Review by Ian Keogh
In 1965 DC began teaming their heroes in pairs in the long-running The Brave and the Bold title, and after a period of almost random presentations (available as The Brave and the Bold Team-Up Archives) the format of Batman meeting another hero was instituted. That’s where this collection picks up, and it’s a book of two extremely contrasting halves.
Bob Haney writes all but one story and takes some time to find his feet. His earliest contributions feature big name guest stars who forced him to write superhero stories, which removed him from his comfort zone. These stories date from the era of the Batman TV show, and while not slipping into parody, the tone of the show has its influence. The quality isn’t helped by artists either working below their best, and some whose style is now very dated. The best is Carmine Infantino on a Flash team-up, then modern, now retro-futurist. The first half of the collection is passable at best, and feeble at worst, although if you want to see Batman spanking a drunk woman, this is the place to come.
There are two stages to the improvement. The first is Haney realising he can fit Batman into crime stories, at which he’s far better, and the second is Neal Adams drawing them. The appointment of any regular artist would have been a giant step forward, but Haney being blessed with the immaculate storytelling of an ever improving Adams is monumental. Adams draws a lithe, athletic Batman jumping from the pages where the panels are still four sided, but slashed diagonally at the bottom for greater effect. His best? The second Deadman story in which Deadman’s trying to kill Batman, and Adams pulls out all the stops. Mike Sekowsky’s art teaming Batman with Wonder Woman is a very different style, but also noteworthy.
Readers who placed a high priority on continuity were never fond of Haney’s writing, but now Batman has been shoehorned into hundreds of different stories perhaps his approach can be viewed more charitably. No Batman biography mentions his briefly having a second ward named Lance Bruner, but he’s here, along with Bruce Wayne’s spy assignment for Winston Churchill during World War II and an invulnerable thug able to rally Gotham’s criminal element and Batman powerless to stop him. And the thing is, these are all decent reads. Haney’s approach mirrored the TV dramas of the era, with each story being a standalone episode having its own consistency, irrespective of elements that might contradict Batman’s continuity elsewhere. Collected as a run, some shortcomings show. You can guarantee any businessman introduced is a rat, and the waterfront is a favoured location, but Haney’s inventive in the way team-ups occur, and he hits his stride once the team-ups feature what are now lesser known characters (although the Creeper one is still a bit ho-hum). The series introduced Green Arrow as we now know him, a visual makeover from Adams transforming the bland character seen earlier and who would later team with Green Lantern.
This is cheap format black and white, and given that half the book is substandard, perhaps a better bet is to pick up the Adams stories alone in the first volume of Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams. The other alternative is the luxury option of the oversized omnibus hardcover Batman: The Brave and the Bold Volume One, which combines two paperback equivalents, and also encompasses part of volume two.