Monday, December 18, 2006

B&B Seeing You--Part 1

The following is the first part of a lengthy essay on the DC Comics series THE BRAVE & THE BOLD and its writer Bob Haney, which will appear in several parts over the next few days:
Part I—Influence
Writing in the December 2004 edition of BACK ISSUE magazine, editor Michael Eury named THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (B&B), published by DC Comics from 1955 to 1982, as the most influential comics magazine put out by DC during the periods known as the Silver and Bronze Ages of Comics. (Opinions amongst comics historians vary, but most agree that the Silver Age began with DC’s publication of SHOWCASE #4, featuring a revival of The Flash, with most placing its end at approximately 1970, and most place the Bronze Age as spanning the years from 1975, kicked off by the first appearance of the new X-Men in GIANT SIZED X-MEN #1, to about 1985.) While Eury goes on to admit that his claim may be somewhat overblown, the evidence that he offers up in support of his theorem, in the form of a listing of important characters and concepts that first saw the light of day in B&B, is nonetheless compelling.
B&B originated the concept of the team-up comic, in which a different set of heroes joined forces in each issue, and was the first venue for the adventures of such superstars and fan favorites as Metamorpho the Element Man, the Silver Age version of Hawkman , the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans. (Certainly, Cartoon Network would seem to owe B&B a deep debt of gratitude.) In B&B #85’s tale, “The Senator’s Been Shot,” long standing second tier hero Green Arrow was given a new look, costume and attitude, beginning the character’s metamorphosis from a rather bland Batman rip-off into the lovable, liberal hothead familiar to readers of his current monthly series.
Eury also cites in passing the oft-repeated, though quite possibly apocryphal, legend of the golf game between the publisher of DC Comics and Martin Goodman, head of the rival comics house that would shortly become known as Marvel Comics, during which the DC honcho boasted of the success of the Justice League of America, spurring Goodman to urge his editor to create a superteam for his company.
That editor, still legally known as Stanly Martin Lieber but already better known to his readers by the name which he signed to his comics scripts, Stan Lee, has oft been quoted as saying that he had, by this time- the early 1960’s- decided to leave the comics industry in which he had toiled thanklessly for the previous two decades and pursue his dream of becoming a “real” writer. Therefore, with the encouragement of his wife, he vowed to take this seemingly one last opportunity to write a super-hero comic in the manner in which he had always they should be written, eschewing many of the accepted conventions of the genre. The comic that Lee and artist/co-creator Jack Kirby produced was, of course, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, the success of which led to the creation of what we now call the Marvel Universe, and, by extension, the entire modern concept of the super-hero as we today understand it.
It was also in B&B that two artists who would eventually become closely associated with the Batman were allowed their first opportunity to make their mark on the character. Following his acclaimed eight issue stint as B&B artist, Neal Adams went on to team with writer Dennis O’Neil for a series of Batman stories that moved the character away from the perceived silliness of the recent Adam West TV series toward a darker, more mysterious millieu, a movement that reached its apotheosis in the mid-1980’s with the work of Frank Miller, “Batman: Year One” and The Dark Knight Returns. Jim Aparo, who illustrated more issues of B&B than any other artist, first drew the feature with #98, which teamed Batman with the Phantom Stranger, a character on whose title Aparo was the regular artist, and would stay with the B&B for most of the rest of its run. After B&B’s cancellation, Aparo would go on to draw BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS, which he co-created with latter day B&B scribe Mike W. Barr, and to delineate the solo adventures of the Caped Crusader in the two periodicals that are, to this day, the mainstays of the Batman line, DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD’s greatest significance to a great many readers, myself among them, was an introduction, through the well known character of the Batman, to the wider world of the DC Comics universe. It was through B&B that I was first exposed to the exploits of such characters as the Atom, the Creeper, the Metal Men, Mr. Miracle, the Metal Men, Black Canary, and Green Arrow. It would also be fair to say that it was in B&B that I saw the Batman for the first time. Prior to reading my first issue of B&B, I had really only known Batman from the aforementioned mid-1960’s TV show and TV cartoons such as Superfriends. The Batman of B&B, especially Aparo’s artistic rendition of him with his long pointy bat-ears and flowing cape, was a revelation to me. Though writer Bob Haney’s characterization of Batman was never as grim as that which prevailed in the other Batman books of the 1970’s, his tough talking Darknight Detective was still a far cry from the character posing as Batman on Superfriends.

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