Based on this note from editor Murray Boltinoff that appeared on the issue’s letters page, Brave and the Bold #93’s “Red Water Crimson Death” by Denny O’Neil (writer) and Neal Adams (artist) had been in the works for a while:
“…one of the most distinguished and inspired examples of comic mag art”? That’s some pretty high praise from Mr. Boltinoff. But my thirteen-year-old self wouldn’t have argued with him back in 1970; and it still sounds just about right to sixty-three-year-old me, here and now in 2020.
In any event, regardless of how and why the production of this story might have been delayed, its ultimate release could hardly have been more opportunely timed — October 27, just four days before Halloween. What better time for Batman to dare enter the House of Mystery?
#93 was an odd issue of Brave and the Bold in a number of ways. Besides its most obvious distinction — the fact that the Darknight Detective’s co-star this time around was not, as per the norm, a fellow DC Comics hero, but was, rather, a house (or maybe even just the idea of a house) — it was also the first one for which Neal Adams had provided the interior art since #86 (Oct.-Nov., 1969), the issue which had represented the end of his groundbreaking one-year stint as the series’ regular penciller. In addition, the comic’s script wasn’t by Bob Haney, the writer who had authored almost every issue of BatB since #50 (and who would go on to write the majority of the next sixty-four issues as well); rather, it was by Denny O’Neil, Adams’ collaborator on Green Lantern as well as three well-received Batman stories for Detective Comics.*
Adams’ cover starts things off perfectly, dropping the Batman neatly and naturally into the kind of eerie scenario typical of House of Mystery covers of the era. Indeed, it goes so far as to directly reference the cover of HoM #174 (May-Jun., 1968) — the issue which, not so coincidentally, had inaugurated that title’s new “mystery” (i.e., horror) anthology format:
As it happens, that particular House of Mystery cover hadn’t been drawn by Neal Adams (who actually drew it seems to be a matter of some dispute) — which is rather ironic, considering that he’d drawn every one since then, in an unbroken run that would extend on into 1971, ending only with #192. And almost all of them had featured one or more frightened children (per a notion that HoM editor Joe Orlando, a former artist for EC Comics, seems to have picked up from EC publisher William Gaines).
Unlike most of the stories illustrated by those House of Mystery covers, however, there actually is a frightened kid who plays a significant role in “Red Water Crimson Death” — though that’s not something that’s immediately evident from the tale’s opening pages:
I’m sure most of this blog’s readers recognize the rather devilish-looking, emerald-hued figure pictured above, but for anyone who doesn’t — this is Cain, the caretaker of the House of Mystery, and the host and narrator of the stories to be found within. Cain’s fleeting appearance as an actual character in this story (at least in potentia) is consistent with how he was often presented in his own book, where he might be an active participant in his tale in one panel, and breaking the fourth wall to directly address the reader in the next. (House of Mystery #188’s “Dark City of Doom”, which I blogged about here a few months back, is one good example of such a story.) While Cain was not generally (if ever) colored green from head-to-foot in House of Mystery, his appearing that way here allows him to pop up throughout the narrative — itself a useful device for maintaining the sense that this story really is a “team-up” between Batman and the House of Mystery — without being confused for one of the more active (not to mention visible) dramatis personae.
As we’ll see, it also allows O’Neil to all but completely dispense with the use of narrative captions to handle scene changes, the passage of time, or exposition.
As a thirteen-year-old reader in 1970, I loved the story’s implication that Cain was, in some fashion, as “real” in the DC Universe as Batman himself was; and I was also intrigued by the notion that the House of Mystery was located in Gotham City, especially since House of Secrets #81 (Aug.-Sept., 1969) had given me the clear impression that it resided somewhere in Kentucky. (Yeah, I was a pretty literal-minded young comics fan.)
Hey, you remember that I told you there was a kid in this story, right? Well you’re about to meet him…
Yep, on the previous page, Batman accepted a steamship ticket for a multi-week trip to Ireland from Jim Gordon — a trip which Bruce Wayne then takes, with no apparent worries that Gordon might suss out his secret identity. You could get away with that kind of thing in a comic book story in 1970.
Bruce’s thought balloon refers to “the Arin Isles, off the north coast of Ireland” which I’m pretty certain are supposed to be (or at least to suggest) the Aran Islands off of Ireland’s west coast. More about them a little later…
Once he and Sean have been pulled out of the drink, dried off, and warmed up, Bruce heads off to his cabin, even more thoroughly exhausted than he was before beginning his vacation. All he wants is to hit the sack — but when he opens his suitcase to retrieve his pajamas, he gets an unwelcome surprise:
OK, I’ll buy that Bruce is worn out to the point of desperation. But ditching his costume at sea? Would Batman ever do that?
Some thirty-six years ago, Denny O’Neil sat down with fellow comics writer Mike W. Barr for a lengthy, more or less chronological discussion of all the Batman stories the former had written up to that time. Published in the 50th issue of the fanzine Amazing Heroes (July 1, 1984), the 42-page article “The Batman Tapes” includes a brief exchange regarding “Red Water Crimson Death”.
After noting that O’Neil appears to have had “a handle on the character [Batman] from the first time you sat down to write him”, Barr suggests that the scene of Bruce Wayne tossing his costume overboard seems out of character:
BARR: …I realize you wrote this story 13 years ago; I’m not trying to pin you to the wall, but I wonder if you have any feelings about this.
O’NEIL: Yes, it does seem out of character. I don’t know why…
BARR: Of course, I can give you a rationale, too. That Batman realizes that in the long run, regaining his total facilities might be more important than a case that might come up during his vacation.
