Saturday, December 3, 2011

Back Issue Box: The Brave And The Bold #160

With the cancellation of the animated Batman:The Brave and the Bold, I thought I would head to the back issue box and review The Brave and the Bold #160, a Batman Supergirl team up from March 1980. I hoped hoped hoped that Supergirl would somehow get a guest spot on the show but it never happened.

The cover carries the blurb 'Together again - the team you demanded!' and it must have been true as the two heroes had teamed up just over a year before in The Brave and the Bold #147. That issue or the dynamic between the two characters must have been well received for Supergirl to appear in the book again so quickly. There is something interesting about a sideways World's Finest, teaming the more staid and dark Batman with the emotions and eagerness of Supergirl.

The creative team is the same from the B&B #147 issue. Writer Cary Burkett is able to fit in enough story to make this a satisfactory 'done in one' issue even if some of the events within stretch my suspension of disbelief. That said, the characterization and contrast between the Dark Knight and the Maid of Might are really the treat of this story, not necessarily the plot.

I grew up with a healthy diet of Jim Aparo art here in Brave and the Bold, plain old Batman, and the Adventure Comics stories of Deadman and the Spectre. I will always have a soft spot for him. And his Supergirl is really wonderful.

"The Brimstone Connection" opens with one of those all to convenient coincidences that spurs on the story. As Batman finishes up his nighttime patrol, he just so happens to be swinging outside of a building where a man is shot. And not just shot ... shot and somehow thrown from the high rise window. If Batman had been swinging a couple of blocks away this story doesn't happen.

Anyways, this still is a great splash page, throwing the reader into the action. Perhaps my favorite part, which might explain my bizarre tastes in comics, is that Aparo put the dying man's fingertips just outside the frames constraints. It just adds to the sense that this man is falling!

And, of course, this isn't a simple murder. It's the killing of an undercover government agent trying to stop a terrorist group from obtaining the four components of an experimental rocket fuel. He begs Batman to discover the route that the components are on and stop them from landing in the wrong hands. The agent is only able to give Batman one clue ... Brimstone. Unfortunately this conversation allows the killers to escape.

I do like how Batman immediately swears to finish this man's work and avenge him.

Batman doesn't get far in his investigation and is surprised to see Supergirl arrive at Wayne Industries in her Linda Danvers secret identity. Supergirl is distraught as her father has been kidnapped and she has been unable to make any headway in her own investigations. She thinks it has something to do with his work at STAR labs on a new rocket fuel! Again, a convenient coincidence.

I can't help but chuckle at this brief scene. When Supergirl first comes in, Batman is all cool and collected, almost dismissing her concerns ... after all who would want to kidnap Fred Danvers. But as soon as she mentions the fuel, which overlaps with his case, he is all ears. It reminds me just how easily Supergirl was dismissed sometimes.

They head to the Danver's home and look over Fred's home office, the site of his kidnapping. Batman notices a caramel apple core in the waste basket, a place she overlooked when she combed the scene. Batman thinks he can match the bite marks in his Bat-computer in the cave. Unbelievable.

More unbelievable is that he is able to do it. The bite matches Jasper Casbeer's, a mob button man who has an odd predilection for caramel apples. So let me get this straight ... you are a mob hitman, you kidnap someone quietly enough to not awaken his wife who is down the hall, but you leave peculiar and damning evidence at the scene of the crime?

Anyways, as I say, one of the things I love about Supergirl is that she is still on the hero's journey, still learning. She is shocked she missed this clue by overlooking the waste basket and says she won't make that mistake again. She learns from her mistakes.

Casbeer's hideout is in an amusement park and Supergirl and Batman head over to question him.

In another odd tactical decision, Batman tells Supergirl to stay outside and watch the exits while he goes in to bludgeon thugs and pound his way into Casbeer's office. But there are too many troops for the Batman to handle alone. Supergirl has to rush in. And with her father's life potentially at risk, she doesn't go in slowly. She tosses the mob's enforcers around like ragdolls, through pinball machines and walls. And then breaks in to confront Casbeer himself, holding him up with her fists clenched. Very nice.

Casbeer refuses to talk. But his speed in burning the document he was holding leads Batman to believe it was crucial to the case. In classic Silver Age mode, Supergirl's Kryptonian powers are limitless. The brief glimpse she above is buried in her photographic memory. A short bit later, she is able to draw out the map which leads to the drop site for Casbeer to leave his component of the formula. Batman deduces that this Brimstone Connection must be the work of his old enemy Colonel Sulphur. Get it ... brimstone ... sulphur.

I do like the middle panel above. For some reason it reminds me of the more classic 'finger at the side of the mouth' quirky pose Supergirl had in her earliest stories.

