Welcome back to Stew’s Reviews! Devotees will know that it was only a few weeks ago that we were talking Green Lanterns (The War of the Green Lanterns, specifically), and fate has steered us back towards the chartreuse champion as we dig into a six issue miniseries for the second week in a row (this one ends, though, don’t worry!), DC’s The Brave and the Bold. No Kyle Rayner or Guy Gardner or John Stewart anywhere in sight this time, though; we’re all-in on Hal Jordan for this one.
The Brave and the Bold is a series from 1999 that, oddly enough, features Hal Jordan and Barry Allen (who were both dead and long since succeeded by Kyle Rayner and Wally West at this point in real time) and the dynamics of their friendship and partnership. It covers several years of time and chronicles the evolution of their relationship from being new partners in the JLA all the way through Barry’s dealing with the death of Iris Allen. It greatly reminded me of another book I was considering reviewing eventually here called World’s Finest, which takes the same year-by-year look at the partnership between Superman and Batman as they meet every year over the course of a decade or so on the anniversary of a death. I do think I will get into that story for you eventually, though, so I’ll just be putting that one back in the fridge here…
The Brave and the Bold was written by Mark Waid and drawn Tom Peyer, and if I hadn’t noticed Waid’s book on the cover, I’d never have this guessed this was his work because it’s frankly not his usually quality. The story is gratifying enough, sure, but it’s also something I doubt I’ll remember having read a few months from now. Even today, after having read the series through twice in the last three days, I am having to refer back to the individual issues to remember what each was about; I recall the overarching themes and the personality comparisons Waid made, but the actual conflicts, not so much.
So let’s talk about the themes. The biggest one is how Waid looks at the men behind the masks vis a vis their personalities when in costume. Barry Allen is seen to be a quiet, introverted, character who is perpetually tardy when others are counting on him, but as The Flash he is looser, more relaxed, and, obviously, quick to assist others. The contradiction here is Hal Jordan, a disorganized man who refuses to hold down a job, jumps from girlfriend to girlfriend, and is consistently poor and relying on others; Green Lantern, however, is serious, efficient, and incredibly loyal to his duties and what is expected of him. Whereas Barry uses The Flash to loosen up and stretch his legs, Hal uses his ring to focus and dedicate himself.
The vehicles used to deliver these themes—the stories themselves—are not overarching (as the aforementioned World’s Finest more-or-less is); they are just six separate tales of the two working together. Probably the most interesting tales come in the first and third issues of the series, so I’ll go into those in the most depth. In the first issue, a plane is being hijacked by an emotionally unstable man who spontaneously stops his crime in the middle of it, seemingly horrified at what he has done. As he is apologizing to the crew and passengers for his actions, he is murdered by a monster emerging from his shadow. Later, while Barry and Hal are at a Ferris Aircraft party, a friend of Carol Ferris’ talks about having been a passenger on that same flight. After bragging that he single-handedly stopped the hijacking, he is overtaken by remorse for lying about his actions, and it is at that point that same monster emerges from his shadow and tears through him, as well. This ultimately sends Barry and Hal through a shadow portal to another world where they meet a passive alien race under attack from a much more vicious force. To empower themselves to fight off the invasion in a manner similar to that of their invaders, they are attempting to steal Earth’s evil and corruption with a process kills the host as a side effect. Hal and Barry are able defeat all the shadow monsters absorbing their hosts’ evil (as well as their own shadows that try to take their worst traits and slay them) and go their separate ways. The highlight of this issue, to me, is after seeing Hal and Barry’s disjointed reactions at Carol’s party (Barry is timid and quiet and reserved, Hal is extroverted and a big personality), the paradigms of their personalities shift when they go through the portal. Barry wants to rush off and find some foe to vanquish, but Hal is more hesitant and subdued, and he insists on following the Guardians’ rules for first contact with a new world.
The third issue is more of a breezy story with Hal and Barry joining the original Flash and Green Lantern (Jay Garrick and Alan Scott) for a vacation. Right away it is apparent that Barry has more in common with Alan the Lantern, while Hal has similarities with the original Flash, Jay. A mistake with Hal’s ring’s navigation leads to the quartet taking shelter on a nearby habitable planet, but the planet itself begins finding creative ways to attack them, all somehow based around the color yellow. Hal figures out that Alan is behind this and, after setting up an attack from a swarm of wooden ants (remember, Alan Scott is as powerless against wood as Hal is against yellow), confronts the original Green Lantern. Alan notes that Hal is aces as a hero, but he’s not sure of his successor as a man. The two end up coming to terms, and they all eventually get on with their holiday.
The other issues aren’t awful, they just aren’t as memorable or exciting. These see the two (and Kid Flash) fight off Mirror Master and Black Hand, Flash being sought out by the Guardians of the Universe to fight off a threat that is killing Green Lanterns, a battle against a pair of Star Sapphires, and a team-up with Green Arrow to thwart the dealings of a crooked mayor.
+The stories are genuinely FUN without too much weight to them. Despite the fact that Waid was working with two characters who would go on to meet their demises, the story doesn’t ever really get particularly dark (the sixth issue does deal with Barry in the aftermath of Iris Allen’s death, but that’s about it). Even when the heroes are in conflict, the key to the series is that their friendship perseveres and they enjoy each others’ company despite all their differences. Opposites attract, as Paula Abdul taught us (Heavens, I’m old).
+I dug the “over the course of time” storytelling here rather than just focusing on a few specific weeks in their lives. It allows for a broader view of how Barry and Hal’s lives coincided. Hal went from working as a test pilot to being a man who hopped from job-to-job ever year, and the story chronicles all the changes he goes through along the way; Barry went from dating Iris, to being married to her (without her knowing he was The Flash), to their more honest relationship, all the way to her passing. In doing this, it shows how solid their friendship really is in that it survives the erosive effect of time so well.
-Waid, usually a writer of unimpeachable subtlety and substance, really spends too much time hammering away on certain points. I think EVERY ISSUE has either a joke about Hal borrowing money from Barry or owing Barry money, and by the fourth of fifth issue, it’s an “All right, I got it, Waid” situation. There are situations on which Waid just keeps going back to the well long after we’re all on board with the plot.
-In pretty much every issue, the villains are almost negligible. Now, these are self-contained stories that are focusing on the dynamics of two heroes, but the villains of each tale feel barren, like Waid just stuck them there for a comic book fight. I can appreciate that fighting villains isn’t the key of this series, but it might be more appreciative if the foes were more of a foil to the heroes’ relationships than empty costumes to be defeated.
You know… if I DIDN’T know that Waid wrote this, I bet I would like it more. But seeing his name on it, I just expect something bigger. This clearly is no Kingdom Come. It’s a relatively basic series; the series-wide themes are fun, but the storylines from issue to issue are a bit underwhelming. It’s worth a read, but don’t expect to be floored.