Friday, May 10, 2024

Spinner Rack Flashback: The Brave and the Bold vol 1 #200

Brave & the Bold vol 1 #200

Cover Date: July 1983
On Sale Date: April 21, 1983
Editor Len Wein
Cover Artists Jim Aparo, Anthony Tollin

Story Title:  "Smell of Brimstone, Stench of Death!"
Penciller: Dave Gibbons
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Inker: Gary Martin
Letterer: Dave Gibbons, Gaspar Saladino
Colorist: Adrienne Roy

Trey: This comic was the end of the road for The Brave and the Bold, a series that started in 1955. It was initially an anthology book of adventure strips featuring the likes of the Silent Knight, the Viking Prince, the Golden Gladiator, and Robin Hood, but with issue 25 it got a makeover as a "try out" book for new concepts/characters. The original Suicide Squad got their start here, as did the Silver Age Hawkman, and then in #28 a little group you may have heard debuted: The Justice League of America.

With issue #50, it became a team-up title, and with issue #74, exclusively a Batman team-up book. The title was the first to feature Neal Adams on Batman and the place where Adams' redesign of Green Arrow debuted.

I didn't know any of that stuff when I read this issue as a kid, though. What captivated me about this issue was this was the first place I was exposed to the idea of Earth-One and Earth-Two. Here was a Batman and Robin that acted like the ones I was used to in the cartoon, and then this darker, serious (and somehow sadder to 10 year-old me due to his Robin-lessness) other Batman.

Jason: The contrast between the golden age pastiche and the state-of-the-art early 80s Batman (and the Earths portrayed here is stark, both in style and substance. I felt a pang that the kinder, gentler, zanier Batman of old depicted here was by this time no longer available in the comics. The Earth-Two stories I remember from the Adventure Comics a handful of years before this were as modern and "adult" as anything else on the stands at the time. Earth-Two Batman was already officially, canonically "dead", at least as much as can be managed in the comics!

Trey: In the main story, Earth-Two Nicholas Lucien is a B-grade villain with a devil gimmick who is defeated by Batman and Robin and put into a long coma by a head injury. He revives 28 years later in Arkham to find himself an old man, and Batman dead and thus beyond his vengeance.  Unwilling to accept this, he mentally reaches out to that other him he always sensed existed, a respectable businessman on Earth-One. He essentially possesses that version of himself to execute a terroristic plan to lure Earth-One Batman into a trap and kill him.

And then, there was a preview for a brand new comic! Batman and the Outsiders. New comics with a whole slate of new (some just to me, some completely new) characters. That was not the sort of thing that happened every day, in my experience.

Jason: Indeed! With no generic filler or reprints, this special double-size issue delivers bang for the buck admirably, especially for its era.

Trey: The main story isn't as mindblowing as I found it to be as a child, but I still think it's a good one, in no small part to Gibbons shifting art styles for Earth-One and Earth-Two. I also think Brimstone as a good central motif for a Batman villain and could have been used more, though I do like the implication that Golden Age Gotham might have been awash in theatrical criminal wannabes and almost-wases. I also think it's a nice twist that the so-called World's Greatest Detective never knows what exactly was going on here.

Jason: The opening pastiche sets the tone for the level of realism one is to expect from this incarnation of the Caped Crusader. By the time we're asked to swallow the whole possession from another, more cartoony reality angle, the premise seems perfectly reasonable in the context of this tale and we need not ask questions. The Golden Age sequence was delightful, and the incrementally more sober Late Bronze Age sequence delivered as well.

Gibbons turns in a hell of a job here. His trademark precision and beautifully rendered backgrounds, his eye for meaningful details (one of the hoods' cartoony cauliflower ear, etc.), and his ability to present multiple styles that transition seamlessly elevate this work and render harmless any flaws in the story. It's an early career tour de force, I tell you!

Trey: It's also billed as a Batman and Batman team-up, but the two Batmen never meet.

Jason: The cover is nebulous enough to fit within the ethical standards of comics of the day. It doesn't actually guarantee anything. Never trust a cover, as the savvy spinner-rack devotee of 1983 already knew!

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