Comics Prehistory: The Brave and the Bold #182

Scan0001I suppose it’s kind of funny to say that comic #1 in your collection (read: the first comic you purchased and still have) is only #1 on a technicality.  I own a copy of The Brave and the Bold #182 and have owned this comic since 1981; however, I honestly do not remember buying it.

My hometown’s local comic shop, Amazing Comics, opened in 1984 and the first comic book I ever bought there was an issue of Superman: The Secret Years.  But a few years later, probably around 1988 or 1989, my parents were cleaning out the attic and my friend Tom and I were helping them clean off some old stuff that they were going to give to a local church.  Most of these items were pretty typical–clothes and old toys, for instance.  In fact, several of the old toys were Fisher-Price Little People sets that nowadays would fetch about $40-$50 on eBay if my parents had the foresight to put those back in the attic.

Anyway, among those old toys was an American Tourister luggage set that my parents probably had owned since they were married in 1971, a pea-green hard-cased set that was actually pretty cumbersome to store and had been replaced with the type of suitcases that can be placed inside one another.  Tom and I were asked to open each of them up, dust them, vacuum them, and leave them on the back deck to air out before we put them in the car.  We did so, taking a break from actually playing with the Little People (because even though we were 11 or 12, it was toys we hadn’t seen and that’s what you do whenever you see toys), and when I opened up what used to be the toiletries and cosmetics suitcase, which is what I used to pack when I was very little and would spend nights at my grandmother’s, I found The Brave and the Bold #182.

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In the splash page, Batman gets a frightening surprise and Jim Aparo gives us some great cape.

It was obviously my comic book and I had obviously brought it with me when staying at my grandmother’s one night, but I cannot say when I actually bought it.  The cover date was January 1982 and the publication date, according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, was October 22, 1981, so the comic predated the opening of the comic book store and that meant that my father probably bought it for me when he took me to Greaves Stationary on Main Street because he was buying cigarettes and while he chatted up the people behind the counter, I perused the comics and picked this one out.  The fact that I hadn’t lost it–I remember owning at least one issue of The New Adventures of Superboy as well as one or two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man but what issues they were and when I got them is lost to time–is only by the grace of my forgetting it in a suitcase.

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Robin reminds Batman that he’s all grown up.

The Brave and the Bold, most comics fans will remember, started as an adventure anthology book and then became a superhero team-up book, eventually evolving into a Batman team-up book that ended with issue #200 and was “replaced” by Batman and the Outsiders.  The team-up in this issue is with “Robin, The Ex-Boy Wonder” and is called “Interlude on Earth-Two.”  Written by Alan Brennert with art by Jim Aparo, the story begins on Earth-2 with the adult Dick Grayson, aka Robin, teaming up with Starman Ted Kord to figure out how Hugo Strange, a man long thought to be dead, is creating crazy storms around Gotham City.  Meanwhile, back on Earth-1, Batman finds himself in a graveyard in a similar storm and after dodging a lighting strike sees is own grave.  Only it’s not his own grave; it’s the grave of the Batman of Earth-2, who had died a few years earlier in an issue of Adventure Comics.

Batman, after scaring a random couple who think they’re seeing a ghost, heads to the headquarters of  the JSA where he’s accosted by Robin, who thinks he’s breaking in before he realizes who he’s looking at.  The two recap who Hugo Strange is and then find themselves being attacked by relics from the Batcave:  Catwoman’s Pantherjet, and an old Batmobile, for instance.  Someone else joins their team as the old Batmobile attacks them and that is Kathy Kane, aka Batwoman, who Bruce remembers died years ago on his earth but is semi-retired on Earth-2.

Realizing that the artifacts that are attacking them are real, the Bat-team deduces that the only possible place that Hugo Strange could be attacking them from is the Batcave and they head there, which is where they have to fight the T-Rex that’s so famous as well as a Batman android.  Eventually an old and decrepit Hugo Strange shows himself, holding Starman’s cosmic rod (it had disappeared at the beginning of the issue), which he’d been using to control everything he’d been throwing at the heroes.   He tells Batman, Robin, and Batwoman how he had survived the fall that everyone thought had killed him back in Detective Comics #46 (and thanks to The Original Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Vol 1 for that info) and then Batman attacks him, telling Strange that it’s not that he wants to destroy Gotham, it’s that he wants to die.  Batman tells him that he doesn’t have the guts to kill himself and eventually Strange admits it and uses the cosmic rod to turn himself to ash.  The story ends with Starman, who is nursing a broken arm, using the cosmic rod to send Batman back to his earth.

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Hugo Strange sends a Batman robot after our heroes and Robin has to “kill” his mentor.

By the way, there’s a Nemesis story in this comic but: a) I never read that as a kid, and b) I covered it back on episode 3 of 80 Years of DC Comics: Action-Adventure, so you can learn all about it there.

Alan Brennert is one of Rob Kelly’s favorite comic book writers and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that he wrote three of my all-time favorite Batman stories, including this one.  I’ve heard this covered on a couple of podcasts before and the two things that always come up are that the version of the Earth-2 Robin costume with the yellow pants and the green mask that covers most of his face are not everyone’s favorite and that through most of the story, Robin is resentful that the Earth-1 Batman is there and acts like kind of a prick.

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At the end of the story, Hugo Strange meets his end. Batman is kind of responsible, but we’re going to gloss over that.

When I was a kid reading this story, Robin’s resentment didn’t necessarily register with me and re-reading it now, I actually like the resentment.  Batman of Earth-2 died in Adventure Comics #462, which only came out three years prior to this, so in comic book time it’s very possible that not much time had passed between the death of the Earth-2 Batman and this particular adventure, although there were two JLA/JSA crossovers between now and then, so this is not the first time that the Dick Grayson of Earth-2 is encountering the Bruce Wayne of Earth-1.  However, while I don’t know if I’m being entirely accurate, this is probably the first time in a long time that the Robin of Earth-2 has been part of a Batman and Robin team.  Furthermore, Batman does boss him around quite a bit like a junior partner, and it actually is a nice bit of foretelling of how the Dynamic Duo of Earth-1 will have their tension boil over in the pages of The New Teen Titans and Batman of the Outsiders just prior to Dick becoming Nightwing.  Plus, I’ve always liked this version of the Earth-2 Robin’s costume.  I can’t explain why, because it would never really work if it were used in a movie or anything.  Maybe it’s the way it’s drawn by Jim Aparo because his artwork is amazing throughout the story and a reminder of why for years his Batman was “my” Batman.

As for the story, I love it because Brennert’s writing is really tight and he makes several callbacks to storylines way in the past (as evidenced by my having to use a comic book encyclopedia for reference) but doesn’t overwhelm things with contrivance or continuity.  In fact, he gives what could be a very heavy story about dealing with one’s grief, or having to unexpectedly confront feelings that you thought you’d worked through.  Plus, he plays the angle of the old, decrepit villain trying for one last victory very well, even if Batman kind of goads Hugo Strange into offing himself (it’s kind of “suicide by cop” if you break it down.

I would spend much of the early part of my comic collecting career loving alternate earths stories like Crisis on Infinite Earths. and I think this comic book is responsible.  I’m also happy at how well it holds up, especially when I’m pretty sure that a number of comics I’ll be reviewing for this series won’t.

Coming Next Month:  The Marvel Comics adaptation of Return of the Jedi

 

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