The best comics ever!
(For a very specific definition of best.)
1) Bob Haney (writer) and Jim Aparo (artist) on Brave and the Bold (1971-1979)
Issues: 98, 100-102, 104-125, I think he's the inker on 126,, 127-136, 138-145, 148-152, 154-155 and 157. Whew. A whopping 53 issues.
Team-Ups: Batman with: Green Arrow (6 times), the Metal Men (4 times), Wonder Woman, Mister Miracle, Black Canary, Green Lantern, Metamorpho, the Atom, Sgt. Rock, Aquaman and Wildcat. (3 times each), Plastic Man, the Joker, the Flash, Teen Titans, the Phantom Stranger, Deadman and Kamandi (twice each) and Robin, the Demon, the Spectre, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing, Two-Face, Richard Dragon, Hawkman and the Creeper. (Once each.) Note that some of these issues had more than one character per story. Issue # 100 guest-starred Robin AND Green Lantern AND Green Arrow AND Black Canary, ferinstance.
Obviously, I'm a member of the comics blogsphere. And, as such, I have to love these comics like my 53 first born children, and can talk about it for days on end, not pausing for food or sleep or bathroom breaks.
But in the interests of brevity and good taste, I will limit myself to ten-ish reasons why it's the best.
Why This Run is Numbero Uno:
1) Plot. "Not," he hastens to add, "that these are extraordinarily well planned-out stories, or stories with far-reaching implications for the "DC Universe" or stories that build, as a unit, to a grand pay-off 37 issues down the road.".... But they ARE high-concept, original, fast moving, unpredictable, and ridiculously entertaining, with everything from characterization to setting (this might be the globe-trottingest Batman ever) rendered flexible in the service of story! Story! STORY!
Flat-out, folks, I think this is the most entertaining bunch of STORIES (story! Story!) of any comic run I've read.
For example let's turn to the Wildcat team-up in Brave and the Bold # 118.
Batman and Wildcat are forced into boxing (complete with ring) each other with Cestus (spiked metal gloves from the Roman Colliseum, apparently) to stop the Joker from shooting THE ONLY PUPPY IN THE WORLD who's blood contains anti-bodies can save a prison full of sick inmates, including one former boxer who lost the title to Wildcat on a technicality and is now a henchman of the Joker, posisoned so he can't talk.
You `know what that's called in a Haney/Aparo story? Page 13.
("Hell of a lot more content in those thirteen pages than in entire 8 issue mini-series we get now-a-days" hrummps your infirm and aging host.)
I imagine the actual creative PROCESS for these issues involved lots of snickering and air-fist-pumping and cries of "HELLS YEAH!"
But the actual stories themselves are played absolutely straight.
= And this may be the oddest/craziest/wonderfullest thing about this run. While most Silver and Bronze age superhero writers held themselves at a sniggering distance from the kiddie stuff they were cranking out, H & A didn't even adopt the camp vibe of the old '60s TV show. This stuff is treated like Russian Literature, which (A) means that the dark, moody, serious sequences (and they DO exist) can work credibly well (B) when the plot gets... interesting, it's an absolute blindside.
(From Brave and the Bold # 140.)
To get all lit-major-y (and keep in mind Haney had a BA in English) the ontrast between the autorial approach to the stories (dead serious) and the CONTENT of the stories (Whack-a-ding-dong insane) makes for a delicious application of reverse romatic-irony.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. But I'm outta school right now and have to keep my bullshit muscles in shape.)
3) VIOLENCE! Jim Aparo draws punchin' and kickin' and bitin' and gougin' better than any artist ever, with Batman all hitting people so hard they explode.
(From Brave and the Bold # 132.)
4) Aparo's inking himself for much of the run. The big problem with the penciller/inker system in comics is that, often, inkers are overly afraid to obfuscate the penciled art, which means you never get big 'ol gobs of black all over everything, like SO.
(From Brave and the Bold # 110.)
5) I really, really (REALLY) dig Haney's approach to Batman. It's probably the most... normal, and well-adjusted take on the character ever. I've always suspected that the "Grim, obsessed, creature of the night" schtick has always worked contrary to one of Batman's innate strengths as a character - The fact that he really IS the "hero who could be you."
Haney's Batman, on the other hand..... Really could.
(A slightly edited panel from Brave and the Bold # 102, borrowed from Mark Waid's site.)
One non-Aparo example from B &B 99. Here Batman confronts the deaths of his parents, goes through some angst, GETS THE HELL OVER IT, and ends with a riff on "Goodnight Moon."
