Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #784-786 (2003)

Some of the best team-ups seem totally random at first and totally complementary in retrospect.

An excellent example occurs in Detective Comics #784-786, which pairs Batman and the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott. This GL debuted back in the 1940s, long before the Hal Jordan version and the spacefaring Green Lantern Corps. DC’s continuity in 2003 had cast Alan as one of the elder statesmen of the DC Universe, essentially the Superman of the Justice Society, and circumstances (mystical, if I recall correctly) had kept him physically in his prime.

Another aspect of the canon at that time: This Green Lantern was Gotham City’s first superhero.

Batman and GL had never teamed up on their home turf, but when a homicide mimics a cold case from Green Lantern’s past, they’ll work in tandem to solve the crime (while a retired Commissioner Gordon, well utilized here, pieces together the clues on his own).

The bright shining knight of the past and the dark knight of the present create a strong visual contrast, and writer Ed Brubaker goes beyond that surface image. In a refreshing shift from his recent jerk trend, Batman displays genuine respect toward the elder superhero, and it’s earned respect. Batman knows his own motivation stems entirely from tragedy, but Green Lantern is a born hero, doing good just because.

GL’s not perfect, though, and the entire situation is a consequence of his lack of perfection. It’s a compelling mystery, not so much in the whodunit sense but in the “why did they do it” sense. And along the way, the story shows us characters who are all too aware of their own limitations.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Patrick Zircher

Inkers: Aaron Sowd and Steve Bird

Cover: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #745 (2000)

The various Batman titles found renewed focus and creativity after the lengthy “No Man’s Land” arc (and during it, as I covered a few days ago). The different series had basically melded into a weekly book during that saga, but each one reclaimed a distinct identity afterward.

Detective Comics, naturally, focused on Batman as a master detective—an important facet of the character that’s much harder to pull off than the standard super-heroic action/adventure, and therefore much more rewarding when it’s pulled off well. And writer Greg Rucka pulled it off brilliantly, aided by excellent artist Shawn Martinbrough and an interesting coloring scheme.

During this period, the creators opted to forgo the full range of colors and cast the book in black, white, shades of gray, shades of red, and various flesh tones. It was a clever decision that gave the book a unique visual identity, and it served the somewhat noir-ish tone (Bat-noir?). The reds pop off the page, making every appearance of blood all the more striking and every scarlet sky just eerie enough.

The story is solid and well thought out. Issue #745 is in the middle of the first storyline, and Gotham City has recently reopened for business—including criminal business, of course. We meet a new villain, Whisper A’Daire, who’s making moves among the city’s most and least respectable residents. She’s somehow associated with Ra’s al Ghul, and for some reason part of her skin has scales. And she’s already arranged to have people killed. So basically, the world’s greatest detective has work to do.

Writing and art joined forces to create a memorable era for Batman and Detective Comics, one that struck a mature tone while keeping everything PG-13.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Pencilers: Shawn Martinbrough and John Watkiss

Inker: Steve Mitchell

Cover: Dave Johnson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #826 (2007)

detective_comics_826This is a nice Christmas comic…kind of like how Die Hard is a nice Christmas movie. So maybe it’s not “nice” exactly, but the holiday season provides a backdrop to gripping tension and action.

During a moment of desperation, Robin (Tim Drake) makes the mistake of getting into a stranger’s car. Turns out, the Joker is at the wheel. (And that’s why you don’t get into strangers’ cars!)

Joker ties up the Boy Wonder in the passenger’s seat and makes him watch helplessly as he runs over random pedestrians. And whenever he gets bored killing innocents, the Joker will probably kill Robin, too. It’s a death trap with psychological torture thrown in.

This is one of those done-in-one short stories writer Paul Dini excels at, particularly when it comes to Batman’s world. The Joker is at his most terrifying, and Robin needs to be at his most resourceful…which will require him to maintain his calm in the face of horrific murders.

It probably won’t get you into the Christmas spirit, but it is a great comic.

Writer: Paul Dini

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Wayne Faucher

Cover: Simone Bianchi

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Detective (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #627 (1991)

detective_comics_627Now this was a great gimmick for an anniversary issue.

To celebrate Batman’s 600th appearance in Detective Comics, DC Comics (Detective Comics Comics?) not only reprinted Batman’s first-ever appearance from 1939, but they also included three other interpretations of that six-page story. One originally appeared in 1969 to celebrate the Caped Crusader’s 30th anniversary, and it updated the story to the tone and style of that campy era. The remaining two iterations of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” were produced by the then-current creative teams of Batman and Detective Comics, Marv Wolfman & Jim Aparo and Alan Grant & Norm Breyfogle.

Each team took the same basic idea and executed it in totally different ways, thereby showing a clear glimpse of Batman’s tremendous versatility.

What really makes this gimmick work is the fact that they’re not rehashing Batman’s origin story. That first story, by Bill Finger & Bob Kane, was just a standalone, dropping us into a city where the “Bat-Man” was already active. The big twist ending was the stunning revelation that the “Bat-Man” was…gasp!…Commissioner Gordon’s bored socialite friend, Bruce Wayne! (I wonder if that was genuinely surprising to the readers of 1939 or if they saw it coming a mile away.)

So Detective Comics #627 doesn’t give us any bold new reinterpretations of the Dark Knight himself—it gives us four creative teams from three eras each trying to tell a good, solid Batman story. And succeeding.

