Detective Comics 27

detective comics 27

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.

HitchedWhile 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!

Happy 75thJust…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:

ClosureBatman 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!

JoymanOh, 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.

Bat-tageSnyder 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).

You have to evolve

“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?

30 comments on “Detective Comics 27

  1. I found it underwhelming at most. With the talent gathered there, and paying 8 bucks for the digital edition, I surely expected more.

    Of course, I expected something like Batman 400. And I’m old enough to remember the thrill of the special issues of 1989, when Batman turned 50. (Or maybe I was young enough to be thrilled by then? The fact is I still get butterflies in my stomach when I re-read those issues.)

    Even if I do know that something like that may never happen again, I did expect something more memorable than a disjointed collection of “immaginary tales” –sure, they all are immaginary, but is that really the best DC has to offer for the anniversary of one of its top characters, even with all the talent they gathered?

    I do know that, the longer I read comics, the less unexpected they become. But, being an addict to comics, I always let my emotional expectation overcome my rational evaluation.

    Even if the stories in the book are not memorable, they have their moments. I can’t say honestly that I didn’t like Brad Meltzer’s retelling of The Case of the Chemical Syndicate. But I’ve seen both Batman and Meltzer in better shape. I can’t say I didn’t smile in parts of the story drawn by Neal Adams. But I’ve seen both Batman and Adams in better shape. The new “event” introduced in the last story is more of the same, and I won’t follow it anyway, so whatever. Those are not problems. Just not worth my USD 8. I’ve had more fun paying less for comics.

    What I felt really scammed about was Frank Miller’s variant cover – seeming more of a psychodelic homage to the “Catwoman” movie than to the anniversary character. We all know, for years, that Frank Miller doesn’t want to do it anymore. So why bother getting him on board to do it?

    All in all, I think my reaction says more about me than about Batman or DC or the creators. It says I should definitely stop. I’ll hardly be reading comics when Batman’s 80th anniversary comes. I was already stopping, dropping one or two titles every month. Yesterday, I decided to simply quit. Not for me anymore.

    • I’ve got nothing but respect for your decision, as I’ve been there myself a time or two. Comics (especially the big two) can be a frustrating hobby for the cost alone. Add to that a lot of the negative aspects associated with mainstream comics, it’s a wonder I’m still reading the adventures of Batman or Spidey.

      I’m just wondering though, are you quitting comics altogether, or just publishers like DC?

      • Just most regular comics, the habit. I’ll keep what I know as good. I still do love the characters in DC and Marvel, and nothing beats comics as a form. I still prefer comics to movies, hands down.

        I’ll probably keep buying the new Sandman series – yes, I’ve even re-read the first stories in the classic series to see how it fits with the new. Hawkeye is fun, well-done, and I hope it keeps apart from the cosmic gimmicks that are all the rage in Marvel now. And the past of my favorite comics is increasingly available for rediscovering.

        What I really don’t like is to shell out USD 15 a week for stories, out of sheer, habit, and get frustrated at spending so much buck for so little pleasure.

        I began reading comics regularly with Crisis. So I always loved the idea of continuity puzzles. But, since then, I’ve lost count of all the reboots and reshuffles and relaunches I’ve seen in DC and Marvel.

        I don’t want to be around for All-New Marvel Now and the New 52 five years later. So tired of gimmicks. I’ve seen so many of them in three decades that I doubt any new gimmick might give me good surprises. Good stories, though, always give them – even if they get too rare when artists need to tie in to the latest gimmick.

        I dropped comics altogether in the late 90s also, for exactly the same reason. But then in the early 2000s, comics rebounded with fresh writers and stories. First Marvel, then DC, it seemed. Maybe in a couple of years they’ll react again to the tiresomeness of readers.

        • Yeah, I think this is one of the hardest lessons in comic-reading, and one I’m not sure we’ll ever fully master. The idea being that you only read what you like and not buy into the hype (especially when you know it so well to be hype). There’s nothing magical about a 75th anniversary that should make this volume particularly satisfying. In fact, just knowing that its going to be a high-profile thing should clue us all in to the fact that it won’t be particularly daring or innovating or anything of the things that make comics so special.

