Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tales From the Vault: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #62

All the nation is currently enthralled by the Winter Olympics up in Vancouver, so we thought this would be a perfect time to break out a classic appearance by the world's foremost Olympic-themed supervillain, The Sportsmaster. Yes, for those of you not familiar with The Sportsmaster, he was a Golden Age villain who used his amazing sports acumen to challenge heroes and orchestrate crimes. Have you ever wondered what might happen if Michael Phelps turned to a life of non-cannabis related crime? Well, wonder no more!

Details: The Brave and the Bold #62 comes to us with a cover date of Oct/Nov 1965 and features a team-up between the Golden Age Starman and the Golden Age Black Canary, who would later go on to become her own daughter in a convoluted continuity retcon that is far too complex for me to get into here. Luckily, the classic DC team of Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson don't get into that minefield at all. Whew.

Synopsis: Our story starts with a recap page, explaining who The Sportsman is (an "all-around athlete who used his extraordinary skills to commit crimes" before vanishing forever from the pages of comics 15 years earlier on account of being a really, really stupid character) and that he has, since his last appearance, gotten married to the much cooler Huntress. Now they're back, but for reasons only Gardner Fox knows, they've decided to refer to themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Menace. I guess this is better than going by their real names, though, since Sportsmaster's true identity is Crusher Crock. Mr. and Mrs. Crock: maybe not the best moniker.

Anyhoo. It's a peaceful night at the annual Sportsman Show, when suddenly a wax statue of a Greek discus thrower shatters to reveal... The Sportsman! Well, why not? The show is named for him, after all. The Sportsman, as you might expect, is dressed in a fly fishing outfit complete with knee high waders, floppy hat and a ginormous fishing pole. How he fit that inside the statue with him, I'd rather not contemplate.

Now that's he's free, though, he quickly uses the rod to snag the event's big trophy, then smashes the other statues, which are filled with tennis balls that fly into the crowd at alarming speeds, causing one patron to shout "Watch out! Those things are hard! They can knock you out!" Well, if that was a statue of Roger Federer, maybe. Plus: sack up, you wuss.

Having distracted everyone with his array of flying balls, The Sportsmaster rushes out of the room and quickly changes into a skiing outfit (by the way, his costume is basically the traditional outfit of whatever sport he's doing, plus a little black handkerchief dangling over his face. Pretty godawful), complete with rocket powered skiis, which, again, where did he have those stashed exactly? Wherever they were, they work, and he zooms to safety as Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary) watches helplessly. She was there, I might ad, as chief of security, so this is a particularly poor showing all around.

MEANWHILE! We cut to Starman, aka Ted Knight, who is described as being at his home in "Federal City". Odd; in James Robinson's acclaimed 1990's Starman series, Knight and family live in Opal City, but it's clearly the same place as evidenced by the fact that Knight is preening over the fully functional copy of the observatory from Mount Palomar which he has just built on his estate. That observatory is the centerpiece of his home in Robinson's Starman, so I wonder why he decided to move them to Opal? Or maybe Fox just fudged up in this appearance.

Whatever the reason, Starman is basically wandering around preening over how rich he is when he suddenly hears a cry for help coming from inside a Chinese maze that he constructed for some reason. Even he isn't sure why a maze is on his property, thinking "It's so complicated I haven't learned my way about it yet!" which is perhaps the best description of a Gardner Fox script ever given. Anyway, he finally gets to the center by changing into his Starman outfit and flying there, where he randomly finds Wildcat (Ted Grant) inside a cage. Yeah, that happens to me all the time.

He doesn't have much time to puzzle over why any of this is happening, because just then Huntress shows up, equally puzzled why Starman is messing up her plans. Irritated, she summons a flock of trained falcons to attack Starman. But Knight has a trick or two up his own sleeve; first he diverts a meteorite into their midst, which he claims is a way to take care of them without killing them -- color me skeptical. Then he... well, here's how Fox puts it: "But now Starman summons down the powers of starlight itself -- freezing it into great blue cubes". Say wha huh?! He follows up this brilliantly impossible tactic by summoning the Aurora Borealis from the North Pole and "interposing that multi-colored wall between himself and the predatory birds".


