Book Review: "Brave and the Bold" Omnibus. DC Collects Classic Batman Team-Ups in High-Qua
It’s never been a better time to be a comic book fan if you enjoy the comics of yesteryear. The popularity of Marvel and DC on the small screen and silver screen may have something to do with publishers pumping out so many reprints from their archives. Now, DC gives fans a chance to read a hefty amount of issues from the historic Batman team-up book, Brave and the Bold at an affordable price. However, is the book worth it? How are the stories and how does the book itself look?
The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955, serving as an anthology for DC heroes from the past such as the Viking Prince and Silent Knight. That changed with #25 when the book became a try-out book for new series (similar to DC’s Showcase comic book which introduced Silver Age versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, and others). DC Comics’ title The Brave and the Bold introduced legendary teams like the Justice League of America and the Teen Titans (basically, a Junior Justice League) but it’s best remembered by fans for its long run of team-up stories starring Batman and whatever DC star happened to be in the neighborhood (except Superman, he teamed up with Bats every month in World’s Finest Comics, as any OG fanboy knows).
The problem with reading old comics is it can be a pricey hobby. Back issues can be difficult to find and difficult to afford unless you happen to be a wealthy industrialist like Tony Stark, who spent his disposable income on things like luxury cars and trips around the world with models. In some cases, you can read them online but not everyone likes their comics in digital form. What’s a poor fanboy to do?
Marvel and DC have opened up their libraries over the last twenty years, reprinting some of their most popular books and in some cases, some of their more eclectic books. Unfortunately, the reprint quality has not always been good. Some reprints look like someone scanned a copy of a copy of a comic book (During its early editions of its Marvel Masterworks reprint line, Marvel scanned copies of its reprint titles, leading to continuity errors). Blurred images and faded colors took away from the enjoyment of the classic comics.
Fans won’t have to worry about the picture quality with this book. The book is printed on quality paper stock and features fantastic reproduction. The colors are vivid, the lines are sharp, and there are no noticeable errors. The issues look like you picked them off the newsstand except the paper is superior to the newsprint comics were once printed on.
The reproduction quality doesn’t mean anything if the art is garbage though. At the risk of sounding heretical, I’ve read some of Marvel and DC’s Golden Age books and sadly, the stories and even more, the art, doesn’t hold up well. America’s involvement in World War Two saw many of the industry’s better writers and artists sent into the military, leading to inferior replacements. Some of the art is downright crude and while it’s interesting from a historical perspective, it’s not easy on the eyes.
The Brave and the Bold featured some fantastic artwork, including artists Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, and Nick Cardy. All three gentlemen brought a realistic look to the pages which fit well for Batman and his exploits in Gotham City. Jim Aparo would become the regular artist on Brave and the Bold, but Adams and Cardy contribute their fair share of pencils to the stories here.
The stories themselves may not be to everyone’s liking. The Omnibus covers the tail end of the Silver Age and the beginnings of the Bronze Age. The campy Batman tv series has ended and the Bat-books were headed in a new direction. It’s obvious the first few issues in the collection are written in the spirit of the tv series. However, things turn around quickly which was necessary because the Bat-books were dying once Bat-Mania took a nosedive.
Keep in mind that writer Bob Haney is no slave to continuity. When you read his stories, you’ll see he couldn’t care less about what is going on in other comic books. This drove some fans crazy, as noted in the books forward which mentions a scene that shows Bruce Wayne’s parents’ ashes in an urn (disregarding decades of stories that had them buried).
Haney knows how to write an entertaining story. As co-creator of the Teen Titans and cult favorite Metamorpho, it’s no surprise to see the Titans showing up frequently (which makes even more sense since Robin is a founding member). Neal Adams also brought in his character Deadman for an appearance.
One of the beautiful things about Haney’s work was he was never afraid to create an eclectic team-up, usually managing to pull it off. Batman teams with World War Two hero Sgt. Rock (even featuring a flashback where Bruce Wayne was involved in World War Two), the Spectre, Plastic Man, and even a group of British detectives nicknamed the Bat Squad.
Haney’s writing isn’t flawless however. Born in 1926, you can’t overlook some of the sexism prevalent in his stories (although it was common for comic books where female superheroes tended to be damsels in distress). One story is ridiculous with Batgirl and Wonder Woman fighting for Batman’s affections while they’re trying to stop a villain. Another story has Black Canary shown stopping off at a beauty parlor after her hair is soaked in a rainstorm when she is supposed to be stopping a multi-million-dollar delivery of drugs to Gotham City.
Contemporary fans will probably be surprised by the difference between today’s Batman and the Batman found in these stories. You won’t find an armored Batman taking on the Justice League or a Bats who seems capable of handling armies of thugs without breaking a sweat. The Batman from this era was a skilled combatant who occasionally utilized gadgets in his utility belt, but he also relied on his keen mind, earning his nickname “World’s Greatest Detective.” Still, he is human and he is repeatedly thwarted by things that today’s Super-Batman would laugh off. This Batman also seems more compassionate and more human.
And yet, while stories can be hokey at times, there are some real classics. The story “The Senator Has Been Shot!” is best known for Neal Adams’ redesign of Green Arrow (which included a new costume and a beard) but it also addressed the troubling number of political assassinations at the time. The Brave and the Bold reflected the turmoil of the 1960’s with stories dealing with illegal drugs, counterculture, and youth confronting social injustice. While the stories could be simplistic at times, they are remarkable given the restrictions of the Comics Code at the time.
The Brave and the Bold Omnibus Volume One is 904 pages of classic Batman team-ups with vivid and gorgeous artwork. Amazon has it listed for under $50 (although the retail is a steep $125) which isn’t a drop in the bucket but it’s less than you’d pay for reading copies of the books and the hardcover format and print quality makes it appealing. If you’re a fan of the classic books, this is an affordable way to read them. If you’re a newer fan looking to check out some old school Batman, you may find the stories a bit different but it’s a good overview of the DC Universe at the time including its various characters.