Sunday, 12 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - The Brave & The Bold #118 (April 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - April 1975
THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #118 (DC Comics)
"May the Best Man Win Die!"
By Bob Haney (w); Jim Aparo (a, l) & Murray Boltinoff (e)

Like Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up (which was discussed at this location), Batman became the featured character in DC's team-up book The Brave & the Bold with issue #67 in summer 1966. The title became a team-up book with issue #50 which featured a one-off teaming of Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter, two of the lesser lights of the Justice League of America. Before that, the title was a "showcase" book for potential new series, starting with issue #25 (September 1959) starring The Suicide Squad. The Justice League itself was first introduced in the pages of The Brave & the Bold (#28) as was Cave Carson (#31), a newly re-introduced Hawkman with a new origin (#34) and a bizarre concept later picked up on by Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie magazines called Strange Sports Stories (#45). The series started as an entirely different thing, however. It was first published in (cover dated) August 1955 featuring stories of gallant knights in gleaming armor, from ancient Rome to medieval England, in the same vein as EC Comics's title Valor, introducing three characters with basically self-explanatory names: The Golden Gladiator, The Viking Prince and The Silent Knight. I plan to feature both Valor and Brave & the Bold #1 in future editions of Comics Suck! later in the year (Fingers crossed!).

Jim Aparo's Batman is gritty and is close to being the
definitive take on the character.
So after all it's iterations, by the time issue #118 rolled around, Brave & the Bold was a Batman book, and writer Bob Haney (a mainstay on the book since issue #50) has established certain traditions within its pages. One of those was the regular team-ups with Golden Age star, Wildcat. This was the fifth such teaming, the previous one had only taken place in issue #110 from January 1974. It seemed readers couldn't get enough of the scrappy, avuncular old fighting man ... err, cat. The very next issue (#111, March '74) saw the first ever Batman / Joker pairing as the caped crusader's iconic nemesis was becoming an increasingly big draw in his own right. Issue #118 was billed as a two-way team-up but isn't even close to playing out as advertised. Batman and Wildcat team-up and Joker is the villain of the piece. It's all very black and white. Putting Joker's name on the cover, however was a way to build just a little more "brand recognition" for the character as he would star in his very own title the next month. Barring Eclipso (who never actually starred in his own title, but was the featured character in House of Secrets for a couple years), Joker was to become the first ever comics villain to receive his own title (I also hope to feature an issue of that title as well, but that won't be for awhile).

Much as the cover depicts, Batman and Wildcat are forced to slug it out in a no-holds-barred boxing match while wearing the Roman spiked cestus gloves. All while a cute little poochie has a gun to its head. The common practice at DC in those days was for a cover artist, be it Jim Aparo, Carmine Infantino or Bernie Wrightson on the horror mags to do up an interesting cover, then give it to the writer to craft a story around it. It's kind of an ass-backwards approach to storytelling but it was DC's editorial policy at the time. Luckily, Brave & the Bold had one of the finest creative teams in the business.

Haney was a cagey veteran storyteller who could adapt his style to suit his artist, his Batman stories were mostly fun, establishing the light, humorous tone for the future animated series Batman: Brave and the Bold, but he could also do gritty like nobody else. Classic Batman artist Neal Adams cut his bat-teeth on the title before moving on to do spot work with classic Batman scribe Dennis O'Neil on various issues of Batman and Detective Comics. While each of those issues is now considered legendary and are highly sought-after, Adams's run on B&B is largely overlooked but needn't be, Haney was a fine writer, equally undervalued if not totally forgotten by today's comics audience. But if you ever pondered the strange and hilarious tone on the B&B cartoon, it came from Haney, who could throw equal parts camp, humor and suspense at the reader in a single issue.

