Detective Comics: 80 years of Batman Deluxe edition


By Bob Kane & Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Jim Chambers, Mort Weisinger, Jack Kirby & Joe Simon, Don Cameron, Joe Samachson, Edmond Hamilton, John Broome, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Archie Goodwin, Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Bob Rozakis, Alan Brennert, Harlan Ellison, Greg Rucka, Paul Levitz, Brad Meltzer, Scott Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Lee Harris, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino, Ruben Moreira, Joe Certa, Sheldon Moldoff, Neal Adams, Walter Simonson, Dick Giordano, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Gene Colan, Shawn Martinbrough, Denys Cowan, Bryan Hitch, Sean Murphy, Mark Chiarello plus many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8538-8 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholly Dark Knight, Batman!… 9/10

Although he’s frequently played second fiddle to his pioneering predecessor Superman (who debuted in Action Comics #1, June 1938), the Dark Knight has, over his eighty years, grown to become the planet’s most popular superhero. He does have some bragging rights to longevity however, as he debuted in the company’s most prestigious – and arguably premiere – comics title.

Detective Comics #1 had a March 1937 cover-date and was the third and last anthology title devised by luckless pioneer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. In 1935, the entrepreneur had seen the potential in Max Gaines’ new invention – the comic book – and quickly conceived and released packages of all-new material entitled New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine and follow-up New Fun/New Adventure (which ultimately became Adventure Comics) under the banner of National Allied Publications.

These broke away from the tentative prototype comics magazines which simply reprinted edited collations of established newspaper strips. They were though as varied and undirected in content as much as any funnies page. Detective Comics was different, specialising only in tales of crime and crimebusters. The initial roster included amongst many others adventurer Speed Saunders, Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise, Gumshoe Gus and two series by a couple of kids from Cleveland named Siegel & Shuster: Bart Regan: Spy and two-fisted shamus Slam Bradley

Within two years Wheeler-Nicholson had been forced out by his business partners, and eventually his company grew into monolithic DC – for Detective Comics – Comics.

Instrumental in that meteoric rise and monumental success was the hero initially called “The Bat-Man” when he debuted in the 27th issue, dated May 1939…

This bold compilation celebrates the magic of that title and it’s reaching the magic number 1000, not just with the now-traditional re-runs of classic Batman tales, but through informative articles and fascinating glimpses at some of the other characters who shared those (mostly) monthly pages with him.

Available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats, this epic album curates material from Detective Comics#20, 27, 38, 60, 64, 66, 140, 151, 225, 233, 267, 298, 327, 359, 400, 437, 443, 457, 474, 482, 500, 567, 742 plus Detective Comics volume 2 #27, and opens with an Introduction by Dan Didio, a mission-statement Batman pin-up from Jim Lee, an historically erudite Editor’s Note by Paul Levitz, and a fond Foreword from US Senator Patrick Leahy, before the parade of comic tales and eye-catching covers kicks off.

Most early episodes were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have here been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after its iconic cover by Leo O’Mealia, a groundbreaking treat from Detective Comics #20 (October 1939) reveals the title’s original prototypical costumed crusader as The Crimson Avenger (at this time a knock-off of pulp paragons such as The Shadow, Spider or Green Hornet) tackles a corrupt attorney and his gang in ‘Block Buster’; a rousing romp by Jim Chambers.

The scene was set: the sheriffs, P.I.s, government operatives and gentleman daredevils now moved over a bit to welcome a new kind of white knight: the masked mystery man…

That literary landscape is examined in Anthony Tollin’s essay Batman Foreshadowed, after which Detective Comics #27 (with cover by Bob Kane) provides ‘The Case of the Chemical Syndicate’ by Bill Finger & Kane: a spartan, understated yarn introducing dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, craftily inserting himself into a straightforward crime-caper wherein a cabal of industrialists are successively murdered. The killings stop only after an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intrudes on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation, pitilessly exposing and dealing with the hidden killer.

