Red Water Crimson Death

Brave and the Bold 93

Story: Denny O’Neil

Art: Neal Adams

Cover: Neal Adams

Everything about this issue is so cool. I got giddy with excitement when I discovered it’s existence and immediately sought it out for my collection. Brave and the Bold is one of many team-up series that existed in the Silver and Bronze Age. They usually would pair a more well known character with lesser known or newly created ones to promote awareness. The Brave and the Bold had a lot of milestones including the 1st appearance of the Justice League, the 2nd Hawkman, and the beginnings of the Teen Titans. With Batman taking off in popularity in the 60s thanks to the TV show, the series would exclusively pair Batman with other heroes from issue 50 until its end with issue 200.

What I love about this book is that it would sometimes get creative with the other hero, like in this issue where Batman “teams up” with the House of Mystery. Denny O’Neil writes the story with Neal Adams doing all of the art. This was a legendary team who pushed the medium in the early 70s with their run on Green Lantern. I looked at the surrounding issue’s creators and it looks like they were brought on for just this issue, perhaps because Neal was working on House of Mystery as a regular artist. The cover of the issue is an homage to the 1st issue of the horror format of House of Mystery, using the same shadowy presence that was luring children into the doorway of the house. This time there is a little hope though because Batman is close by.

Immediately as the story beings I’m reminded that Adam’s Batman is my favorite rendering of the character with the long ears, grey suit, and vivid sprawling blue cape. I think it allowed him to convey a larger range of emotions, the example here is you can feel his exhaustion in the opening panel. Cain, the 4th wall breaking narrator of House of Mystery, is present throughout the issue making sure the reader keeps pace. Batman had just tripped up trying to stop a criminal, but fortunately the criminal’s gun was jammed. Commissioner Gordon is very aware of how much he’s been working recently and kindly gives him a very convenient ticket to Ireland for a much needed vacation. Batman reluctantly accepts.

While on the ship traveling across the Atlantic as Bruce Wayne he meets a young named Sean. Soon after, a terrible storm rocks the ship and Sean in some kind of trance thinks he sees his uncle in the rough waters and jumps overboard. Bruce quickly goes in after to rescue him and while doing so swears he saw the face of a man in the waves. When he goes to his suit case to find dry clothes he discovers that Alfred packed his Batman suit in case he needed it. Determined to take a real vacation he casts the suit into the choppy waters.

Once at shore, Bruce escorts Sean down to meet with his actual uncle who invites him over for dinner. After the meal, the uncle explains that Sean’s parents died tragically by the “Red Sea”, an incident a few years ago where the waters around the island turned blood red and the fish became tainted. To cope with their death, Sean has become fascinated by King Hugh who ruled the island hundreds of years ago from his castle.

Bruce returns to his room at the inn and tries to get some of that much needed rest. In the middle of the night though, he is woken up by an apparition of a warrior. More troubling though is that he finds himself wearing the suit that he had thrown out to sea! Gazing out the window he spots Sean who is once again in a trance and heading up the hill towards the old castle of King Hugh.

Going after him as Batman, several of the villagers are woken from the commotion and mistake him for a demon (which makes sense because who dresses up in a bat costume on remote islands?). After a brief fight he calms the men and explains why he is here. They explain that ever since the “Red Sea” incident the castle has been haunted the by the ghost of the king. The group then sees Sean approaching the castle and a massive apparition in the form of a demon flying towards him. Batman runs after Sean to confront what he believes to be an illusion. He is proven correct as he throws a rock and destroys the projector that was casting the demon. However that doesn’t stop Sean who runs into the castle as the gates shut. Batman barely makes it underneath. I appreciate how Neal Adams pushes the panels of the comic to be much more angular and dynamic. Action and parts of characters come out of panels as well. I think he very purposefully has Cain’s finger breaking the line as he jokes to the reader, making his case as to how this is a team-up with the House of Mystery. He’s got me convinced.

Losing track of Sean, Batman discovers a secret door that leads to two mobsters having a conversation about how they are going to poison the boy. It’s revealed that their boss, who wanted exclusive fishery rights to the island, has been poisoning the water to clear out the town – which means they murdered Sean’s parents. Enraged, Batman takes out both of the men but not before one of them is able to stab him with a knife.

He moves up to a central room of the castle to find the boss himself attempting to poison Sean. Confronting the man named Cabot he begins to feel weak and dizzy. Cabot explains he has been poisoned by the knife wound but recognizes Batman from America and decides to toy with him. He claims that the antidote is in one of two vials in front of him while the other is water. He has time to only choose one.

At this point though, Batman can barely understand anything and only the portrait of the old King Hugh stands out behind Cabot, seeming to point at a 3rd beaker behind the choices. Frantically Batman drinks that vial which turns to be the antidote. Cabot was playing him and the other two vials were just water.

Frustrated that Batman somehow knew, he draws out his gun to finish him off when at that moment the portrait falls off the wall behind him. It crushes Cabot killing him instantly. Batman picks up Sean who is unconscious and carries him out of the castle to the village below. As he walks slowly he runs through the various coincidences of the trip, they are too many. Could it be that the ghost of King Hugh was manipulating him all along to help save the descendants of his people from so long ago? Cain questions the reader as well as the book ends on a striking image just outside the castle with the sun rising to face the island. It was a very entertaining issue with incredible art. I love how Denny O’Neil leaves it so ambiguous, with Batman battling the ridiculous thought that the supernatural could have intervened. After all, he is the world’s greatest detective. There has to be a rational explanation.

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