Everything old is new again, as Batman’s 75th Anniversary is appropriately and impressively commemorated in “Detective Comics” #27, and for this week at least, a comic book with that name houses both the very first and very latest appearances of (argulably) the world’s most popular comic book character. Seven stories by creators such as John Layman, Scott Snyder, and Bryan Hitch pay tribute to the character’s origins, take a peek at Batman’s possible futures, and acknowledge the scope of the Dark Knight’s 75 year legacy.
None of these stories are filler; the lengthier ones would be right at home in any of the current Batman titles, and the shorter ones are stronger than most backup or anthology stories. The two dozen plus creators involved with these tales are among the best of the industry’s current crop of talent, and all of them capture both the essence of the character. There’s an admirable array of diverse artists and writers here that deliver a wide assortment of stories that exhibit why the character has been so enduring for generations.
John Layman and Jason Fabok are among the best who demonstrate this diversity with the introduction to their “Gothtopia” arc, where Gotham has become a bright, shiny and Metropolis-like city under the watch of happier and daylight-embracing Batman. Layman’s perhaps-deliberate pedestrian introduction gives way to the surprising nature of the story, and there is probably no better choice than Fabok to make Gotham look beautiful. It’s almost disappointing that Layman reveals the nature of this striking change so quickly, as this unique and unusual incarnation of Batman and his city is worth further exploration.
Scott Snyder and his “The Wake” collaborator Sean Murphy take a look into the distant future of the Batman legacy in “Twenty Seven,” also tying into Snyder’s ongoing “Zero Year” arc. It’s full of unexpected elements that are in keeping with the kinds of surprises Snyder’s put forth in “Batman,” and Murphy’s large panels are jammed with all sorts of fascinating Easter egg-type bits that are worth the time it takes to peruse them slowly. The meanings of most are elusive, but fascinating regardless.
Greg Hurwitz and Neal Adams’ “Old School” acknowledges the changing flavors of the character over the years in a surreal, tongue-in-cheek tale that decidedly is old school, and all the more fun for it. Hurwitz’ dialogue is deliberately corny, and also quite funny because of its self-deprecating nature. Adams renders the early part of the story in an atypical but pleasing retro style, and Hurwitz has Batman ask why he must keep reliving the horror of his parents’ death, in a seeming jab at the countless stories over the decades, in various media, that have focused on this same moment over and over again.
Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch’s leadoff story retelling “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the name of the very first Batman story in the original “Detective Comics” #27, is a modernized but otherwise straightforward remake. Meltzer’s Bruce Wayne voiceover that runs throughout explaining his multiple motives for being Batman (“I do it because I’m good at it. I do it because I have the means. I do it . . . ” etc.) gets a little old and starts to sound like a commercial during the Superbowl after awhile. Hitch, though, makes it look great; especially the characters’ faces, as well as all the punches to them.
The other entries are no less fantastic. Peter J. Tomasi and Ian Bertram’s “Better Days” is a beautifully laid out futuristic tale of Bruce Wayne’s 75th birthday that pays tribute to Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns.” Mike Barr and Guillem March’s “The Sacrifice” makes a tragically convincing case as to why not just Gotham, but the world, needs a Batman. And Francesco Francavilla supplies a brief, fiery, and somewhat mysterious story, the only real fault of which is that it’s too short.
To round out the page count, there are pinups throughout featuring the work of even more artists like Mike Allred, Kelley Jones, and Graham Nolan. If there’s any criticism that can be aimed at this comic at all, it’s that it doesn’t contain more features from the character’s older, classic creators. Regardless, group editor Mike Marts and associate editor Katie Kubert have lined up an amazing array on entries that truly do honor such an enduring franchise, and is well worth the eight dollar price tag. This is one of the best ever anniversary issues of its kind.