I’ve mentioned DC’s The Brave and the Bold in a couple of earlier posts. This comic got its start in 1955 as the home for a variety of historical adventure series, starring swashbuckling heroes like the Viking Prince, the Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood, and the Silent Knight. Later, it became a tryout book, showcasing new characters and concepts that could be spun off into their own series if their “pilot” issue sold well enough. In this iteration, the book saw the first appearances of the Suicide Squad, the “Silver Age” Hawkman, Metamorpho, and (most successfully) the Justice League of America. With its 50th issue, however, the book began a transition towards becoming a one-off team-up comic, with a rotating roster of (normally) two characters sharing cover-billing. My own first issue of The Brave and the Bold, #64, was the second to feature one of DC’s two most popular heroes, Batman, as one of the two headliners; over the next eighteen years, however, it would be succeeded by 132 more such team-ups starring the Caped Crusader. It was thus a typical issue of the series in terms of what was to come, if not what had gone before.
In some ways, however, it wasn’t such a typical issue at all — for, as announced by an introductory blurb on the first page, rather than co-starring two superheroes joining forces against a villain, “Batman Versus Eclipso” featured “two costumed caperers battling each other…!” (Just as a side note, I’m pretty sure that the story’s title was my first encounter with the word “versus”.) And indeed, the roles of both Batman’s co-star and his adversary were filled in this tale by a single character, Eclipso — “Hero and Villain in One Man” — whose own series had been running in DC’s House of Secrets title for a couple of years.
Eclipso was an evil being who was somehow able to emerge from the body of scientist Dr. Bruce Gordon whenever there was a solar eclipse, following Gordon’s having been wounded by a mysterious, magical black diamond. The series revolved around the efforts of Gordon to resist, thwart, and ultimately rid himself of his unwanted, villainous alter ego. Fortunately, Eclipso could often be at least temporarily defeated by shining an extremely bright light on him, as indicated in this panel (illustrated, as was the rest of the story, by Win Mortimer, according to the Grand Comics Database):
This panel, incidentally, represents just about all the background information that readers were given about Eclipso in this story, which for the most part relegated the character to a conventional villainous status, rather than treating him as a co-star equal to Batman. That might have been thought somewhat surprising at the time, considering that the story’s writer (again, according to the Grand Comics Database) was Bob Haney, who had co-created Eclipso with artist Lee Elias in House of Secrets #61. However, Haney was also a frequent contributor to The Brave and the Bold, and as such had already scripted several of the book’s early team-ups, including Batman’s initial outing in #59. He would very soon become established as the title’s regular writer, going on to script another eighty-plus team-up stories featuring Batman from 1966 through 1979 — so it was perhaps indicative of things to come that he chose to focus primarily on the Caped Crusader in this story. What still strikes one as somewhat unusual, however (at least from the vantage point of fifty years later), is the attention Haney gives in this tale to Batman’s personal life.
By December of 1965 I was pretty familiar with Batman as a character, even if I had yet to pick up an issue of Batman itself, and I knew that unlike almost all of his fellow costumed heroes, Batman didn’t have any kind of ongoing relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Thus I was mildly startled when, in the story’s opening sequence, Batman rescues a beautiful young woman from a bow-and-arrow wielding assassin, only to discover that she’s an old flame:
We soon learn that the lovely Marcia (surnamed Monroe) is a wealthy playgirl who met Batman some time back when he interrupted her in the middle of a dangerous stunt, larking about on the railing of a busy bridge. Not only did Batman bring a halt to her shenanigans, but he also decided to teach her a lesson, publicly, in a humiliating (and, needless to say, entirely inappropriate) manner:
After this, Marcia decided that she admired a man who would stand up to her (or something like that), and began hanging out with Batman, eventually accompanying him on his crime-fighting rounds (!). The two fell in love, and even became engaged (with Batman vowing he’d reveal his secret identity to her on their wedding day — apparently the standard fall-back position for DC superheroes on this issue). Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out too well for our hero:
Now, having returned to Gotham City, Marcia asks for Batman’s help in getting her out of a sticky situation with an international crime syndicate called Cyclops, by returning a stolen jewel called the Cat Emerald to its rightful place in Gotham’s municipal museum. Reluctantly, Batman agrees to do so, only to find himself framed for its original theft. Commissioner Gordon (who seems awfully quick to believe Batman’s suddenly turned jewel thief, considering they’ve been working together to fight crime since 1941 or thereabouts) throws the Caped Crusader in jail, thereby providing us with this immortal scene:
(I can’t think of another Batman speech in the character’s 76-year history that cries out more to be read aloud in a Humphrey Bogart voice.)
All this goes down in the first nine pages of the 25-page story. The following scenes bring in Eclipso, working for the aforementioned Cyclops, and his ally, a masked and costumed gangleader calling herself Queen Bee. When I first read this story fifty years ago, even my eight-year-old self could immediately see that the young, redheaded Queen Bee was none other than Marcia Monroe; and in the story, Batman (once he’s busted himself out of the clink) is also pretty quick on the uptake. As it turns out, however, Batman’s former intended isn’t all bad:
Yep, the situation’s a big mess, but Batman, aided by Bruce Gordon and his allies, eventually manages to foil Eclipso and his scheme to take over Gotham City for Cyclops. The Caped Crusader is then able to clear his name with the police, but Marcia takes a powder, leaving Batman to muse wistfully: “Some day she’ll have to pay for her crimes — and when that day comes, she’ll need all my help! Until then — farewell, honey!”