(From Brave and the Bold # 99, drawn by Bob Brown. Nick Cardy Inker. Thanks to Every Day is Like Wednesday for the Scan.)
6) These aren't, by and large, strictly superhero comics. At least they're not bound by the cliches and storytelling structure of most supehero books. War comics? Sure. International espionage comics? Absolutely. Gothic romance books? Betcher bottom dollar. Hot, Indiana Jones style archeologist action? 'Sooolutely! But there's very, very little of the "Hero on patrol encounters random villain, almost loses, comes back and kicks butt" stuff that makes up 97% of the plots in the other "street level hero" type books of the day. This kind of facile genre hopping garuantees that you don't ever QUITE know what you're gonna get in any given issue, and keeps the whole run lively, and far less predictable and repetetetetetive than... well, again, pretty much any other run of comics, ever.
(From Brave and the Bold # 135, a romance/legal thriller between a caveman (who might be a robot) and a female tycoon. Guest starring the Metal Men, like there's any room for them.)
7) Haney's a genuinely smart dude, and his stories are full of interesting historical/biological/archeological tid-bits and trivia. ADULT me has actually learned stuff about the real world from these comics.
It might be a little strange that the Atom is controlling Batman's dead body like a puppet..
(From Brave and the Bold # 115)
But you can be sure he's researched and assigned the correct functions to the different regions of the brain.
(For proof, I'll refer you to the medically-minded Scott over at Polite Dissent. It's definitely worth clicking the "Bob Haney" tag at the bottom, as well.)
8) Haney and Aparo were doing meta-fiction before Grant Morrison could even spell it.
And just for balance sake, here's Bob Haney from the same issue.
(Yes, OBVIOUSLY, Bob Haney lives in a cabin out in the middle of the woods, has a big hunting dog, and his best friend owns a lighthouse. This is common sense.)
9) 100 Pages! Now it's been scientifically proven beyond the benefit of a doubt that the 100 page floppy is the optimal format for comics, and this run provides six of 'em, every issue between 112 and 117. Checkout all the cool stuff you get in just one issue!
(From Brave and the Bold # 116. Batman by Nick Cardy.)
10) The early issues of this run are absolutely superbly colored, although the colorist isn't listed and even the Grand Comic Book Database doesn't know who it is. The Hooded Utilitarian does a side-by-side comparison of the original Deadman team-up in issue # 104 with the Black and White reprint, so I'll just quote him:
And I love the way the touch of red shading makes Deadman's path out of the body here more solid; it's almost like he's at the end of a twisty ectoplasmic fabric; an effect which is present, but more muted, in the black and white:
And, OK, I was tryin' for just ten, but I got one more.
11) The best Alfred in the last fifty years. He doesn't regularly show up till late in the run, but Haney's Alfred isa man who's both ready with a self-deprecating wise-crack
(From Brave and the Bold # 141.)
AND he's hip to all the latest dance-steps.
(From Brave and the Bold # 151)
On the Other Hand: Blah...blah... blah... inconsistent, some issues are boring (105) some are fairly terrible (134) blah...blah..blah editorial muddling and co-writing with Cary Burkett before he was any good and Blah Blah Blah gets worse as the run goes on. And sometimes other, lesser, creators failed to follow/understand the one true continuity as laid down by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, and made the DC Universe look inconsistent as a result.
But still, on the whole, pretty damned brilliant.
Bonus Links! (Man, we could be here all day.)
ASIDE from the people I've already linked to:
Here's Tucker Stone of the Factual Opion on B&B 100-102
Here's Graeme McMillan giving an "Excellent" rating to the Black and White Showcase Rerprint of 109- 134.
Here's Rob! of the Aquaman Shrine on Brave and the Bold 126.
And here's Rob!'s Phantom Stranger sie sister-site on the Phantom Stranger in 145.
And Chris Sims of the ISB on the Atom/Dead Batman team-up from 115.
And Sims again on Batman and Richard Dragon from B &B 132.
Scroll down for "H" of the Comic Treadmill reviewing pretty much the whole damn series.
Here's some Commisioned Jim Aparo art from an eminently tasteful dude calling himself "Aparofan."
And, heck, here's CSBGs' Bill Reed on Bob Haney.
(The best part about all these links? Liberally borrowing scans from the above bloggers. Saved me a lot of work, guys.)
Next: After some recovery time I'll discuss the runners up. (Basically the OTHER twenty-or-so team-up book runs I really like. Soon!)