Fictional detectives have long been a staple of great comics. It could even be argued that most of today’s mainstream comics revolve around the need to solve some kind of mystery. Whether it’s uncovering who was really behind that attack on the Justice League or cracking a drug smuggling operation on the streets of Gotham, comic book stories rarely unfold without some kind of twist or puzzle that requires a solution.
Over the years, there have been several comic book sleuths that have pounded the pavement, from traditional pulp-inspired gumshoes to costumed super-sleuths with near-preternatural deductive abilities. In all cases, they remain some of the most engaging characters in all of comics. To that end, we opened our own investigation into our favorite comic book detectives and came up with 15 suspects who are never too far away from the chalk outlines.
SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers ahead for numerous stories published by various publishers.
15 JOHN JONES (MARTIAN MANHUNTER)
The Martian Manhunter first came to Earth in 1955, teleported from his home on the Red Planet by scientist Dr. Saul Erdel, in “Detective Comics” #225. He took up the identity of slain police detective John Jones — a name that closely resembled his own Martian moniker, J’onn J’onzz — in an effort to learn more about his new Terran home. As Jones, he performed double duty, fighting crime as both police detective and otherworldly superhero, using his Martian powers of telepathy, invisibility and shapeshifting to bring criminals large and small to justice.
Although he “killed” his John Jones identity off while battling the Idol Head of Diabolu, he resurrected the police detective 20 years later as a private investigator. During John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s redefining run in 1998’s self-titled “Martian Manhunter” ongoing series, the John Jones identity split from him on two separate incidents, prompting him to retire a host of other personas he had created across Earth’s southern hemisphere. Over the years, he would return to the Jones identity, once using it in service to the JLA, during the “JLApe” storyline, to interview various intelligent primates about Gorilla Grodd’s master plan.
14 JASON BARD
Created by Frank Robbins and Gil Kane in 1969, Jason Bard first appeared in “Detective Comics” #392 as an embittered Vietnam veteran, who becomes a criminologist to track down his own father for the murder of his mother Rose. After his old man dies as a result of their confrontation, he becomes a private eye, often working with Barbara Gordon in her guise as Batgirl.
After “Crisis on Infinite Earths," Bard’s history was changed such that he was now a Gotham City police detective, who was injured on the job by Killer Moth. His crippling injury forced him into early retirement but he quickly made a name for himself as an accomplished private investigator. His reputation was so impressive that Batman hired him to act as his daytime proxy — high praise indeed, from a man widely considered to be the greatest detective of his day. Bard is a much different animal in present-day DC continuity, lacking the morals of his pre-Flashpoint incarnation and even working against Batman and Commissioner Gordon in his personal vendetta against masked vigilantes.
13 JOE GOLEM
Unlike the rest of the entries on our list, Joe Golem first appeared in an illustrated prose novel from the desks of frequent collaborators Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola. His story was later transposed to the comics page in his inaugural miniseries, “Joe Golem: Occult Detective.” A paranormal investigator who walks the beat in a post-apocalyptic, mid-20th century New York City literally drowned by cataclysmic earthquakes and tsunamis. The adventures of Joe Golem tap into many of the same themes as Mignola’s other paranormal sleuth, Hellboy.
What sets Joe apart from Mignola’s popular demon detective is a more traditional hardboiled look and tone that evokes the works of Raymond Chandler as much as it does those of H.P. Lovecraft. After putting an end to the fabled Rat-Catcher child-killer and thwarting an undead uprising, Joe is set to return to the dank waterways of the Drowned City in a new miniseries this spring titled “The Outer Dark.” On the hunt for a superhumanly strong killer, spurred to murder by the voices in his head, Joe must first come to terms with his own demons, if he hopes to stop his latest adversary.
12 JIM CORRIGAN
Over the years, there have been no fewer than three versions of Jim Corrigan. Two of them served as hosts of the supernatural entity known as the Spectre, the first appearing way back in 1940’s “More Fun Comics” #52. The third Jim Corrigan was the main protagonist in both “Gotham Central” and the post-New 52 “Gotham by Midnight.” The second Jim Corrigan was an African-American cop who debuted in 1972 in the pages of “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” #149. Eventually, it was revealed this version of Corrigan was crooked as hell and he was later killed by Crispus Allen’s son Jacob, for murdering his old man.
The most recent incarnation of Corrigan headed up the GCPD’s notorious Midnight Shift squad, a special unit created by Jim Gordon to investigate crimes of a supernatural origin. It was revealed during the course of the series that Corrigan received most of the squad’s cases from Batman himself, who found their occult underpinnings outside of his wheelhouse. Ultimately, the Midnight Shift saves Gotham from the rage of the unjust dead, when Corrigan convinces the Spectre to forgive the city’s sins and comfort its countless lost souls, rather than continue a futile quest for vengeance.
11 JAMIE MADROX
Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, debuted in 1975, in “Giant-Sized Fantastic Four” #4, created by Len Wein, Chris Claremont (who provided the script) and artist John Buscema. A mutant born with the ability to create autonomous duplicates of himself, he was a supporting cast member in various X-books, until Peter David added more depth to the character as the founder of Mutant Town’s X-Factor Investigations. Using his winnings on a popular game show, Madrox was able to hire several of his former colleagues in the defunct X-Corporation as members of his new firm.
