BHOC: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #121

Every time my family would shop at the drugstore with the big bin of Marvel comics in it, I would dig around through it. I wasn’t at all interested in the Marvel books at this point, but I thought there was the possibility that some other titles might turn up there at some point. This issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD was the only other such DC book I ever found in that stack, and like the ACTION COMICS issue before it, it had probably been returned incorrectly in the first place, and wound up among these “sold-off-the-back-of-the-truck” affidavit return copies accidentally.

It’s a pretty quintessential issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD, not especially noteworthy, but embodying the particular strange aesthetic of the series perfectly. It’s got an absolutely beautiful art job by Jim Aparo, the iron man of B&B who not only penciled and inked it but also lettered the story as well. That story, by regular writer Bob Haney, was an absurd stew of relevance, tone-deafness, ridiculousness and preposterousness.  It was a glorious mess of a tale, as most B&B stories of this period were.

Okay, so here we go. The American bicentennial is here, and as a celebration, a vintage steam-driven train has been brought back out of mothballs to host a traveling exhibition of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, along with other objects of historical significance. To guard the train during its journey around the country, the services of both Batman and the Metal Men, of all people, have been engaged. But before the Liberty Express can depart, the Metal Men receive a telegram offering them information on their missing-and-believed-dead creator Will Magnus, and the Metal Men head off to investigate this intel.

But this is only a ruse to get them out of the way, as the heads of the exhibit, Native Americans Professor Charles Wing, Dolores Lake and Ed Fox are disgruntled about the treatment their people have suffered over the decades, and have conspired to steal the train and to hold it and the items within it for ransom towards reparations. The President and his cabinet, hidden in shadows, can’t give in, but they hope that Batman can do something to turn the tide of this situation.

The Metal Men, having discovered that the telegram was a ruse to mislead them, use their unique powers to sneak back on board the train and free Batman. Thereafter, they move to uncouple the cars containing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from the rest of the train while Batman goes forward to contend with the leaders of this plot. Sadly, the Caped Crusader is easily ambushed by the “Injuns” and captured.

The Metal Men attempt to divert the stolen train onto a disused dead end track, but are foiled thanks to the Indians having somehow tied Batman to the front cow-catcher of the train while in motion. The Metal Men can’t risk running the train aground and killing the Masked Manhunter. The plotters throw the train into reverse and link up with the car containing the historical documents once again, despite Lead and Iron’s attempts to prevent this.

Having made good their escape (and having hauled Batman back in from the cow-catcher) the Native American terrorists head for the safety of their reservation, to await word of a deal from Washington. But there’s another wrinkle–agents of an enemy power have planted a bomb aboard the train intended to strike a propaganda blow against the U.S. during the bicentennial. It’s set to go off in one hour, which means that Batman and the Indians must now combine forces to locate the explosive. The Metal Men get to join in the search as well.

As time begins to run out, the revolutionary leader notices that the wrong unit flag is depicted in one of the historical paintings. A quick examination reveals the plastic explosives embedded on the reverse of the painting, and the Metal Men launch it into the air where it explodes among the cliffsides. Having witnessed the bravery of Batman and his allies firsthand (”…we Indians recognize bravery and honor!”) the plotters agree to give up their campaign and release the hostage train. Batman and Professor Fox shake hands in brotherhood and the story ends. We never get to see what happens next, which I presume is the Professor and his fellows being arrested, tried and imprisoned for high crimes–but, hey, brotherhood, am I right?

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