Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Preview of Hell

Sometime back in the summer of 1973, I bought The Brave and the Bold #108, Batman's long-running team-up comic. Sgt. Rock was this issue's guest star, in which writer Bob Haney and artist Jim Aparo spin an atmospheric, creepy tale of deals with the devil and an enduring, ultimate evil.

Always favouring dramatic impact over subtlety, Haney's story - "The Night Batman Sold His Soul!" - finds Batman and Sgt. Rock crossing paths chasing a cloaked figure whom Rock believes is none other than Hitler himself, having faked his own death at war's end, gathering his forces to begin another campaign of terror. Batman, meanwhile, is plagued by the same figure, who has laid claim to Batman's soul. (In an act of desperation that opens the story, Batman in a fit of outraged frustration carelessly says he'd give his soul to escape a trap to save a young boy.)

Eventually Batman, Rock and Easy Company track their quarry to an underground lair, shown above. The last panel left an enduring impression upon my young mind. What could be more chilling than a cave full of Nazis, with their leader - perhaps a still-living Hitler, perhaps Satan himself - lurking in the shadows, ready to wreak terror upon the world once more?

The story ends on an ambiguous note, with the Nazi lair destroyed by the villain - whether Hitler or devil - escaping in the mayhem, leaving Rock and Batman wondering who or what they were chasing. Spooky.

It's interesting to note that Batman and Sgt. Rock teamed up several times in the late sixties and early seventies, several times explicitly showing that Bruce Wayne fought alongside Rock during World War II. And yet while Rock appears to be in his sixties or seventies in the "present-day" portions of these comics, Wayne hasn't aged at all - he looks about 29 in the forties, and about 29 in the sixties/seventies. And yet Rock doesn't note that Wayne hasn't grown a day older despite the passage of decades...hmm. Maybe Wayne made a deal with the devil after all...

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