Today, Mikyzptlk and Drew are discussing Detective Comics 27, originally released January 8th, 2014.
Mikyzptlk: Detective Comics 27 is an anniversary issue not only because it’s the second “Detective Comics 27” in DC’s publishing history, but also because it’s Batman’s 75th anniversary (or close to it, anyway). With that, DC has brought on an impressive array of writers and artists (Brad Meltzer! Neal Adams!) in order to celebrate the Bat’s 75th birthday. The result is as intriguing as it is entertaining and heartwarming.
Our first tale is brought to us by Brad Meltzer. Batman takes down a would-be “chemical syndicate” all while listing off the reasons he does what he does. This list includes everything from insanity to survivor’s guilt, but in the end Batman is Batman because he has to be. The story itself is essentially another version of the Joker origin. It’s a bit odd seeing yet another version of Joker’s debut considering that we have just seen that in Scott Snyder’s Zero Year. However, Meltzer seems more interested in exploring the variety of reasons, psychological and otherwise, of why Batman does what he does. For an issue that is supposed to be a celebration of the “Cowled Crusader” this is a pretty decent, if not straightforward, way to start things off. Oh, and then there’s artist Bryan Hitch adding his cinematic stylings to the mix.
While Meltzer’s story was a fine tale, I was much more struck by Pete Tomasi and Ian Bertram’s “Better Days.” It’s Bruce Wayne’s 75th birthday (get it?), and the gang have all stopped by to celebrate!
Just…wow. I love so much about this image that I need to contain myself before I continue writing. Bertram’s art alone simply blows me away here. I mean, each page is soaked with interesting little details and it is just a surprisingly sweet take on the Dark Knight and his allies.
Now, Tomasi writes an incredibly competent and often entertaining Batman book of his very own. Every once in a while though, he knocks us Retcon-Punchers off our feet with poignant and emotionally powerful stories. This is definitely one of those times. His tale is about Bruce un-retiring for a night of crimefighting, and it starts off with the following image:
Batman is dozing off to “The Mark of Zorro!” If this image doesn’t illustrate closure then I don’t know what closure means. It’s Tomasi’s thesis statement, and it’s downright beautiful. Tomasi sees Batman’s future as a very positive one, almost as if he is rewarding Batman for his unceasing vigilance over the last 75 years. On his 75th birthday, Tomasi allows Batman the privilege of enjoying himself for once!
Oh, and then there are the references and returns! We’ve got Tim Drake back in his original Red Robin costume and Dick Grayson back in blue, both references to the pre-52 DCU. We also have Commissioner Barbara Gordon ripped straight out of Batman Beyond. Finally, we’ve got the triumphant return of Damian Wayne as Batman 666! All of this adds a level of meta-textual joy, which drives home the point of Tomasi’s new, old, joyful Batman. In the end, it makes me want to shout: Happy Birthday Batman!
The next story also takes place in the future, and is brought to us by the incredibly incredible (yes, they’re that incredible) team of Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy. This story is titled “Twenty-Seven,” and it’s Snyder’s chance to give us a glimpse of “the” future of his version of Batman. It begins, oddly enough, at the beginning with a young Bruce Wayne taking “the oath.” A moment later, he wakes up 200 years in the future to learn that he has been cloned by the original Batman to carry on his mission. There have been many versions of Batman throughout the years (all operating for 27 years) and many allies as well.
Snyder gives us a glimpse of the future that is tantalizingly brief. While I would give anything to read about the adventures of any of these futuristic Batmen, Snyder wraps up the celebration by showcasing the legacy of Batman as a character. As futuristic as these Batmen may be compared to today’s Batman, today’s Batman is incredibly futuristic compared to his 75 year old counterpart. While the legacy of Batman has endured for 75 years, Snyder maintains that he will last even longer, and that there is no end for Batman, only an ever-lasting future.
Well Drew, I was clearly blown away by this thing, but what did you think? I’d love to hear what you have to say about any of the stories I’ve already mentioned, but there are also plenty of stories I didn’t have room to cover as well. There’s the Neal Adams-pencilled (and super meta) “Old School” and chapter one of John Layman’s “Gothtopia.” There are other stories and special one-page art shots as well. Man, this thing was stuffed to the gills!
Drew: I’m of two minds about this issue. Part of me is right there with you, Mik: Batman has long been my favorite character, and I absolutely relish the opportunity to see some all-star talent riffing on him. But that Batman fandom cuts both ways, meaning this kind of continuity-free deconstruction of the character is very familiar to me. Indeed, between Legends of the Dark Knight, Batman Black and White, Elseworlds stories, out-of-continuity minis and original graphic novels, cartoons, movies, television shows, and 75 years of convoluted, oft-revamped comics continuity, Batman has been deconstructed, reimagined, and recontextualized possibly more than any other fictional character. That is to say, not only has the idea of celebrating Batman’s history been done (and in light of Grant Morrison’s epic and Snyder’s Zero Year, it seems to be the focus of some of his best modern stories), but the ideas in these stories feel a bit too familiar.
Mik is right on the money about “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” feeling particularly unnecessary so close on the heels of yet another take on Joker’s origin in Zero Year, but I think that’s basically true of almost every story here. “Old School” is a fun romp through Batman’s history, but is basically a rehash of the effect of Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (albeit a little more self-aware).
“Better Days” has a bit of a fresher feel to it, but it’s by virtue of synthesis, not invention. As Mik points out, several version’s of Batman’s future are represented, which start to negate each other. Even Bruce is ripped largely out of The Dark Knight Returns, which also found a retired Batman re-watching The Mark of Zorro before eventually re-donning the cape and cowl (it helps that the voiceover for that bit is lifted almost directly from TDKR). These are absolutely loving homages, but the message seems to be that the future will be made up of stories we’ve all seen before.
That message is very much carried over in Francesco Francavilla’s “Rain,” where Batman saves James Gordon Jr “again” (as Mrs. Gordon so helpfully points out). Mike Barr’s “The Sacrifice” and Jonathan Layman’s “The Perfect Crime” are similarly warmed-over, presenting alternate realities via the mechanisms from It’s a Wonderful Life and The Matrix, respectively — both of which strongly recall the stellar episode of Batman: The Animated Series, “Perchance to Dream.”
The most original of the bunch is decidedly Snyder and Murphy’s “Twenty-Seven,” which at the very least introduces some new ideas. Leave it to the man tasked with re-establishing Batman’s history to come up with a story where clones are walked through the basic tenants of Batmanhood, but are left to themselves to define where to go from there. That kind of “his parents still died. He still had to decide to ‘become a bat,’ but everything else is up in the air” set-up is exactly what DC handed Snyder at the launch of the New 52. It makes for a fascinating connection, but the underlying theme of duty, of Batman becoming an immortal force for good in Gotham, are all very familiar to Batman fans.
I hate to be the grump at this particular birthday party — and allow me to reiterate that I agree with everything Mik said, and enjoyed the heck out of this issue — but more than anything, the experience of reading this reminded me that it is extremely difficult to say anything new with a character who has been around for 75 years. I fully appreciate that this occasion is about celebrating the past, but doing so reminded me that this very well may be an accurate picture of the future, as well. Like the Penguin says, Batman needs to evolve. Reasonable fans can disagree about how much or little that evolution is necessary (and I look forward to taking that subject up in the comments), or even if this issue needed to point a way forward at all (this really is on occasion to celebrate the past), but this issue felt remarkably familiar.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?