Batman is known as the “World’s Greatest Detective” — and for good reason. Even without his superior martial arts skills and Olympian physique, he’d still make a formidable crime-fighter thanks to his incredible aptitude for sleuthing. If the Bat represents fear, Bruce Wayne represents brains. He possesses a photographic memory, a keen analytical amind, a genius level IQ, speaks dozens of languages, has well-rounded general knowledge of science, culture, and philosophy, and is one of the greatest strategists on the planet. Aside from raw intelligence, it just goes to show what incredible wealth and hours spent in front of a giant computer screen can get you.
However, though the Bat’s remarkable abilities can appear almost godlike, he still has his flaws. He is only human, after all. The trauma that looms large in his psyche from the loss of his parents is the driving force behind his mission to stamp out injustice, but it can also weaken him. Mental instability can cause him to make irrational decisions, as well as cloud his usual laser-precise focus. And there are also cases that have perplexed even the “World’s Greatest Detective” — The Court of Owls psychologically overwhelmed him; The Riddler’s “Hush” plot almost had him beat, and then there’s the most persistent mystery of them all: the Joker’s true identity. But is there anyone that is truly better? Whether they’re more ruthless, more conniving, or more worldly, let’s explore some possible candidates!
15. MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Given that he made his debut in an issue of Detective Comics, J’onn J’onzz’s legacy as a super-sleuth was assured from the get-go. After adopting Earth as his new home, he also adopted a human identity, “John Jones,” as well as a human occupation — a detective. Often described as “the Swiss army knife of superheroes,” his numerous Martian powers — invisibility, shape-shifting, phasing, super strength and speed, telepathy, telekinesis, and many more — obviously aid him hugely in his investigations, provided he use them inconspicuously.
However, even if he were powerless like Batman, he’d still give the Dark Knight a run for his crime-solving money. His incredible intellect was once described by supervillain Despero as being superior to Ted Kord — whose IQ is said to be 192. And, while Batman is multilingual, J’onn’s deductive, analytical and reasoning abilities combined with his in-depth diverse cultural knowledge make him a truly global detective.
While crime-solving isn’t technically in the Belgian-born, “boy reporter’s” job description, he seems to do a pretty good job at it anyway. Really, Tintin is probably as representative of journalism as Indiana Jones is of archeology. Similar to Jones, Tintin’s adventures are global and fraught with peril — toppling dictators, scuppering evil businessmen’s plans, and unraveling mysteries from the deepest ocean to the surface of the moon. In fact, you could say that, with his boyish charm and inherent goodness, Tintin is what Clark Kent — without his Kryptonian heritage — might look like.
Like Batman, Tintin is just a great all-rounder, making up for a lack of powers with peak physical fitness, intellect, tenacity, curiosity, resilience and a great right hook. But, while Bats wrestles with his darker urges, Tintin seems incorruptible, which is perhaps his greatest strength as a detective.
Watchmen‘s gruff, masked avenger was modelled on The Question, but his ingrained cynicism and “lone wolf” attitude also alludes to darker versions of Batman. Like the Caped Crusader, Allen Moore’s Rorschach is an ordinary human with extraordinary skills. As well as his startling propensity for violence, he is incredibly resourceful. While Batman has the money to create and buy just about any weapon, tool or vehicle he wants.
Rorschach is very much the working class Bruce Wayne — making do with whatever he can lay his gloved hands on, be it a pan of cooking fat, a toilet, cutlery, and even his own coat at one point in the series. In some ways, that makes him even more impressive than the Bat. As far as detective work goes, his teammate, Nite Owl II has called him “highly intelligent” and “tactically brilliant,” partly due to his wild unpredictability. And we all know how well Batman copes with unpredictability…
Although the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, Liverpudlian doesn’t appear to be anything special at first glance, his skills as the world’s premier occult detective are undeniable. John is a British take on the hard-boiled detective archetype with a magical twist. As well as a reckless and morally shady approach to his cases, he’s aided by his considerable knowledge of magic — demon summoning, divination, creating illusions, and spirit warding, to name just some of the tricks up his sleeve.
Thanks to his “synchronicity wave travelling” ability, he also has a supernatural knack for being in the right place at the right time. His magical arsenal is essentially the fantasy version of Batman’s utility belt, with the added advantage of it being practically impossible to steal. Whereas Batman opts for intimidation and brute force, John is a fantastic conman, able to talk himself into and then out of nearly any sticky situation. And, if that doesn’t work, he has shown a deft hand at mind control, too.