Needless to say, Huntress is watching all this with a look on her face that says she must be thinking exactly what I'm thinking, so she decides to just vamoose before Fox has a chance to drop any more acid. Just then, though, The Sportsmaster shows up and, seeing Starman chasing his wife, he yanks off a ski and hurls it javelin style right into Starman's face. Kerpow! Let's see the Aurora Borealis block a ski to the melon, smart guy!

Luckily for Starman, Black Canary shows up right then and rushes to catch him... no, wait. She ignores his falling body and instead starts wrestling Sportsmaster, trading a bunch of lame football puns while Starman presumably plummets to his death off panel. Nice one. It looks like she's at least taken down Sportsmaster, though, after she heaves him through the air with enough force that his ski sticks into the ground like a tent stake. But sadly for her, Huntress comes up behind her and decks her.

Rather than press their advantage, though, Mr. and Mrs. Crock decide instead to hop into a nearby jet and get while the getting's good, taking a quick detour to gather up the still unconscious Wildcat. With them out of the way, of course, Black Canary finally has a chance to go look for Starman, who as you might expect is lying flat on his back off in the woods. The two of them quickly hatch a cunning plan: noticing that Sportsmaster has left his rocket skis behind, they stand there and wait for the skis to activate a homing beacon. Luckily, this actually works, and they follow the skis to the Menace household, where they quickly locate Wildcat in a basement array of cages.

Also in those cages? A bunch of wild animals. As soon as they let Wildcat out, all these other beasts also come out, which allows Fox and Anderson to give us the spectacle of Wildcat boxing a kangaroo, Canary using jiu jitsu on a gorilla (which, shockingly, is not on the cover of the comic for once) and Starman using his deus ex machina stick to engulf the whole room in cleansing fire. That one pretty much defeats the animals a little faster than a couple uppercuts.

Meanwhile, though, there's no sign of Sportsmaster and Huntress. Why? Because they have flown off using the greatest escape vehicle ever made, a putting green Sportsmaster has cleverly turned into a hovercraft. The two of them float off to a nearby golf course, where Sportsmaster proceeds to take out all the competitors at the tournament by floating over them and shaking golf balls off his hovercraft right into their faces, leaving the course strewn with unconscious bodies. Awesome. Just think how different things would be if Tiger had one of these instead of a lame SUV.

Anyway, Starman and Black Canary nicely ditch Widlcat (who bitches about it at length, but since he can't fly, sayonara) and take off after Mr. and Mrs. Menace, finally catching them just before they are about to abscond with a bag of cash. Of course, a big brawl breaks out, with Starman creating green Lantern-style giant tennis rackets and whatever. (As a side note, Gardner is really fond of coming up with cutesy nicknames for his characters, like "Astral Avenger" for Starman. However, at one point he calls him "The Rod Ranger". Yeah... I wonder why that didn't catch on).

Finally, Starman realizes that Huntress is trying to maneuver them underneath the hovering putting green, so instead he turns the tables and sure enough, as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Menace are underneath the green, giant metal bars pop out of the bottom of it, imprisoning them in their own trap. Curses!


Extras: This is a very interesting comic for fans of Starman, as this issue (and the previous one to an even larger degree) set the foundation for a lot of stuff Robinson did thirty years later, specifically with regards to the affair between Starman and Black Canary that he revealed. To be honest, it's not that big a stretch after reading this issue, as it helps explain this otherwise arbitrary team-up.

This issue is also important as it's not only the first silver age appearances for Sportsmaster and Huntress but also for Wildcat, who I have to admit I've never been a big fan of. I'm not sure why they bothered re-introducing him in this tale, though; he spends the whole issue captive or unconscious, and then when he finally does wake up and is sprung from jail, he gets off like two punches before they others ditch him. He comes off as pretty useless, not exactly the impression you'd want to give if you're testing the waters for future appearances.

My Grades: Starman gets a C- for being a boring Green Lantern ripoff (though he does have a decent name and costume), and the story as a whole gets a C+ for being a totally average Silver Age DC superhero comic. But Black Canary is always cool, so she gets a B in this issue, while for historians and Starman fans, this has to get an A- at worst for importance. And that putting green gets an A+++++.

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My brother & I owned this issue as kids - purchased probably because of the unknown (to us) superheroes on the cover. I'm pleased to see as an adult that it still doesn't make any sense.