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Graphic Novel Review: The Brave and the Bold Vol. 1: The Lords of Luck by Mark Waid

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If a great deal of the work being published by DC Comics today can be classified as “continuity porn,” then The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck has to be the continuity equivalent of the hottest, raunchiest porn you’ve ever seen, starring every girl you’ve ever dated, engaged in scandalous acts with every actress and lingerie model you’ve ever fancied. Plus donkey dicks, if you’re into that sort of thing.

That said, it’s still pretty good.

The phrase “continuity porn” is more often than not used as a strike against a story, not as a checkmark in the “positives” column. I can see why that is; there’s always the danger that any given comic will sacrifice the quality of story and character at the altar of the Almighty Shared Universe Stretching Back Decades.

That happens. But when continuity in comics is used properly, as a means and not the end itself, it possesses a heft that you won’t really find in any other method of storytelling, save perhaps episodic television, and then only when a series has been given a good several seasons to evolve.

When Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles are standing around in the halls of Sunnydale High right before the big fight in the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the danger of death has never been more present, and our main characters are nonchalantly discussing the mall and Giles makes his snide comment about how the world is “certainly doomed,” it’s a touching moment for any viewer. But for the True Fan, bringing over one hundred previous hours of television to bear on that moment, it has a very particular resonance; it hearkens back to a similar scene at the end of the two-part pilot, and shows us that no matter how far these characters have come and how much they’ve endured, they’re still the Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles we all loved back in 1997. And one of the series’ central themes – a group of all-too-natural young people granted access to vast powers in order to battle the all-too-supernatural forces of evil – sings out loud one last time.

But nothing in The Brave and the Bold really hits that level; it’s continuity as a tool, but not to build meaning. Continuity is the foundation of the story; it’s the floorboards and the ceiling beams and the drywall and the granite countertops in the kitchen. The “story” is what holds it all together – the nails, or the plaster. And there are parts of this comic book house (come on, work with me on this metaphor; it’s Friday at 4:56 p.m. and I am FRIED) that don’t hold together so well, to be honest.

And yet…still, it’s pretty good.

Maybe it’s more that Mark Waid is the kind of architect who can design a story that you’ve never really seen before, even if you know the materials backwards and forwards, and that’s the thrill? I read these issues when they came out in floppy form, and liked them well enough; then I got the hardcover, and wasn’t very into it…

…until Batman merged with that creepy cyborg and traveled to the 31st century to fight the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This, to my mind, is oh-so-raunchy continuity porn, and I seriously got off on it. Here you have the ultimate street-level hero trapped 1,000 years from now and kicking ass against the era’s greatest superhero team, even as that prick Brainiac 5 makes his snide comments about what a “caveman” Batman is.

HOW YA LIKE BATMAN NOW, BRAINY?! HE KICKED YOUR ASS, MOTHAFUCKA!

That’s almost literally what I was thinking–the true definition of a “geekgasm,” a feeling of pleasure only attainable when you realize you are enjoying something on a level that only a couple thousand other people on the entire planet can fully understand.

You’re such a BAD BOY, Mark Waid. Spank my nerd brain some more.

When you look at comics sales numbers, it’s fucking scary. In some cases, there are fewer than ten thousand people going out to a store and choosing to spend $3 on a single issue of a title. You can spend ten minutes taping yourself reading the gospel in pig latin, post it on YouTube, link it on Digg, and if you’re lucky, ten thousand people will see it within twenty minutes. Some of these numbers are catastrophically small.

Are titles like The Brave and the Bold the chief reason why the ship is sinking? Eh, I don’t think so. The ship started sinking long before Waid began this particular exercise in creative futility; he’s just really good at leading the orchestra on the deck of the industry’s Titanic. Plus, if anything, Waid’s been there on the front lines for years delivering material that in a perfect world would have been snapped up by any free-thinking reader who enjoys a good story – his Fantastic Four run is great entry-level superhero stuff. The guy’s earned a little self-indulgence.

The larger question of sales has come up surrounding Brave and the Bold, too, because apparently it’s been hemorrhaging readers since its launch, and no one knows why, since it seems to be what comic fans want – which is that peculiar geekgasm fodder that respects what they love – doesn’t change it one whit, yet somehow manages to be entertaining nonetheless. My pet theory is that it’s not so much that comic fans want this type of title, it’s a particular subset of comics fans who are very vocal online who want this type of title, and the ones who don’t bother with the Web (or limit themselves to certain popular corners of the Web) are perfectly content just picking up whatever top twenty seller is on the stands every Wednesday, no questions asked.

(That’s not a slam – there’s people like that, and I suspect they’re the ones keeping the boat afloat at this point. Purely anecdotal theory, nothing to support it, oh look over there is that a fawn in your yard?!)

None of this has much of anything to do with the quality of the book, however. Or why I liked it. Or if it’s even “good” in anything close to an “objective” sense (not that “objective” standards of good and bad exist in art of any kind, but whatever).

Looking back honestly, and taking a serious beat here, I can’t say I sincerely enjoyed this book as anything other than a good superhero story written by a guy who knows how to write good superhero stories, drawn by an artist who was born to draw good superhero stories. In that sense, the continuity porn of it is almost a distraction; Waid weaves a plot that’s almost too dense, which is not helped by Perez’s already-dense art, and that makes the whole affair feel too sluggish at times to count as full-on swashbuckle superheroics.

But look! There’s Space Cabbie! And there’s some eyeball monster from an obscure issue of some DC title from forty years ago! It’s obscure, so it must be good, because I don’t know who the fuck any of these guys are!

That’s harsh, maybe, but there it is. The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck is a $25 book containing a decent superhero story that’s sometimes boring and sometimes really fun, with the whole thing masquerading as hardcore continuity porn for the comic book geek equivalent of that creepy dude at the porn store who’s on a first-name basis with the clerk.

His name is Floyd. But you knew that already, didn’t you. I know I did.

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About Matt Springer