Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brave and the Bold #89

Brave and the Bold #89 (On Sale: February 24, 1970) has a Batman and Phantom Stranger cover by Neal Adams over an obvious Carmine Infantino layout. This is the first issue to use the new Batman logo, which will disappear next issue but return after that.

This issue is dreadful. From the uninspired cover to the uninspired ending this book reeks. Bob Haney doesn't have the slightest clue how to use the Phantom Stranger or worse yet, Dr. Thirteen. We open with a group of covered wagons pulled by oxen and led by one Josiah Heller, self-proscribed descendant of the Hellerite leader of the same name. The Hellerites, so Batman says the legend goes, settled in Gotham 150 years ago, a strange sect of people (think Amish crossed with Mormon) who frightened the citizens of Gotham because they were so different. When a child is found dead on the streets the citizens blame the Hellerite sorcery for the death (most likely caused by a fever) and burned the Hellerite encampment, killing Josiah who proclaimed as the flames engulfed him that, "Someday the dust of the desert will fill Gotham's streets--and then this city's sins must be cleansed!"

These modern-day Hellerites set up camp in Gotham Park, where Batman and Commissioner Gordon head Heller tell his people that they have returned to Gotham for reparations and that they will demand that Gotham give up the land where their ancestor's encampment once stood. This land is now part of downtown Gotham, even Bruce Wayne owns a piece, and worth a fortune. The declaration splits Gotham in two and at a council meeting, Bruce Wayne (who Haney seems to think in on the City Council), donates the Wayne Foundation building to the Hellerite cause.

As Batman, Bruce keeps tabs on Heller and that night Heller is visited by the Phantom Stranger, who warns Heller that he has "unleashed a terrifying threat against Gotham City." When Heller tried to attack the Stranger, he knocks himself unconscious and Batman enters Heller's room and finds cigarettes in his pocket. He notes that Hellerites don't smoke and that they are supposed to be non-violent, yet Heller attacked the Stranger.

The city is soon crawling with Hellerites with glowing eyes and when Batman attempts to find out why he is confronted by the Phantom Stranger who paralyzes Batman so he can watch the Hellerites confronting Gotham citizens and demanding their property. The people find it impossible to resist the glowing stare of the Hellerites. The Stranger tells Batman that some of the Hellerites are "spectral beings...ghosts of Gotham's past."

Batman heads to Gotham Park and confronts Heller, who says that his people are all in the park and knows nothing of the Hellerites walking around Gotham. The Stranger appears and says that Heller has unwittingly called forth the spirits of the long-dead Hellerites. Dr. Thirteen shows up to call the Stranger a fraud (does he do anything else?) and karate-chops the Stranger unconscious.

Heller disappears during all of this and Batman goes searching for him, finding him painting a mark on the door of a house in Gotham. When Batman confronts Heller, his hands go right through him and Heller vanishes. Batman notices that the house is the one he has rented after vacating the Wayne Foundation building. Using the Gotham police computers Batman finds out that all of the houses "marked" by the Hellerites have an elder son at home (I guess Haney decided to ignore the fact that Robin wasn't living at home anymore).

Returning to his house Batman is psychically attacked by Dick and when Heller arrives to ask Bruce Wayne for even more "reparations" he is attacked by the ghostly Heller who calles him "an imposter." The ghostly Heller says that the modern-day Heller is not his decendant and only has the power to "unwittingly stir the spirits from their eternal sleep. Once aroused, all we can do is evil--until he who called us forth confesses his sacrilege."

Batman awakens the Stranger in police lock-up and the two of them go on the attack against the ghostly Heller and Dick. The ghosly Heller tries to kill the modern-day Heller and the Phantom Stranger intervenes. A sherriff arrives with a wanted poster for Karl Lofus, the modern-day Heller. Seeing the poster snaps Lofus out of his delusion that he is Heller and the spirit Heller and all his Hellerites disappear.

It is explained how Lofus had amnesia after breaking out of jail and ran into the Hellerite settlement in the desert and was mistaken by them for Heller. Dr. Thirteen looks stupid once again and the real Hellerites head back for the desert. Ugh! Horrible story all around. This piece of dreck was reprinted in Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2 TPB and Showcase Presents: Phantom Stranger Vol. 2 TPB.

Edited by Murray Boltinoff.

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