In honor of the 75th anniversary of the original Detective Comics #27, and the fact that the New 52’s Detective Comics title has now also reached that milestone issue, DC has released a special edition, 98-page issue for the new Detective Comics #27. The issue, which can still be found at some comic shops now, is comprised of seven stories written and illustrated by noteworthy Batman creators from throughout the superhero’s history, as well as additional cover art and images by some of the greatest artists to portray the Bat yet. As the issue collects a few separate tales, I’ll be tackling each separately in turn, beginning with…
The Case of the Chemical Syndicate
Written by Brad Meltzer, Art by Bryan Hitch
In a clever re-telling of the original Detective Comics #27, Brad Meltzer tackles the classic first appearance of Batman from a different angle– where previously the story kept Batman’s identity secret until the last few panels, the New 52 take instead roots the narrative in Bruce’s internal monologue and the first entry into the “Journal of the Bat-Man.”
Certain elements of the storytelling are less than perfect. The appearance of a certain rogues gallery foe toward the end feels a bit shoehorned, and while I didn’t have a problem with the repeated “I do it because” and the layers of monologue from Batman, I can understand where they bothered others. Nonetheless, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” is a well-crafted homage to the the comic that gave us Batman, and a fitting kickoff to the celebration of our hero’s seventy-fifth anniversary.
Written by Gregg Hurwitz, Art by Neal Adams
A stunning jaunt through the decades of Batman’s history, Gregg Hurwitz’s “Old School” seeks to create a fantastical explanation for the various incarnations of the character throughout the years. With the aid of Hurwitz’s great writing and the art of the inimitable Neal Adams, we follow the Bat through costume and stylistic changes, finally coming to a head at a comic book shop where the Caped Crusader is confronted by some of his fiercest foes, albeit in a unique way.
A bit I found particularly interesting in this story is a specific part of that confrontation, wherein the rogues gallery tells Batman: “You will be what we want you to be. What we need you to be. We need you to bear the weight of our sins and fears. It is your immortal burden.” It’s an interesting idea, given the obvious implication that we, Batman’s audience, are speaking through the villains in these panels; it is we who turn to Batman to fight off the representations of our own “sins and fears.” The greatest thing about Batman though, which “Old School” illustrates perfectly, is that he has always risen to the challenge… and he always will.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Art by Ian Bertram
Probably my favorite of the seven stories collected here, “Better Days” is a short piece that puts Batman’s anniversary in-universe, re-imagining the event as Bruce Wayne’s seventy-fifth birthday. The story has some nice nods to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and it’s nice to see the Bat-family all together and happy for the first time in quite a while (especially Damian, who appears in spite of obvious reasons.)
Ian Bertram’s art really helps this tale shine, as it hits perfectly on the sweet spot between the colorful, classic Batman and the grit of Miller’s Bat. Bertram’s light tones emphasize the playfulness of the story, and even though all of the characters are written as much older than we’re used to seeing them, there is still a feel of youthful joy to “Better Days,” a happy contrast to what comes next in…
Story and Art by Francesco Francavilla
I’m not really sure what’s going on with the title for this one (it’s listed in the contents as “Hero,” yet its first page has it titled “Rain”), but in spite of an unclear title, this is still a phenomenal glimpse back into the world that Francesco Francavilla created with Scott Snyder back in The Black Mirror. It’s incredible what Francavilla does with just four pages, taking such a small amount of space and nevertheless crafting a beautiful, ominous, and memorable look at the Batman universe.
“Hero/Rain” does stick out of the texture of this commemorative issue a bit (though not as much as “Gothtopia,” but I’ll get to that), as most of the other stories collected here revolve around the anniversary that Detective Comics #27 celebrates. It doesn’t suffer individually from this noncohesiveness– as its own piece, it’s fantastic– but I can’t help feeling that it would be better placed outside of this volume.
Written by Mike Barr, Art by Guillem March
I’m a little upset that I couldn’t find a good image to scan for this one, but the fact of the matter is that pretty much anything I liked gave too much away. The story, which is loaded with alternate-reality goodness, shows us (and Batman) what Bruce Wayne’s life could have been like if things had gone differently in Crime Alley all those years ago. As the opening panel tells us, the Phantom Stranger offers this opportunity to Batman “on the anniversary of his life’s worst night,” along with the choice to either leave the world without Batman or make the title sacrifice and give up the life that could have been his. “The Sacrifice” gives us a well-written, It’s A Wonderful Life-esque look at Batman, and the shifted two steps to the left Gotham we see here only emphasizes the everlasting need for the Dark Knight.
Written by John Layman, Art by Jason Fabok
“Gothtopia” is essentially the opposite of “The Sacrifice” quality-wise, and while their juxtaposition was probably no accident, it serves only to showcase the superiority of Barr and March’s story. “Gothtopia” is another alternate-reality piece, and if it was just that it may have gotten by with a more positive review from me. However, as the tale unfolds (and boy, does it unfold– it’s the longest in this book, and is set to extend into the standard Detective Comics run as well as other tie-in comics) it becomes clear that we are not in an alternate Gotham, per se, but an altered Gotham.
Fabok’s characters don’t really deviate from the norm, but in that regard they’re also nothing special, and Layman’s writing suffers from the same issue. A few heroes get repainted costumes to emphasize the strangeness of this world (“Oh my God! Batman’s suit is white now!”), and quite a few get re-named rather ridiculously (Catbird? Bluebelle? Really?) but other than that, “Gothtopia” is pretty forgettable.
Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Sean Murphy
Scott Snyder is the best writer of modern Batman, and his “Twenty-Seven” definitely doesn’t disappoint. The story is brilliant, and not only pays tribute to the long history of Batman, but also to the eternal nature of the character; its core narrative thrust echoes the notion that, as Snyder puts it, for Batman it’s “Never the End.”
In Snyder’s take on the Batman legacy, which allegedly teases some of the author’s upcoming work with the character, Batman is a mantle that has been passed down through generations, seeing various iterations throughout the 200 years that the title has been in play. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story because as I said, it’s quite a good one, but I will say this– after six stories focused mostly on celebrating Batman’s past, it’s a perfect and refreshing conclusion to this volume to have a story about the Bat’s future. It’s also exciting to see the way that familiar elements of the Batman we all know and love come into play throughout the futurescapes we encounter here, whether tweaked to fit the scenario, or in the case of one relic, hauntingly familiar…