The Importance Of Being Brave And Bold: Wonder Woman
By Ray Tate
Back in the good old Bronze Age when multiple earths flourished along with talent DC had one of their brightest ideas since shirking the silly pow, biff, bop Batman. They would promote their universe by teaming individual heroes or teams with the Dark Knight. DC took a somewhat harmless book called Brave and Bold which never the less premiered all sorts of genuine heroes such as the Silent Knight and gave it over to Batman. The effect was pronounced.
Batman was always a popular character. When the television show reached out and managed to touch every form of creative endeavor--"batusi" anybody--comics and Brave and Bold were not the exceptions. There are stories in these early issues that can send any Batman fan curling into a fetal ball beneath a handy rock. For instance, Bob Haney teamed up Batman with Wonder Woman and Batgirl against Copperhead. The less than Dark Knight's chauvinism even puts that which Chuck Dixon unwittingly stained to the character to shame.
Certainly, these incredibly moronic stories pleased somebody, but these tales do not represent the eyes that mist when the phrase Brave and Bold is mentioned in conversation. Brave and Bold became important to the DCU when Neal Adams begins his run. These issues featured a dark Batman who never the less was still a member of the JLA and frequently teamed with a college age Robin. In one such issue Robin and Deadman--one of the rather more interesting back-up characters of the seventies--guest-starred in a bona fide mystery. Things began looking braver and bolder.
The problem with the Neal Adams era of DC--these caveats are not just isolated to Brave and Bold--is that it's as topical as Doctor Who during the time a blonde-bubble head named Jo Grant became a fixture. Don't misread. Bar none Neal Adams is one of the finest artists ever to grace comic books, and he is one of the artists who draws definitive Batman, but the stories--oh, my...Hippies abound, and horrible, with-it dialogue metastasizes. Pigs oink in blue. Green Arrow grows a beard and sports an annoying attitude that will nearly diminish the totality of the great Black Canary's resonance. Green Lantern--Nah. He was always the palest shadow of Alan Scott.
The real important era of Brave and Bold arrived when Jim Aparo began an almost twenty year uninterrupted run as the Batman artist. I mean no disrespect to the authors. The writers however came and went. Mr. Aparo remained, and what made his run, so important is that he was doing archetypal DCU. This is the DCU all but the history-cheated new comic book readers remember.
Fads become dated. Then they become the subjects for jest. A scene of streaking--though some characters do this on variant covers--would not have the desired effect in a book today as it would in a book from the sixties. Likewise, a pair of flared hippies making peace signs would be highly suspect in today's Batman titles. DC however succumbed to this urge, and it probably did make the books relevant for a generation. It wisely did not last.
After the fads in comic books became dated, the DCU that would form in its wake would become the template for various incarnations of The Super Friends. Your initial reaction may be one of confusion, but remember how far more television reaches and changes the cultural psyche. When censorship confined Yogi and his Hanna-Barbera contemporaries to a Flying Ark in search of a "perfect place," when slow-witted imbeciles forced Space Ghost to turn permanently invisible since he had the audacity to fight crime with his fists, there was no doubt that The Super Friends, any incarnation, was the best animated show on the air. What can you say? Alex Toth simply creates magic. Green Arrow in the comic books was an embarrassment. In The Super Friends, he was cool. Green Lantern was an ultra-white jock in the mold of Cal Meachum from the justified target of Mystery Science Theater 3000's bile This Island Earth. In The Challenge of The Super Friends, GL was not only cool but he seemed to be an international super-hero with a funky accent and bronze skin.
The much more simpler DCU stripped of embarrassing flower-child sentiment became the DCU of Brave and Bold and that which would be destroyed by the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Brave and Bold was the place where you could always eavesdrop on areas of the DCU in which you seldom traveled.