Writers: Various

Artists: Various

Cover: Norm Breyfogle

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #833-834 (2007)

Detective_Comics_833Batman: The Animated Series holds up as the greatest Batman adaptation yet, so when the cartoon’s top writer, Paul Dini, took over Detective Comics for a while, readers knew the series was in excellent hands.

One of Dini’s many contributions to the cartoon was introducing Zatanna into Batman’s backstory as an old girlfriend from when her father, Zatara, was teaching Bruce to be an escape artist. Dini pulls a similar trick on a smaller scale in #833 and 834, showing us a brief moment when Zatanna and Bruce met as children not long after the Waynes’ murder. They should’ve been friends, but life took them in vastly different directions until they both joined the Justice League…where a betrayal of trust pulled them even further apart.

But when a former employee of Zatanna’s dies during another magician’s show, Batman calls her in to help bring the killer to justice. And the story plays out in classic Batman manner, with detective work, a deathtrap, and a surprise reveal. Dini has a knack for both these characters, and their differences always make for an excellent pairing.

Maybe they’re not as close as they should’ve been, but their shared history and mutual desire to work past an old wound add depth to an excellent two-parter.

Writer: Paul Dini

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Wayne Faucher

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Death and the City (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #646 (1992)

Detective_Comics_646This review series is basically an extended “thank you” to the industry that has provided me with ample enjoyment over the course of many years, particularly in my youth, so I have to acknowledge the first mainstream superhero comic I ever read.

Detective Comics #646. Part three of a three-part storyline. Also the conclusion of writer Chuck Dixon’s first story arc on the title. Starring Batman and Robin as they try to save Commissioner Gordon and his girlfriend Detective Sarah Essen from an electrically powered lunatic hell-bent on revenge.

Previously, my main exposure to Batman was reruns of the Adam West show, which of course I loved. It was so much fun, and innocent fun at that, with all the bright colors and POW! BOP! ZAP!

Then I open this comic, and the villain actually zaps a man—and kills him—right on the second page. It’s nothing gory, and it’s not gratuitous. Rather, it serves the (at the time) new Robin’s ongoing development, as young Tim Drake continues to learn just how dangerous his new life is. A tense confrontation with the villain later in the issue hammers the lesson in a bit further.

At the time, of course, I didn’t realize this Robin was new and wasn’t Dick Grayson, and I doubt I could have articulated how the stakes appeared much higher and more genuine than in the old TV show. Nor did I notice that Robin grew up a little more somewhere between page 1 and page 22 (that certainly didn’t happen on television).

But I did understand that this comic was far better than POW! BOP! ZAP! and I would be coming back for more. Lots more.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Tom Lyle

Inker: Scott Hanna

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology;

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #647-649 (1992)

Detective_Comics_647And now I present the first complete comic book storyline I ever read (that didn’t involve mutated sentient turtles, that is). The previous issue of Detective Comics was my actual starting point, but it was a part three of three. These were my first parts one and two. If this storyline wasn’t any good, I might be blogging about basket weaving or something now.

While those Matt Wagner covers certainly didn’t hurt, Chuck Dixon’s story is what sold me. And that story is notable for more than my own personal reasons—it’s the introduction of Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. the Spoiler, who years later would become a Robin and then a Batgirl (an excellent Batgirl at that, for too short a time). Here, we meet her as the daughter of the Cluemaster, a second-rate costumed criminal who’s basically a poor man’s Riddler. Stephanie is not a fan.

The story also serves as a good showcase for then-newish Robin, Tim Drake. (I was initially very confused when Batman called him “Tim” instead of “Dick.” I was all like, “How does Batman make a mistake?”) Tim was a great Robin and generally a great character in the 90s, and he really began to soar in Dixon’s stories. He’s smart, resourceful, not above goofing up—relatable and a solid role model for kids.

I enjoyed these issues when I was nine, and I’m delighted to say they hold up just fine. (I had excellent taste as a child, clearly.) A great new character and, for me, the birth of a lifelong hobby…all in three unassuming issues at a mere $1.25 a pop (the good ol’ days!).

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Tom Lyle

Inker: Scott Hanna

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics: Detective Comics #475-476 (1978)

Detective475Writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had a superb and all-too-brief run of Batman stories in Detective Comics in the late 1970s, climaxing in this two-part Joker tale. It’s so good, Batman: The Animated Series adapted it pretty faithfully years later.

The Joker wants to copyright fish. He poisons them so that they all have permanently grinning faces, thus sharing his likeness. So he feels his copyright claim is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and until he gets his cut of every fish sale nationwide, he’ll kill one person at a time. Each execution is publicly announced, with plenty of forewarning for Batman and the police to take measures to protect the innocent…provided they can predict how their brilliantly insane nemesis will strike.

And then there’s the ongoing subplot of Bruce Wayne’s new love interest, Silver St. Cloud—an excellent match for him and someone too smart to be fooled by a mask.

There are a lot of great interpretations of Batman out there, in print and in film, but this is the type of Batman I prefer. He’s heroic, intelligent, strong, and not crazy. This Batman is capable of warmth and healthy relationships, while still being driven and utterly devoted to his mission.

The depiction of the Joker is also spot-on. He’s frightening in his unpredictability, but with an underlying method to his madness that can be fathomed only by himself.

There are no cheap shocks here, just strong storytelling skills, great characters, and an inventive story.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Penciler: Marshall Rogers

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC

How to Read Them: back issues; included in Batman: Strange Apparitions (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up