Also taken from that landmark issue, ‘The Murderer on Vacation’ by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster reveals how hardboiled private investigator Slam Bradley and sidekick Shorty Morgan track an escaped convict to snowy Switzerland to ensure the killer’s appointment with the electric chair is met…

Following another iconic cover by Kane & Jerry Robinson, #38 (April 1940 by Finger, Kane & Robinson) changes the freshly emerging landscape of comic books forever with ‘Robin, The Boy Wonder’: child trapeze artist Dick Graysonwhose performer parents are murdered before his eyes and who thereafter joins Batman in a lifelong quest for justice, beginning with bringing down mobster mad dog Boss Zucco

With a pattern of high-flying action and savvy crime-crushing established, the Dynamic Duo went from strength to strength, but they were not the only masked marvels on show. Amateur radio technician and District Attorney’s clerk Larry Jordan used super-science and brilliant invention to battle crime as Air Wave for six years. Behind a Robinson/Fred Ray Batman cover, #60’s ‘The Case of the Missing Evidence’ (February 1942 by Mort Weisinger, Lee Harris/Harris Levy & Charles Paris) debuts the Microphonic Manhunter who methodically sets about dismantling the murderous Scalotti gang…

As WWII gripped America’s servicemen and Home Front masses, comic book dream team Joe Simon & Jack Kirby quit Timely Comics after publisher Martin Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations. They jumped ship to National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a big chequebook.

Initially an unhappy fit, bursting with brash, bold ideas the company were uncomfortable with, the pair were handed two failing strips to play with until they found their creative feet. After proving their worth with The Sandman and Manhunter, they were left to their own devices and promptly perfected comic books’ “Kid Gang” genre with a unique junior Foreign Legion entitled The Boy Commandos. These kids were soon sharing the spotlight with Batman in flagship Detective Comics and in a solo title which was frequently amongst the company’s top three sellers.

A Robinson Dynamic Duo cover for #64 (June 1942) foreshadows a new kind of comics experience as ‘The Commandos are Coming’ cleverly follows the path of a French Nazi collaborator who finds the courage to fight against his country’s conquerors after meeting the bombastic military unit.

We never learn how or why American Captain Rip Carter commands a British Commando unit nor why he’s allowed to bring a quartet of war-orphans with him on a succession of deadly sorties into “Festung Europa”, North Africa, the Pacific or Indo-Chinese theatres of war. All we must accept is that cockney urchin Alfy Twidgett, French garcon Pierre (later unobtrusively renamed Andre) Chavard, little Dutch boy Jan Haasen and rough, tough lout Brooklyn are fighting the battles we would if we only had the chance…

‘The Crimes of Two-Face!’ begin in #66 (August 1942 and sporting a Robinson/George Roussos cover): detailing the debut of a true classic villain courtesy of Finger, Kane & Robinson. A sophisticate classical tragedy in crime-caper form, here Gotham DA Harvey Kent (whose name was later changed by editorial diktat to Dent) is disfigured in court and goes mad – becoming a conflicted thief and insanely unpredictable killer who remains one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.

As seen on the Win Mortimer cover, ‘The Riddler!’ first challenged Batman and Robin in #140 (October 1948 by Finger, Dick Sprang, Charles Paris) as carnival con-man and inveterate cheat Edward Nigma takes his obsession with puzzles to a perilous extreme: becoming a costumed criminal and matching wits with the brilliant Batman in a contest that threatens to turn the entire city upside down.

‘The Origin of Pow-Wow Smith!’ in #151 (September 1949) awaits behind a Batman cover by Jim Mooney, but addresses the growing popularity of western tales as Don Cameron, Carmine Infantino & George Klein explore the life of a college-educated Indian Lawman who becomes a modern-day sheriff.

As super heroes lost their appeal in the 1950s, Detective Comics shed its costumed cohort for more rationalistic reasoners and grounded champions. One of the most offbeat was Roy Raymond, a TV personality who hosted hit series Impossible… But True.

Illustrated by Ruben Moreira, it launched in #153 (November 1949 and proudly displaying a Sprang Bat-cover) with ‘The Land of Lost Years!’ The first tale set the pattern: researchers or members of the public would present weird or “supernatural” items or mysteries that the arch-debunker would inevitably expose as misunderstanding, mistake or, as in this case of this reverse fountain of youth, criminal fraud…

Dale Cendali then presents A Peek Behind the Pages, sharing pages from Lew Sayre Schwartz’s Sketchbook circa his illustration of the lead story in Detective Comics #200, after which issue #225 (November 1955) manifests the first new superhero of the Silver Age, courtesy of Joe Samachson Joe Certa.

At the height of US Flying Saucer fever and following a bat-cover from Win Mortimer, John Jones, Manhunter from Mars debuted in ‘The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel’: describing how a reclusive genius builds a robot-brain to access Time, Space and the Fourth Dimension, accidentally plucking an alien scientist from his home on Mars. After a brief conversation with his unfortunate guest, Erdel succumbs to a heart attack whilst attempting to return the incredible J’onn J’onzz to his point of origin.