    • Yeah, I do find myself wondering what really makes this issue different from the likes of Batman: Black and White. I love that that DC puts things together like that on a regular basis, but it means they have to do a bit more than a plus-sized anthology to make an issue feel extra special. Maybe my expectations were too high for this event, but this feels more like something DC might publish any old time than a super-special anniversary issue.

  2. One thing that struck me about Snyder’s story were the futuristic interpretations of Batman. I imagined myself as a boy in 1939 reading the original ‘Tec 27. Then I imagined what would happen if I was suddenly presented with random images of today’s Batman comics. My 1939 self would see today’s Batman just as futuristic as the one’s presented by Snyder and Murphy.

    Snyder’s futuristic vision is alive and well already. And where his Bruce found ways to turn pieces of himself into new generations of Batmen, the writers of Batman comics have been doing that successfully for the last 75 years as well, but instead of creating “clones” they been creating their own interpretations of Batman by taking bits and pieces of what worked in the past and adding to it.

  3. Fun Fact: The Dark Knight Returns and Year One are both closer in history to the 60’s tv show than they are to the present day. This blows my mind a little. We tend to think of those works as kicking off the modern era (and Year One did kick off the continuity that kind-of-sort-of ended with the relaunch), but they’re in the middle 25 of Batman’s 75-year history.

  4. It’s super interesting to me that the only story we’re supposed to take as part of the New 52 canon is ALSO sort of a “what if” story. Like, even when we’re doing to the nuts and bolts of Batman storytelling, there’s an amount of riffing built right into modern Batman’s DNA. I’m starting to think that this is a defining characteristic of Batman — as we understand the character and the franchise now. Just as a Batman story needs to have some action, some detective work, some abstraction of revenge on ALL CRIME, etc. they also must reflect on the nature of Batman, or why we need Batman or why there will always be Batman.

    • I like the idea that the way some of these stories recall other meta-commentaries may reveal a meta-meta-commentary, but I’m going to disagree with your assertion that Batman stories must always reflect on the nature of Batman. Or, more precisely, that the notion of a story reflecting on its protagonist is in any way unique to Batman. Character-driven or -focused stories always do that, right?

      The kind of non-canonical riffing we see here is great at distilling the character down to the barest elements, but I think the meta-commentary is more an artifact of that distillation than anything inherent to the character. Like, that same kind of thing shows up in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and All-Star Superman. When given the opportunity, writers want to expound on what makes their characters great, enduring pop-culture figures. Batman just happens to get this kind of non-canonical treatment A LOT, so we tend to see a lot of these meta-commentaries.

      • But it’s not even strictly non-canonical Batman that gets this treatment. As you point out, much of both Snyder’s run and Morrison’s run have had that kind of reflexive look back at the “Batman-ness” of Batman.

        Also, it’s been a little while since I read Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, but I remember being surprised by how straightforward it is. A non-canonical Superman story that attempts to represent Superman’s essence can still also be a fun adventure fighting aliens and magical men. In fact, it almost has to be – by contrast Whatever Happened to the Capped Crusader goes from Batman funeral to Batman eulogy and never stops talking about what Batman meant.

        • I still think that mining of history has more to do with the depth of that history and the personalities of the writers involved than anything inherent to Batman. Ultimately, I don’t think either of us particularly cares where it comes from, but whether or not we accept that it should be a part of every Batman story is going to determine whether or not we’re bored by it. Like, I wouldn’t begrudge any Batman story for featuring a brooding dude in a bat-suit, but I might get accuse another story where Joker poisons the water supply derivative (you know, unless it did it in an interesting way). Maybe we need to better define what we mean by this kin of character-riffing. In your estimation, do Nolan’s Dark Knight films qualify, or does it need to be more post-modern?

        • Right. None of this stuff matters if it’s done well. I’d happily read a story where Batman is a kitten if the creative team could sell it.

  5. One thing is clear to me: You guys like Batman more than I do and you know more about Batman’s ‘history’ than I do.

    I didn’t like much of this. The only story I really liked is one that seems to be the least interesting to most of you. I liked Gothtopia. I wanted to read the next part. I actually *might* read the next part, which would be a surprise, because I’m not currently buying Detective (although DC still has to fix their pricing or what they deliver to get me to buy it), but I kind of want to now.

