Friday, April 18, 2014

Bruce and Selina -- A Love Story: Brave and the Bold 197

The Brave and the Bold #197 (April 1983)
"The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
Alan Brennert-Joe Staton/George Freeman

Doug: Here's a book that's long been mentioned by our friend Edo Bosnar. I didn't even realize that I had it until I checked the Comic Book Database one day and found that it was reprinted in the pages of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told hardcover (c. 1988). So, since I a) have this,  b) dig the Earth-2 versions of Batman and Robin, et al., and c) it's illustrated by Joe Staton, why don't we have a look at the plot and then a discussion?

Doug: Our story is narrated by the protagonist, one Bruce Wayne. But this is a more mature (dare I say Dark Knight Returns-aged?) Wayne, one setting about writing his memoirs. He remarks that he's already written about his origins in Crime Alley, his taking of young Dick Grayson as a partner, and of his camaradarie with the Justice Society of America. Yep, this is the Earth-2 Batman, and the time is the mid-1950s in the U.S.A. and this is a love story. To some extent it's a story about forbidden fruit, redemption, personal demons, and loss. There's a lot going on here!

Doug: We open with a shot of Commissioner James Gordon, now elderly but still in charge of the Gotham City P.D. Wayne muses to himself that he thinks that to some extent he's been Gordon's alter ego -- the adventurer Gordon always wished he could be. Gordon cradles a small green box as he reaches the rooftop from where the Bat-Signal shines. But as the Caped Crusader approaches, he's suddenly obliterated by automatic gunfire! Or was he? Batman lands on the roof, healthy as a horse, and asks Gordon what he has in the box. Batman reaches for it, and remarks that he's pretty sure he already knows what is going on from the residual odor on the roof. A toxin was introduced to Gordon, one that played on his darkest fear -- a world without a Batman. Batman opens the box to reveal a smouldering scarecrow doll. He takes the box and heads to the Batcave for analysis.

Doug: On the way, the Batman thinks about how busy he's been lately, corralling the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face -- all paroled (say what??) or escaped. And now Professor Crane. He thinks that things were simpler when there were more heroes; now it's just Superman, Wonder Woman, and the "Bat-family" -- he, Robin, and Batwoman. He also thinks about how many of his colleagues have settled down: Clark and Lois, Jay and Joan... and how he's on his way to attend a wedding of an old flame. Once at the wedding, Bruce Wayne greets Linda Page, and they exchange a friendly embrace. They have conversation, and Linda asks Bruce how he'd like to be remembered. She hammers on him a bit about his playboy image, and if that's really the legacy he wishes to leave. We get inside Bruce's head, as he reflects on the creation of that side of his persona, and why it stuck. But as he genuflects, we also see that what really worries him is the fear of being alone -- he wonders what will happen when Alfred retires or passes on, of Dick when he graduates from college and moves away. And that scares Bruce Wayne.

Doug: At the wedding ceremony the guests are suddenly beset with all manner of beasties -- spiders, snakes, and other creepy-crawlies. The Scarecrow makes an appearance, but he didn't bargain on Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Kathy Kane being on the guest list. They all change into their fightin' togs and engage the psychological criminal. But of course Crane has a trick or two up his sleeve, and launches a smoke grenade that goes off right in Batman's face. Batman then sees Robin vanish into thin air. Frantic, he turns to Batwoman for help. She insists that Robin is standing right next to her, but then the Batman sees her vanish as well! Distraught, the Dark Knight flees the scene to seek assistance. But a short time later a call to the Kent household yields nothing. Desperate, he thinks of anyone available who could help him bring down Crane and find his missing partners. Of course, no one is really missing -- it's all the effect of Crane's mind-bending hallucinogens. But Batman settles on one person who could aid him, a former enemy: Catwoman.

Doug: Batman pays a visit to the state pen., where he gets an audience with Selina Kyle. Allegedly she'd suffered from amnesia for a decade, which made her forget her life as the Catwoman. But the Batman was desperate, and even brought the Catwoman costume with him. Selina begrudgingly said she'd help Batman; he'd even offered her the opportunity to be paroled. So off they sped in the Batmobile, on their way to Gotham University to engage Crane. But on their way into the library, the massive concrete lions come to life! The Scarecrow had painted them to resemble stone, then drugged then until they were awakened by a shock collar. Catwoman took exception to that tactic, and was now fully invested in this mission. The pair see a real scarecrow on a rooftop -- a sign from Crane to follow. Selina makes a comment here and there that leads Batman to think that her amnesia claim was bogus. But he swallows it for the sake of finding Crane and his partners.

