There was a little store in one of the mini-malls where my Mother regularly shopped–I can’t recall if it was a candy store or a stationary store or what. But the important bit here is that it carried a tiny selection of comic books. Tiny–just a few titles at any given time. So each time we’d wind up there, I’d cadge the money for a comic book, but my selection was extremely limited. The one book they seemed to stock issue after issue was BRAVE AND THE BOLD, and so I backed into being a semi-regular reader of the series based entirely on the fact that my options were so limited in that venue.
It’s not that I didn’t like BRAVE AND THE BOLD per se. But as I’ve reported here in the past, to my experience, it was one of those series that somehow felt “off” to me. And that all came down to the approach of writer Bob Haney. Haney was a veteran DC writer, one who’d been with the firm for a decade or two. But while he had written plenty of stories starring super heroes, it was apparent that he didn’t have any particular interest in super heroes (or at least not the kind of interest that I had.) Haney swore of the orthodoxy of continuity and focused on crafting interesting single issue stories–stories in which often his guest stars and even the magazine’s lead, Batman, would be portrayed wildly out of character based on the other comics they were appearing in.
This also meant that most of Haney’s stories didn’t deal with the colorful crimes of fantastic larger-than-life super villains but rather the sorts of crooks you might find on television, or in spy movies or lurid paperback novels. So his plots were more quasi-realistic while at the same time being totally fantastical in a very different way. And that made them difficult to get a toehold on. For every story I would like, there’d be another story I’d be baffled by. The paradigm seemed to be that the more I liked the guest star character, the less I would like the story, because I’d be more invested in the ways in which Haney was violating what I “knew to be true” about that character.
BRAVE AND THE BOLD had one visual advantage, though, and that was the steady and reliable artwork of Jim Aparo. Aparo was a clockwork artist–Paul Levitz (who edited this issue) told me at one point that Aparo’s DC contract called for him to pencil, ink and letter one page a day for every working day in the calendar year. That’s the way Aparo wanted it, and he never missed. He also had a strong dramatic sense–he’d internalized and adapted Neal Adams’ reinterpretation of the Dark Knight and made it his own. to the point where in certain quarters his interpretation of Batman is the definitive one of the 1970s. He could also make any guest star look good, and his storytelling prowess was immaculate. My reservations concerning B&B never came down to the artwork.
In this story, we open with Batman and Wonder Woman forced to perform as part of a circus. Circling back, we learn that Batman took on the case of the missing Esmerelda Belmont, daughter of a wealthy businessman. She had been kidnapped by Dimitrios, the world’s richest man, who made is fortune through industrial espionage. The daughter holds the secret of a newly-developed solar cell which could solve the energy crisis. The U.N. is worried about Dimitrios’ activities as well, so Wonder Woman simultaneously finds herself on is trail. Both heroes invade Dimitrios’ enormous cruise ship The Argocy in search of him. The Argocy is like a world unto itself, with areas decked out in different themes and aboard which Dimitrios is a law unto himself.
Batman and Wonder Woman are ultimately captured by Dimitrios, and they learn that Esmeralda is no captive herself but a willing paramour of Dimitrios. In an insane moment, as Dimitrios tosses the solar cell up in the air, Batman swallows it and then escapes. he’s actually faked swallowing it, but the bad guys don’t realize this. Then, a bunch of reversals, as Batman finds the true inventor of the solar cell in chains and frees him–the particulars of the mission he accepted are bogus. But Dimitrios’ Simian Squad of trained gorillas–because this is a DC comic from 1977–clobber him, and then Dimitrios decides to have the apes operate on Batman, cutting the solar cell out of his stomach. It’s a bizarre moment in a story full of them, but damned if it isn’t memorable.
Sadly for the advancement of medicine performed by simians, Wonder Woman picks this moment to break free, and things rapidly fall apart for Dimitrios. Turns out that Esperelda was only hooking up with him in order to swipe the solar cell for her father. There are a few reversals and double-reversals which come at whiplash speed, with the two heroes keeping anybody from being hurt. And then everything wraps up, with Dimitrios in custody, the inventor of the solar cell freed and his device liberated, and Esmerelda and her father facing jail time as well.