Hey Bat-fans. If you’ve followed any comic book writing that I’ve done for CGM thus far, you’ve probably gathered by now that I am a wee bit obsessed with the Caped Crusader. I’m hardly the first guy to say this (it was probably Bob Kane, for obvious reasons like ego), but Batman is, without a doubt, the most complex and interesting of all the spandex/leather /rubber clad superheroes. He’s the superhero with a little something for everyone. If you like your superheroes silly, then there’s the Adam West era to tickle your childish pleasure centers. If you like your comics gritty, then you’ve got Frank Miller’s iconic work that forever changed the character and made Batman the grittiest mainstream hero to worship for decades. And if you like your heroes somewhere in between, then there’s plenty of that to go around too, especially whenever Grant Morrison focuses his overactive brain on Gotham City. There’s really no iconic superhero quite as diverse and it’s not a coincidence that The Bat has also spawned the finest TV, movie, and videogame spin-offs of the entire comic book industry.
So given that I’m always looking for a new reason to worship at the altar of Bruce Wayne, it’s safe to say that I was tickled to learn that the New 52 had finally reached Detective Comics issue 27 this month (for those of you not in the know, Batman made his first ever appearance the last time Detective Comics hit issue 27 back in 1939). Clearly, DC was even more tickled by this fact than I, because they decided to turn the issue into a good ol’ fashioned prestige format comic overflowing with mini-stories from some of the company’s finest writers to honor their most popular character. Though sadly initial plans to commission original stories from Bat-gods Frank Miller and Paul Dini fell through (single tear…), the gang that did participate delivered one hell of a tribute to the greatest and most human superhero of them all. So, I thought I’d take a little time to gushingly praise the book and encourage you all to run out to your friendly comic book dealer and pick up a copy. There are a handful of rare and rarer alternative covers to seek out for the collector whores, but even if you just get the standard Greg Capullo homage to the last shot of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, you should still drool all over the good stuff between the glossy cover pages.
Story 1: The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate (Writer: Brad Meltzer Artist: Bryan Hitch)
Things kick off in rather delightful fashion with a remake of the very first Batman story in Detective Comics 27 from Brad Meltzer (Green Arrow, Buffy The Vampire Slayer). The story follows the same basic plot beats of the original. A bunch of chemical plant tycoons are being bumped off and it’s up to this mysterious new Batman character in Gotham City to solve the mystery. The original story was told from the perspective of Commissioner Gordon with a twist ending revealing that his bored billionaire friend Bruce Wayne was actually Batman. Obviously that twist ending wasn’t going to work this time out, so Meltzer instead told the story from Batman’s perspective, filled with self-doubting Year One-style internal monologue. It’s a clever replay through history that updates all of the cheesy 30s plot devices of the first ever Bat-tale so that it feels more contemporary. Meltzer’s attention to detail is impressive (even using the same panel count as the original) and he even tosses in a new twist ending to suggest Batman’s finest foe was formed in his first adventure. It’s probably not the greatest story in the collection, but it is certainly the most important to the Detective Comics 27 revival concept and a real treat for Bat geeks.
Story 2: Old School (Writer: Gregg Hurwitz Artist: NEAL ADAMS!!!!!)
Next up comes one of the most fun and geek-tastic tales in the collection courtesy of Batman: The Dark Knight writer Gregg Hurwitz and legendary Batman artist Neal Adams (who brought the character back into darkness in the 70s along with Denny O’Neil). It’s a clever little slice of metafiction that travels through all eras of Bat-history in a swift ten pages. Hurwitz’s story is a winking little lark, but the real gold of the chapter is Neal Adams’ art. The 73-year-old Adams apes a number of Batman art styles including the 60s pulp, his own iconic work, and even a touch of the 80s dark ages. Simply getting a chance to see Adams playfully pay homage to the history of Batman is a giggle-worthy joy for comic book art geeks. It is without a doubt one of the highlights of the book.
Story 3: Better Days (Writer: Peter J. Tomasi Artist: Ian Bertram)
Next up comes a delightful little joke from Batman And Robin scribe Peter J. Tomasi with a Dark Knight Returns inspired punchline. We see the whole Bat family gather for a retired Bruce Wayne’s 75th birthday (the age is not a coincidence if you’re capable of doing math). Then a police emergency comes through the radio and Bruce insists the gang go out to stop it so that he can secretly become Batman for one more night as he does on every birthday. It’s a loving lark for Bat-fans who hold Dark Knight Returns close to their heart from a writer who clearly shares the sentiment and backed up by some gorgeous wall-mount worthy artwork from Ian Bertram.