Marooned on Earth, the Martian realises his new home is riddled with the primitive cancer of Crime and determines to use his natural abilities (which include telepathy, mind-over-matter psychokinesis, shape-shifting, invisibility, intangibility, super-strength, speed, flight, vision, invulnerability and many others) to eradicate the evil, working clandestinely disguised as a human policeman. His only safety concern is the commonplace chemical reaction of fire which saps Martians of all their mighty powers. With his name Americanised to John Jones he enlists as a Police Detective and begins an auspicious career…

Today fans are used to a vast battalion of bat-themed and leather-winged champions haunting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce and Dick, occasionally with their borrowed dog Ace, keeping crime on the run. However, in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956, three months before the debut of The Flash officially ushered in the Silver Age) the editorial powers-that-be unleashed bold heiress Kathy Kane, who incessantly suited-up in chiropteran red-&-yellow for the next eight years.

‘The Bat-Woman’ by Edmond Hamilton, Moldoff & Paris premiered with the former circus acrobat bursting into Batman’s life, challenging him to discover her secret identity at the risk of exposing his own…

Trauma by Glen David Gold pauses the comics action to discuss the role and symbolism of orphans before a return to incipient family-friendly silliness as ‘Batman Meets Bat-Mite!’ #267 (May 1959 by Finger, Moldoff & Paris) takes us to a new level. The introduction of the Gotham Guardian’s most controversial “partner” – a pestiferous, prank-playing extra-dimensional elf who adored the Dynamic Duo and used his magic to extend or amp up the perils he enjoyed observing – was, for many readers, an all-time low but the strange scamp had his fans too…

In an era overburdened by gangsters and bank heists, new super villains were rare but not unknown. From #298 (December 1961) Finger, Moldoff & Paris’ ‘The Challenge of Clay-Face’ saw our heroes battle shapeshifting thief Matt Hagen who would return many times before Batman underwent a big change and media apotheosis…

By the end of 1963, Julius Schwartz had revived much of DC’s superhero line – and the entire industry – with his modernization of masked champions and costumed characters, and was asked to work his magic with the Caped Crusader. Bringing his usual team of creators with him, he stripped down the trappings and returned to the core-concept, bringing a modern take to the capture of criminals, whilst downplaying all the Aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales. He even oversaw a streamlining and rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol, but more fundamentally the stories themselves changed. Subtle menace had re-entered the comfortable and abstract world of Gotham City. The revolution began with Detective Comics #327 (cover-dated May 1964) as ‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask!’ – written by John Broome and illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella presented a baffling “Howdunnit?” steeped in action and suspense.

Tracking an underground pipeline of missing crooks and encountering a wise guy who was literally untouchable underlined the renewed intention to emphasise the “Detective” part of the title for the foreseeable future. This comic was to be a brain-teaser from now on…

The advent of the Batman TV show soon followed and the world went Bat-manic…

The series inevitably influenced the comics and, as well as a lightening of tone, threw up new characters.

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!’ (Detective Comics, #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduce Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the venerable Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. By the time the third TV season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

A different Batgirl, Betty Kane, niece of the 1950s Batwoman, was already a comics fixture, but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention was conveniently forgotten to make room for the new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. She was pretty hot too, which is always a plus for television…

Whereas she fought the Penguin on the small screen, her paper origin features the no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today. The Lethal Lepidopteran was about to kidnap Bruce Wayne until Babs stumbles in and busts up his scheme…

After San Diego’s former top cop Shelley Zimmerman discusses the value of ‘Inspiration’ we jump to a darker decade for ‘Challenge of the Man-Bat’ (Detective Comics #400, June 1970) wherein Frank Robbins, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano use the big anniversary to launch a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster when driven scientist Kirk Langstromcreates a serum to make himself superior to Batman… and pays a heavy price for his hubris.

One of the most celebrated superhero series in comics history, Manhunter catapulted young Walter Simonson to the front ranks of creators, revolutionised the way dramatic adventures were told and still remains the most lauded back-up strip ever produced.

Concocted and scripted by genial genius and then-neophyte editor Archie Goodwin as a back-up strip for Detective (running for just a year from #437-443, October/November 1973 to October/November 1974), the seven episodes – a mere 68 pages – won six Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards during its far too brief run.

Following a rousing Jim Aparo cover for #437, opening episode ‘The Himalayan Incident’ sees Interpol agent Christine St. Clair tracking a seeming super-assassin who acts like no true criminal. Although not included here the pursuit leads her to the story of dead hero Paul Kirk (during the Golden Age he was the Manhunter briefly crafted by Simon & Kirby): a big game hunter and part-time costumed mystery man.

