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Back to the Network Dream: Douglas reviews the same 11/21 issue of B&B that Graeme and Brian just reviewed

Douglas Wolk

Graeme, if it’s any consolation, I started writing about The Brave and the Bold #8 two days ago, and am only getting around to finishing this now. But that’s partly because of a Very Cool Thing that will be showing up tomorrow.

One thing I always enjoy about this series is how densely packed it is, and this issue in particular is incredibly tightly structured. In 22 pages, we get an old-school Silver Age splash page (an action shot that lays out the basic concerns of the story and happens somewhere in the middle of the plot–and, in fact, it’s one of the sturdiest Silver Age concepts, the heroes fighting because of a misunderstanding before they team up!), a two-page frame for this issue’s story that contexualizes it in the ongoing “Book of Destiny” storyline, and then the main story itself, which involves plenty of character comedy and is effectively resolved within the issue. Mark Waid even gets across the premises of the new Flash series, the Doom Patrol and, more or less, the Challengers of the Unknown–“we’re livin’ on borrowed time and all.” All the story’s Young Frankenstein-isms are there to underscore the same principle that Grant Morrison and Rachel Pollack played with in their respective versions of Doom Patrol: the Doom Patrol are all “superheroes” because they’ve got something drastically wrong with their bodies, and arguably Jai and Iris fit into that category too. (As Brian noted, Rita as Stepford Superheroine is a very funny idea.)

Also, it’s easy to take George Pérez for granted because he hit his groove 25 years ago and has stayed there, but he really is incredibly good at this stuff–he draws, like, 38 panels on every page while keeping the action totally clear. Check out this sequence from early in the story:

That’s six panels, 2/3 of a nine-panel page, and Pérez manages to establish the nature of Jai and Iris’s respective powers, throw in some POV shots to get into the kids’ heads (showing only the lower part of Wally and Linda’s bodies, and later Wally’s shoe, gives us a sense of Iris’s point of view without directly representing what she’s looking at, which would be less interesting; the next-to-last panel is in fact what Jai’s looking at, which reinforces how put-upon he’s feeling there), and pull off some physical comedy (the peculiar initial images of Iris and Jai fall into place with the establishing shot of the kitchen). Maybe all this was in Waid’s script, maybe it was Pérez’s idea, but it works. I’ll overlook the fact that the page’s first panel establishes Wally and Linda’s discussion as happening on the ground floor, but that there’s a sunlit kitchen a floor below them: it is a nicely drawn kitchen.

So what’s missing? The depth of Waid’s best writing: this is a romp in the fields of the DCU, but its meaning is almost entirely bounded by the DCU’s borders. Wally’s decision at the end of the story is supposed to have terrible emotional weight (hence the title’s allusion to a William Styron novel); in practice, it has no consequences at all outside his head, and I’d be surprised if we ever saw it mentioned again.

That’s actually a symptom of the broader difficulty that The Brave and the Bold is up against, just like its original incarnation; it seems like it has to put all its characters back exactly where they were, unchanged, even when (like the Flash cast) they’re characters Waid’s more or less in charge of. There has to be some kind of middle ground between total-status-quo stories and possession by the Countdown duppy, and I hope this series finds it. But the movement toward putting everything back the way it used to be in superhero comics is hard to get away from. The Doom Patrol has nominally had all its past continuity re-integrated, post-Byrne, but the upshot of all the transformations the team has gone through–Haney/Drake to Kupperberg to Morrison to Pollack (and I really need to go back and re-read the Pollack run one of these days, since even more than the other writers’ versions its premise was that drastic transformation is necessary) to Arcudi to Byrne to the Geoff Johns/Tony Daniel sleight-of-hand in Teen Titans last year–is that they’re now stuck almost precisely where they were in 1963.

If you don’t mind my talking about what’s happening inside the story for a minute, it’s amusing to see all these characters scratching their heads about what exactly “Megistus” could mean–that word (or fragment) plus “ancient texts” plus an Element Man plus those other elemental characters, the Metal Men, who seem to be showing up next issue (along with the old-times’-sake Atom and Hawkman team), pretty obviously yields Hermes Trismegistus, the godfather of alchemy. H.T. was mixed up with Felix Faust here and here, so this may be Waid trying to straighten out the mess of how Felix Faust could be trapped in the tower in 52 and then show up again in Brad Meltzer’s JLA. Or it might be something else; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dr. Alchemy and/or Mr. Element showing up here. (Oh, how I love that cover. I never fully appreciated Don Heck as a kid. Actually, I never fully appreciated him until Colleen Coover pointed me at his “head-shot” covers for this series.)

So: A Very Good issue of a series that I still keep wishing for more from.

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