The very first Jim Aparo issue of Brave and Bold my parents purchased for me, when a child, teams Batman with Wonder Woman. She will frequently guest-star with Batman in this title, and this is not an incarnation of Wonder Woman. This is Wonder Woman. She is the immortal Nazi fighter and the UN attaché in her guise as Diana Prince. Yes! She has a secret identity. Can you believe it? Now, I should point out that Batman is actually the older character, but somewhere along the line he became due to her origins the relative younger. Diana's about sixty years old to Batman's eternal by writing standards thirty. One of the luxuries dealing with the bare bones of heroes is not having to worry about age. Suffice to say, in Brave and Bold Wonder Woman has known Batman for years and not the lazy six years--if that--of today's half-witted continuity--a classification I must insist be called into question.
Wonder Woman was a character with whom I never had an affinity. She always seemed to be mooning over Steve Trevor for reasons I simply could not fathom. I mean on a scale of Green Lantern to Batman, he was definitely at the level of Green Lantern. She also never seemed to be written as powerful and intelligent as she should have been.
Enter Brave and Bold.
In her first Jim Aparo Batman team-up, she lassos an attacking jaguar and smashes a garbage can around it to save Batman's life. I'll let that sink in. Sunk? Good. Wonder Woman saves Batman's life, and remember Jim Aparo is darkening our hero so this is definitive Batman--the one who would influence Tim Burton and Michael Keaton to make only their live action Batman memorable. What interests in the scene is that Wonder Woman is as powerful and as intelligent as she should be. A jaguar is stronger than any human. An adrenaline laced jaguar is as strong as about five of them. Wonder Woman has roped this big cat, swung it out of Batman's path and jury-rigged a cage which she holds down beneath her boot.
Never seen Jim Aparo's Wonder Woman? My friend, you have been cheated out of a rare experience. What would no doubt make that strange group of Batman fans who believe the character to be a bastard and like him that way is that Batman thanks Wonder Woman for her help and treats the Princess with respect. Believe it or not, Bob Haney--the same "no talent" who scribed the awful Batman/Batgirl/Wonder Woman team-up--wrote this story.
In another Bob Haney story, Wonder Woman saves Batman from becoming shark-food. There's nothing wrong with heroes saving each other. It doesn't make any of them less of a character. It doesn't harm their resonance. There's nothing wrong with heroes working together. There's nothing wrong with heroes having no ulterior motive behind their cooperation. That's what makes them Super-Friends: in the case of Batman and Wonder Woman perhaps more.
What made Brave and Bold different in terms of rescues is that every rescue seemed real. The situations really seemed hopeless, and Jim Aparo had a never copied ability to render a flawless illusion of power opposing those cul-de-sacs. When Wonder Woman slams into the aquarium, it cracks with such realism that you feel the blow sing down your arms. The sound effect is only there for emphasis. With Amazon speed and strength depicted in such a jaw-dropping fashion, you don't need to imagine it. It's all there before your eyes.
In case you're wondering if Batman did anything in Brave and Bold, lay your fears to rest. Batman did what he seldom does in today's continuity titles. Batman acted smart. In that same issue of Brave and Bold, Batman through sheer willpower breaks free of a hypnotic agent and through a series of events seems to swallow a prototype solar cell. His hands are chained. Therefore, he cannot so easily reach his utility belt. He's being forced to do tricks for a self-styled ringmaster, and he takes the only option open. The ringmaster orders his trained apes to capture him, and Batman seems doomed when they do. The sicko intends to have his gorilla operate to retrieve the cell. The cell Batman knows is a fake, yet he does nothing to resist, or so it seems.
Batman knows the psychology of his friend. He also has a burning hatred for magic. It messes his nice logical world. He knows also that his escape will only be a short-term gain since the ringmaster's apes will no doubt overpower him yet again. Man, in terms of strength, is no match for ape. He needs Wonder Woman who is caught in the same hypnotic state he experienced and worst of all chained by a man. According to DC legend, when Amazons are chained by men they are then subdued and no more powerful than an ordinary woman. Batman does not and cannot believe this. His world does not work this way. Jim Aparo twists Wonder Woman's face with gut-wrenching terror as the ape's scalpel hovers over Batman's stomach. She not only breaks free of the hypnosis. She not only breaks the chains. She shatters a continuity point that now must be considered a psychological barrier enforced by her culture.
