Batman: Detective Comics #27 Anniversary Special
Written by Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz, Peter J. Tomasi, Francesco Francavilla, Mike Barr, John Layman, and Scott Snyder
Art by Bryan Hitch, Neal Adams, Ian Bertram, Francesco Francavilla, Guillem March, Jason Fabok, Sean Murphy, Pat Gleason, Jock, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, and Mike Allred
To celebrate Batman’s 75th anniversary, and the first appearance of Batman in 1939’s Detective Comics #27, this over-sized issue pays tribute to the Dark Knight with seven short stories and additional art by some of the greatest creators in comics!
Where to begin? This Detective Comics #27 is incredible. In order to do this book justice, let’s go through each story in the order presented.
The first story in Detective Comics #27 is a modern retelling of the first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” written by Brad Meltzer with art from Bryan Hitch. Meltzer and Hitch use the exact same number of panels in this story as Bill Finger and Bob Kane used in 1939, albeit stretching a few of them out into splash pages. No panel space or page is wasted as the story jumps right into the action and moves quickly. Readers get a glimpse into the Dark Knight’s first on-panel case and Meltzer provides insight into Batman’s mind by adding narration in the form of the first entry in what would become Batman’s journal, The Black Casebook. Hitch does an excellent job using his panel space wisely to show the reader what they need to see while still adding extra details that embellish the story. The splash pages of The Bat-Man’s big entrance and fighting on the scaffolding over that infamous vat of acid are expertly drawn. Meltzer and Hitch compliment each other nicely to take a classic tale and re-imagine it as a fast-paced, action-filled, and beautifully realized story.
Gregg Hurwitz and Neal Adams supply the second story in this issue. “Old School” is a tongue-in-cheek reflection on Batman over the years. Adams, one of the great Batman artists worthy of his own memorabilia in the Bat-cave, begins the story with retro-stylized art that looks straight out of the ‘40s. Hurwitz’s dialogue harkens back to simpler times when “ruffians” stole burlap bags with dollar signs on them, Batman needed bystanders to “make way for justice!”, and The Penguin’s laugh was the trademark “Wak wak wak wak” as he escaped on his helicopter-umbrella. As the story goes on, Batman is forced to adjust to new scenarios and darker times, and Adams’ art highlights the changing styles of each decade. This tale is a fun romp through years that fans of vintage Batman and his more modern, darker version can all enjoy. Hurwitz and Adams wonderfully celebrate 75 years of Batman and his relationship to readers. This is one of the most fun stories in the collection.
From there, readers get a story set in the future when a retired Bruce Wayne is celebrating his 75th birthday with an aging Bat-family. If there’s one thing writer Peter J. Tomasi does well, it’s bringing heart and emotion to all his stories. Even in this short vignette, he brings humor and warmth to the Bat-clan in ways readers seldom see. As Nightwing, Red Robin, Commissioner Barbara Gordon, and a salt-and-peppered Damian are pulled away from the cake and ice cream to save Gotham, Bruce sneaks out to have some fun as Batman one last time. Artist Ian Bertram shows the reader the joy Bruce feels with a big smile on his face when he puts on the cape and runs around rooftops. Bruce even manages to set a record number of arrests and make it back to the cave in time before any of his younger protégés notice. Bertram’s textured artwork gives the feeling of old age and weaker bodies while still playing off the humor of Tomasi’s writing. So often we see a grim, brooding Batman, but Bertram and Tomasi capture Bruce feeling like a kid again. “Seventy-five damn years old — with nothing to prove — except to myself — God help me, I love it so.”
Francesco Francavilla provides both the writing and art for the fourth story in Detective Comics #27. Francavilla tells the story of a brief, but significant, moment early in Batman’s career. One stormy night, Batman happens upon a car that has swerved off the road and crashed into a tree. He immediately hurries to their rescue and pulls the driver and her child from the car mere moments before the engine explodes into flames. Little does Batman realize that the occupants of the car will play a key part in his life many years from now, for better or for worse. Francavilla’s tale is brief, but he manages to pull off suspense, drama, and a foreboding sense of dread in only 4 pages. Francavilla’s art is always stylized in a way that only he can pull off; his colors are vivid with a touch of noir that hooks the reader immediately. This story shows how even one minor car accident on a typical rainy Gotham night can have lasting implications for Batman.
