EP0025: Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparro, Vol. 1 (Review Pt. 1)

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Batman has a terrifying team up with the Phantom Strangler, is paralyzed and has to rely on his team and dumb luck, and then has to team up with Sgt. Rock to battle Satan-or is it Hitler or both?

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Batman teams up with Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Metamorpho, and of course his old buddy, Sergeant Rock. We’ll talk about it as we examine ‘Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Volume One’, straight ahead.

Recently, DC has released a lot of books that have reprinted Batman comics from the 1970s and early 80s when a lot of them had been reprinted. Certainly, when I really got into reading through the trades they weren’t around a whole lot. One series of ‘Legend of the Dark Knight’ books focused on Jim Aparo, who a lot of people tend to overlook but was actually very influential on artists that followed. And I noticed that my library through Hoopla had access to that book, and that had a lot of the same titles as in the Showcase Presents Brave and the Bold, and even more. Though we’ll talk Mr. Aparo’s work and in today’s episode we’ll talk about all of the comics that were both in Showcase Presents Brave and the Bold Volume Two, and Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Volume One, and we’ll finish the rest of the comics in that volume in our next episode. Aparo really began his work on Brave and the Bold as just a guest artist. He drew the Phantom Stranger character, so it was decided that he would draw Brave and the Bold Number Ninety-Eight which featured a guest appearance by the Phantom Stranger. And then in Issue 100 he took over the book for the most part all the way until Issue 196. And Brave and the Bold ran until Issue 200, so throughout the rest of the ’70s into the ’80s he would be the predominant artist on that title. He’s got a great style and it is just a beautiful way to draw Batman as well as the related characters. And he’s definitely at the peak of his ability here; in later years he got kind of burdened by just all of the books he was being asked to draw on, but here are some great examples of his work.

Issue Ninety-Eight, ‘Mansion of the Misbegotten’ is probably the scariest story in the book. In this story Batman goes to visit his old friend Roger Birnham Now Roger Birnham hadn’t been in the comics before, and he promises to watch out for Roger’s wife and young son. When Batman finds a funeral guest dead of a ritual murder he goes in to investigate and finds himself caught up in cult ritual. It’s a really chilling little story – pretty intense for the time, it’s not black R-Rated or anything but it’s definitely very creepy and haunting. And it shows the strength of Batman’s character that Batman’s able to do those sort of stories. He’s able to be in pretty much anything, whether it’s something that’s a bit on the supernatural side or if it’s aliens or if it’s something a little bit offbeat, or if it’s just a plain old crime story. Batman is pretty much able to carry any story you’d like to put him in, which is one of the strengths of the character. Now I will say that as usual I’m not going to comment on those stories that don’t really stand out to me, but a lot of these do stand out and are pretty interesting.

The next appearance, Issue 100 is called ‘Warrior in a Wheelchair’. In this story Batman is shot and put temporarily in a wheelchair until a surgeon can fly in from out of town, but he has got to stop the narcotics trade which he was trying to do when he got shot, and so he needs some help from his friends. And so he calls in four heroes to help him: Green Arrow and Green Lantern who are kind of a team at this point, along with Black Canary and Robin. Now in many ways I think the idea to put Batman in the wheelchair may have been inspired by the TV show Ironside which was on the air on NBC and was pretty popular. It starred Raymond Burr as a consultant for the police who’s paralyzed from the waist down, so he has to rely on others for some parts of the investigation. I also think that it being the 100th issue may have played a little bit of a role in it, although as we talked about in the last episode this had only been an exclusive Batman team up book since Issue Seventy-Four.

Now there is some good action in this as, in many ways, the story is reminiscent of the old Justice League and Justice Society stories where the heroes are each sent off on their separate mission that ties into the main thing. So, you get to see some good action from Green Arrow as well as from Green Lantern and Robin. However, then it comes to Black Canary and she is not in position and Batman can’t reach her and so he calls Robin for help. Robin says, “The flippy female’s probably got her wish radio jammed with a bobby pin. I’ll take her place!” But Batman insists that only she can do this and sends Robin to locate her, and Robin wanders all over the city looking for her until finding that she had went inside to dry her hair. “The rain! My hair! Ruined my hair! I had to dry out!”

Now I’m not one to generally go on a big rant about this sort of thing but come on! I know that it was the ’70s, but you don’t put a superhero in it and then have her be just that stereotypical. It’s just really dumb because a superhero is not going to be like that. It reminds me of a story from Batgirl that featured her just constantly obsessing over appearance and letting the criminals get away. That’s really flimsy and… Now even in the 1970s it’s really hard to think what they were thinking with that. And the sad thing is that the only reason Black Canary is there is because part of the clue that Batman’s looking for is at a Women’s Lib Conference where no men are allowed because that was a thing. In addition, the whole story – while showing a lot of promise – is kind of hurt by an anti-climatic ending. It’s not horrible but there are a few things that kind of ruin the good idea that was at the start of it.