Becoming a dirty jobs specialist for the Allies in WWII, he lost all love of life and died in a hunting accident in 1946. Decades later he seemingly resurfaced, and came to the attention of St. Clair. Thinking him no more than an identity thief she soon uncovered an incredible plot by a cadre of the World’s greatest scientists who had formed an organisation to assume control of the planet.

The Council had infiltrated all corridors of power, making huge technological advances (such as stealing the hero’s individuality by cloning him into an army of superior soldiers), slowly achieving their goals with no-one the wiser, until the returned Paul Kirk upset their plans and resolved to thwart their ultimate goals…

Kirk’s entire tragic quest to regain his humanity and dignity culminated in a terse team-up after Batman stumbles into the plot, almost inadvertently handing the Council ultimate victory. ‘Götterdämmerung’ (#443 by Goodwin & Simonson) fully lived up to its title and perfectly wrapped up the saga.

With cover and illustration by Dick Giordano, ‘There is No Hope in Crime Alley!’ (#457, March 1976, scripted by Denny O’Neil, with inks by Terry Austin) is a powerful and genuinely moving tale introducing pacifist Leslie Thompkins: the woman who first cared for the boy Bruce Wayne on the night his parents were murdered, after which O’Neil uses his prose Time Machine to deliver a telling history lesson about publishing and storytelling.

Next up is a rousing tale from a trend-setting run by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers & Austin. Detective # 474 (December 1977) uses ‘The Deadshot Ricochet’ to update an old loser. The second-ever appearance of a murderous high society dilettante sniper (after his initial outing in Batman #59, 1950) sees frustrated killer Floyd Lawton escape jail and go in search of simple, honest revenge. The tale so reinvigorated the third-rate trick-shooter that he’s seldom been missing from the DC Universe since; starring in a number of series such as Suicide Squad and Secret Six, a couple of eponymous miniseries and on both silver and small screens.

Devised by Bob Rozakis, Michael Golden & Bob Smith, ‘Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure!’ was a short feature in giant-sized Detective Comics #482 (February/March 1979, sporting a cover by Rich Buckler & Giordano) that begat an unlikely revival for the impetuous imp. A hilarious, fourth-wall busting romp, it sees the geeky trans-dimensional sprite invading the offices of DC comics to deliver a personal protest at his seeming sidelining in recent years…

Author, journalist and activist Cory Doctorow examines cultural content and impact in Occupy Gotham before major anniversary issue Detective #500 (March 1981) celebrates by bringing Batman and Robin to another Earth to prevent the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in the beguiling altered vision ‘To Kill a Legend’ by Alan Brennert & Giordano, supplemented by a jam cover courtesy of Aparo, Giordano, Infantino, Simonson & Joe Kubert.

As the DCU underwent a radical reboot during Crisis on Infinite Earths, a run of experimental stories resulted in Harlan Ellison, Gene Colan & Bob Smith detailing a city crime patrol where nothing goes right on ‘The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!’ (#567 October 1986).

‘The Honored Dead’ (#742 March 2000) by Greg Rucka, Shawn Martinbrough & Steve Mitchell foucuses on a character as old and resilient as Batman himself as recently bereaved Police Commissioner Jim Gordon returns to duty in only to lose more colleagues and descend into a vengeful, suicidal spiral. Good thing he still has a few unconventional friends to pull him through…

Closing this immense commemorative tome comes Lost Stories offering a glimpse at commissioned works which for a variety of reasons never saw print: in this case excerpts from aborted 2012 miniseries ‘Batman: Mortality’ by Paul Levitz, Denys Cowan & John Floyd, represented here by pages of script and original art, before an all-star selection from rebooted Detective Comics volume 2 #27 (March 2014) reimagines ‘The Case of the Chemical Syndicate’ via Brad Meltzer & Bryan Hitch, whilst Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy takes us into the far future to see the evolution of the Dark Knight in ‘Twenty-Seven’.

Illustrated by Mark Chiarello, ‘Watching from the Shadows’ is Neil Gaiman’s fond appreciation of the hero and his universe, after which ‘Cover Highlights’ brings a selection of stunning examples from the Golden, Silver, Bronze andDark ages of Gotham Guardian, as well as the very best of Detective Comics ‘Now’.

Should you be of a scholarly or just plain reverential mood you can then study the copious ‘Biographies’ section so you know who to thank…

Exciting, epochal and unmissable, this is book for all fans of superhero stories.
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