It’s a well-known fact of comic book history that, in the 1960’s, editor Julius Schwartz often came up with an idea for a cover, had one of his stable of artists draw it up, and only then assigned a writer to script a story around it. I don’t know if any of Schwartz’s fellow DC editors of the time followed a similar practice — but if there’s any one non-Schwartz cover of the mid-Sixties that might be considered a candidate for “cover first”, it’s surely the Carmine Infantino-Joe Giella cover of The Brave and the Bold #69, edited by George Kashdan.
That’s partly due to the fact that Infantino is the same artist who pencilled many of those classic covers for Schwartz’s books — but mainly, it’s because of that big, red, iron bat holding Batman prisoner. That visual is so bizarre and unlikely, yet also so striking and memorable, that I find it easier to believe that someone — whether Infantino, Kashdan, or someone else — came up with it all on its own, and then found a way to work it into a story, rather than that it emerged naturally during the plotting of the story it ultimately came to illustrate. Especially since “War of the Cosmic Avenger”, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Win Mortimer, doesn’t really have a whole lot of use for the big red bat after the first few pages.
The bat is very much the center of attention on those first pages, however. The story begins on a Gotham City street, as ordinary citizens going about their daily business are suddenly confronted by a shocking sight:
The police are called, and soon Commissioner James Gordon is on the scene with a GCPD emergency squad. Of course, the Commissioner is darn curious about how the Caped Crusader got himself ensnared by this crazy contraption in the first place:
(Yep, that’s Bob Haney’s Batman, all right — just a regular guy who thinks nothing of blowing off a work day by joyriding in the country, then taking a nap under a tree — in full costume, no less.)
Unfortunately, the scientists at the police lab have no better luck immediately extricating Batman from his metal prison, and upon hearing that they might be able to get him out of the thing in a few weeks, our hero declares there is “Only one man I could turn to now”, and asks Commissioner Gordon to send out a special alert for… Green Lantern! (Sure, you might think Bats would turn first to his best pal and regular crime-busting partner, Superman — you know, that guy who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and so on. But, hey, this is Brave and the Bold, not World’s Finest.) The Masked Manhunter then tells Gordon to have the Lantern meet him in the city park at dawn… and then gets up and leaves the police lab, walking to the park on his own:
(You’ve got to hope that Gordon at least offered to give Gotham’s Guardian a lift, even if the guy was too proud to take it.)
Hal Jordan shows up at dawn, as requested, and after hearing a brief explanation from his Justice League teammate, he swiftly cuts the strange metal trap apart with a beam from his power ring:
A quick handshake later, and GL is soaring away, heading for home. But before he can clear Gotham’s airspace, he once again encounters Batman — except this time Bats is in the air himself, flying in the Whirlybat, and he has no idea what the Emerald Gladiator is doing in his town:
The two heroes quickly realize that they’ve both been had, so that someone could pose as Batman and gain access to the energies of Green Lantern’s power ring. They speculate that it’s none other than John Starr, the Time Commander — a villain who had used a similar trick on them once before, in BatB #59 (an issue which featured not only the first one-on-one team-up between Batman and Green Lantern, but also marked the very first team-up appearance of Batman at all in the series he’d eventually go on to dominate for almost two decades).
In his first appearance, the Time Commander had been established as a brilliant but renegade scientist who, while in prison, had invented an hourglass that could shift objects, people, and places backwards or forwards in time. Batman and GL foiled his plans then, and sent him back to prison — but now the villain appears to have escaped again, and gone back to his criminal pursuits.
So, what’s John Starr’s game this time? As the scene shifts to the villain’s secret lair, he helpfully lays it all out for us readers via an expository monologue, while at the same time powering up a mysterious apparatus with the power ring energy he was able to trap in his weird metal bat-thingy. During the Time Commander’s most recent stint in stir, he says, he managed to work out how “to separate a single object from its time-spot, and deposit it here… in the now!” It all has to do with the speed of light, as he goes on to explain: “At that speed, time itself stands still! Anything that existed in the past gave off light rays of its own special frequency…”
(I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure the explanation given above is somewhat at variance with how light rays actually work. Don’t use this information in your physics research paper, OK?)