Cold heart, Hot Gun has a great cover, and one of the downsides of reading The Legends of the Dark Knight version is that they do not reprint the covers since the covers weren’t drawn by Jim Aparo until Issue 104. They miss some good ones, and Issue 101 has got a light cover. It has Metamorpho who can change his shape change into the shape of a tombstone with arms on it as a figure stands at the door holding a hook and calling out to Batman. It didn’t happen in the story but it’s a great piece of art.

The story also is a bit of a retcon with Metamorpho. In Metamorpho’s own series which Haney wrote and I just finished reading a couple months ago Metamorpho had been sentenced to death but he’d survived execution and escaped with Element Girl, a somewhat annoying derivative character who is in a love triangle with him and Sapphire that was not all that believable or compelling. Sapphire being his girlfriend who is kidnapped, and so he is actually not dead, not on the run from the law, but he is in a state of suspension while a cure is applied to his condition which has changed him into the freaky-looking Element Man that he is. However, finding out Sapphire’s in danger he puts that aside and goes to rescue her, and ends ups running into Batman.

This is a good story, there’s mystery, there’s suspense, there’s atmosphere, and of course you have Metamorpho working his powers. It’s a good retcon and it works. ‘Commune of Defiance’ – this is actually a youth story that works. You have these hippy kids known as the Aquarians who are upset about the crime and the overall lack of safety in their neighborhood, and instead of hijacking a nuclear weapon they form a sort of vigilante group which Batman warns them again, which is kind of funny when you think about it. But at any rate Batman actually help them – he gets them a reprieve from the City Council was about to condemn the neighborhood, and they work to clean it up. And the Teen Titans appear and it’s a much better story than the one that appeared in Issue Ninety-Four which is more hilarious just because of the bad choices that were made in it. It has one of those all-time great covers that make you wonder what the hero is doing – it look like Batman’s doing something well…not very heroic. Bulldozer driver is headed towards the Titans who are lying on the ground and Batman says, “Right on driver! Crush those defiant kids!”

Now in the comic itself, Batman is using reverse psychology which, I guess, is comforting. Probably my favorite little panel in this is after they have fixed up their neighborhood. They’re throwing a block party and there’s this picture of this black little boy dragging his parent to the block party where everybody is having a good time and Batman and the Titans are in the background.

Issue 105 is interesting because we get to see Mod Wonder Woman. There was period where Wonder Woman ditched the entire Amazonian thing and took on a mod identity as a non-superpowered hero who used marshal arts in her efforts. I’ve actually only read the appearances in Brave and the Bold but this one’s a good one. There’s some intrigue and it involves a fictional Central American country.

‘Double Your Money’ is a great one. In it, an heiress has sold shared in her fortune to some wealthy people where they paid her up front for a share of her fortune, and then they get double their money. However, the shareholders start getting killed off and Oliver Queen are either Green Arrow is one of the investors.

This is a great mystery and I love the surprise villain at the end. Issue 107 is ‘The Three Million Dollars Sky’, and this story features an Aparo cover and it’s a great cover, it’s one that is on the front of Brave and the Bold Volume Two from Showcase Presents. It shows Batman and Black Canary both skydiving down with Batman on the ground, and looking at Black Canary and telling her, “It’s safe” while there is actually a gun pointed at him that he hasn’t quite seen yet. That’s Brave and the Bold, Number 107. There’s a skyjacking…the skyjackers demand three million dollars, and Commissioner Gordon just gets furious about that. “Three million? Why that’s bigger than any skyjacker demand yet!” 70s the inflation was really hitting. I also think there had been quite a few skyjackings and this is reflected in that story. There is a lot of action and I really feel like Black Canary gets her due in this story. And there is also just some good plot twist around along the way. It’s one of my favorites in the book.

The final story in Showcase Presents Volume Two is ‘The Night Batman Sold His Soul’ in Issue 108, where Batman is alleged to have sold his soul in a scene where he falls down a well and is drowning and struggling and panicky. Batman screams, “I’d give my soul to get out of here. I don’t want to die! Batman wants to live!” I don’t think I’m the only one who would want to hear a Kevin Conroy line reading of that. That’s just the most un-Batman-like thing to say. He is rescued and it turns out the man who rescues him claims that he’s bought Batman’s soul for evil. And the story gets even weirder when Batman runs into Sergeant Rock who informs him that the guy is actually Adolf Hitler still alive. This is just an insane, crazy story but it’s fascinating or just how bizarre it is.

Alright, well that’s all for now. We will be back with another episode and we’ll wrap up our Legends of the Dark Knight look. If you do have a comment send it to me: classycomicsguy@gmail.com. Check out our website, classycomicsguy.com and follow us on Twitter @ClassyComicsGuy. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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