Madrox’s skills as a detective largely stem from his numerous duplicates. After reabsorbing his dupes back into his body, he gained a variety of abilities and knowledge that he applied as a private investigator. Thanks to his dupes, he is considered an expert lock picker, a licensed attorney, a trained espionage agent, an accomplished Shaolin martial artist and fluent speaker of several languages. He was last seen during the “Death of X” storyline, in which his death heralded the emergence of the Terrigen Mists as a threat to all mutantkind.
10 SLAM BRADLEY
Samual Emerson “Slam” Bradley was a prototypical comic book gumshoe created by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He debuted in the first issue of “Detective Comics” in 1937, predating Batman by a good two years. A traditional hardboiled detective who used a combination of brains and brawn to solve his cases, his adventures ran throughout the Golden Age of comics, until 1949.
In the Modern Age, he was reimagined as a former GCPD cop who opened his own private investigation firm, so that he could operate independently of what was then a notoriously corrupt police force. Perhaps his most notable case during this period was his investigation of the death of Catwoman. While the rumors of Selina Kyle’s death were much exaggerated, he became a supporting cast member of her ongoing series; his son Slam Bradley Jr. becoming the father of her daughter Helena. A favorite among creators with a passion for comics history, Slam was also featured in Darwyn Cooke’s critically-acclaimed “DC: The New Frontier,” where he worked alongside fellow P.I. John Jones.
9 DEX PARIOS
Acclaimed crime writer Greg Rucka is no stranger to detective fiction. The creator of the popular “Atticus Kodiak” series of novels, Rucka has explored the genre from a number of perspectives, including from the point of view of Kodiak’s private investigator ex-girlfriend Bridgett Logan. It is this extensive background in crime fiction that informs his ongoing Oni Press series, “Stumptown,” which stars the inimitable Dex Parios as a struggling gumshoe living and working on the streets of Rucka’s native Portland, Oregon.
Inspired by the works of novelists Raymond Chandler and Dennis Lehane, as well as popular TV shows such as “Magnum P.I.” and “Simon and Simon,” Parios is a remarkable modern example of the archetypal flawed P.I., who suffers from a gambling addiction, while trying to take care of her brother Ansel, who was born with Downs Syndrome. A tough-talking, no-holds-barred detective, capable of holding her own in a fight, Parios’s cases occupy the same fictional universe as his Atticus Kodiak novels, sharing several minor characters.
8 DETECTIVE CHIMP
Arguably the most bizarre entry on our list, Detective Chimp first appeared in 1952’s “Rex, the Wonder Dog” #4, created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. Although initially little more than a remarkably intelligent chimpanzee able to make himself understood by humans, his origin was revamped and he evolved into a super-intelligent chimp with the ability to speak.
In the beginning, his private investigation firm was successful, but because of his simian nature, he was unable to collect on past-due accounts in court and he quickly fell on hard times, as more of his clients took advantage of him. For a time, he took up residence in the inter-dimensional Oblivion Bar, becoming an inveterate alcoholic. During this time, he came into possession of the powerful Helmet of Fate, but refused ownership in favor of letting fate decide its next bearer. To this end, he encouraged Captain Marvel to hurl the artifact to Earth to find its new owner. He was most recently seen in the pages of the “DC Rebirth Holiday Special," helping Batman save Christmas on the streets of Gotham.
7 THE QUESTIONS (VIC SAGE, RENEE MONTOYA)
The original Question, Vic Sage, was created by the legendary Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics. He first appeared in 1967, in “Blue Beetle” #1. An investigative journalist who used his alter ego as the faceless Question to combat crime and corruption in Hub City, Sage was later updated by Dennis O’Neil into a social justice warrior, who targeted the city’s highest offices in his quest to expose its rampant corruption and ties to organized crime. Sage later moved to Gotham, where he trained his successor, former GCPD detective Renee Montoya before succumbing to lung cancer.
Before accepting the mantle of the Question, Montoya had already been a successful detective on the GCPD, solving the murder of her partner Crispus Allen and bringing Jim Gordon’s would-be assassin to justice. As the Question, her most prominent cases involved a quest for Intergang’s legendary Crime Bible and a subsequent investigation of the Dark Side Club, in the lead-up to “Final Crisis.” In the post-New 52 DC Universe, she serves as Harvey Bullock’s partner on the GCPD and has yet to take on the identity of the Question.
Mike Mignola’s seminal creator-owned property Hellboy started out as little more than a sketch. He first appeared in 1993 in the form we all know and love today, in the pages of “Next Men” #21. Brought to the earthly plane from the depths of Hell by Grigori Rasputin during the final days of World War II, Hellboy was adopted by Professor Bruttenholm and raised by the United States Army. His discovery prompted the creation of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, a privately-funded organization dedicated to investigating threats of an occult nature.
