By Tiffany Babb
In the 200th issue of The Brave and the Bold (from Mike Barr, Dave Gibbons, Gary Martin, Adrienne Roy, and Gaspar Saladino), Batman and Robin come across their biggest threat yet – a villain from a parallel universe. While it’s not the last time a superhero will face an enemy from another universe, it is a particularly interesting one, because Batman never really figures out what happens over the course of the issue.
On the surface level, The Brave and the Bold #200 has all the markings of a classic Batman-and-Robin-romp. There’s a wacky bad guy who leaves esoteric clues to his string of robberies, and Batman and Robin kick butt and crack wise. However, there’s a tinge of a chaotic aspect throughout the comic. The issue opens on a perspective that feels almost cosmic, as the narrator begins:
“Only the truly wise can know where a story truly begins, this story, for example… did it begin aeons ago, when parallel earths were fused from star-dust, each separated from the other by a dimensional barrier… each similar to the other, yet each possessing a unique group of super-heroes…?”
By the time you get to the end of such a page, you’re ready for a story about anything, however wild and outrageous it might be. Reading the issue now in 2021, the story is not all that wild. We’ve seen bigger, stranger stories before. But there’s something that stands out about this story. Perhaps it’s the strange concept of a character being able to simply take over the body of their parallel universe counterpart through willpower; or the fact that Batman, the world’s greatest detective, never resolves the central mystery of what he’s faced.
This all makes for a nice metaphor of how multiple versions of a character can dart in and out of stories, and color a reader’s understanding without the characters inside knowing exactly what’s happening along the way.
The Brave and the Bold Issue 200 begins with Brimstone returning to the Gotham crime scene and realizing that his reputation as a baddie has been ruined by his previous defeat by the dynamic duo. He has a few new tricks up his sleeve, though, and he’s more determined than ever to take down his foes.
He attempts to rob some fairly Gotham-y places, including a fishing tackle store (complete with giant fishing lure on top) and an archery competition that, apparently in Gotham, is able to attract a sports stadium full of admiring fans. At each place, Batman is unsinkable, and finally, Batman punches Brimstone so hard that he puts Brimstone into a coma for years.
Many long years later, a doctor gives Brimstone a new experimental treatment, waking him up from his coma. When Brimstone wakes up, he only has one thing on his mind: he must kill Batman. Unfortunately, fellow inmate the Joker breaks the terrible news to him that Batman is already dead. The only thing that’s kept Brimstone alive all these years was his hatred for Batman, and now even his revenge has been robbed from him. What to do?
Then Brimstone remembers that when he was a child, he realized that there was another version of him elsewhere, another Nicholas Lucien. And if there was another Nicholas, that means there would be another Batman to unleash his anger upon, and somehow, through the power of his will or his mind, he crosses over into that other universe where Batman is still alive. In this other universe, Nicholas Lucien never became Brimstone. He’s simply a regular guy, and Brimstone takes over his counterpart’s life.
This time, Brimstone is out for blood, no longer focusing on garnering money. He sets off a bomb in a black church, at the Hispanic society, at a Jewish temple. He wants to destroy the heart of Gotham. He lures Batman into a trap, all the while clearly showcasing that he’s on a completely different wavelength from this universe’s Batman, treating it as a grand rematch, though this Batman has never even met him before. Of course, though the stakes are high, Batman uses his wits to outsmart even this unforeseen adversary. He then uses his fists ti whack Brimstone’s head against a sharp edge, and Brimstone is sent back to his own universe where he’s doomed to paralysis for the rest of the life, leaving only an innocent Nicholas and a very confused Batman behind.
If we only focus on the narrative that happens in the second universe, the one with the innocent Nicholas Lucien, all we see is a man who, for reasons unknown to himself, temporarily became a mass bomber and murderer. It’s only through understanding that first part of the story then, through the part of the story that only the reader could know, that makes the story make sense.
We understand that Nicholas Lucien is a villain, and we understand that he’s been driven, over years of hatred, to attempt to destroy Gotham. But everyone reacting to his crimes does not know, they can’t know. It’s not even that they simply haven’t come across him before – as their counterparts have, it’s that his existence is not real to them – until it is.
In a way, Lucien’s instantaneously simple crossing-over represents how superhero comics and stories like superhero comics pick and choose versions of a character that best fit what the comic’s creators are trying to do. In this case, there are two wildly differing Nicholas Luciens in two fairly similar worlds. And perhaps because there are two, Lucien is able to get away with more drastic things in this new universe.
The interesting part of this story is that we not only meet two differing Nicholas Luciens, we also see two Batmen and two Robins. Brimstone is the only one aware of the sharp difference of his personality in these parallel universes, and both Batmen and Robins seem almost identical in both universes. It’s not like everything has changed. Beyond an evil/good Lucien, the rest of the world seems completely similar.
As readers, there’s always a bit of a mystery of what version of a character is going to show up in a story. This is why Brave and the Bold issue 200 is such a fitting example of how stories in shared, repetitive universe like the DC Comics Universe. Readers understand that, Batman is not quite the same in every comic. There’s the Batman of Brave and the Bold (or Batmen, really, in this issue) and there’s Batman of Batman with Robin the Teen Wonder. Batman couldn’t really exist if each iteration encompassed every trait he’s ever shown or even remembered every experience he’s ever had.
Instead, we have this sometimes-organized, often-not mass of information that readers have access to but that the characters don’t. This allows a story to make sense in its own context without being burdened with eighty years of Batman lore behind it. The rest of the history must be ignored to face the current story. Until a part of that history enriches the current story.
Because superhero comics allow for big stretches of the imagination, this technique of picking and choosing can even be used in a single issue. If we looked only at the second part of Brave and the Bold 200, at a man who, seemingly out of nowhere, began to bomb important cultural centers in Gotham and tried to kill Batman, the story isn’t particularly rich or interesting at all. But, by adding in a background of a long feud and a villain who knows Batman’s tricks and matching that up with a Batman who has never seen this villain before, who doesn’t even understand even why he wants to kill Batman, we get a very interesting juxtaposition.
We get to see Batman face an old villain and a different Batman face the same villain as a new one. We get to see how a villain might build up anger over time and let it spill over into a new universe. We get to see something new and strange that really wouldn’t quite make sense in most types of stories. But this shift in reality information is almost natural for superhero comics, because it’s been a central part of telling superhero stories since their inception.
The Brave & The Bold #200 “Smell of Brimstone, Stench of Death!”
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Artist: Dave Gibbons
Inker: Gary Martin
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Colourist: Adrienne Roy
Tiffany Babb is a writer, poet and comics critic based in New York whose work has been featured in Panel x Panel as well as Women Write About Comics. You can find more from her on her website here, and follow her on Twitter here!
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