This issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD was another comic that I wound up with in trade with my classroom buddy, Donald Sims. Even by 1978, those first ten issues of SWAMP THING had gained a bit of a mythical stature among those in the know, so the character still had a bit of an aura around him that made him of interest. Sadly, this issue’s story doesn’t really touch upon the wonders of the work that Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson had created–this was another weird Bob Haney adventure, one that felt off in its own little world, as so many of them did. Haney was never a bad writer, but he had a fundamentally different approach to super heroes from what I was looking for.
The saving grace of BRAVE AND THE BOLD, as it was for every issue for a very long time, was the artwork of Jim Aparo. Aparo was an excellent artist, as well as being one of the most reliable talents in the industry. Paul Levitz once recounted that at contract time, Aparo would want his deal to be for him to produce something like 214 pages a year–one penciled and inked and lettered page for every working day on the calendar. And he could be depended upon to hit those goals as well. This would be impressive even if he wasn’t such an outstanding artist, capable of making virtually any character look good. I’ll confess that I mostly became enamored of his work on AQUAMAN and the Charlton features he did before that, but also on his launch of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS once BRAVE AND THE BOLD had run its course. That title, written by Mike Barr, was more in my wheelhouse.
The issue opens with a scene right out of KING KONG, with Batman coming upon Swamp Thing chained up and on display on a street in Gotham City. His capture was the work of circus superstar B. B. Riggs, an analogy of P. T. Barnum, who was able to track down and incapacitate the muck monster and now intends to display him before crowds worldwide. He’s got no sense that Swamp Thing is intelligent, and he doesn’t really care either way. He’s just looking forward to the money to be made. Batman protests his treatment, but Riggs has all of the legal paperwork, and so the Caped Crusader can do nothing. I mean, it’s not as though he’s a lawless vigilante or anything, right?
Word of Swamp Thing’s capture reaches all the way to Washington DC, where a secret government agency wants to study and dissect the creature. They dispatch a retrieval team, Storm Unit Alpha to Gotham to covertly abscond with the Swamp Thing. Meanwhile, though, a crop duster is struck by lightning and winds up crashing into the reservoir that feeds Gotham City. The chemicals that the plane was carrying leech into the water supply, and this causes a strange effect on all of the plant life within Gotham: it begins to grow abnormally. Now, this was before Alan Moore reinvented Swamp Thing to make him an Elemental and part of “the Green”, the life force of the planet. But this doesn’t prevent people from believing that Swamp Thing is behind this wild plant growth that’s tearing up the city.
Batman is brought up to speed on the situation by a police scientist, but the authorities’ attempts to slow down the overgrowth by way of defoliants backfires–it only makes the plants grow faster. Batman goes to seek out Swamp Thing’s help, but finds him being attacked by a mob of angry citizens. Before Batman can go to the Swamp Thing’s aid, he is snatched up by a helicopter piloted by Storm Unit Alpha. Batman makes pursuit in one of his Whirly-Bat fliers, ultimately sacrificing it by colliding with the Storm Unit Alpha craft in order to knock Swamp Thing free of its grip. Batman pleads with the creature to help him save Gotham, and despite his mistreatment at the hands of Riggs and the citizens, Swamp Thing agrees to help however he can.
It turns out that the agency that sent Storm Unit One to Gotham is accidentally responsible for Gotham’s situation: the plan that crashed was one of theirs, and carrying samples of an experimental new bio-spore they were developing as a biological weapon. Afraid of exposure, they intend to bombard Gotham with Crimson 13, their own dangerous super-defoliant. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon has informed Batman that all of the vines strangling Gotham are connected, and that somewhere there must be a King Root. If they can find and destroy that, the rest of the infestation will wither away. Matters are made more complicated when B.B. Riggs shows up in an attempt to recapture Swamp Thing–but Batman knocks that idea out of his head quickly.
Batman and Swamp Thing locate the King Root, and the muck-monster begins to attempt to uproot it by hand, using his prodigious strength. It’s right at that moment, of course, that the government guys show up and bombard the Root with Crimson 13. It doesn’t seem to have much effect on the Root, but it begins to eat away at Swamp Thing himself. With a heroic effort, he manages to pull the Root out of the ground before his body disintegrates too severely. Batman and Riggs manage to spirit what is left of Swamp Thing’s carcass out of Gotham and back to the swamp, where he is able to reconstitute himself. And so, a grateful Batman and B. B. Riggs watch Swamp Thing return to the depths of his home in the marshland once more–and the villainous government agency is in no way brought to justice or even inconvenienced–they’re forgotten about as the story ends. This feels like a hell of an oversight to me today, but what are you going to do? The Comics Code okayed it.