    The rest of the stories did little to nothing for me. I thought the first story was unnecessary considering I just read about the same thing in Batman. The art in Batman’s 75th birthday party was not pleasing to me at all. I really thought it was ugly to look at. Francavilla’s story suffered from (gasp) the art. Way too dark and muddy and difficult to decipher the action. It also was hurt by the format of the book – the hard binding ensured I wasn’t going to open the comic all the way and mixed with the dark colors really made it a story that was difficult to follow. Also, as a non-Bats fan, I was unsure if there should have been some “ooh” moment for me when he was rescuing Gordon’s kid “again”. I didn’t know he had saved him before, so I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel.

    I still haven’t finished Snyder’s story. I thought it was unreadable. I’ve actually bagged and boarded Tec 27 and wouldn’t have given it another thought but you guys seemed to like it so much that I’ll dig through my pile and try again, but I was really disappointed in it.

    But I liked most of what Gothtopia did. I might stick around and see what happens next.

    • For the rotten clumsiness of the name “Gothtopia,” I also found myself enjoying that story. I totally get Drew’s complaint about it basically just being the Matrix, but I’m hoping that they don’t spend so much time playing with the mystery of what’s going on and just tell some stories in this bright fuzzy Gotham. I mean, they give away the mystery of it in the last page, so the only thing that seems left to do is have fun with it, right?

      • “Rotten clumsiness” would have been a better title than Gothtopia, that’s for sure.

        I never correlated Gothtopia to the Matrix, but I think the Matrix came at different times in our lives. I saw it once, it was Keanu Reeves, never thought about it again. I couldn’t compare anything to the Matrix because the Matrix isn’t part of my vernacular. Also, Fabok is fantastic here (and has been his whole time on Detective). This story alone is a 27 page story, which means they took a whole regular issue of Detective and jammed it in to the middle of the rest of this.

        Question: Are these Bat-allies from other Bat-lore or are they originals? Catbird, Bluebelle, Brightbat, Flying Fox, Gothamite, Wings of Truth. . . should I know those names?

        Oh, the other story I liked was The Sacrifice. There wasn’t much to it, but I thought it was a little bit of morbid fun.

        I think Snyder’s story needed 4 more pages. Re-reading the first couple of pages and then reading the story, I appreciated it a bit more. I thought the first couple of pages were a cluttered mess and after reading what felt like 1000 pages of Bat-stuff, I just gave up. It’s actually a neat idea, and I was fooled by what I still consider a weak opening sequence

        • Those characters are all alternate-universe alter-egos to regular Batman characters: Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Batwing, and Birds of Prey…I’m probably forgetting one or two, but we’re meant to recognize them as brighter versions of characters we already know.

    • Man, I hadn’t really considered how inside baseball this issue was. Each chapter was clearly written for long-time Batman fans. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that in principle (who else would want to celebrate his legacy), but there’s no reason that it has to alienate more casual fans who haven’t memorized The Dark Knight Returns or Year One.

  6. I really love that the print version of this was bound like a trade paperback. It will look nice on my shelf.

    I was disappointed by the first few stories of this, but by the half-way point it really started to click for me. I’m absolutely thrilled by the Tomasi story (ADULT DAMIANNNN!), the Francavilla story looks gorgeous, the Snyder story is a brilliant concept, and Gothtopia actually has me intrigued enough that I want to check out the rest of the crossover (it doesn’t help that the art for that segment is REALLY good). I don’t know if it was worth the 8 bucks, but I ultimately ended up enjoying this more than not, so I guess that’s a good sign.

    • A hit or miss book overall, though as some of you I quite liked Gothopia, which came as a surprise since I dropped ‘tec some months back with this exact creative team already in place. Francavilla’s story was alright but his art was great, I hope they add him to the weekly roster or something; I love Capullo on Batman and I’m pumped for Manapul on ‘tec but that guys needs to draw more Batman, it suits his style so well.

  7. Is anyone else unnerved by how man-crazy Catwoman is portrayed in Gothtopia? It upset me so much that I have no interest in reading the rest of the story. If Batman’s idealized world includes a relationship with Catwoman then that is totally fine and expected. What isn’t expected is that he’d want an overbearing, jealous, and crazy version of Selina. She’s an absolute caricature here.

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