Friday, January 06, 2006

"Guess Creeper ears are better than Bat ears!"

Like most discriminating seekers after entertaining comics blogging, I frequently check out Mag & H's Comics Treadmill. One of the many ongoing features has been an issue-by-issue look at classic issues of The Brave and the Bold, DC's team-up title that ran one month shy of twenty-eight years. Unfortunately, they don't have access to every issue, and they were recently unable to index one of them, #80, which I do have since it's a longtime fave of mine (listed in my 100 things I love about comics list, to be exact). So, I thought perhaps I could be an unofficial Junior Treadmiller and provide an overview of my own, to help out Mag & H.

I myself bought many, many issues of Brave and the Bold, from this one, from when the local Ben Franklin five and dime started carrying DC's instead of Gold Key comics, until this one, many years later and purchased from that new breed of comic book supplier, the direct market comics shop. I had obtained, via parental money, a few issues earlier than that, but it was with #101 that my B&B collecting began in earnest. And it's here that a fella named Johnny Craighead enters the picture. Johnny was a kid one year older than I, son of a teacher, my 7th grade teacher to be exact...and he had a set of shelves in his basement that held stacks upon stacks of 50's, 60's and early '70's vintage DC Comics (there may have been some Marvels and Charltons in there too, I forget- the DC's are the ones I remember the most) which his rather stern mother nicely, but firmly, refused to let him sell or trade. But fortunately, I could borrow and read them, and one day I took home a run of Adams-illo'ed B&B's- Adams being a favorite of mine thanks to his X-Men and Avengers efforts for Marvel. One of these books was the one in the upper right hand corner, Brave and the Bold number 80, October-November 1968: "And Hellgrammite is His Name"- a team up between Batman, who had pretty much become the book's anchor character by that point especially since Adams was drawing it, and the newish Creeper, the Steve Ditko creation who was into the third issue of his short-lived series at the time of this issue's publication. Guess the crossover didn't help sales much, because Beware the Creeper was axed with issue #6 in 1969. As always, Bob Haney provided the script and Dick Giordano inks.

B&B 80 opens with Batman confronting an arsonist at gunpoint on the roof of a burning building. Here's some vintage Haney dialogue: Arsonist- "Please, Batman-- give me a break! I don't wanna zap you-- but...but the flames-- they'll get us both!" Batman: "you haven't the guts to shoot-- and add a murder rap to arson! No, that's not your bag-- you just barbecue people caught in the burnouts you set!" Yeah, baby- that sort of thing is his bag. Anyway, the tense standoff is interrupted by the sudden flyover of a helicopter announcing, via loudspeaker, "...PRESENTING JACK RYDER ON WHAM-TV...", which gives the arsonist the opportunity to charge Batman and try to jump to the next roof. He succeeds in knocking them both off the edge- Bats grabs on to a fire truck's ladder, and the arsonist is caught by the firemen with a safety net. Satisfied with this, a pissed-off Batman swings out in pursuit of the helicopter, to give the pilot a piece of his mind...and it turns out that none other than Ryder himself is the pilot of the vehicle.

Can you imagine Batman thinking "close, but no cee-gar" to himself these days? Even in a Frank Miller comic? Anyway, Ryder informs Batman that his broadcast that night is important enough to warrant the hype, and suggests that he should watch. Of course, the stuffy Bats harrumphs "My... uh... line of work'll keep me busy tonight! Besides, I don't appreciate your methods!" But two panels later, he's in front of the TV, watching with Commissioner Gordon as Ryder reveals the menace of the Hellgrammite, a fantastic half-man, half insect creature who's in Gotham for unknown reasons. Ryder says that he followed him here to find out what he's up to. Batman and Gordon dismiss this as more Ryder sensationalism, and discuss another mystery case that's been puzzling the GCPD, the disappearance of gangster Ace Brannigan. We also get a little entomology lesson when Gordon asks Bats in passing, "By the way, what is a hellgrammite?" To which he replies as he leaps out the window, "The larva of a dobson fly! A dark, deadly bug with a bite like a timber wolf that lives under rocks!" Batman heads straight to the TV station, where he confronts Ryder once more to gauge how serious he is about this unknown menace stuff. Ryder gets a bit too fervent in his attempt to convince the Caped Crusader, and once more Bats dismisses him.

Irritated by being dissed by Bats twice in one night, Jack Ryder thinks he might pay more attention to the Creeper! So, he makes the change (Adams nicely incorporating Ditko's style) and goes after him. Of course, Batman recognizes him as a wanted criminal, and in that time-honored superhero teamup tradition, they brawl a bit. But unlike most superhero scrums, this one at least has the advantage of being depicted by Neal Adams at his best, and below are (click to see bigger) two full page examples of his hyperkinetic style being brought to bear.

The pipe into which Creeper deposits Batman contains a huge cocoon, and the proof that he needs to convince his new acquaintance. As he helps Bats out, suddenly they're attacked by Hellgrammite himself, who's not happy that they discovered his property. As Batman turns to deal with the unexpected menace, Adams gives us this great haymaker shot:

Hellgie slings Batman away, but he catches a wrecking ball cable and swings back to the site and finds Creeper alone- he bailed while no one was looking. The police show up and Creeper hides as Commissioner Gordon informs Batman that the Creeper is in town. When they leave, Bats decides to strike a deal with his colorful new friend, saying that he'll help find Hellgrammite, but as soon as they've apprehended him then he'll be back after Creeper's ass. Nice.

Anyway, long story short, it seems that Hellgie is behind the disappearances of crime bosses in Gotham- apparently he intends to transform them into bug-men as well, and recruit them as allies. Bats and Creeper tussle with gangsters as they search (the crooks hoist Creeper up in that glass panel on the cover, but Batman rescues him), eventually discover the missing bosses ensconced in their cocoons in an abandoned subway tunnel, and take them to a hospital, where they get irradiated with x-rays and emerge as normal men again. They return to the tunnel and brawl with Hellgrammite once more:

And thanks to a combination of fire extinguisher foam and electrical cables, subdue their freakish foe. But by now, the Creeper has Batman's respect, and that other B&B tradition, the farewell scene, goes like this:

A bit different than the usual "wave as they fly away" scene, huh!

Why did I like this comic so much? Let me count the ways. The dynamic art of Adams. The non-stop action, in support of a story which was surprisingly down-to-Earth for a 1968 DC Comic, despite its sci-fi trappings. The freakishly compelling Hellgrammite, who wasn't really given a proper origin- he was just explained as an "entomologist who experimented on himself", and he definitely was given menacing life by Adams's skilled pencil. The coloring, while run-of-the-mill 60's comic coloring, still played up the difference between the blue-and-gray Batman and the wild, yellow/red/lime green Creeper. The Creeper himself- he's always been an intriguing, entertaining character in the right hands, but unfortunately the creators that have done him justice have been few and far between. I've always held that Creeper was a character that everybody likes, but nobody has a clue about what to do with. And honestly, I'm not sure if he's ever had a better showcase, not even in the original Ditko series.

So Mag, H, and everyone, here's your look at Brave and the Bold number 80. Hope you liked it as much as I've liked this comic for a shade over 30 years.

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