Batman: The Brave and the BoldWritten by Matt Wayne and J Torres; Illustrated by Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, and Carlo BarberiDC; $12.99
I usually steer clear of DC and Marvel here, because Tom and Carla have those beats well-covered, but Batman: The Brave and the Bold is exactly the kind of fun, high-concept, adventure comic that this column was created to talk about. It may just be the best superhero comic currently made (though that’s a race with the Marvel Adventures line that’s too close to call).
I’ve got to confess that I’m not a superhero fan. Not in the sense that I like all – or even most – superhero comics in the strictest definition of the genre. If we’re going to include characters like Hellboy and Atomic Robo, then I’ll back off that position, but when it comes to people with extraordinary abilities dressing up in outlandish costumes to fight crime, my interest begins and ends at DC and Marvel. That’s 70% nostalgia for characters I grew up with and love; 30% overexposure to some really horrible knock-offs from other publishers. There are of course exceptions (Hello, Incredibles!), but for the most part my eyes glaze over when I see announcements of new comics and movies with superheroes I’ve never heard of. Once you’ve had Batman, it’s pretty hard to settle for anything else.
Of course, once you’ve had Batman, it’s sometimes hard to settle even for more Batman. What I mean by that is that there are some interpretations of Batman that are so iconic; so cool, that your run-of-the-mill, month-by-month Batman comics are dull in comparison. Every Batman story can’t be Strange Apparitions or Year One. I’m going to argue though, that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is. Although its roots are firmly embedded in the Silver Age, it’s an exciting, original vision of the character that never feels quaint.
Gorillas, dinosaurs, and Vikings after the break.
If the comic has a weakness, it’s the superficial sameness of the art. Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, and Carlo Barberi are all great artists, but they’re handcuffed a little by the need to make the comic look like the cartoon. But even with that restriction there are distinct differences in their styles and the cartoon’s look is a pretty awesome template to start from. All three illustrators bring a lot of excitement, power, and humor to their stories – more so than most other superhero comics right now – and that’s not to be taken for granted.
The only negative aspect is knowing that the look of the comic is never going to change. I love crème brûlée, but if I had it with every meal, I’d eventually get tired of it. One of the nice things about most corporate-owned comics is knowing that at some point, you’ll eventually get a different art style to look at for variety’s sake. But, I’m not nearly done with the look of James Tucker’s designs from the cartoon yet, so by anticipating something that may never happen, I’m really just looking for something to pick at.
There’s nothing to pick on about the stories though. They’re indisputably awesome. Even when the villain is someone I don’t typically care about, Matt Wayne and J Torres find a cool angle to exploit. Take Dr. Cyber, for instance. I’ve never understood the sexy-robot fetish, so she usually creeps me out a little, but all is forgiven when she tries to create a technological utopia by taking the whole world back in time and starting over. With time collapsing on itself, Batman and Aquaman (if you think you don’t like Aquaman, it’s only because you haven’t yet seen The Brave and the Bold’s Brian Blessed-like version) have to fight dinosaurs, Roman legionnaires, cave people, medieval knights, and a freaking liopleurodon. Joan of Arc also makes an appearance.
Lex Luthor is another bad guy I can usually leave. In Superman comics he’s only interesting when he sees himself as the savior of humanity against the Kryptonian Invasion of One. He’s usually even more tiresome in other people’s adventures, but here he’s reduced to his essence – a mad genius – and it works. He’s used a “concentration ray” to create a giant monster from the citizens of London, planning to use the composite creature (Batman prefers the term “crowd monster”) to steal the Crown Jewels. Batman and Power Girl team up to stop it from stomping on London while it proclaims, “I say” and “raw-ther.”
Another story has Batman posing as the President of the United States in order to help Green Arrow keep the Ultra-Humanite from kidnapping the real one. The evil scientist isn’t yet in his giant gorilla form, but that just lets us enjoy both the doctor and his ape at the same time. And even if you prefer the doctor in banana-eating form… well, just stick with it. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is about many things, but disappointing readers isn’t one of them.
In a particularly magical story, Batman teams up with Captain Marvel to fight the Queen of Fables. She’s stealing children and drinking their tears to keep herself eternally young and beautiful. That sounds like a Geoff Johns plot, but it’s not so scary in the Brave and the Bold style. The six stories in this volume kept my eight-year-old and I stocked in bedtime stories for a week and he had no problems with this one (or any of them, for that matter). He especially liked it when the Queen turns Captain Marvel into a giant dragon and Batman has to fight him.
The only story that didn’t completely work for me was the one where the Thinker – who’s trapped in cyberspace – takes over a World of Warcraft-like game. He sends game characters to steal treasure in the real world so that he can store it online. There’s a fine line between Awesome and Too Much and this story crossed it, but it still has Batman and Blue Beetle fighting trolls and dwarves, so it’s enjoyable too.
The best of the bunch is the one where General Immortus transports soldiers from various historical periods, learns he can’t control them, and calls Batman for help. Batman then contacts Kid Eternity, who has the power to summon any historical, legendary, or mythological hero and use their powers to fight bad guys.
My introduction to Kid Eternity was the Grant Morrison/Ann Nocenti stuff in the ‘90s and I’d never spent the energy to get through the weirdness to the concept beneath. This comic takes care of that, so you’ve got four mini-team-ups in one story. Batman and Vigilante fight Jesse James, the Dark Knight and the Shining Knight take on a bunch of black knights, and the Caped Crusader and the Viking Prince beat up some ancient Norsemen. That’s not all though, while the heroes are taking care of the rough stuff, Immortus is using his time machine to retrieve the Spear of Destiny, which will makes him invincible against “any man born of a woman.” Fortunately, the Kid has a hero to help with that too.
One of the many cool things about the TV version of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is the teaser segments they show before the opening credits. Batman always teams up with someone other than the main story’s co-star to defeat a villain as quickly and thrillingly as they can. The comics replicate that formula by introducing each story with a two-page fight in which Batman cracks skulls with the help of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman, Hourman, the Haunted Tank, and Sugar and Spike. At bedtime though, my son and I don’t wait until after the teaser to start singing the show’s theme song together. We’re already doing that on our way to the bedroom.
Four out of five liopleurodons.