Story 4: Hero (Writer and Artist: Francesco Francavilla)
Francesco Francavilla’s four-page tale easily wins the WTF award in the collection. Don’t get me wrong, the layouts are gorgeous, and the brief narrative is a wonderful throwback for fans of Scott Snyder and Francavilla’s stunning Black Mirror storyline. However, the story is exclusively for fans of that book, so its inclusion feels off when compared to everything else in the collection. Perhaps it was included since Black Mirror was the last masterpiece to appear in Detective Comics before the new 52 and if so, that’s fair enough. However, this story will only appeal to fans of that arc, so prepare to be confused if you haven’t already fallen head over heels for Black Mirror.
Story 5: The Sacrifice (Writer: Mike Barr Artist: Guillem March)
Writer Mike Barr, whose name was all over Bat books in the 80s and 90s, makes a long awaited return to the fold with The Sacrifice, an intriguing It’s A Wonderful Life homage in which the ever-mysterious Phantom Stranger lets Bruce Wayne briefly see what life would have been like had his parents not been shot down in Crime Alley on that fateful night many Gotham moons ago. It’s the most moving story in the collection with some twisted Elseworld visions like Ra’s Al Ghul stomping through Europe as a dictator and a Gotham ruled by gangs led by Batman’s rogue’s gallery. It’s a story that easily could have filled an entire fascinating issue, yet still works brilliantly in a condensed form that slides into this collection as comfortably as a pounding pair of vigilante feet into a padded pair of Bat-slippers.
Story 6: Gothopia (Writer: John Layman Artist: Jason Fabok)
At this point in the collection, DC shoved in a standard issue length tale to kick off the Gothopia storyline that will be taking over Detective Comics for the next few months. Perhaps predictably, it’s the weakest story in the bunch, but thankfully far from a failure. Essentially, Layman and Fabok have set up a narrative in which the entire population of Gotham has been drugged via Poison Ivy and The Scarecrow to think that the darkest city in DC is actually a Metropolis-style utopia. It’s a clever concept, and I suppose that the alternative vision of Gotham fits into this collection of one-off Bat-fantasies, yet I can’t help but wish this issue had been released separately to allow for a few more celebratory shorts from classic Batman writers. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the initial plan, but this got shoved in when the Dini and Miller stories were cut from the collection. If so, that’s a shame, and even though Gothopia is the low point in the book, at least it shows that 75 years later current Detective Comics continuity is still cranking out intriguing Bat-yarns.
Story 7: Twenty-Seven (Writer: Scott Snyder Artist: Sean Murphy)
Finally, Batman scribe Scott Snyder pops in for a concluding short so fascinating that he proves in 12 short pages why he is the current Bat-master. In a fascinating little slice of thought-experiment sci-fi, Snyder imagines a cyclical endgame for Batman in which Bruce Wayne creates a legacy that leads to the creation of a new Batman every 27 years. It sounds confusing, but when told through the masterful prose of Snyder it’s all easy to swallow and incredibly nourishing. Given that Snyder likes to tease future plotlines (like when his Batman #0 set up the current Zero Year run a full year before it began properly), don’t be surprised if he returns to this concept a few years down the road. And if he does, God-willing, his current The Wake collaborator Sean Murphy will be on board as well because his imaginatively scratchy art style delivers some astounding sci-fi Batmen in a handful of panels here (including some anime and Mad Max-inspired designs that deserve their own spin offs).
Aside from a handful of splash page guest art between short stories, that’s it for this special edition Detective Comics 27 collection from the good folks at DC. Is the book perfect? Nope. Would it have been even better had they followed through on the promise of new Paul Dini and Frank Miller Bat-tales? Immeasurably. However, despite those disappointments, this collection is an absolutely wonderful bit of fan service from the good folks at DC that demands a spot on any self-respecting Bat-fan’s shelf. With the exception of Gothopia, every single story in the book is guaranteed to deliver a goofy grin for any Batman lover who flips through the pages. Normally when comic book companies deliver a stunt special issue like this, it’s more of a marketing tactic than anything else. However, Batman is clearly such a special character that all of the creators and editors worked hard to ensure that this prestige issue would be well worth the money that fans were guaranteed to fork over for it. Seek out Detective Comics 27 before hungry readers bag and board every issue on shelves, it’s well worth the time and investment. Batman’s 75-year appeal didn’t happen by accident, and it’s safe to say that the character will thrive for 75 more years until the next anniversary issue. As long as comic books exist, there will be Batman stories told and the medium will be better for it.