "Whitey Blaine", and vice versa; in effect, Bruce Wayne will be altered to look like the worst criminal in the world! Of course, Brand stands right by, in the body of Richie Wandrus, and begins to get very nervous.
Doug: Bruce Wayne is dumped on a Florida street, not aware that he's been made up to look like Gannigan. Dazed, he begins to stumble about. A police cruiser happens by, with Cornucopia's finest fully aware that Holt Gannigan has been spotted in the area. Looking to bag a big one, they spot "Gannigan" in the street. With lethal force, they move in and wing him in the shoulder. Deadman immediately flashes into our view and enters Wayne's body. Running quickly from the scene into a nearby swamp, Deadman manages to elude the police. Squatting by a puddle to wash the make-up from Wayne's face and head, Deadman also scrawls a message in the mud. Feeling that Wayne's been revived a bit, Deadman exits. As he floats away, Wayne admonishes him to quit feeling for Lilly and to bring her to justice. Entering the room Lilly shares with Wandrus, Deadman re-inhabits the napping body of Richie. But Lilly's onto Brand's scheme, and has figured him out to be working with the law. She draws a gun.
Doug: At that same moment, the Batman crashes through the window and orders Lilly to drop her weapon -- law agents have the place surrounded! But Lilly's blinded with rage toward Brand, Richie, Batman -- the whole situation. She yells at Brand that her payback to him will be to make him watch Batman die. Recalling the words of Rama Kushna ("Hark to me, my son... a man, a spirit in love, may only gain his heart's desire by... losing it! For is not love stronger than death itself?"), Brand has an epiphany. Drawing a small pistol from Wandrus' pocket, Deadman fires at Lilly, saving the Dark Knight while killing her! Brand reasoned that Rama Kushna's words meant that in his love's death, he would find love -- but what he got instead was nothing. Having assumed Lilly would take on a phantom form and join him in the spirit world, Brand fled to his own anxieties and disappointments. And the Batman? He was left to explain to Richie Wandrus just what had gone on these past days, and why he was under arrest.
Doug: I really liked this story! Haney's plots are always dense, with many twists and turns along the way. And as I'd said near the top, he's never afraid to take characters (and readers) out of their comfort zones. Think you know how "X" should behave in reaction to a given stimulus? Think again... Jim Aparo was solid as always, although I'm really beginning to notice his lack of ability to draw beautiful female faces. His women aren't "ugly" by any stretch, but next to the work of Nick Cardy, Jim Mooney, John Buscema, or Johnny Romita, Aparo pales in comparison. But he draws a great Batman, and orchestrates an action sequence well. Good, early Bronze Age fare!