Last year the Guinness World Records recognized Action Comics as the longest-running superhero comic book series. This year Detective Comics no. 1000 pushes the title over the millennial milestone as well. Though both comics unfortunately had a short spate of being renumbered in 2011, DC editorial came to their senses and got the titles back on track. The interruptus knocked Detective Comics out of the running as one of the top ten longest consecutively running comics of all time (not just superhero comics), but the achievement is still to be celebrated–especially as it corresponds with our 80th anniversary festivities for Batman as a character appearing within these pages. We’re a couple of months ahead of Batman’s actual birthday in May, but that’s just a technicality. We’ll be celebrating all year long!
So: let’s talk about this 96-pager. What do we get for our hard-earned cash?
A heckuva lotta Batman!
The first thing we have to discuss is the covers. So. Many. Variant. Covers! I was really torn as to which cover to post; Alex Ross’ re-rendering of the original Detective Comics no. 27 is stunning and an obvious choice, but I decided to give lesser-known Mike Mayhew an opportunity to shine; maybe most especially because he used an old well-known theme, but really included villains from all 80 years of Batman across the spectrum and that’s not only impressive in terms of the theme, but it’s so painterly and precise, I’d love to hang it on my wall.
My other favorites were Jason Fabok (always amazing), Jim Lee (classy, though the ears stand out a bit too much in the cowl), and Patrick Gleeson who included all the Robins (and Titus the Bathound). I would have liked to have used one with all of the Batfamily, of which there were many that were impressive (Mico Suayan maybe especially), but many (like Suayan’s) were oriented horizontally and so wouldn’t have worked here.
As fans, I’m sure you have already poured over the variants yourselves, picked your own favorites, and strategized to acquire some of those stellar exclusives (sound off in the comments section!).
Ten stories. Ten teams. If I tried to review every one of these, this review would probably be five-thousand words long and nobody wants to read all that (yet). So I will try to break it down and give you some highlights here.
Because of the commemorative event nature of this book, many of these stories may feel generic, nostalgic, and familiar to most fans. This isn’t a bad thing if you like nostalgic and familiar, but the generic aspect may bother some people. Scott Snyder’s opener, “Batman’s Longest Case” is probably the most ambitious in terms of trying to tell an original story unlike any other. But even something as straightforward as Warren Ellis’ “The Batman’s Design” doesn’t slouch into rote action or narrative and Becky Cloonan’s art on that particular piece is some of my favorite in the book. This is an assemblage of some of the great Batman writers and artists generating really solid (even if too-brief) Batman stories that go straight to the essence of our beloved Dark Knight. Check out the lineup:
The stories I enjoyed the most were Paul Dini’s “The Legend of Knute Brody” which manages to cram in most of the Batfamily and many of our favorite Bat villains, James Tynion IV’s “The Precedent” which strongly features a young Dick Grayson, and Brian Michael Bendis’ “I Know”, with Alex Maleev’s art & colors setting it apart from everything else in the book by use of a subdued and chalky palette to create moody flashbacks as Penguin and Batman face off one last time in their sunset years.
Christopher Priest’s “Heretic” comes in second tier for me (hello Neal Adams! Always a welcome sight, and it’s fun to see Ras and the League in this). I also enjoyed Kevin Smith’s “Manufacture for Use”. It’s maybe a little bit sentimental, but I’m a fan of Matches Malone, so that definitely bumped it up a notch for me. Again, I liked Ellis’ “The Batman’s Design” even though I feel like it was fairly standard action fare and maybe ended too abruptly. Tom King’s “Batman’s Greatest Case” has some entertaining–albeit overly wordy–dialogue, but a weak payoff. I love the idea of Batman’s wanting a momento, but not sure that what he does with it makes sense. Tony S. Daniel and Joëlle Jones contribute some wonderful art to this piece, but too much of it gets covered up in dialogue. Meanwhile, Scott Snyder is the only writer to include any non-Batman heroes (he features Katar Hol and Shayera, along with other Guild members like Detective Chimp and Slam Bradley). I admit I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t at least one story to showcase the friendship between Batman and Superman.