To the best of my knowledge, however, Marcia Monroe never made a return appearance, as Queen Bee or otherwise — making her “one that got away” in more ways than one.
This issue of The Brave and the Bold, along with the other DC comics released the week of December 23, 1965, bears the distinction of being the first in DC’s line to bear a distinctive decorative border along the top edge of its front cover — a graphic design innovation that would be forever immortalized under the name of “Go-Go Checks”:
According to a number of sources, the checks were the idea of DC’s Executive Vice President at the time, Irwin Donenfeld, who was hoping to help DC’s books stand out against those from other publishers when displayed on newsstands or in spinner racks where only the top part of the comic might be visible. DC carried the checks on every book they published for about a year and a half, for a total of 535 comics in all (according to the Comic Book Spinner Rack blog), before dropping the design element from its trade dress.
In hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad idea, nor was DC the only comics publisher that ever tried something along that line. The decision to brand and promote the design under the ridiculous name “Go-Go Checks”, however, pretty much ensured that fans would be poking fun at it for decades to come (present writer included). DC’s writers and editors — virtually all of whom were middle-aged white men — were striving mightily in the mid-’60s to be “hip”. This showed most painfully in their attempts at teenage slang, with a predilection for the term “go-go” being only one example of their overall cluelessness. The house ad below, excerpted from another comic of the era, probably demonstrates this state of affairs better than I can describe it:
All this being said — fifty years later, I think that the Go-Go Checks serve well as a wacky-but-charming signifier of the comics of their era. And you know, it could have been worse.
DC might have called them “Pop Art” Checks.
Irwin Donenfeld may have conceived Go-Go Checks all on his own, but for their actual execution, he worked with other DC staffers — namely production manager Sol Harrison, and logo designer and letterer Ira Schnapp. Though largely unknown and unheralded until relatively recent times, Ira Schnapp had a tremendous impact on DC’s house style over three decades, designing the title logos for many of the publisher’s best known series, hand-lettering most of the books’ covers, and also lettering and helping design the ubiquitous house ads. It’s probably more to Schnapp’s credit than to any other single person’s that The Most Intriguing House Ads for Comics I Never Bought were as intriguing as they were — and I would have given him credit in the first installment of this occasional feature, had I but known it at the time. I am happy to rectify that omission with this post.
Our house ad from The Brave and the Bold #64 is for the 160th issue of Wonder Woman, a title I wouldn’t get around to actually sampling for another year or so:
What I believe was most intriguing to me about this ad wasn’t the Amazon Princess herself, nor the cat-suited Cheetah, nor even the mysterious (and misogynist) Dr. Psycho, but the references in the ad copy and on the cover itself to a “Golden Age” of comics.
I’d already been introduced to the idea of classic (and pricey) old comics via a house ad for Superman #183, and I’d probably even been exposed to the phrase “Golden Age” via the letters page of JLA #42, as described in my last post. As I’ve mentioned before, I can’t be sure that I bought and read these comics in the exact order they were published — comics might be on the racks for weeks, and I didn’t get to the Tote-Sum on a regular basis. But even if this ad wasn’t my very first exposure to the concept of the Golden Age of Comics, I have little doubt it whetted my appetite to learn more.
What I wouldn’t learn for years to come, however, is that this comic’s “Golden Age” marketing referred not to reprinted old stories, or even the re-introduction of villains from that bygone era. With the previous issue, #159, writer-editor Robert Kanigher had actually shifted the setting of the Amazing Amazon’s adventures back to the 1940’s, and had even instructed the series’ artists to draw in a Forties-retro style, all in an attempt to evoke a “Golden Age” sensibility. This experiment didn’t last for even a whole year, however, and by the time I finally picked up an issue of the book, it was firmly entrenched back in the “now” of the 1960’s.
This has been a long post, I know, but we still have one last stop to make before taking leave of The Brave and the Bold #64.
A couple of months back I shared an image of the cover of my copy of Superman #181, from which I had neatly trimmed the title logo, oh, so many years ago. Seeing that defacement makes me wince today; however, in re-reading “Batman Versus Eclipso” for this blog post, I believe I have discovered the first comic I bought in which I actually vandalized the interiors, cutting out a part of the story itself, as shown below:
Why did I cut out almost a full half-page of story and art? Why, for the order form accompanying the subscription ad on the back. Here’s a reproduction of the very same ad, but intact, scanned from another comic that came out around the same time:
I’m not sure why I decided it was time to pony up a whole dollar of my allowance money to subscribe to 10 issues of my favorite comic book. Maybe I was anxious about missing an issue. Maybe I was persuaded by this or another ad (after all, by subscribing I was going to save twenty cents!). Or maybe (and I’m inclined to go with this one) I just loved the idea of getting comic books in the mail.
What comic book did I subscribe to? Why, Justice League of America, of course. But I’ll save my reminiscences about my early experiences as a comics subscriber for another post.