13 Essential BATMAN Stories From DETECTIVE COMICS

These stories need to be in the Issue #1000 celebration…

One of the cool things about the recent Action Comics #1000 hoopla — you can click here to check out our SUPERMAN WEEK festivities — was DC’s release of a hardcover retrospective featuring some of the most noteworthy stories in the history of that title.

Well, next up is Detective Comics #1000, which, if its twice-monthly pace keeps up, will hit around March 2019.

I imagine that DC will keep that schedule. Why? Well, the publisher made sure that Action Comics #1000 landed on April 18 — the 80th anniversary of the day that Action #1, and Superman, debuted.

And guess what issue of Detective Comics came out in March 1939? That’s right — Detective Comics #27, on March 30, to be precise. Unfortunately, that’s not a Wednesday next year, but, hey, you can’t have everything.

Bob Kane

Anyway, my point is that DC will in all likelihood produce a hardcover collection that will celebrate both Detective (which actually premiered in 1937) and, naturally, Batman and his universe.

But what to put in it? We’re here to help!

The Action hardcover had 19 reprinted stories — beyond a new tale, a never-published one and a series of essays — including a couple without Superman, such as the debuts of Zatara and Vigilante. Similarly, I imagine a Detective book would include the first stories of, say, Slam Bradley, the Boy Commandos and the Martian Manhunter. (Maybe even the Crimson Avenger, Pow Wow Smith or Roy Raymond, though I kind of doubt it with the last two.)

I would also want to include the first two pages from Detective Comics #33, which first told Batman’s origin — a sequence later rejiggered for Batman #1. In addition, one of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’ Batwoman stories from when she took over the title about a decade ago should be in the mix, as well.

Yet what complete Batman stories would need to be included? Wouldn’t you know it, we’ve come up with 13 of them — which is close to the number of what would probably fit anyway.

Now, the thing is, a lot of these stories have been reprinted in many different places, even in the recent 75 Years and Arkham collections. That really can’t be helped because if you’re going to do a book like this, you really need a representative selection.

So here goes — 13 Essential BATMAN Stories From DETECTIVE COMICS:

Detective Comics #27 (1939). The Case of the Chemical Syndicate, by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane. I don’t really need to explain this, do I?

Detective Comics #38 (1940). Robin the Boy Wonder, by Bill Finger, penciller Bob Kane and inker Jerry Robinson. I don’t really need to explain this, do I?

Bob Kane pencils, Jerry Robinson inks

Detective Comics #58 (1941). One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups of All Time!!, by Finger, penciller Kane and inkers Robinson and George Roussos. The Penguin shows up for the first time.

Detective Comics #140 (1948). The Riddler, by Finger, penciller Dick Sprang and inker Charles Paris. The last major villain to be introduced in the Golden Age, the Riddler wouldn’t achieve A-List status for almost another 20 years. But this excellent story sets the template for what’s to come.

Win Mortimer

Detective Comics #168 (1951 cover date). The Man Behind the Red Hood, by Finger, penciller Lew Sayre Schwartz and inker Roussos (with an assist from Win Mortimer). One of the most important Batman stories ever, it provides the first origin of the Joker. Like many of these, it’s been reprinted a zillion times, but I don’t see how you can leave it out.

Lew Sayre Schwartz pencils and George Roussos inks.

Detective Comics #233 (1956). The Batwoman, by writer Edmond Hamilton, penciller Moldoff and inker Stan Kaye. Batman segues into the early Silver Age with the post-Wertham introduction of Kathy Kane — the original Batwoman. She would be followed by Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite and Bat-Girl, and all four would be phased out by the mid-’60s. It’s not the greatest story in the world but it’s emblematic of its era — and sets up the inclusion of a Rucka-Williams piece, offering a nice historical through line and perspective.

Sheldon Moldoff

Detective Comics #359 (1967 cover date). The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl! by Fox, penciller Carmine Infantino and inker Sid Greene. Another one that’s been reprinted over and over but it’s one of the most important issues in comics history, let alone Detective history. You have to include Barbara Gordon’s grand entrance to Gotham.

Carmine Infantino pencils, Murphy Anderson inks

Detective Comics #387 (1969). The Cry of the Night is — “Sudden Death!” by writer Mike Friedrich, penciller Bob Brown and inker Joe Giella. A very clever riff on The Case of the Chemical Syndicate, this 30th anniversary re-do of Batman’s first adventure casts Robin as a kind of conservative law-and-order type who is quick to accuse the son of a dead man of murder because the guy is something of an authority-flouting hippie. It’s very of its time but it’s one of those late ’60s stories that gets forgotten because it came out after the Camp Era and before Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams really got their hands on Batman.

Irv Novick

Detective Comics #457 (1976 cover date). There is No Hope in Crime Alley! by writer Denny O’Neil and artist Dick Giordano, with an inking assist by Terry Austin. An absolute classic that re-tells Batman’s origin and adds moving texture with the introduction of Leslie Thompkins to Bruce Wayne’s backstory.

Dick Giordano

Detective Comics #475-476 (1978 cover dates). The Laughing Fish!/Sign of the Joker! by writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers and inker Terry Austin. I’m cheating by including two issues here, but it’s a two-parter. (Actually, it’s the climax of a much larger story that makes up what’s probably the best arc in Detective history.) One of the greatest Joker stories ever. As in, ever.