Jim Aparo was another of those artists who could bring out the grittiness in Haney's scripts. Aparo would remain the regular artist on the title all the way up until its ultimate demise with issue #200 in 1983 when it gave way to a new Batman-centric title, Batman & the Outsiders which was basically a team-up book with a regular cast rather than a different character or team for Batman to battle alongside each issue. Aparo would draw the bulk of those issues as well. He remained a regular Batman artist until the early 1990's when he was finally crowbarred off the title by newer, younger rising stars like Mike Manley and Tom Lyle (who are, sadly both largely forgotten today also, but are both still working illustrators). But Aparo's final issue of Batman was cover dated February 1999 (#562). He died in 2005 at the age of 73. While not as dark or striking as Adams's Batman art, Aparo's linework was never-the-less on par with his more celebrated contemporary and because he was the main Batman artist for a period spanning three full decades, his Batman comes very close to being the "definitive" take on the character.

If this title says nothing else to us, it shows that Marvel Comics wasn't the only "house of ideas", DC took a ridiculous amount of chances in the 1960's and 70's, pumping out bizarre comics like Prez, Deadman, The Haunted Tank, Eclipso and Creeper while also creating concepts like the super-hero team-up book and the villain-lead title at a time when their rivals were mostly hamstrung by a bad distribution deal brokered by DC. Many of these ideas failed and most of them were more interesting in concept than in execution, but at least they tried them. Over the years, DC has garnered a reputation for continuing to publish good titles whose sales figures aren't great, as a company, they certainly aren't perfect, but at least they ain't Marvel.

And now, here to discuss ...
is my good friend Tony Maim! Take it to the stage, Tony ...

James Brown was riding high after “The Payback” and “Hell”, two double albums that showed his now legendary use of fixing a groove and playing the fuck out of it, using just bass, guitar and some horns along with hard hitting lyrics about drugs addiction, poverty and racism. On the other side of the block, Funkadelic were chasing funk, groove and party times with the gleeful abandon of kids let loose in a toy store. This album has the feel of joyful playing for the sake of just putting down vibes that wanna make you dance. Band leader George Clinton mixed funk, disco. soul, heavy rock with no regard for traditional arrangements. Electric organs carrying riffs, squelching synch lines, female backing vocals, raps, singing, chanting and the wild fuzz attack of Eddie Hazel spraying Jimi Hendrix type solos all over the place made this an infectious riot of modern music. Combined with the stage look of alien-playing funk invaders this was an un-earthly slice of grooviness – all together now …..

“Shit, Goddamn, Get Off Your Ass and Jam.”

So after braving the gritty impact of the cestus fight between Batman & Wildcat in the pages of Brave & the Bold, then subsequently getting off their asses and jamming, it was time for the young people of the middle-70's to catch a movie and The Night Train Murders would have fit the bill nicely.

Essentially, this is the movie Last House on the Left could have been. It was actually re-titled New House on the Left, Last House Part II and Second House on the Left in different territories. It deals with the same themes and plays out in similar fashion (basically, it's a rip-off, pure and simple), albeit in a slightly more tasteful fashion. But when dealing with a subject as disgusting as rape, tastefulness isn't really on the menu. The Night Train Murders fall into some of the pitfalls as Wes Craven's early piece de resistance including several explicit depictions of rape. It's hard to say what director Aldo Lado's and writers Roberto Infascelli, Renato Izzo and Ettore Sanzo's intentions were in showing it on screen. It's true horror that's for sure, and maybe one of the better things horror stories can do is lock us in a room with our tormentors and force us to face them for better or worse. What the intention, it landed the film the infamous "video nasty" label in the UK.

This Italian production featured the acting talents of Flavio Bucci, Marina Berti, Irene Miracle, Gianfranco De Grassi, Laura D'Angelo and Macha Meril as the unforgettable yet unnamed villain, "converted" from passive train passenger to active participant in the destruction of two young women's lives and the subsequent cover-up. She is one of the most evil and hateful characters I've ever encountered anywhere.

You can watch the full movie at this location. Trailer below:


  1. Jim Aparo was my main Batman guy. The Adams were far and few between and incredibly hard to get in the UK. Aparo was dynamic and fluid and while never gained the heights of new new turks appearing on the block, he had a look and feel for Batman that really lodged in my brain.

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