Yes, Silly Batman can be Enjoyable Batman – The Brave and the Bold #77
No DC character’s Silver Age tenure gets more eye-rolls than Batman’s. The silliness of the time and the gravitational pull of the campy Adam West TV show conspired to create Caped Crusader adventures that fit in with neither the his edgy crime-fighting roots or the full-circle return that was to come. It’s Batman without being Batman. Batman on the Moon! Batman turns into a giant were-beast! Et cetera, et cetera. Ad nauseum.
That’s not to say it’s always bad, though. Hipsters are content to wear t-shirts in a wry, ironic manner, right? So shouldn’t we be able to enjoy some goofy Batman in the same wry, ironic manner? Even, dare we say, just enjoy it for what it is?
Batman’s non-Superman team-up title is a potential font of stupid, and indeed, the Brave and the Bold issue we’re looking at today is distilled goofiness. Just check out that Ross Andru/Mike Esposito cover up there. Batman is trussed to a cannon, one operated by a villain named the Cannoneer, who’s wearing a bullet helmet. Oh, and there’s a tiny lady with a cape standing on his chest pointing a gun at his head. Batman’s partner du jour, the Atom, is tied up at the cannon’s mouth, ready to be blown to *yuckyuck* atoms. Also, they’re all on the caboose of a train that’s carrying a cask of wine, a windmill and the Eiffel Tower — the sum total of Europe, apparently.
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?
What’s going on is that this is a train load of fun — literally. The source of conflict in the Bob Haney-scripted story is the “Brotherhood Express,” a locomotive travelling across the United States carrying priceless exhibits from all over the world. (It’s not to be confused with the Freedom Train, a real train of exhibits that was apparently so wondrous kids biked ten miles just to see it pass.) This makes it a natural target for avaricious villains, something Batman figures out fairly quickly. Commissioner Gordon, however, is less a police chief in this issue than a Babbit-like booster, all pumped up about the civic glory the Brotherhood Express will bring to Gotham — all he’s lacking is a top hat and a mayoral sash. Leave it to wiseguy Batman to crap on his parade:
The goofiness comes with the heist. The Cannoneer, an evil member of a circus troupe, has replaced the Brotherhood Express exhibits with fakes, and has loaded the real things onto his own train. For help he’s co-opted Lilli de la Pooche, a little person upset that she’s no longer the smallest person in the troop — she’s been outsmalled, as it were. So the Cannoneer gives her a magical potion which will make her smaller, and it does, though the catch is she’s now his unwilling pawn. Derp.
Batman calls Ray Palmer for backup, and the stage is set.
Does Batman fight an assortment of circus freaks and goons? Yes. Is a windmill used as a weapon? Yes:
You thought the train fight in Skyfall was intense? Well, it was, but it has nothing on this. All Bond did was adjust his cuffs after he dismantled a train car with a backhoe. Batman makes quips about being the “Big Wind from Gotham.” Advantage: Bat.
While the cover is never replicated, Batman does get shot out of a cannon (Chekhov’s Cannon?), as the Atom uses a painter’s palette as a shield while battling his miniature nemesis — quite the one-two punch:
And it rolls along like that, right up to the senses-shattering conclusion, in which the guilty are condemned and the innocent are set free. Up and down, black and white, right and wrong all have clean lines of demarcation — just so long as it’s all goofy. And that’s okay. Maybe it’s the Atom’s presence that makes it all kosher here, but for once Batman unfurling puns like they’re part of his utility belt’s equipage doesn’t feel like a drill going into an unanaesthetized post-millennial molar. It’s almost, dare we say it, good in its own right. It has its own charm, its own odd glory. This is nothing if not a fun read, so long as you lighten up a little.
This story wormed its way into the very first Showcase Presents tome of The Brave and the Bold Batman team-ups. Maybe put it on your wish list this holiday season (if you can stomach the dreadful black and white reprints).