We learn that ten years ago, Starr was the assistant to the late Dr. Carruthers, and disagreed with the older scientist’s decision to destroy his humanoid creation due to its being “imperfect”. Now, using the time-control capabilities of his hourglass, as boosted by Green Lantern’s ring energy, he’s able to circumvent Frankenstein’s, er, Carruthers’ actions, and re-constitute Cosmo in the present:
Yes, Cosmo has arrived! He looks a little like a golem, a little like the original gray-skinned Hulk, and (probably quite intentionally), a little like the visualization of Frankenstein’s monster in Universal Pictures’ classic films. Unlike at least the second two of those predecessors, however, he’s quite, um, naked. (And is he an anatomically correct replica of a human male? Due to Win Mortimer’s clever use of shadows, figure positioning, and obstructions, we’re never really sure, one way or the other.)
But before following Cosmo and the Time Commander into Part Two of our story, let’s take a moment to say goodbye to the “weird metal bat-figurine”, which, having served its purpose in the plot, makes its final appearance in the last panel of page 9, as shown above. So long, striking visual element! If not for your appearance on the cover, I might not have bought this book.
As Part Two begins, the Time Commander quickly learns that Cosmo has no intention of becoming a quiescent pawn in the villain’s nefarious plans, He attempts to send the humanoid back to the past, but…
The Time Commander escapes Cosmo by sending himself into a “temporary time plane” (whatever that is). Left to his own devices, the giant humanoid next proceeds to go on a rampage through Gotham, looking for his creator, Carruthers, whom he believes is still alive. Fortunately, he’s spotted by Batman and Green Lantern as they’re cruising the city streets in the Batmobile, looking for Starr — and of course, our heroes immediately leap into action:
Unfortunately, Cosmo has absorbed some of GL’s ring power via the procedure Starr used to resurrect him, so the Emerald Gladiator’s attempts to subdue the creature are unsuccessful. The Time Commander then shows up on the scene, just long enough to gloat at our heroes’ helplessness, and also to tell them what Cosmo is and where he came from — useful information they’d have a hard time tracking down otherwise:
Knowing now that Cosmo was created by the famous, but late, Dr. Elijah Carruthers, Batman searches the rubble of the building the humanoid’s just demolished, which happens to be the site of one of Carruthers’ old labs. He manages to locate Carruthers’ diary amidst the detritus, wondrously untouched — and what’s even more of a wonder, almost immediately discovers a passage that indicates Carruthers isn’t even really dead! As the story moves into Part Three, the Masked Manhunter takes off in his Whirlybat to track down the scientist, leaving Green Lantern to contain Cosmo as best he can. But, when Batman finally does find Carruthers…
Nevertheless, Batman soon shows up back at the scene of Green Lantern’s defensive battle against Cosmo, accompanied now by Carruthers, who somehow seems to have suddenly recovered both his physical strength and mental acuity:
John Starr attempts to gain control of the humanoid by threatening him with the reagent; unfortunately for him, however, the formula is a phony. But when the villain attempts to flee, taking the aged scientist as a hostage, he has another surprise in store:
Things get even wilder a moment later when an ambulance drives up, and out steps a second Elijah Carruthers:
Yep, you’ve got to hand it to Batman’s mastery of disguise. Not only can he convincingly conceal his cowl and cape beneath a rubber mask and business suit, he can somehow change his height and build while wearing them, as well! (Take another look at that panel of “Carruthers” socking Starr if you don’t believe me.)
“Pow! Zonk! Pow!” Well said, GL. After all, some reader out there might have forgotten that your superheroic pal is that guy from that show. (Although I suppose we should be grateful that at least Bats’ co-star doesn’t refer to actually watching him on TV this time, unlike in the previous issue.)
The story concludes, as you know it must, with some pontificating from Dr. Carruthers about how Cosmo — whom he destroyed the first time simply because he was “imperfect” — had to be destroyed this second time “because the bitterness he felt about that first ‘death’ turned him into a vengeful menace!” (Yeah, and whose fault is that, I wonder?) “The time has not come for humanoids such as Cosmo… but someday it will come!” Yeah, whatever. Personally, I think the big lug got a really raw deal, both times. But then, I’ve also always thought that Frankenstein’s creature was the hero of that story.
I’d like to end this post with a few additional observations that don’t exactly flow from what’s come before, nor do they really connect to one another — so I’m giving them each a “clever” header line of their own, just like they do on all the cool kids’ blogs. And here we go…
The Brave and the Bat: As noted earlier, this story was a sequel to The Brave and the Bold #59, the first issue of the series to feature Batman co-starring with another hero. That issue, in turn, came ten issues into BatB‘s shift from a book that featured tryouts of new characters and concepts into a book which alternated such tryouts with team-ups of already established characters. From issue #50 through #59, the series featured seven such team-ups (eight, if you count #54’s teaming of Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Robin — a team-up which can probably be more usefully classified as the “true” debut of the Teen Titans series concept, though the team didn’t officially appear under that name until BatB #60) — only the last of which co-starred Batman. Compare that run of issues to the next ten, #60 through #69, which included nine team-ups, four of which (including the last three consecutive issues) featured the Caped Crusader.
