“Disco of Death!”

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It’s a paradox.

The great thing about Bob Haney’s stint on Brave and the Bold was that he utterly ignored continuity.

The bad thing about Bob Haney’s stint on Brave and the Bold was that he utterly ignored continuity.

The great part about this approach was that we got some really fun team-ups of Batman with unlikely (and sometimes downright impossible) partners. Like Sgt. Rock in a World War II era tale, or an Earth-2 hero like Wildcat, with no explanation as to which Earth they were on or how they got there. Too many comic stories, both then and today, get bogged down with continuity mechanics at the expense of telling a good story. Haney got around this problem by simply ignoring it.

With this story—“Disco of Death!” from The Brave and the Bold #151 (June 1979)—there are none of those larger continuity conflicts, as Batman and Flash are contemporaries that teamed up often, both here, in their own mags, and in Justice League of America. But there are a number of continuity cracks within the story itself that really hurt it. This was the bad aspect of Haney’s approach.

Personally speaking, my earliest memories are from the disco era, so if you title your story “disco” anything, you’ve pretty much got me. But the creators capture none of the mood of the true scene from back then. At the time this was published, Haney was in his early 50s, while artist Jim Aparo was in his late 40s, so I’m guessing all they knew of disco was taken from the poster for Saturday Night Fever. (If they had taken inspiration from the actual movie, this likely would have been a much better story.)

There are parallel plots here, one involving the supernatural, and another involving more conventional mobsters (as illustrated on the issue’s cover). The latter plotline was fairly unnecessary and probably should have been jettisoned. The supernatural part involved a ghost that lost a loved one in a dance marathon back in the 1930s—stronger than the mob plotline, but still could have been improved if Haney had connected it more to the modern disco craze somehow.

The story opens with Batman lamenting the mysterious deaths of two people, one of whom he names as “Linda Hart.” This would seem classic foreshadowing, as most experienced readers would expect that name to be important later… but such is not the case.

Then we cut to Barry Allen and his wife Iris flying into Gotham on Bruce Wayne’s private jet. As a police scientist, one might think Bruce is bringing Barry in to help with the case, but it appears this is purely a pleasure visit. (Once again, I loved the friendly camaraderie between the superheroes during this era of comics. It was pleasant to think they socialized together regularly during their off hours.) The couple meet up with Bruce and his girlfriend, Rhonda, and visit the hot, new Gotham discotheque, the Stardust.

At the end of the evening, Rhonda and Bruce share a goodnight kiss, after which she remarks that he kisses “just like Batman,” whom Rhonda once kissed at a charity event years earlier. Start of a major new subplot? Nope—in fact it’s never brought up again.

Donning his superhero duds and going out on patrol, Batman learns that one of the girls who was at the disco earlier has slipped into a coma and is dying, much like the previous mysterious deaths. So Bats goes back to the disco to investigate further and discovers the Flash is already there, caught in some mystical trap, being danced to death by an unknown lady, while the spirit of coma-girl is being danced to death by the “Phantom of the Stardust” (who looks an awful lot like the Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera).

After Flash uses his super speed to escape, he takes Batman to police headquarters to look through some records and discover the girl Flash was dancing with was the Phantom’s first murder victim, Karen Diggs. (Why not Linda Hart? I have no idea. Why drop that name early on if you’re not coming back to it?) Then the pair track down Guy Stanton, who played the Stardust back in the dance marathon days of the 1930s. Stanton fills them in on the Phantom’s earthly background; then, after taking a bullet from a team of hitmen, reveals he still owns the modern Stardust and that the mob has been trying to muscle in on the club.

Now for some reason, Batman decides that the mob must then be behind the strange deaths. (This despite the fact that he saw the Flash battling those ghosts in the disco earlier with his own eyes.) So Bats decides to follow the mob lead while Flash investigates the ghost angle.

Turns out Batman’s mob investigation is a dead end (well duh), while the Flash gets a pic of the Phantom’s lost love—and she bears a striking resemblance to Iris Allen. But somehow it’s the Batman who notices this resemblance, not Iris’s longtime, devoted husband. Another head scratcher.

Anyway, they then use Iris to get the Phantom to give up his ghostly schemes, thereby saving the life of coma girl, and vanquish the mobsters. A fun little diversion despite its quirks, with the standard great art job by Aparo, but if you’re looking for something that captures the spirit of the era, you’ll be disappointed.

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