The next tale is a great Elseworlds-style story along the lines of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Writer Mike Barr and artist Guillem March bring in The Phantom Stranger to show Bruce what would have happened if his parents survived that fateful night in Crime Alley. The world without Batman has many familiar faces, including Dick Grayson, Jim Gordon, Ra’s al-Ghul, and even his love interest—Natalya Trusevich—from The New 52’s Batman: The Dark Knight. However, Bruce quickly learns that everything he ever hoped for is not exactly what he wanted. Barr’s writing lets the reader empathize with Bruce as he goes from living the dream life he’s always wanted to having his heart shattered all over again. March capitalizes on that emotion and puts it on the page in Bruce’s expressions and body language. His penciling and page layouts are a perfect match that sets the tone for this otherworldly tale of life and loss. This story is the tragic heartbeat of Detective Comics #27.
Regular series writer John Layman and artist Jason Fabok bring “Gothtopia” to life in the first chapter of this new three-part story arc of Detective Comics. Gotham is the safest, happiest city in America where all the heroes wear bright, shiny costumes and crime is practically non-existent! It’s a brave new world featuring many of Batman’s closest allies in familiar, yet completely different roles. Nothing is as it seems, with Selina Kyle as Bruce’s sidekick and lover Catbird, Commissioner Roman Sionis leading the GCPD, and Barbara Gordon and Kate Kane lending a hand as Bluebelle and Brightbat. Bruce hardly knows what to do with himself as Batman when Bullock asks him to help save a man threatening to jump from his building. Although Gotham is flourishing, suicide rates are skyrocketing. Layman writes a fascinating spin on Batman and his universe that gets more mysterious and intriguing as the story unfolds. He provides a fresh twist on many characters like Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and even the Birds of Prey. Fabok returns to the title after Aaron Lopresti’s #26, and he continues his reign of brilliance. His lines are always razor-sharp and few people can draw facial expressions and body language like Fabok. During his tenure on Detective Comics, Fabok has shown his prowess for capturing the dark, gritty tone of Gotham. Even when Layman turns Gotham upside-down into a bright, sunny, metropolis, Fabok nails it. The metallic-pastel heroes not only look like they belong in this Gotham, but that they’ve been there this whole time, and that is hard to pull off. Between the mysterious new world Layman sets up and Fabok’s detail-centric pencils, this “Gothtopia” is off to an intriguing start.
The last story in this anniversary issue is Scott Snyder’s and Sean Murphy’s “Twenty-Seven.” Snyder throws the reader 200 years into the future with a story about how Bruce Wayne keeps up the good fight. Of all the futuristic Batman stories out there, this one stands apart from the rest because it opens up so many possible storylines. It’s endless and brilliant. Snyder manages to add almost an infinite amount of ideas to the Batman mythology in only 12 pages. Each page practically deserves it’s own on-going series so readers can dive into each world with villains and heroes new and old. Murphy’s artwork really sells the future and makes it all so believable. His futuristic worlds vary in their design and landscape but they all seem as fully-developed as the next; it’s jaw-dropping. Murphy’s pencils have detail and kinetic energy that brings Gotham to life, no matter what year it is. There’s a common grittiness and realistic possibility in each future that ties the story together and makes it feel like the same Gotham readers know and love. This story was one of the most-hyped short stories in Detective Comics #27 and it certainly is impressive.
Throughout the book, readers are also treated to special commemorative artwork by Pat Gleason, Jock, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, and Mike Allred. Each artist brings their own unique take on Batman and friends and boy is it a treat. These tributes are only single-page works, but they deserve more.
Honestly, there is not much to say here. The biggest flaw of Detective Comics #27 is that it is too short. Yes, this book clocks in at 96 pages but it’s still too short. Each story is well-crafted and expertly-drawn, and the creators work wonders in the space they are given. However, the stories always end too soon. In particular, Francesco Francavilla only got four pages! That’s a shame because the man is awesome and we need to see him on a Bat-title more often (maybe one day DC will green-light his “Batman 1972”). Before this issue came out, there was much hype surrounding the first African-American Robin that appears in Snyder’s and Murphy’s short. However, the character is only briefly seen. It’s great readers finally have the first African-American Robin, but anyone hoping for his origin story might be disappointed. But in the defense of those creators, this short story is not about that one Robin, but rather the legacy of The Bat-Man.
Detective Comics #27 is the closest to a perfect comic book that’s been seen in The New 52. For anyone who likes Batman, this is an entertaining and engrossing read that pays tribute to what has come before but also looks ahead to what may come in the future. Whether you like your Batman with some vintage style and a healthy dose of camp, or dark and gritty with a hint of menace, there’s a Batman story for everyone in this book. These creators tell stories with suspense, action, excitement, humor, intrigue, and most importantly, heart. Detective Comics #27 is one of the best comic books this reviewer has ever read. Here’s hoping to another 75 years of Batman! Happy birthday, Bruce.