Monday, June 4, 2018

001. A great escape and little else (Brave & The Bold 112)

Cover art by Jim Aparo. 
When I first conceived this story, my mind was thinking about an issue of First Issue Special I hadn't yet read. That series ended with the re-debut of the New Gods, but it turns out it isn't the first appearance of any of the characters post-Kirby. It turns out that it was instead Bob Haney who dusted them off in the first place.

Braven and the Bold 112 featured a story by Haney with art by the always legendary Jim Aparo. Cover dated April-May 1974, it predates the next appearancdes by any Fourth World character by almost two years.

The tale actually takes place just before Kirby's final issue of Mister Miracle. It's mentioned right on the first page that it predates his wedding to Big Barda which happened in Mister Miracle 18. But this book was dated a good two months after that issue, so it clearly fits the bill as a starting point for us here.

The adventure kicks off at the Gotham Art Museum as Batman and Commissioner Gordon are in the middle of an intense shoot out. The attackers suicide when they can't find the statuette they sought. (The tomb is of course bat-themed because this is a Bob Haney Bat-comic.) Things grow more complicated when Inspector Sayid of the Egyptian National Police shows up with his own claim on the artifact. Sayid wants the artifact, but Batman agrees to accompany back to Egypt to uncover the secret of the hidden tomb it holds. The prize: the secret of immortality known only to the first Pharaoh of Egypt.

Meanwhile, Scott Free is in Paris with Barda and Oberon, in the middle of a death defying escape, a.k.a. the default position to always introduce Mister Miracle. He escapes from his chains on top of the Eiffel Tower as its struck by lightning. As he prepares to celebrate, he's stopped by Dr. Ingrid Borg who promises him his chance to make "the greatest escape of all time!"

We pick back up with Batman and Sayid in Egypt as Batman finds the man that sold the exhibit to the Gotham Museum dead. They peg his death as perpetrated by the same killers at the museum.

Always share the picture of Batman on the camel. 
Batman travels out into the desert on camelback, only to be stuck in a sandstorm. Meanwhile, Mister Miracle and Ingrid are flying in a helicopter, conveniently hit by the same sandstorm. The chopper crashes, but Miracle saves them both with his aero discs.

Batman escapes himself and continues on his path to the hidden tomb. A bat marks the way to the secret entrance beneath a desert oasis. As soon as he pushes the door open, it sucks him inside and closes hikm within.

Miracle and Ingrid find their own entrance, only to be trapped. Ingrid reads an etching from the same statuette whose message sent Batman on his way. It reveals the first Pharaoh Atun to be a figure descended from the heavens. He lived for decades without aging before disappearing in a flash of light. But upon continuing into the tomb, they are locked within an inner chamber. Mister Miracle's finger lasers cannot break through the door, but a strange light appears in teh chamber. Atun appears in his throne above them.

Atun questions their identities, but shows his ankh-headed staff as the source of his power. Ingrid quickly grabs it and sprints away, Mister Miracle on her tale. (Apparently there was another path away from the chamber.) The chamber quickly shifts upwards as it threatens to crush them both. Miracle's power beam breaks through the wall and allows their escape, only to find themselves on a moving stairwell that almost sends them plummeting to their death if not for Mister Miracle's aero discs.

Miracle finds an exit, only to have Ingrid betray him. She shoots, but only to have Miracle flash to the other side of the room. He flashes aroudn the room to avoid her bullets. The ricochets off the stone manage to hit Ingrid instead.

Mister Miracle reveals he lied about the escape path to expose Ingrid. He continues down it to find a tomb marked with Atun's likeness. He opens it to great shock.

Atun reveals himself and the two men attack one another with energy blasts. But their powers are equal; neither can overcome the other. Ultimately Atun collapses, his helmet falls off... to reveal the face of Bruce Wayne!

The tomb had contained Batman's costume and Mister Miracle realized the helmet had subsumed Batman's mind. With the helmet removed, he returned to himself. Batman puts his costume back on as the two men realize Ingrid must work for the same man that sent the terrorists to the museum. They continue through the labyrinth, magic staff in hand, seeking a route to escape. But an energy beam appears and threatens to strike them both down. They barely escape into another hidden chamber.

They find the steering ship inside the tomb, but unlike the ceremonial crafts of other Egyptian tombs, this is a fully functioning spaceship! They fly it from the tomb just as the strange beam escapes the tomb behind them and brings the cliff down upon it!

After our heroes crashland, the ship and the sceptre both mysteriously crumble to dust. The mystery man that wanted the sceptre dies in his tower and Atun stands before an alien counsel to be told he can never return to Earth.

Haney produced a grand adventure in his usual tradition here and it starts a sort of camaraderie between Scott Free and Batman that would come into play over the years. But this was a story filled with big ideas that Haney didn't seem interested in playing out. The sudden ending leaves no artifacts and wraps up all the loose ends in three quick panels, as though Haney didn't have an answer for the questions he posed through the course of the story.

Truly a product of its time, this issue just feels like it should have been the springboard for so much more. Haney ignored all of the Fourth World backdrop here, even if it would have served as a great answer to the secrets of Atun. Ultimately like so many issues of Brave & The Bold, this is simply a solid story with little payoff for the future. The packed nature of this story leaves little room for Aparo's art to breathe, which is truly the greatest shame of all.

That wraps up our first installment here, but stay tuned for a new one this Wednesday. But we're not quite ready for First Issue Special yet. It turns out there's one more apocryphal appearance to cover before we get to that monumental issue.

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