Doug: Batman's leery of Selina's seeming returned memories -- can he trust her? She thinks that she likes being back in action, but worries that Batman is too obsessed on this case, that he might be erratic. Meeting up in the Great Hall, the find a tape recording from Crane that then plays on several phobias people have. Our pair fights through dangers from fake comets, lightning, and fire. In fact, Batman takes a flaming bolt fired from a crossbow and intended for Catwoman. She is able to destroy the weapon, and then get him to the campus infirmary. There she treats his wound, which requires the removal of his cape and cowl, and of his shirt. Catwoman is shocked when she sees the scars and markings on Batman's back. "Occupational hazard. Fifteen years of fighting will do that to a person." Selina shows genuine concern for her new partner, and then begins to probe his motivations. And Batman tells all -- what happened to him as a child, why he began his crimefighting career. He says to himself that he doesn't know why he answered, but he did.

Doug: We cut to the Scarecrow, firing smoke grenades around campus. He thinks to himself how he's already played on Batman's subconscious fears. These new gasses will play on his most overt phobias, and since they have a staying power in the air, the Dark Knight will be bound to encounter something. Selina tries to reason with Batman as they swing away from the Great Hall. Batman had told her about Gordon's reaction to the box; Selina asks if perhaps Batman's missing partners couldn't also be a figment of his imagination, an illusion. But Batman closes the door on that conversation immediately, and firmly. Selina feels that she's being drawn in to a dark place with this man. As they swing along, suddenly they move through some of the chemicals Crane had left. Selina encounters a fear of heights, Batman of the darkness, and then both of them a fear of open spaces. I'll tell you, if there's one thing I learned from Alan Brennert's script it was all of the different phobias that people have! Dude must have just cracked open an abnormal psychology book and let 'er rip!

Doug: In the library to collect their wits, Selina slips again and Batman knows that she'd lied to him about her amnesia. Nope -- she became the Catwoman on purpose and knew the entire time what she was doing. Selina narrates her story, of a young woman who married a rich but abusive man. Her revenge was to rob him of the only thing he cared about -- his wealth. But the high she got from that stuck, and so did began her criminal ways. She claimed that Selina Kyle faded away and Catwoman became her true identity; Batman concurred, that he lost the person he once had been as well. Then Batman said he didn't know how to get out. Selina turned to him and said, "Don't you?" They embraced. But Batman broke away, and said they needed to find his partners first. Going back outside, they spied another scarecrow. Batman mistook it for the real Crane, and swung up to it. Finding that it was merely another ruse, Batman let his anger and frustration out on the dummy. Selina tried to bring him back, but Batman was suddenly afflicted with ailurophobia - a fear of cats! Shrinking away from Catwoman, he got to the precipice when Selina talked him down. She pleaded with him to let go of his demons, but then he lost control again and began to see her do a fade-out, as Robin and Kathy had done before. Selina knew there was only one way to break this.

Doug: Catwoman removed her mask, releasing the cat. She asked Batman to do the same. He stood and stared. He knew what he should do, but a lifetime of living behind the mask, behind the training, prohibited him. And then he gave in. Batman pulled back his cowl (well, actually it was pretty clumsily drawn, as if he removed a mask) to reveal Bruce Wayne. Selina didn't seem surprised, and the two embraced. Crane's hold on the two of them broken, they kissed and allowed the feelings of years gone by manifest themselves. Later, Batman captured the Scarecrow and dealt with the irrationalities of Crane's hold on him during that adventure. Bruce and Selina married and enjoyed 20 years together -- a fine life. While no mention was made of Helena Wayne, the Huntress, the story had a fitting conclusion with Bruce recalling Selina's life rather than her death, and in hoping that his life would be remembered so well, as well.

Doug: I loved Earth-2. I loved Joe Staton's art on the All-Star Comics revival, and the Huntress. These are treasured stories from the Bronze Age, and although this one was published only a couple of years before the multiple Earths idea came crashing down, it's sort of a fitting ending to those times. Brennert's script is very good, and it's obvious that he "gets" Batman, what makes him tick, and has a fondness for the Batman Family. And Joe Staton -- what a great job of melding his own style to an homage to the 1950s art of Dick Sprang. The faces he drew for Batman were just perfect, as was his rendition of Robin. And I always enjoy Selina in her Golden Age costume the best. This was a nice way to spend 20-25 minutes, and I'm glad I'd been encouraged to read it and actually had it so that I could follow through!


