Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MB7: Bring Back Killer Krag

The Brave & The Bold #119 (June 1975)
cover: Jim Aparo
title: "Bring Back Killer Krag"
writer: Bob Haney
artist & letterer: Jim Aparo
editor: Murray Boltinoff 

Our story opens "at the races," as Batman and Commissioner Gordon are keeping an eye out on high-stakes gambler and horse-owner Augie Moran. Moran is also a high-level Gotham City gangster who just happens to have a contract out on his life. He was fingered by Dolph Rossi, the Syndicate Chief, who has assigned their top hit man, Max "Killer" Krag,  to do the job. Krag never fails to kill his target, and what's more, to get away with it. So Batman and the Commissioner are hoping to somehow save Moran, or to catch Krag.

As the race begins, Moran's jockey falls off his horse at a bushed area. The horse returns to the race, but too much time has been lost. It turns out that the jockey was replaced by Krag, who uses the deception to get close enough to Moran to kill him.
Later, the real jockey shows Batman the tuft of hair he had grabbed when Krag knocked him off the horse. Batman and Commissioner Gordon are sure they can use this to convict Krag of murder. However, their arrest order isn't fast enough to catch Krag. They learn that he has escaped to Santa Cruz, "the crummy little voodoo dictatorship" in the Caribbean. It has no extradition treaty with the United States, but Batman vows to get his man anyway.
The next day Batman is angry to see that Moran's widow is offering $100,000 reward for anyone who can bring Krag back to Gotham City. Batman is afraid that this will attract eager-beaver bounty hunters, and will alert Santa Cruz' leader, "Black Napoleon" Domingo Valdez,  to set traps for them. This will only make Batman's job more difficult! Sure enough, two ex-CIA agents and a certain museum curator named Kirk Langstrom DO see the headline....!
The next day, Batman flies towards and then parachutes into Santa Cruz. However, he is seen by local fishermen, who think he's a giant frog. Flying in from nowhere, Man-Bat saves him.
Man-Bat carries Batman to an alcove and tells him to rest while he, Man-Bat, brings back Krag. Batman, of course, won't have it.
He starts to swim in-land via an underground passage, then books a ride on a great white shark. At the end of the passage he back-flips into the shallows of a pond to escape the shark. Because he's Batman.

Meanwhile, Man-Bat decides to use local superstition to stop the two CIA agents, telling the villagers that he is a bat god who wants them to capture the strangers.
He then flies into the mountain to approach Valdez's fortress, but, ironically, is attacked by bats. Batman with a flare scares them off.

The two finally agree to work together rather than work against each other. They hike out of the mountain range and find the two CIA agents, dead. Man-Bat is ashamed to think that the locals killed them on his order; Batman blames him for their deaths.
They come across a mule train heading towards Valdez's fortress. Batman attempts to ride into the compound by hugging/riding a mule under its belly. He orders Man-Bat to stay back and not try anything until he signals him.

However, as soon as Batman disappears, Man-Bat tries to fly over the Fortress wall. He is quickly ensnared by pop-up nets. Valdez tells Krag that he heard from his locals about a bat-god, so he put up nets to catch him. Then Valdez sees the mule train, and orders each mule pushed off the cliff. Batman gives himself up rather than see the mules murdered. He ends up getting caged in the same prison as Man-Bat.
Valdez tells them that he is going to negotiate withe the US government to be recognized as a legitimate nation and have an ambassador assigned. If the US refuses, he will kill them. Batman is angry at Man-Bat for not following orders, even though Man-Bat apologizes.

The next day the US government refuses to negotiate with terrorists, so Valdez goes to kill his hostages. He decides to start with Batman, thinking he would be an easier target. However, Batman has taken Langstrom's bat serum and has become a Bat-Man-Bat. He attacks Valdez's men soon as he is let out of his cage. He then breaks Man-Bat's lock and they fly back to the United States with Krag. It turns out that Kirk had an extra vial of the Man-Bat serum, and shared it with Batman.

Eventually Krag is tried for murder, and he confesses in order to implement and imprison his boss, Rossi, as well. And museum curator Kirk Langstrom receives the reward money!

If you are not familiar with Bob Haney or his legendary run on The Brave & The Bold, this story may come as something of a shock to you. Among a certain group of comic-book fans this run is remembered fondly as "Zany Haney" stories. For example, in the most (in)famous example, he once wrote a story where Batman could not get out of a jail cell without help. To the average Batman fan, of course, this is hearsay. But the story needed Batman to be trapped, so trapped he was.

This is just a long way of saying that this story is really much more of a Bob Haney Batman story than it is a Man-Bat story. Man-Bat had never been a "bounty hunter," but I can imagine that Haney liked the idea of Batman becoming a Man-Bat on the last page, so he tailored his story to make that happen.

As for that conclusion, it's ridiculous. After six stories of Batman anxiously trying to cure Kirk Langstrom (and his wife) of the Man-Bat serum, Batman is going to suddenly take a swig himself?! Impossible! Besides the inanity of Batman's costume becoming his wings and his ears...he should have become a second Man-Bat, not a Bat-Man-Bat.

Besides bad plotting, bad characterization abounds. Batman promises to break the law to capture Killer Krag, something he never did over in Batman or Detective Comics. He's quick to anger and to snap decisions, something we also don't see very often outside of The Haneyverse. Likewise, there is no mention of Francine, who the last time we saw her, was suffering from a life-threatening vampire bat bite. Langstrom is back in Gotham City without any explanation of his situation, and we can only hope that Francine is there with him.

As a straight-forward (?) adventure yarn, I suppose this story is fine. I can't imagine it being too pleasing to any fans already familiar with Man-Bat. Nor can I imagine any new fans reading this thinking he was cool, as Haney portrays him mostly as an idiot. This story doesn't add anything to the Man-Bat mythos, except I guess the reward. Speaking of, why in the world would that reward presentation be the headline in the Gotham News? Wouldn't it also then attract a lot of attention to Kirk Langstrom? Perhaps we'll see repercussions from this story in our next installment.....

As for the visuals.....Jim Aparo is no Neal Adams, but he has a dynamic flair and specific style that Irv Novick did not. Aparo handled the art on B&B for years, and he always made Batman look great. Sometimes he didn't quite get the co-star quite right, and sometimes he did. In general, Man-Bat comes off looking pretty good in this story. By far his worst depiction is on the cover, where Man-Bat looks more like a giant vampire bat than a were-bat super-hero.

And I'm just going to leave this here, but take a look at this sequence. A wounded (!) Batman has enough strength to back-flip OUT of a pond. Wearing a cape. And a tank of oxygen.
Zany Haney.

Man-Bat Trivia Notes:  
  • This is the first time Jim Aparo drew Man-Bat. He would end up doing all of Kirk Langstrom's covers for the next two years. 
  • The cover scene never actually occurs in the story. 
  • This was the only time that this "Man-Bat" pseudo-logo was ever used. From his next appearance he had a logo all his own. 
  • The story is divided into three chapters: "Death Wears Polka Dots," "Island of Blood," and "Wings of Vengeance." 
  • Francine (Mrs. Kirk) Langstrom does not appear in this story.  
  • This is the first time Man-Bat appeared in The Brave & The Bold. He would return five years later, in B&B #165
This story has been reprinted in the following books:
Showcase Presents The Brave And The Bold Vol 3 TPB
Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol 1   

Man-Bat was created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams

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