O’NEIL: I’d certainly buy that.
Since Mike Barr was willing to cut O’Neil a break on the scene, I’m going to suggest we do the same. And so, moving right along…
Like “Arin Isles”, “Kennamora” seems to be an imaginary place-name, though it phonetically resembles Connemara, a region in western Ireland not all that far from the real-life Arans.
Once Sean’s Uncle Derry learns that Bruce Wayne saved his nephew’s life, he invites Bruce to stay with them at their home. Bruce gladly agrees, and later that night, after a hearty meal of mulligan stew…
Batman bounds from the house in pursuit of Sean — but is then immediately set upon by three Kennemoran gents wielding 2x4s…
It’s interesting to compare this story with another spooky, Halloween-appropriate Bat-tale that came out earlier in the month (and was discussed on this blog a few weeks ago), Batman #227’s “The Demon of Gothos Mansion!”. That story, also written by O’Neil, has a similar scene in which Batman is attacked by rustics who don’t recognize him — a situation that seems rather unlikely in the context of a DC Universe where the very public Justice League of America has saved the whole world any number of times, but one which anticipates how, as editor of the Bat-books in a later decade, O’Neil would insist that the majority of residents of Gotham City (not to mention the rest of the world) consider Batman to be an “urban legend”.
“Ghosts… banshees! A pack of superstition –” One would suppose this story must take place before “Demon of Gothos Mansion!”, which ends with Batman receiving pretty positive proof of the existence of ghosts. But, of course, even setting that recent adventure aside, Batman was running into revenants like Deadman and the Spectre in Brave and the Bold all the time during this era; thus, his skepticism about the supernatural in this scene appears to be not very well founded, to say the least. Nevertheless, as discussed in our Batman #227 blog post, this attitude somehow seems to fit with the logical, “World’s Greatest Detective” aspect of the character; and O’Neil, at least, always seemed to be able to make it work as the Masked Manhunter’s default perspective.
Yeah, that is “odd”, Bats. Still, I’m sure you’re right, and “there’s nothing supernatural about the happenings hereabouts”, nosiree…
Well, at least the bad guys recognize the Batman, even if the “yokels” don’t.
This is probably as good a point as any to offer my last observation re: the “Arin Isles”, which is to note that in 2017 my wife and I visited the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, and had a completely lovely time. Never once were we beset by angry villagers, holographic demons, or armed thugs. Just sayin’.
(On the other hand, we were back on the ferry to Galway well before dark, so…)
In the same 1984 Amazing Heroes article I quoted earlier, Mike Barr notes that Denny O’Neil rarely addressed social issues in his Batman stories the way he did in his other early-’70s work, most notably in Green Lantern. O’Neil agrees, saying, “The reason I didn’t do them more was, I was very consciously doing fiction when I was doing Batman. I didn’t want to bring that other side of my personality into it at all. This was like pure comic books in my head… It never occurred to me plot social issues into these stories…”
Perhaps it only happened rarely, but this story is one occasion where O’Neil’s social concerns did seep in a bit. In the final panel of page 19, Batman exhibits a righteous indignation over Aloysius Cabot’s dumping of poisonous chemicals into the ocean — an indignation signified as much by the facial expression and body language Adams imparts to the hero as it is by O’Neil’s text — that would have fit the O’Neil-Adams version of Green Arrow (then co-starring in Green Lantern, of course) like a spandex glove.
The sketchy, unfinished-looking rendering style Adams uses for Batman’s point-of-view on pages 20 and 21, combined with the “unnatural” yellow and orange coloring, provides an innovative and effective way of depicting our hero’s impaired perceptions.
And so concludes Batman’s foray into the House of Mystery — a tale of the bona fide supernatural, whether or no the Darknight Detective is prepared to fully admit it to himself or not.
Cain’s final statement to the reader is very much in the vein of the all-knowing wrap-ups he and his fellow “horror hosts” would regularly deliver in DC’s mystery anthology books — though the ending it accompanies here is probably a happier one than most of those that appeared in those titles.
Neither Cain nor the House of Mystery would show up again in Brave and the Bold, — but that didn’t mean they were quite through interacting with the DC Universe’s superheroic set. Twelve years later, Superman himself would pay a visit to the House, in DC Comics Presents #53 (Jan., 1983). In a story written by Dan Mishkin, and illustrated by Curt Swan and Tony DeZuniga, the Man of Steel actually teamed up with Cain against his magical foe, the 5th-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk. This story probably carried the vaguely benign attitude Cain had exhibited in BatB #93 to an unwise extreme, and overall felt much more like a Superman tale than an HoM one, at least to your humble blogger.
A few years later, Cain (as well as his brother Abel) would also turn up in several issues of Blue Devil, a supernaturally-themed but generally light-hearted superhero series co-written by Mishkin and Gary Cohn. That was pretty much it for Cain’s exploits among DC’s costumed adventurers — though not, as things turned out, within the larger DC Universe. Ultimately, the future direction for both Cain and Abel would be set by Swamp Thing (1982 series) #33, published some eleven months before their earliest joint appearance in Blue Devil. But since I’ve already discussed that story, and the developments that it engendered, in an earlier post, I won’t exhume (heh) that history for reexamination here.
And I guess that’s all we’ve got for this go-around. Until next time, Happy Halloween, everyone!
*All three of these early O’Neil-Adams Detective collaborations were 16 pages or less, making “Red Water Crimson Death” the first full-length Batman story by the team — though, of course, it would be far from their last.