Edo Bosnar said...

Truly one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, if not the greatest (by the way, about 2 months ago I had one of those lucky days while poking around online and scored a ridiculously cheap copy of the paperback edition of that Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told book).

I've consistently liked this story from the first time I read it at about the age of 14 up to the present. Like you said, Brennert really gets Batman, as few other comics writers do (I'd also put Mike Barr in that select company). Another thing is that Brennert basically shows how to write a mature story that's still all ages.
It's really too bad he didn't write more for comics, but I realize he had other projects going on, like writing for TV and also 'regular' books - to my shame, I only recently found out that he's written a number of well-received novels.

B McMolo said...

This remains my all-time favorite Batman story. Thanks so much for a spirited overview.

I thought of this a few years ago when DC released the horrendous New 52 Catwoman. How times have changed... well, not that that was the takeaway revelation for me, but just such a tremendous difference in tone, execution, and impact.

You've likely covered it somewhere in here, I'll have to peruse the archives, but Brennart's love for Earth 2 (and distaste for the post-Crisis machinations) really comes through poignantly in a Supergirl/ Deadman story he wrote for Christmas with the Super-Heroes a few years later. (Thinking of that one always puts this Brave and the Bold story in mind, and vice versa.)

B McMolo said...

p.s. And absolutely re: Catwoman's old costume! So, so, so much cooler than the generic leather zip-suit that seems to be the only way anyone can imagine the character these days.

david_b said...

This story has STYLE..!! That's why Catwoman looks much better in this look, perhaps it's one of the most iconic, other than the Dozer television version.

Will look at picking up, sounds like a splendid story. A refreshing, mature pre-Miller look at the Earth-2 Batman and his cast of characters.

BIG regrets that they hadn't done more along this line prior to Crisis.

Hey, 'New52' youngsters, take note.

Great review..!!

Doug said...

Thanks, guys! This was indeed a very fun story, and so well-written. It really shows that you can have a tough-as-nails Batman without all the "I'm the G-D Batman!" baloney. Edo, you said it well -- "a mature story that's still all ages."


Anonymous said...

Dang, Earth 2 looks like a cooler superhero universe than Earth 1, if this tale is any evidence of that. This Brennert cat sure knows how to spin a Batman tale for sure. Staton isn't one of my favourite artists but the art looks good here.

So, we have a (gasp) gun slinging Batman married to Catwoman, also an older grey haired Superman lives in Earth 2 as I recall, and Power Girl? Methinks we need more Earth 2 stories here!

- Mike 'hope my Earth 2 counterpart is doing well' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike, I'm sure your Earth 2 counterpart is doing fine. Of course, you realize that on Earth 2 it's Tobago & Trinidad :P ...

Dr. Oyola said...

I love the alternate Earths. Limitless varieties of stories that all "count."

Pat Henry said...

Earth 2 is a place DC could tell actual stories that matter, without jeopardizing their corporate brand or requiring "reset." Characters could mature, age, change, marry. Interestingly, this imbued the characters with a special kind of charm and dignity.

What a shame they destroyed it.

Teresa said...

This story is one of my favorites from Earth 2.
I was an Earth 2 fan. Earth-2 used to be the DC alternate reality where things were different, where heroes aged, they were allowed to live and have families.
Another favorite Earth 2 story: Action Comics 484. Earth 2 Superman and Lois Lane get married.
I was just reading my All Star Squadron issues again. I felt bad for Roy Thomas. He really cared about the Earth 2 history.
DC bulldozed his sandbox with him still in it.
Such a waste of story telling potential.

Brian Hague said...

May I also recommend Brennert's "Interlude on Earth-2" from Brave and Bold #182? As far as I know, the issue has not been reprinted, but it's worth the search, especially if you pick up some of Brennert's other Brave and Bold work while you're out. (#178, #181) "Interlude" finds our Batman suddenly transported to Earth-2, looking at what the world is like after the death of Batman. The art is by Aparo and features some of my favorite Earth-1/Earth-2 interactions, taking full advantage of the idea of parallel realities and parallel lives.

Brennert's depiction of the Creeper and Hawk & Dove also mark him as one of the very few who can write Ditko characters with respect and appreciation for who and what they were when Ditko created them.

The Hawk & Dove story sends continuity thumb-suckers into tantrums because he shows the characters as old as they would have been had they really lived during the late 60's & early 70's when they were created. Of course, the rest of the Teen Titans did not age as much over the course of issues. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Imagine a writer valuing theme, character, and genuine insight over continuity. Horrors...

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