Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Zen and the Art of Copyright Maintenance:

Brave and the Bold #132, "Batman--Dragon Slayer??" Written by Bob Haney, art by Jim Aparo, editted by Denny O'Neil. Why did I note the editing credit? Because Denny did a lot of stories with Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Master; particularly in the Question. Dragon becomes Vic Sage's (the Question's) teacher, although in that series, he first appears in a wheelchair. How Richard was injured is not explained, until much later, when he just gets up: he knew Sage wasn't at a stage in his development that he would listen to and not challenge Dragon, so he had to present himself in a way that would reduce that.

I mention that because I'm still trying to figure out if that's clever, or outright dickery on Dragon's part, or a copout (i.e., O'Neil failing to come up with a suitable story for Dragon being crippled); and also because Denny put a lot of effort into making Dragon read as a serious disiciple of Eastern philosophy and wisdom. On the other hand, Haney writes with enthusiasum, but it's like he had a big lunch of Chinese food, a few fortune cookies, caught a late kung-fu matinee show, and then knocked out this script. (I just had to pause to look it up: Haney died in 2004, so there's no telling if he researched it or not.)

If I may be blunt: Richard Dragon just isn't as cool as Iron Fist. On any level. And I'm not even a huge Iron Fist fan: he's a superhero, with kung-fu accents. Dragon is more of a transplant: a kung-fu archetype in a superhero universe, which would liken him to the best home run hitter on the Dallas Cowboys lineup; that is, someone that would be impressive and interesting in another setting but seems lost or out of place where they are. It doesn't help that Dragon doesn't have a cool costume or battlecry. Maybe if they paired him up with someone: I might read Black Lightning/Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter. What?

Kung fu doesn't believe in alzheimer's, obviously.
Back to the story in hand, which begins with two punks about to "depopulate" an old man: "He's lived too long--consumin' too many goodies!" It's the first environmentalist hate crime! Or maybe they were looking for an excuse, and had just seen Soylent Green or something. Also, the first thug has a leopardskin vest, and may be a moonlighting Kraven the Hunter. The passing kung-fu master Richard Dragon kung-fu's the living snot out of them in the best David Carradine tradition, then helps the old man with the loan of a bike pump and a quarter for coffee.
Yeah, I think I'd remember hearing about a bald guy calling himself the Stylist too.
One year later, Richard is visiting a dojo in Gotham City, when he is challenged by the Stylist. Oh, man, that name did not age well. It no longer evokes "a legendary karate killer for hire! A man outside the true path of the martial artsdiscipline--but one whose skill is supreme!" Now it sounds like the guy that forgets that tuft of hair on the back of my head is going to give Richard the hassle. (Actually, my father-in-law usually cuts my hair, does a great job, and very well could have nunchuks somewhere. Hi Dana!)
'Little old guardian'?  'Crazy new kind of mugger'?  Was last month's team-up with Metamorpho?
Although he has no beef with the Stylist, Dragon ends up fighting him with a park bench slat and pretty much spanks him. Which means it's time for Batman to show up, and DC cribs the classic Marvel Misunderstanding: Batman figures Dragon for a mugger, and has at him. For two solid pages, Batman is fought to a stand-off, although Dragon appears to be mostly fighting defensively. Eventually, Batman finally talks to Dragon, who explains how Bats has let the Stylist get away. Richard isn't sure why the Stylist attacked him, but Batman has noticed a limo that has been following them.

Batman pulls the driver out of his car, but he's only a messenger with a letter for Richard, that contains a quarter and a key to a safe deposit box in Vegas. Richard apparently has kung-fu instant recall, since he remembers the old man he gave a quarter to a year ago. Batman deduces the old man must have been eccentric billionaire Calvin Curtis, who recently died...I love that the B&B universe is full of eccentric billionaires, strange recluses, disappeared explorers, world-famous fill-in-the-blanks.
Batman can do anything in Brave&Bold.  Anything.  Probably could Draw Winky too.
Figuring the box contains a will to a fortune, Batman sketches a portrait of Curtis on the fly, and Dragon recognizes him, but is still troubled by the Stylist. Batman says he will take care of him, but Dragon says they will meet if it is their destiny. See what I meant about the fortune cookies? Dragon always sounds articulate and profound, but if you break it down, everything he says boils down to 'whatever.'