Marshall Rogers pencils, Terry Austin inks

Detective Comics #500 (1981 cover date). To Kill A Legend, by writer Alan Brennert and artist Giordano. Batman ventures to an alternate universe where he’s given the chance to save Thomas and Martha Wayne — and alter the destiny of their son Bruce. Lyrical and moving, it’s often cited on All-Time Best lists.

Detective Comics #583 (1988 cover date). Fever, by writers John Wagner and Alan Grant, penciller Norm Breyfogle and inker Kim DeMulder. Introduces the cult fave villain Ventriloquist, but that’s not why I picked it. I picked it because the creative team has a devoted following — especially Breyfogle. These guys defined the late ’80s and early ’90s Batman.

Detective Comics #874 (2011). Skeleton Cases, Part 3, by writer Scott Snyder and artist Francesco Francavilla. This is at heart a Commissioner Gordon story and the killer sequence is his agonizingly suspenseful conversation in a restaurant with his deranged son James Jr. (You have to forgive DC’s sliding age scale.) James Jr. taunts his father that he may have killed someone and left their body in the bathroom. Gordon tries to play it cool but the Hitchcockian image of the bathroom door looms. Brilliantly tense storytelling.

FINAL NOTES: I don’t usually explain why I didn’t list something, but there are some notable stories from Detective missing here and I think it’s probably worth going over why: You need to cover 80 years. Even though I have a strong tendency to lean on the Silver and Bronze Ages, you can’t fit everything. So some of my personal preferences are left behind, namely Gotham Gang Line-Up! from 1964’s Detective Comics #328 and any of the Adams-O’Neil stories from the early ’70s.

Gotham Gang Line-Up! featured the “death” of Alfred and introduced Aunt Harriet but I think the Silver Age is otherwise well served here.

Infantino and Joe Giella

But how could I leave out O’Neil-Adams — who are my favorite writer and artist, respectively? By bending the rules: The O’Neil-Adams stories — which are fantastic, very important and among my absolute favorites — have been reprinted time and again and are readily available in DC’s series of Adams collections. Plus, the best stories of their Bat-partnership were in Batman itself. Instead, how about giving us a new O’Neil-Adams story a la the new Paul Levitz-Adams story in the Action hardcover? Unlikely, but we can dream. If that’s not possible, then I do think that one of their pairings needs to be included in the book. (At the very least, Adams needs to be represented. O’Neil is already on the list.)

1971. Story by O’Neil and Adams. Cover by Adams and Giordano.

Cover images and art credits from the historic Grand Comics Database.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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    • That’s my out, Jason. O’Neil-Adams need to be represented and that’d be the likeliest choice. (I would also suggest A Vow From the Grave! since it’s been reprinted less frequently and is so damn unsettling.)

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  1. I’d include with Detective #27 a snippet or the cover of the Shadow story by Theodore Tinsley that “inspired” Bill Finger’s first Batman story. Tinsley should get some recognition for his contribution to the Batman mythos.

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  2. I have completed your incomplete sentence for you. “Similarly, I imagine a Detective book would include the first stories of, say, Slam Bradley, the Boy Commandos, the Martian Manhunter and….Goodwin and Simonson’s Non-Martian Manhunter.”

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  3. I just want to say I’m a long-time lurker and I really enjoy the site. For the most part, I agree with your suggestions. However, as is the case with these type of articles, I would disagree with a few of your picks.

    First off, “The Cry of Night is Sudden Death” shouldn’t be included. The book is going to include “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” so i don’t really see a point in including another version of the same story. Plus, it is horribly dated with the “hippie” and his “timely” 60s dialogue. If you’ll recall, Wolfman and Aparo and Grant and Breyfogle also did updated versions of “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” in Detective 627. I would go with either the first new look story from Detective 327 or Gotham Gang Line-Up instead of “The Cry of Night is Sudden Death.” BTW, does anyone know why reprints of the story change the name to “The Cry of Night is Kill”? Oh, and including “Gotham Gang Line-Up” would add another Bill Finger story, and he is a more historically significant Bat-writer than Friedrich, or anyone else.

    Either “Secret of the Waiting Graves” or “Vow from the Grave” should be included. I have a personal bias since they are my two favorite O’Neil/Adams tales. The notes to The Greatest Batman stories ever told quoted O’Neil that Vow was his “technically” his best collaboration with Adams, but Secret is more historically significant.

    If I were going to include a Manhunter story from the 70s, which would be hard due to its serial nature, I probably would go with Gotterdammerung, but if the Goodwin era is represented, why not go with Deathmask? Then Jim Aparo is in the book. Speaking of that era, Night of the Stalker has been reprinted less than O’Neil’s “There’s No Hope in Crime Alley”, so I might use it instead.

    I definitely want a Grant/Breyfogle story, and I love Fever….but it is a two-parter, which means both parts will have to be included. I do hope DC will avoid the overly political “An American Batman in London” which was a single parter and find another single parter by the duo if both parts of Fever can’t be included.

    I also think a Chuck Dixon/Graham Nolan story should be included.

    Finally, I would drop the Synder story and go with one from Paul Dini’s run. Slayride is the Dini issue that gets the most attention, but it has been reprinted to death. However, most of Dini’s run were “done-in-ones” and the Synder issue is part of a multi-parter, so the Dini selection would make a better one-off read. Plus, due to his work on the Animated Series, I think Dini is a more historically significant creator. Personal bias admission….I prefer Dini’s writing to Synder’s.

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