11. JESSICA JONES
When she’s not soaring over the skyscrapers of New York as her purple-haired, alter-ego “Jewel,” Jessica Jones can be found stalking the city’s streets — often with a camera in hand — as a Private Investigator. She also worked briefly as an investigative journalist for the “The Pulse,” a supplementary paper to “The Daily Bugle.” As a detective, Jessica is tenacious and sometimes a little hot-headed, but she’s also a seasoned pro at the job, with countless closed cases under her belt.
The Netflix adaptation certainly showcased her sleuthing aptitude, including her no-holds-barred interrogation skills, her deductive reasoning, and how she can creatively weave her powers into cracking a case while keeping her super-identity hidden (well, relatively hidden). Batman has certainly had his fair share of trauma, but Jessica’s salvaged resolve following her torturous ordeal at the hands of the diabolical Purple Man to get the job done makes her a steely force to be reckoned with.
10. ANITA BLAKE
Laurel K. Hamilton’s necromancing detective has been cracking undead skulls since 1993 in the pages of novels and Marvel comics. When we first meet Anita on the streets of an alternative St. Louis, she’s working by day as a supernatural consultant to the police, but by night, she’s a part-time “zombie raiser” and part-time “vampire executioner,” and barely finding enough time to catch forty winks. Though she eventually warms up to the supernatural community lurking on the fringes of the human world, initially her approach is ruthlessly hardline.
Think of her as two-parts Buffy and one-part Blade. Her ability to raise the dead makes solving murder cases a synch — certainly giving her a considerable leg-up on Batman. And, with one foot in the human world and the other in the monster one, she’s also good at accurately reconstructing crime scenes. Scarily good.
9. LISBETH SALANDER
They don’t come much more ruthless than this Swedish cyberhacker. Hackers often get a goofy or cartoonish reputation in pop culture, but Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” brings some much-needed grit and darkness to the archetype. Though Batman is, of course, a technological wizard, Salander could certainly hack rings around him. As a member of the collective “Hacker Republic” (a cipher for real-life hacking group “Anonymous”) her computer skills are said to be “world class.”
As well as this, she’s aided by a photographic memory and an uncanny knack for changing her identity. She earns a living doing private investigative work for Milton Security, where her history as a survivor of childhood abuse leads her to take a particularly sadistic approach in cases of men abusing women. Even the Dark Knight would probably recoil at her most sociopathic stunts.
8. DIRK GENTLY
Like most superheroes, Batman patrols the mean streets of Gotham seeking out cases to crack and perps to shake down. But, what if the crimes came to him? What if the universe gave you no choice but to become a detective? That’s exactly how Dirk Gently — the world’s only “Holistic Detective” — lives. What on earth is a “Holistic Detective?” Good question. In the words of Dirk, it means using “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve the “whole” crime to find the “whole” person.
Though he hates the idea and would never admit to it, Dirk is essentially psychic — an enviable ability for Batman. But, even better for Dirk’s destined profession, his powers seemed attuned purely to solving mysteries, as he has no discernible control over what he can use them for. As the personification of the phrase “method in madness,” Dirk’s adherence to chaos would definitely frustrate and possibly outfox the logic-loving Bats.
7. DETECTIVE CONAN (CONAN EDOGAWA)
Shinichi Kudo was once a brilliant, teenage, amateur detective. Like Sherlock Holmes, he worked as a consultant to the police — no mean feat for a high school student. One day, Shinichi is poisoned by the sinister “Black Organization,” but rather than kill him, the poison bizarrely regresses him back to his childhood body. This didn’t stop his detective work, though. As “Conan Edogawa,” he retained Shinichi’s high IQ, photographic memory, superb deductive and logical reasoning skills, and incredible general knowledge.
While he lacks Batman’s fighting prowess, his physical form helps him in unexpected ways that Batman’s adult body can’t. For instance, as a child, he can get away with asking “innocent” questions to coax answers from people, as well as searching people’s property and have it dismissed as childish curiosity. His understanding of criminal psychology can also more than match the Dark Knight’s — able to fool foes into falsely predicting his next moves so he can catch them.
6. L. LAWLIET
Just to give you an idea how great of a reputation Death Note‘s L has, the only two detectives thought to be better than him are actually two of his other aliases — “Eraldo Coil” and “Denueve.” If being a detective was an Olympic sport, that means he’d get a clean sweep. Despite his young age, L is highly intelligent, methodical, and keenly focussed (except if you pass a plate of cake under his nose). He’s a master at subterfuge and willing to use extreme methods — like killing a death row inmate on live television — to corner his opponents.
