The Brave & The Bold #124, January 1976, National Periodical Publications/DC Comics
writer: Bob Haney
artist: Jim Aparo
This issue is the most ambitious Batman story I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them) because its creators play pivotal roles, and I don't mean behind the drawing board. As Batman and Sgt. Rock pursue a terrorist group that has stolen 1000 rifles from the military, some of the terrorists pursue artist Jim Aparo and demand that he illustrate the heroes' deaths! Fortunately, Aparo, with the help of his collaborators, stays one step ahead of the hooded villains, until Bats and Rock defeat the group right outside Aparo's secret hideaway. Forget the fourth wall; in this issue, the creators are as brave and bold as the comic itself!
In my last post, I eluded to the damage certain creators' celebrity has inflicted on the medium at large; oftentimes, the fact that a certain writer or artist is tackling a title overshadows the title itself. This attention has fostered a need for frequent rotations of creative teams, the whole "Look who's on Superman now!" thing. I don't like this phenomenon, or more specifically, its inevitable inconsistencies, and sometimes, inadequacies.
The best recent example I can think of is the critically acclaimed Batman "Hush" tale by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. In the first issue of that arc, Killer Croc is a deformed rampaging monster, mutating before Batman's very eyes. The hope of his "cure" is mentioned briefly, but we don't see results by the end of the epic. In the very next storyline ,"Broken City" by the 100 Bullets team, Croc is not only back to normal, but he's the most human he's ever been, essentially coming off as a pimp with a skin condition. Both interpretations of this character can be valid and entertaining in his grand scheme, but in back-to-back episodes, new readers that picked up the last issue of "Hush" and the first of "Broken City" could have been, and should have been confused. I've been a Bat-fan for 15 years, and I was confused.
Admittedly, naturally, I am a fan of certain writers and artists, and I will check out a book I wouldn't read otherwise if I see their names on the cover. However, I have become fans of certain writers and artists because I've grown with them on a title, because I've experienced the range of their ability in a single series. Telling stories and drawing pictures are a major part of comics, but something can be said for staying power, too.
In fact, I picked up this issue (from the antique shop, for those of you keeping track) because of Aparo's appearance on the cover. Aparo drew Batman in several titles for over thirty years, maybe more, most notably in the well publicized "A Death in the Family" arc of the late '80s, in which Robin (Jason Todd) died. Aparo himself recently passed away, so I was eager to read an adventure with him in it. I wonder what inspired the creative team to feature themselves. Was it excitement at the very idea (the fantasy of fanboys everywhere, I'm sure), or a lack of story that simply required filler? Either way, it surprisingly works, if you stretch the bounds of your imagination. Or, with this pinch of reality, should you restrict the bounds? It's an interesting dilemma.
When this issue hit the stands back in '76, did readers and critics scoff at this use of self caricature? Did they bill it as ego-fueled fantasy fulfillment? Perhaps, but now, knowledgeable of Aparo and company's reputation, I interpret the tale as an homage to their endless efforts for those characters. In a few years' time, will I think the same way of these other "celebrity" contributors?