Searching Gotham, Batman finds the Stylist practicing with his sai in a playground. Batman calls him out for possession of a deadly weapon, but the Stylist points out the sai is considered a defensive weapon, legal in Gotham, and quotes the legal code. The Stylist also tipped reporters, so Batman is then caught on camera smacking around a 'citizen,' although I'm not sure what kind of editing would be needed to make footage of Batman slapping a six-foot tall bald man with an eyepatch and kung-fu slippers look like a helpless victim being beaten. Since the Stylist hasn't committed any crimes yet, Batman isn't able to do anything, but it doesn't look like Bats is brought up on charges either.

Who would've thought the police force that couldn't handle the Joker, Two-Face, and the Riddler; would fail to stop a bald guy with sais?
The next night, the Stylist follows Dragon into the park, and challenges him again. This time Dragon has a sword, but when he doesn't bow in return, Stylist knows it's a trap (a disguised Batman) and takes off. A cop tries to stop him, and gets shanked pretty good for his trouble.
I'm sure Officer Murphy agrees, Batman, even if he is pooping into a bag for six months.
Dragon rejoins Batman to track the now-fugitive Stylist down, and follow up on a tip from an airplane frieght handler-slash-"follower of the discipline!" He explains an x-rayed crate had kung fu weapons in it, bound for Matanzas, Yucatan. Since they were already at the airport, Dragon and Batman take the next flight. (Either the 12:00, the 12:10, or the 12:15 Gotham to Matanzas direct...a joke completely stolen from the Simpsons, yeah.)
Air travellers in Haney's day?  Classy.  Jaded.  Overdressed.
It's cool that Batman flies coach with Dragon, but it kind of takes away from his mystique. The B&B Batman isn't a grim, obsessed, lone-wolf avenger; he's an globetrotting cop with a more unusual uniform and will team up with anyone to get the job done.
Only a zen master like Richard Dragon could keep a straight face against a line like 'Bat clout.'
I can see why some purists don't enjoy these stories, particularly when Batman says things like "Here's where kung fu teams up with Bat clout!" Still, these issues are fun, and of their time.

Batman (suddenly) remembers Carlos Esteban, former partner of Calvin Curtis, is now a crimelord operating in the Yucatan, and probably set the Stylist on Richard. Sure enough, in Esteban's fortress hideout, the Stylist is returning his fee for failing to kill Dragon. Esteban offers him more money to try again, but the Stylist has been shamed by his failure and wounding a bystander. Angered, Esteban tries to shoot him, but is stopped by Batman. In the ensuing fight, Esteban tries to machete Richard in the back, but is stopped by the Stylist, who then takes a long walk into the jungle and quicksand. Hmm, that cliche didn't fit there, but neither did his suicide.

Since this is the last page and everything needs to be wrapped up so Batman can go into next month's Deadman team-up, Dragon and Batman finally get to the safe deposit box and Curtis' will.
I know it doesn't seem like that was worth a trip to South America, but...yeah, it totally wasn't.
Cue trombone, wop wop waaaa...

I miss the little reminders at the end of the comic, "Next issue on sale during the third week in January" for example. I was going to say maybe those need to come back, to punish the late and the lazy ("Next issue on sale 2009") but those little lines would just kill comics completely, as reader after reader might come in on time for a book that isn't and never come back. Maybe 52 has these, I don't recall.
Megos totally looked better than this.  Not much, but better.
Bonus crazy ads!
Next time you're stopped by a cop, mention 'Fuzz Roulette.'  Just to see what happens.
Kids were offered a multitude of insanity for their allowance money in this one: models, comics, one of the most insane of the Hostess ads, awesome Power Records sets, the Calendar bank ("Boy, it sure has been June 3 for a while..."), buy land in Florida, Fuzz Roulette, monkey-looking Megos...would comics be better served by this kind of advertising again, versus big-ass car spots? Or have pop-up ads rendered these as obsolete as records and banks?
Sadly, none of these banks were Y2K compliant, leaving $323.74 trapped forever.


SallyP said...

Is it me, or does Richard Dragon look a whole lot like He-Man? Brrrrr. And wouldn't it be fun to just show up at the airport and hop a flight...anywhere? I don't think that Bats could get onto a plane, IN COSTUME, and with his utility belt full of deadly weapons quite as easily as he used to.

CalvinPitt said...

When I was reading "Stylist", I was thinking "stylis", like the little pencil dealie on the Ninendo DS? Which would be kind of cool. That character would probably have some kind of 4th wall breaking power. Maybe it could have been Alex Luthor's codename, or a new foe for Ambush Bug?

I don't know what that has to do with Richard Dragon working with Batman but {insert deep sounding Richard Dragon quote here}.