For fans of Kelly Jones’ work, there’s “The Last Crime in Gotham” (written by Geoff Johns). I’m not a fan of Jones’ distorted frowning faces etched with so much black contrast, and although this story is one of only a few that focuses on the detective work, I didn’t find the resolution all that interesting. “Return to Crime Alley” by Denny O’Neil was also a bit disappointing, maybe doubly so in that artist Steve Epting makes Leslie Thompkins look like a bag lady from the turn of the century. It’s also kind of shouty, for which I seem to have a low tolerance these days. It has an exciting, well-grounded fight sequence, for sure, but it’s maybe a tad preachy.
Most importantly, however, I feel like the book has a good balance and something for everyone whether you want a detective story, an action thriller, a story with heart, some light cerebral gymnastics, or just to go off the beaten path. Its doesn’t feel like there are any true stinkers in the mix, and none of the stories strike me as pure filler.
Speaking of filler, there are just three pin-ups in the book (one of which is a glorious double-page spread by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson–that’s a snippet of it above).
Sometimes pin-ups can definitely just feel like the filler that they tend to be. I thought these were all very strong stylistically–and different enough from each other to keep the eye interested. I know when I was scrolling through variant covers, I started to glaze over at some of the sameness of the compositions, but all three of these internal pin-ups give you a different tone and temper to consider. The one by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts is conceptually fresh in particular.
The Preview: Detective Comics: “Medieval”
And finally there’s the eleventh bonus story!
I know Tomasi’s kick-off of Arkham Knight is the event for which probably most of you have been chomping at the bit (and the reason many will be shelling out the big bucks for this big book), but let me temper your expectations right away out of the gate: this is a teaser for the story to come. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty thrilling components to it, but if you’re expecting to just jump into the action and get a sense of the through-plot, you might be a little disappointed.
Doug Mahnke (with Jaime Mendoza collaborating on inks) serves up an incredible smorgasbord of eye-delights and utterly indulge in the pin-up business with nothing but amazing pages of full-on action splash. It’s definitely Batman porn at its finest. Some of you may be triggered by flashbacks to the arrangement of Batman no. 50, but I feel like Tomasi and the art team contextualize these moments strongly. It was jarring at first perhaps, but the scope and consistency of the art keeps it tied together and the narrative maintains a thread of connection as well.
Mahkne & Mendoza spare no detail here!
What was maybe most surprising to me is that Tomasi immediately gives a narrative voice to the Arkham Knight. He doesn’t “say” anything especially new, but the manner in which he expresses his frustrations about the path from which he feels that Batman has decamped is familiar in an unsettling way. Almost as if Tomasi has been reading fans’ minds (and their displeasure) at depictions of Batman being less than heroic.
It’s spectacular to look at, but only a taste of what’s to come. And even though we only get this tiny glimpse, if this doesn’t get you amped up for what Tomasi has in store, you may need to check your pulse to make sure you aren’t dead.
There’s More to Come!
For more in-depth discussion of all the works in this book, check back on Friday for the weekly Round-Up, where the rest of their team will weigh-in on their thoughts. And in the meantime, enjoy this gallery featuring images from all the teams who worked together to contribute to this hefty must-buy!
- You’re going to buy a copy, regardless of the recommendations.
- Just buy it; this is an exciting time to be a Batman fan!
- Did you buy it yet? No excuses!
After 80 years and (really more than) 1000 issues, Detective Comics proves its staying power by bringing together some of the most exciting Batman writers and artists of the last five decades (Adams, O’Neil, Tomasi, Capullo, King, Snyder, Lee, Dini, Nguyen, and more!) to craft their love-letters to the Dark Knight in all of his guises. There’s a strong emphasis on character here and not so much on particular single villains overall, though Oswald Cobblepot and the League of Shadows get at least a little of the spotlight here. A couple of Batfamily members don’t make the cut, but probably the most important ones have an appearance (or two); there’s also a conspicuous lack of top Justice League member representation. Tomasi’s preview to the next Detective Comics arc about the Arkham Knight is a feast for the eyeballs even if it’s thin on plot just yet. But it promises that the start of the next 1000 issues for Detective Comics will be a must-read on your pull lists for the foreseeable future!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.