Although not a P.I. in the typical sense, Hellboy is widely considered the foremost paranormal investigator of his time. He carries on his person various arcane artifacts and talismans that he uses in the field and possesses vast knowledge of necromancy and other magical rituals. Boasting numerous demonic abilities including superhuman strength and durability, and a lifetime of occult experience, it is Hellboy’s indefatigable spirit and singular ability to improvise when out of his depth that places him at the forefront of paranormal investigation.
5 MISTY KNIGHT
Misty Knight first appeared in 1975’s “Marvel Premiere” #21, created by Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones. A former star detective with the NYPD, Misty quit the force after losing her arm to a bomb rather than stagnate behind a desk. Instead, boasting a new bionic arm courtesy of Tony Stark, she formed a private investigation firm called Knightwing Restorations Ltd. with her good friend Colleen Wing. Also known as the Daughters of the Dragon, Misty and Colleen regularly teamed up with Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the Heroes for Hire. Due to her extensive police training, Misty is an accomplished investigator, marksman and hand-to-hand combatant, who also benefits from limited superhuman strength thanks to her bionic arm.
Over the years, Misty has fronted numerous work-for-hire endeavors, including two incarnations of Heroes for Hire and one stint as the leader of a crew of villains who threw down with the unoriginal, if aptly named Villains for Hire. She recently put her detective skills to work alongside Captain America Sam Wilson, helping uncover the extent of Hydra’s reach by going undercover in their home base of Bagalia and clearing the names of several female villains and heroes caught up in an Internet sex scandal.
4 ELONGATED MAN
Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, and his nose for mystery first appeared in 1960, in “The Flash” #112. Arguably the finest natural detective in the Justice League, outside of Batman, Ralph and his beloved wife Sue were accomplished amateur sleuths, who regularly solved cases of a metahuman nature, until she was murdered by Jean Loring and he perished trying to resurrect her. Even in death, their passion for a good mystery couldn’t be assuaged, as they became ghost detectives, putting their skills of detection to good use in the realm of the supernatural.
Ralph and Sue were finally reborn in the pages of “Secret Six,” in DC’s rebooted New 52 continuity. Ralph took on the identity of Big Shot, reporting to the Riddler, in his guise as the newest Mockingbird, until he was finally reunited with Sue. Complaining he was unable to “smell” a mystery prior to their reunion, he heartily returns to his superhero identity in time to mount a rescue operation of kidnapped teammate Strix. Often cited as one of the DCU’s greatest detectives, his deductive skills rival Batman’s own, the only difference in their abilities coming down to methodology.
3 TIM DRAKE
The third Robin to become Batman’s sidekick always valued his detective skills more than his fighting ability. Created by Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick, Tim first appeared in 1989, in “Batman” 439. Born with a genius-level intellect, Tim was already well on his way to becoming a master detective by age nine, when he correctly deduced Batman and Robin’s secret identities. He spent the next few years honing his already remarkable intellect and training himself in the martial arts before finally taking up the mantle of Robin, at a time when an increasingly violent and unpredictable Batman needed the stabilizing influence of a sidekick most.
Although his martial skills aren’t as well-honed as his successor Damian Wayne, he far outstrips the rest of the Batman Family as a detective. Tim’s skills so impress his mentor that Batman posits he will one day achieve his goal of becoming the world’s greatest detective. Even the Bat’s arch-nemesis Ra’s al Ghul acknowledges the scope of Tim’s deductive powers, christening him “Detective,” a title heretofore bequeathed only upon Bruce Wayne.
2 JESSICA JONES
Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the Marvel Universe’s resident super-sleuth, Jessica Jones, first appeared in 2001, in “Alias” #1. A hard-drinking, foul-mouthed P.I. trying to escape a troubled past that included a failed attempt at a superhero career and captivity under the mental domination of the Purple Man, there are few characters in the 616 that boast the same level of complexity and emotional depth as Jones.
In the years since her introduction, Jones has worked hard to overcome her numerous flaws, working as a superhuman consultant and correspondent for the Daily Bugle’s Pulse magazine (where she was instrumental in outing Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin) and even serving alongside her husband Luke Cage in the Avengers, under the moniker Power Woman. A working mom who has recently returned to her roots as a street-level private eye serving the citizens of Marvel’s Manhattan in the pages of "Jessica Jones," she’s also set to join Cage, his best friend Iron Fist and the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, Matt Murdock, as a new team of Defenders, both on the small screen and the printed page.
You needn’t possess the deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes to uncover the identity of our number one comic book detective. Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in 1939, Batman debuted in “Detective Comics” #37 as a violent, pulp-inspired vigilante, fighting crime and corruption on the streets of Gotham City. Although he has undergone several revamps in the years since his debut, Batman’s supreme abilities as the Dark Knight Detective have always been central to his character. Spurred by the murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne trained his mind and body to the peak of human conditioning, travelling the world to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to embark on his personal war on crime.
A polymath with expertise in numerous scientific disciplines, Batman is also an expert escapologist, master of disguise and an accomplished spy. However, all of these skills and abilities pale in comparison to his unrelenting drive and iron will, traits that push him to crack cases far beyond the scope of the GCPD and allow him to stand beside his godlike peers in the JLA, not as a man but as a true force of nature in his own right.
Who did we overlook in our investigation? Leave us a clue in the comments!