How not to write coincidences (#SFWApro)

bravebold125I like Bob Haney’s Silver Age work on Aquaman and the Teen Titans but his Brave and the Bold was often hit-or-miss. The stories of Batman teamed with various heroes are often so discontinuous (like having the Earth One Batman old enough to have operated in WW II) that there’s an old joke that they should be consigned to the parallel world of “Earth B.”

And then there’s #125 (cover by Jim Aparo, all rights with current holder), a striking example of how not to write a story that relies heavily on coincidence. The standard rule is that coincidence can get you into a problem, but not get you out of it, but this issue is just … messy. “Streets of Poison” opens with Batman busting a street gang pushing heroin produced by dictator/drug kingpin General Chan. The U.S. government is negotiating a payout to Chan in return for burning his crop, and by an implausible coincidence they’ve picked Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen as the negotiators. Even by comics standards, that’s a bit unlikely, but by itself, not horrible—and after all it does get them into trouble, which is what coincidence is supposed to do? Oh, we also see a woman bust out of prison, which plays a role down the road.

After the heroes arrive in Chan’s domain, they spot Amelia Earhart (with the serial numbers filed off) walking around, but can’t catch up to her. Then when they visit Chan himself, they discover Earhart is his prisoner/sex slave, and unable to leave … so how did she show up in town? It turns out that the escapee went to an underworld plastic surgeon and arbitrarily picked Earhart’s face as her new identity—oh, and she’s a former lover of one of Chan’s henchmen, so she showed up in the area looking for help from her boyfriend (unfortunately Chan has killed him for skimming off the top).

None of these are unworkable plot elements in themselves: doubles are a classic plot twist, and having someone’s plastic surgery turn out to be the Wrong Face isn’t bad. But having all these coincidences happen in just the one story—Earhart, and a lookalike, and the lookalike showing up in the right place, and Bruce and Barry being there … it just strains belief. If Haney had focused on one strand (Bruce sees the lookalike and assumes it’s Earhart, but the latter remains missing at the end) I’d have been willing to buy it. But not this set-up.

Oh, in case you’re wondering it turns out Earhart is the general’s lover and has been making drug drops for him using her plane. And Chan secretly plans to fake destroying his crop despite receiving American money, but Batman puts the fear of god in him so he burns off the opium poppies for real. But still stays in power and still gets a big bonus. Which as heroic victories go, ain’t exactly much.

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1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Reading, Writing

One response to “How not to write coincidences (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Mediocre comics of my youth: The Freedom Fighters (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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