The next day, disguised as Casbeer, Batman makes the drop. Meanwhile, Supergirl acts as the 'eye in the sky' following the weaving path of the data until it leads to a warehouse by the seashore.

I thought this panel worked incredibly well, showing the reader just how many twists and turns the package took while still showing that Supergirl had her eye on the thing. Very well done, especially the monotone nature of each drop point, making it clear to be a separate place and time. Wonderful composition there.

When the heroes arrive on the scene, a plane suddenly takes off. Batman tells Supergirl to stalk to plane to see if it leads to somewhere even more important all while he takes on the people in the warehouse by himself. Once again, Batman seems pretty secure in his skills and feels he can send Supergirl away.

With Supergirl away, Batman is again overpowered by thugs and knocked unconscious.

Rather then kill the Dark Knight, or unmask him, or ransom him, Sulphur decides to let Batman awaken, gloat over capturing him, and then putting him in a ridiculous 'Austin Powers' type death trap. Batman is tied to a pole on a pressure plate. Should he step off the plate, a bomb will explode killing both him and Fred Danvers, who is also tied up in the room. Of course, the bomb is on a timer anyways, scheduled to blow up at dawn killing them both anyways. Laughing maniacally, Sulphur leaves for the safety of the 'briny deep'.

Why not just shoot Batman? Anyways, even without his utility belt, Batman is able to lasso a heavy chair to take put on the plate allowing him to free Fred and escape.

Supergirl returns having realized that the plane was a decoy drone. Knowing her father is safe, she and Batman give chase, realizing the 'briny deep' must mean Sulphur is in a submarine.

I thought this was another nice scene, Supergirl first shaking the sub like a rattle and then bringing it out of the sea. And Batman being in the view of the periscope is precious.

And once again showing the differences between her and her cousin, Supergirl lays out the helpless Sulphur, punishing him for kidnapping her father. That sort of emotion is what is so great about Kara. And Aparo renders her so well. I love the steaming Supergirl in the first panel.

And, like many B&B issues, it ends on a high note. Here Batman invites Supergirl and Fred out for a cup of coffee. If this was a sit-com we would freeze frame that shot and the credits would run.

So overall this is a somewhat strained and silly story with a number of clues/events falling into place to help Batman and Supergirl. That said, it is that condensed sort of story that is necessary for a 'one and done' type team-up book. As I said before, it isn't necessarily a plot about a rocket fuel that is the key here. Instead it is the differences between Batman and Supergirl ... the quiet, skulking, controlled loner mode of Batman versus the faster, rush in, emotional tactics of Supergirl. Neither is perfect and that is showcased here. Burkett does a good job of allowing each character to shine here.

I would also add that Aparo is simply a master. And seeing his Supergirl is a treat.

From a Supergirl collection viewpoint, I would say this is of medium importance. It doesn't add much to her overall mythology. But it does allow the spotlight to shine on her, and allows her some alone time with Batman. That makes it a good issue to have. It is these glimpses of Supergirl in the context of the whole DCU that enriches her. This probably can be found for under $5 in stores or at cons.

Overall grade: B/B+


Anonymous said...

Like all Supergirl's late seventies guest appearances, the main attraction to this issue was seeing a top ranked DC artist do justice to the Maid of Steel.
I like Aparo's Supergirl she looks slender and vaguely athletic, you get the impression she can look Batman straight in the eye sans demure.
Other than that, I love how Supergirl ends up being the "legacy muscle" in this story, yes she needs Batman's help solving the mystery, but then Batman can't benchpress submarines and juggle henchmen can he?


Gene said...

Anj wrote:
"I hoped hoped hoped that Supergirl would somehow get a guest spot on the show but it never happened."

Yeah, that was a shame. It would have been nice to see Supergirl (in the background at the very least) in her silver age costume. At least we have Super Best Friends to look forward to, and MAYBE Young Justice.


Landry Q Walker said...

When I was around 12 I couldn't stand Aparo's work. I now want to travel back in time and slap some sense into myself.

Anonymous said...

Don't feel bad about that, I used to make fun of Kurt Schaffenberger's art til I met him at a convention, realized the folly of my opinion and became his most resolute defender.
When yer a kid you have stupid ill conceived opinions.
Nowadays when I wanna compliment an artist I note that they have "the emotional content of a Kurt Schaffenberger".


Anj said...

I didn't like Ditko as a kid. Insanity!

I also grew to love Schaffenberger. I heard somewhere that Schaffenberger was the artist that Muhammed Ali's agents wanted to draw Superman vs Ali. DC convinced them to go with Adams.