Title: Brave and the Bold #31
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Chad Hardin and Justiniano
Inks: Wayne Faucher and Walden Wong
I have always been a huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski. The guy has done it all as a writer, movies, books, TV, radio. Babylon 5 will always be one of my all time favorite shows. The fact that Straczynski can even find the time to write comics puts him in the geek hall of fame as far as I am concerned. I also have a ton of respect for JMS when he told Marvel he wanted no part of their Siege event while he was writing Thor and left on his terms. So what does an accomplished writer who could pick and choose to write for just about any major comic title do after leaving Marvel? He heads over to DC to write The Brave and the Bold of course. Wait! The Brave and the Bold? Really?
My first impression of JMS’ move to The Brave and the Bold was “Why?”. I mean, he could have certainly asked for a bigger book to work on and gotten one. Let’s be honest, The Brave and the Bold isn’t a Top 100 book and I didn’t think the overall format of the book, mostly one-shot stories, with a variety of major and minor DC characters teaming up, fit his style of writing. Was JMS just slumming around on this book while waiting for something better to come along? For the first time I found myself not really looking forward to a JMS written comic.
I am glad to report that Straczynski has proven me wrong. Not only is he not slumming around on the this book, he is hitting it out of the park in my humble opinion. JMS is thriving in the short story, one book format of The Brave and the Bold. He also seems to enjoy taking obscure DC characters and using them like those weird Jelly Belly flavors to mix them into a tasty combination with more mainstream heroes. It is almost like JMS took this book on as a challenge to prove he can take any hero out there and write a excellent story with them in just one issue. He is also tackling some very mature themes in this book and by mature themes I am talking about life and death, personal sacrifice, and doing the right thing despite any personal harm it may cause you. If I didn’t know better I would say JMS is going through a midlife crisis and is trying to work out some issues in The Brave and the Bold.
In The Brave and the Bold #31, JMS has chosen one of his weirdest combinations yet and has picked the Atom (Ray Palmer) and the Joker to star in this latest issue. The set up is pretty straightforward: doctors at Arkham Asylum need the Atom’s help to perform an operation to save the life of the Joker who is suffering from a brain aliment that will kill him if left untreated. Needless to say the Atom is less then enthused by the prospect of saving the life of a vicious serial killer. The Atom refuses to help the doctors until they reveal that the Joker will most likely die anyway even with his help. The Atom then shrinks down and enters the Joker’s brain to perform the needed task when he get careless and is shocked by one of the brain’s bio-electric impulses. The result of this accident is the Atom sharing memories from the Joker’s past going back to his childhood. In effect, the Atom is stuck reliving the Joker’s past and has no way to escape it.
Now here is where things get interesting and shows what sets JMS above other writers. Everything in the first half of the story makes it clear the Atom is against curing the Joker, going so far as to say he doesn’t see a problem with the Joker dying. When the Atom begins to relive the Joker’s past I was thinking he would see something that would convince him that the Joker was the victim of a bad childhood or suffered some kind of trauma that turned him into the monster that he is today. Once the Atom has seen that childhood trauma he would have a easier time deciding to save the Joker’s life. Not only does JMS not take that route, he makes it perfectly clear to the Atom and the reader that the Joker has been a complete psycho from day one. He is just a bad seed who will never be anything other than a murdering nut job until the day he dies. Instead of giving the Atom an easy way out of his moral quandary, JMS makes the Atom’s decision even harder. The Atom does eventually save the Joker’s life, but it is hardly a happy ending for Ray Palmer who is still left with the Joker’s twisted memories in his head at the end of the story.
I should point out that there is no artwork from Jesus Saiz(he does draw the cover art) this month. Pencils are handled by Chad Hardin and Justiniano this issue and they both do a fine job with the art. Hardin handled the Atom in present day and the other did the art when depicting the Joker’s memories of his past. Justiniano, who drew the young Joker flashbacks, did a good job showing him as a creepy, almost pixie like creature.
So what didn’t I like about this issue? My big complaint would be the Atom’s stated reason for saving the Joker is kind of weak considering everything that he has seen from the Joker’s memories. Atom knows at some point the Joker will escape and continue his crime spree but saves him anyway. The Joker gets the last laugh on the Atom, but I think that is the point of the story, the Atom does something good despite knowing he will suffer for it in the long run. I can almost see JMS coming all the way up to the line of having Atom let the Joker die in order to stop him for good, but then pulls back at the last moment. I know The Brave and the Bold can take place outside of the normal DC universe/ out of continuity, but I don’t think even JMS can get away with killing the Joker off in this book. My other minor complaint about this issue is the fact this is the second time JMS has used the “scientists need help with their experiment” plot device to get things going on this comic (he first used this plot device in the Flash/Blackhawk issue). I know that’s a good way to get the story rolling quickly in a one-shot story format, but it’s starting to look a little overused at this point in his run on this book.
Overall I am really enjoying what JMS is doing here on The Brave and the Bold. He is exploring what is means to be a superhero and the sacrifices that go along with it. Part of being a hero is making hard decisions in difficult situations, even if that means the hero dies doing what is right. I really hope this book starts to creep up the sales chart under JMS’s run. I know I will be buying this book as long as he is writing it.