Batman’s identity is a closely guarded secret, but L has kept his even closer to his chest, taking criminal mastermind, Light Yagami, considerable time and cost to discover it. Despite Light’s eventual victory over him, L came a lot closer to unmasking him than Bats has ever managed with the Joker.
5. THE RIDDLER (GOTHAM)
Riddle me this, Batman! Every member of Batman’s rogues gallery seems designed to test a certain facet of his character, and out of all of them, the Riddler is the one who tests his deductive skills the most. Priding himself on his problem-solving skills, Edward Nygma is a criminal mastermind on par with the likes of Lex Luthor, and his deductive and analytical capabilities more than rival Batman’s. After all, he’s one of the very few people to have successfully worked out the Bat’s most well-kept secret — his true identity.
In Gotham, Nygma’s latent potential for crime-solving rather than just crime-committing has been channelled into reimagining him as a CSI forensic scientist. When he’s not fighting his darker urges and lusting over blondes, he helps the Gotham City Police Department solve grizzly cases with clinical precision and almost casual ease.
4. THE QUESTION I & II
The first Question, Vic Sage, was a TV investigative journalist with a penchant for using aggressive tactics to get to the bottom of a story. In fact, during a time when most other superheroes (Batman included) were coming down with a serious case of the sillies throughout most of the Silver Age, Steve Ditko’s creation was markedly ruthless. Similarly to Bruce Wayne, he had a traumatizing childhood that molded him into the man he is today, his obscured face striking the fear of the unknown into the hearts of criminals.
Though Batman is good with his disguises, The Question is a master of “many faces.” In fact, his skill-set can rival the Bat’s on every level — high intelligence, terrifying interrogation tactics, Olympian acrobatic skills, and a deep, almost spiritual connection to the city he protects. His chosen successor, Gotham City Police Detective Renee Montoya, is similarly talented, and also one of the select few skilled enough to deduce Batman’s real identity.
3. NITE OWL II
The first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, was a smart, strong and described as the “boy scout” of the Minutemen team — an obvious Superman parallel but without the powers. But, his successor, Daniel Dreiberg, takes more after Batman, representing a marked upgrade from the first model. Nite Owl II’s genius intellect is physically represented by technological innovations, particularly “Archie” — his owl-shaped, airship.
Like the Bat, he makes up for a lack of superpowers with an array of advanced gadgets and weapons, paid for by an immense personal wealth. But while it took Bruce Wayne years to discover and attune his detective skills, Daniel obsessed over and eventually figured out the real identity of the first Nite Owl at a young age — desperate to become his apprentice. Along with Rorschach, he was also able to cleverly connect the dots on the “Mask Killer” case to figure out that the cunning Ozymandias was pulling all the strings.
2. SHERLOCK HOLMES
Who better to snatch the title of “World’s Greatest Detective” than the Grandaddy of them all? This eccentric, Victorian gent practically needs no introduction. Deductive reasoning? He wrote the book on it. But, that wasn’t his only unique method of cracking a case. Holmes also extolled the virtues of “adductive reasoning,” a form of logical inference that means the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.
He also pioneered the merging of forensic science into detective work, using trace evidence, ballistics, toxicology and fingerprinting. His IQ is also thought to be a whopping 190. Hilariously, Holmes actually appeared alongside Batman for a special Golden Anniversary issue of Detective Comics in the 80s. The most impressive part? He would have been 130-years-old at the time, and he still kicked major sleuthing butt.
1. TIM DRAKE
It makes sense that one of Bruce’s own could be the best candidate to surpass him. For one thing, he figured out Batman’s true identity when he was just a kid. After a trip to Haley’s Circus on the fateful night of Dick Grayson’s parent’s murder, Tim’s photographic memory later recognized the acrobatic style of the Grayson family in Robin’s movements, deducing both his and his adoptive father’s secret identities.
Not only that, he also figured out that the Robin mantle later passed to Jason Todd. Dick may have worn the cape, Jason has the brutal instincts and Damien has the Wayne gene, but Tim Drake’s incredible aptitude for detective work make him the most deserving of the “World’s Greatest Detective” mantle — something Batman has even admitted (Hush, Part 10, “The Grave.”)
Who do you think is a better detective than Batman? Let us know your super-sleuth picks in the comments!
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