13 Great Comics Mysteries, by PAUL LEVITZ

The comics master picks some great ones…

Paul Levitz’s Brooklyn Blood, with art by Tim Hamilton, is now available everywhere in trade paperback from Dark Horse. It’s a must-read occult murder mystery set largely in the New York City borough. (Click here to check out a great feature on it in the New York Post.)

As a writer, historian and former DC publisher, Levitz, of course, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on comics. In tandem with the graphic novel’s publication, he’s come up with a list of 13 GREAT COMICS MYSTERIES. — Dan


I’m a great fan of mysteries, and credit classic writers Christie, Sayers, McBain and Stout with tremendous influence on my own writing. So, to celebrate the collected publication of Brooklyn Blood, here’s a list of some of the great mysteries in comics. It’s idiosyncratic, leaning toward my youthful reading, plus a couple of projects I watched come together.

My apologies to those left out – and feel free to post your favorites too.

In sort of chronological order:

Batman, “The Man Behind The Red Hood!” Detective Comics #168 (1951). We’re still debating the mysterious (and various) origins of the Joker, but here’s Bill Finger kicking it off. (Art by Lew Sayre Schwartz, Win Mortimer and George Roussos).

Art by Schwartz and Roussos

Wonder Woman, “The Impossible Day!” Wonder Woman #124 (1961). It’s likely Bob Kanigher didn’t really have a solution to his own continuity conundrum (or care, as long as it made a great cover), but how did Wonder Woman co-exist with a couple of her (presumed) younger selves? (Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.)

Art by Andru and Esposito

Spider-Man, “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin!” Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1964), and on. Identify the villain behind the mask is a powerful comics trope, but no one’s ever played it better than Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Art by Ditko

Zatanna, “The Girl Who Split in Two!” Hawkman #4 (1964), and on. There’s no arc title for this early interlocked story that moved across many DC titles written by Gardner Fox, as Zatanna searched for her father, Zatara. (Art by Murphy Anderson, others.)

Art by Anderson

Deadman, “Who Has Been Lying In My Grave?” Strange Adventures #205 (1967). The quest to find the Hook and why Boston Brand was murdered flipped the concept of The Fugitive into the supernatural, and Arnold Drake’s story inspired one of the most powerful comics covers ever. (Art by Carmine Infantino and Roussos.)

Art by Infantino and Roussos, from a Drake layout.

Secret Six, “Code Name: Mockingbird!” Secret Six #1 (1968), and on. E. Nelson Bridwell rarely got to write serious material, but his riddle of which of the Six was really their secretive leader, Mockingbird, was attention-grabbing…and his proposed solution making it Dr. August Durant would have challenged DC’s cultural caution in ’68, offering up the company’s first African-American leader. (Art by Frank Springer.)

Art by Springer, possibly with lettering by Gaspar Saladino

Justice League of America, “The Unknown Soldier of Victory!” JLA #100-102 (1972). Which of the Seven Soldiers lay in the grave? Len Wein crafted a wonderful puzzle, far better than when I accidentally almost killed one of the Soldiers twice in Convergence. (Art by Dick Dillin, Joe Giella and Dick Giordano.)

Art by Nick Cardy

Dracula, “Night of the Blood Stalker!” Tomb of Dracula #25 (1974). The mystery surrounding Hannibal King was a neat thread in the complex fabric of the myths Marv Wolfman expanded around Dracula. (Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.)

Art by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Zot! #1 (1984), and on. Why was it always 1965 in the world of Zot? Only Scott McCloud knows for sure.

Art by McCloud

Legion of Super-Heroes, “Unto the New Generation,” Legion of Super-Heroes #14 (1985), and on. Who is Sensor Girl is probably the best remembered mystery of my writing career, since the Great Darkness collected editions tended to give away its mystery on the cover. (Art by Steve Lightle and Larry Mahlstedt.)

Art by Lightle and Mahlstedt

Watchmen (1986-87). Alan Moore makes the murder of the Comedian the central mystery of perhaps the most impactful graphic novel of its time. (Art by Dave Gibbons.)

Art by Gibbons

Superman, “Reign of the Supermen,” Superman #78 (1993), and others. Who’s the real Superman, returned from the dead?  The world watched to see whether the real Superman was resurrected, or replaced in this sequence of tales by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern and Louise Simonson. (Art by various.)

Art by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding

Batman: The Long Halloween (1996-97). Who was the Holiday killer was the compelling through line for this powerful series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.

Art by Sale

What’s your list?  And maybe, if I’m very lucky, someday you might want to put Brooklyn Blood on it.

Art credits from the mysterious Grand Comics Database.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. The Great Darkness was an excellent mystery if you were there to read it in real time… Ah, cherished memories!

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