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In May, 1977, Steve Englehart began his run on “Detective Comics” with issue #469. When he completed his run with issue 476, Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers finished what many comic readers feel is the definitive take on Batman. Englehart and Rogers “Detective” arc would go on to be huge influences on the first two Batman films and “Batman: The Animated Series.” One episode of the series, “The Laughing Fish,” is a direct adaptation of the last two issues of Englehart and Rogers run. This May, Englehart and Rogers return to Gotham City with the release of “Batman: Dark Detective,” a six-issue mini-series from DC Comics.
“Dark Detective” was born when Vice President Executive Editor of the DC Universe, Dan Didio asked Englehart and Rogers to do a follow up to their acclaimed “Detective Comics” run. “Part of Dan’s new regime I guess involved doing things like this,” Englehart said. “So, he asked and we said yeah. When they asked it was quite a nice day. I like this guy a lot, Batman. I really liked getting a chance to come back to him.”
When he began writing his initial “Detective Comics” arc, Englehart’s goal was simple — to write the ultimate Batman story. “I tried to come up with what I thought really made the guy work and the two factors are on the Batman side, I really drenched him in the pulp atmosphere. I really went for the 3 A.M., dead of night, under a full moon kind of feel for him and The Joker and everybody else, but at the same time I made him human. I made it clear that this was a real person doing this kind of stuff.”
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Englehart’s Batman is driven, but he is better adjusted than other depictions of the character. “My theory of Batman is that he swore as a child that he was going to spend his life warring on criminals and then he made himself the best warrior available,” Englehart explained “In my mind that means he’s not crazy. My theory of Batman is that he’s wound up just about as tight as he can go, but if he went any further he knows he would start losing effectiveness. So, he holds himself very tightly. He’s a human being. He’s not crazy. It’s all about getting the job done for him.”
“Dark Detective” takes place an unspecified amount of time after the end of Englehart’s “Detective” run which saw Silver St.Cloud, the love of Bruce Wayne’s life, leave him because she could not deal with him being Batman. “In that time both Silver and Batman have put each other behind them,” Englehart said. “They’re not really expecting to run into each other ever again. She’s gotten engaged to a candidate for governor. There’s been some time, but certainly not like years and years.”
The political ambitions of Silver’s fiancée bring her back into Bruce’s life. “He holds a high level fund raising soiree and Bruce Wayne is invited, but Bruce doesn’t know that Silver is his fiancée,” Englehart explained. “Then they see each other across a crowded room.”
Just like Englehart and Rogers’ initial “Detective Comics” stories where Batman matched wits with corrupt city councilman Rupert Thorne, in “Dark Detective” Batman is once again involved in the dirty and deadly world of politics, because Silver’s fiancé is not running unopposed for Governor. The Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker, has also decided to run. “Last time he had the laughing fish concept that everybody liked. I thought he needs something as entertaining and as that as crazy as that. Because it was the middle of the political season I found myself with this slogan, ‘Vote for me. Or I’ll kill you!’ He figures he’s rich, he’s famous. How come he can’t get any respect? He says, ‘ If an actor can become governor, why can’t a super criminal?”
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The Joker’s gubernatorial campaign and the return of an old flame aren’t the only problems Batman will be facing in “Dark Detective.” “The Joker launches his run for governor and the crime wave involved,” Englehart said. “But, Two-Face has also got a plan in motion and The Scarecrow has a plan in motion and basically they’re all doing it at the same time. So Batman has got to deal with three super villains at the same time, all of whom are going down different paths and Silver walks back into his life.”
Dealing with three arch-criminals and his love life will keep Batman busy, which helps Englehart explore another important character in “Dark Detective,” the City of Gotham. “Gotham City is a 24-hour town,” Englehart said. “I’ve always thought Gotham was a character in this series. It varies as to how much people use it, but I’m trying to really take advantage of what a big time world class city operating 24-hours a day would actually be like. That was something I wanted to play with.”
Only one regular supporting character appears in “Dark Detective” to help Batman deal with his many problems. “Only Alfred,” Englehart said. “When they asked me to do this I wanted it to be in continuity. So, I said, ‘Where are all these people?’ and I was informed that Jim Gordon was not there anymore. I would have used him. I like him, but he’s not there. I took the current Bat thing about the cops being mad at him and him being persona non grata. I ran with that.”
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“Dark Detective” is new reader friendly. The only story connection to Englehart and Rogers’ previous run is the Bruce Wayne- Silver St.Cloud relationship. “There’s a quick flashback in the first issue to set up their relationship; what that’s all about. Otherwise it pretty much stands on its own.”
When Englehart and Rogers returned to writing Batman they decided they needed a title for their collective work. “I figured we needed a brand name for it,” Englehart explained. “Everybody calls it ‘The Englehart-Rogers Detective’ or they call it sometimes ‘The Definitive Detective.’ I was talking to Peter Sanderson who said, ‘They should just put ‘The Definitive Batman’ on it.’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, DC’s going to do that.’ I later ran that past Joey Cavalieri who laughed quite hardily. Basically our stuff is now ‘Dark Detective’ and hopefully they are going to reprint the first run yet again and that will be called ‘Dark Detective Volume1’ this time.”
Despite the many years that have passed, Englehart’s “Detective Comics” work is still fresh in his mind. “I know it was the 70s that we did that and probably half of the audience who looks at this won’t even have been born at that point,” Englehart said. “But, at the same time, it’s never faded in my brain. When they asked me to do this, I didn’t have to sit down and reread these things in order to figure out who these people were again. It seems like just yesterday to me. There’s been no break in my brain, which is probably a good thing for my brain.”
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