30 May 2009

Restimulating Old Neurons with The Brave and the Bold

On a whim, I picked up my public library's copy of Mark Waid and George Pérez's The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck, the first collection from DC Comics's revived team-up magazine. And I was so happy I did.

Pérez was the artist on New Teen Titans, the last comic book I read regularly as an adolescent. I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is to look at his artwork: the panels crowded with characters and emotions, the way he draws many types of faces instead of just a few, the imaginative panel shapes and transitions, the luminous clarity of line.

Having been a Marvel fanboy instead of a DC one, I'm sure I missed half of Mark Waid's in-jokes in this saga. I still don't care about the Rann-Thanagar War, and I still can't tell members of the Legion of Super-heroes one from another. But the sprawling story was great fun nonetheless.

This Brave and the Bold collection also helped me solve a mystery that had nibbled at the back of my mind for decades. One of the first comic books I can recall reading included a science-fiction story featuring three protagonists--two white men of different ages and one young white woman. Each received a medal.

In discussing their separate experiences, each described how he or she had survived because of something learned from one of the others. Thus, man #1 recalled hearing how man #2 had won some interplanetary pentathlon, and therefore pole-vaulted out of trouble. Man #2 recalled hearing how the woman had won a target-shooting contest, and so on.

I must have read that comic about thirty-five years ago, and never seen it since. I think what made it stick in my brain was how the story was obviously an artificial construction, and yet embodied what we like in a narrative. It had unity, logic, symmetry, and--dare I say it?--a moral.

Toward the end of this volume, Batman is pulled across time, and Pérez illustrated that with a montage of DC's futuristic characters. One tiny picture showed three characters--two white men and a white woman. Waid's note at the back of the book sent me to look up "Star Rovers" on Wikipedia. And sure enough, those are the adventurers I'd read about; their names are Homer Gint, Karel Sorensen, and Rick Purvis. There seem to have been all of thirteen Star Rovers tales published before 1990. Their creator, Gardner Fox, is better known for some of the early Batman, Flash, and Hawkman stories.

Further searching brought me to Mike's DC Database, and I can now identify the particular story I read as "Who Saved the Earth?", first published in Mystery in Space, #80, Dec 1962, and later reprinted. (This Brave and the Bold volume kicks off with Green Lantern contacting Batman about a "mystery in space"--now I get it.)

That Star Rovers adventure is ten pages, too short to fill a comic book, so I must have seen another story or two at the same time. But only the Space Rovers, with their interlocking tales snapping tight as a purse, stuck in my mind.

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