It’s not difficult to understand why Batman came to dominate the pages of The Brave and the Bold in 1966 — the year of Batmania. It is interesting, though (at least to me), that he wouldn’t completely take over the book for some time to come — that there would be two more non-Bat-team-ups before Old Cape-and-Cowl began his unbroken 127-issue run, starting with BatB #74, published in August, 1967. By that time, Batmania was well past its peak, with the TV series facing an uncertain future after its second season’s disappointing ratings. You might expect that that would be the time to pull back a little, to continue to have the odd non-Batman issue at least every once in a while — but instead, it’s when DC doubled down. Of course, editor George Kashdan would soon be replaced, and the new editor, Murray Boltinoff, would almost immediately change the look and feel of The Brave and the Bold by enlisting artist Neal Adams to illustrate Bob Haney’s scripts; and as we discussed a couple of months back in our BatB #68 post, that change ultimately evolved into a whole new direction for Batman as a character. If that direction hadn’t panned out, maybe the format of The Brave and the Bold would have been modified once again. But, of course, it did, and the rest is comics history.
Time Is Not On My Side: Also as noted earlier, this story featured the second appearance of John Starr, the Time Commander. In his first outing, Starr had been a fairly effective time-based villain, using his powers to displace sections of Gotham City in time, and sending Batman and Green Lantern twenty-four hours into the future and the past, respectively. In BatB #69, however, Bob Haney seemed to have already run out of interesting time-travel ideas, and Starr’s only chronological feat is the resurrection of Cosmo (which, with all the business about light rays, seems as much like space travel as it does time travel). None of the business concerning the metal bat-trap involves time manipulation, after all, and “another time plane” just seems to be another way to say “another dimension”.
This fairly lackluster showing may well be why the Time Commander didn’t show up again for another twenty-two years — although that next appearance, in Animal Man #16, would represent the high point of the villain’s career. Grant Morrison’s story had John Starr using his powers in ways that could arguably be considered benign, bringing the dead loved ones of grieving people back to life and so on, with the avowed ultimate goal of returning the whole human race to Eden — only to be smacked down for his trouble by the members of Justice League Europe, because, hey, he’s the bad guy. After this appearance, the Time Commander went on to join the Time Force, a less-than-imposing team comprised of several DC villains with chronologically-oriented shticks — although, with the exception of the Atom’s arch-foe Chronos, none besides John Starr had any actual power over time — who made a handful of appearances in Team Titans and Showcase ’94 before subsiding into obscurity in the wake of DC’s 1994 “Zero Hour” event. Much later, Starr made what one assumes was his final appearance in 52 #27 (Jan., 2007), in which he was dissolved into sand, an experience which was presumably fatal. (A later version of the character — a guy named Sterling Fry, who assumed Starr’s name and modus opeandi — showed up a couple of times after that, but hasn’t been seen post-“Flashpoint”.)
The overall haplessness of John Starr, Time Commander — a villain who, let’s face it, possesses pretty formidable powers which should make him a major-level threat — is pretty emblematic of DC’s time traveling supervillains, however, especially in the Silver Age. But you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ll be dealing with another sterling example in our very next post.
The Coming of Cosmo: Some readers of the blog may wonder how I choose the fifty-year-old comic books I post about. Why, for example, from a month like October, 1966, which saw the release of such classic issues as Fantastic Four #58, do I choose to write about a (let’s be honest) mediocre-at-best book like Brave and the Bold #69?
The main reason, simply put, is that I didn’t buy FF #58, or a number of other really good books, off the stands when they first came out. That’s this blog’s governing concept, if you didn’t already know it — my remembrances and reconsiderations of old comics I bought when they were new, more-or-less-exactly a half-century ago. And in October, 1966, I only bought a few comic books, period. You’re getting the cream of a very limited crop, here.
On the other hand — I have to say that I might have still found this issue irresistible as a subject for the blog, even if I had bought a dozen other, better books that month. Because it features the first and only appearance of the creature called Cosmo. And, as it happens, I myself live with a creature called Cosmo. Although the one I know doesn’t much resemble a golem, or the Hulk, or Frankenstein’s monster:
He’s more of a Wookiee-Ewok mix, I’d say. Wouldn’t you agree?
I just like the descripton of Batman’s encasement as a ‘figurine,’ a word you would normally associate with something diminutive.