After breaking free, Jim Aparo's Wonder Woman is a sight to see. She hoists the apes over her head and hurls them into each other with such force that Linda Carter could only have dreamed of administering. She deflects bullets with her bracelets, and you can again feel the impact and hear the k-tang of the ricochets. Batman? Never in any danger. The day he can't escape from some madman's operating table is the day he gives his costume to Terry McGuinness. I doubt he even needed his utility belt for this particular annoyance.
While every issue of Jim Aparo's Brave and Bold is as enjoyable and as relevant in terms of writing and story lines, maturity does bestow occasional hindsight. Perhaps I am reading into the relationship depicted, but Batman and Wonder Woman's relationship in their team-ups seems to go beyond friendship. Wonder Woman in the example reacts to Batman's intended victimization as if he were Steve Trevor. In the previous team-up the looks she gives him are as meaningful as those shared between Xena and Gabrielle.
Gerry Conway in the third team-up picks up on Mr. Haney's apology--for if even if the relationship between the heroes is only an inference, their interactions are far more mature that those in the Copperhead debacle. For this story Batman and Bruce Wayne who here is as sharp as well as debonair asks Diana for a date.
"Meet me later for a late dinner?"
"I'd like that, Bruce. We'll see."
Later continuity becomes important. The villain Deja Vu--perhaps, the first serious French villain in comic books--makes Wonder Woman see Steve Trevor die all over again. I could watch this happen for an eternity, but Jim Aparo draws such raw emotion that you know how Wonder Woman feels. Nobody deserves such punishment, and her scream is entirely justified. The worst however has yet to occur. When Deja Vu exposes Batman to his chemical concoction, the horrors of the Dark Knight's past resurface. Any hope that this is the pow, biff, bop Batman shatters like the chains from the previous team-up. After this issue of Brave and Bold, no artist has ever matched Jim Aparo's rendition of Batman's pain and anger over his parents death. Never. Not one panel. Words cannot describe what is on the page.
In his maddened state, Batman believing Wonder Woman to be Joe Chill, the thug who killed Batman's parents, beats on her. No doubt a Werthamite would accuse Batman of condoning violence toward women, and another idiot might suggest this scene rationalizes Batman's apparent hatred for women in Chuck Dixon's run of Detective Comics, but these observers are not living up to their names. Brave and Bold though part marketing scheme to keep heroes relevant and a guidepost to the DCU was not a throw away title. The exact nature of Batman's and Wonder Woman's relationship becomes questionable on these pages. Wonder Woman risking if not her life then certainly her health, ceases struggling. She allows Batman to use her as his punching bag--off panel for the most part, but we see the aftermath. She also frees her lasso thus allowing them to drop from the rooftops of Paris. Now you can argue that she does these things out of sheer heroism. That answer isn't very satisfying. Heroism dictates that she incapacitate Batman and face Deja Vu on her own. Instead, she risks her life to save Batman's mind and body. During the fall, she always keeps her body beneath his body. Batman no matter what is not going to die. She will.
When Batman through willpower and the danger snaps free of the altered state, he's not once worried about himself.
"Good lord, we're falling! You'll be killed!"
Wonder Woman could save them at this point. Instead, she lets Batman
do it. He needs the save.
Fully aware now Batman seems vulnerable.
"What--happened to me? I had a nightmare that you were...."
"That isn't important now, Batman. I took a chance that your instinctive response to danger would save us both...and I was right!"
Wonder Woman becomes businesslike because she does not want Batman blaming himself for the way he acted toward her.
Were Batman and Wonder Woman an item? Who knows? I think the argument has some validation. What is clear is that Brave and Bold gave fans definitive characters who were stronger physically and smarter than their current incarnations but even more complex than the cardboard continuity hungry stand-ins of today.
This installment of The Importance of Being Brave and Bold studied issues one-sixteen, one-thirty-one, one-forty, and one-fifty-eight.
Got a comment or question about this Soapbox?
Leave at message at the Silver Soapboxes Message Board.