We picked Michael Cho’s 1950’s “Night of 1000 Batmans” cover for this one, because it reflected the multi-faceted nature of the character throughout his history.
OK, I picked it for that reason, the rest of my family voted that way because it was fun!
Similar to last year’s Action 1000 for Superman’s eightieth anniversary, DC fiddled a bit with schedules and counts to make this one come out on Batman’s eightieth. Detective Comics is a little different however, since Batman didn’t appear in it until issue 27, and while the headliner almost continually since then; he has shared the space with others many times.
Also, sometimes Detective is the “Batman on his own” book, and sometimes the Batman title does that while Detective handles the “Bat Family.” Therefore the creative teams had a great deal to pick from.
Yes, I know there are inkers, colorists and letterers for each story too. But since many non-comic fans don’t know there are separate writers and artists, I’ll stick with the basics.
It starts off with long time pre, during and post Nu52 Batman scribe Scott Snyder of American Vampire fame, paired with his frequent partner, artist Greg Capullo. His tale links to multiple historical elements of Detective Comics. Batman’s detective work ties to that very first case from issue 27 in 1939. It chronicles a long and multi-level conspiracy, which are common in many of Snyder’s stories, and connects to many of the other detective characters introduced in the pages of this title over the years. All that in only eight pages! That’s one of my favorite parts of these anniversary books. Comics have become so decompressed to spread adventures over multiple trade paperbacks; it’s nice to get concentrated storytelling for a change.
The next tale also links to beginnings, this time of Batman himself. Kevin Smith expands on the Frank Miller idea that the bat-logo on his costume is a target because, “I can’t armor my head.” The source of the armor plating ties back to Batman’s tragic origin, and allows an appearance of Bruce’s other alter ego, the criminal “Matches” Malone, to show his Sherlock Holmes like disguise skill. Top notch Hush artist and DC’s chief creative officer Jim Lee uses the story as a chance to expertly draw the caped crusader in combat panels with a large swath of his rogues' gallery
Paul Dini had a run on the Detective title back in the 2000’s with Dustin Nguyen. They reunite using the current cast of the book, but with a tale of the worst henchman in Gotham to allow another, more verbal, run through the rogues’ gallery. It feels very much like a fun episode of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series where Dini’s work on the character helped define that show.
Warren Ellis and Becky Cloonan team up to bring one of those lone Dark Knight stories without the Bat-family. It shows the devastating effect on criminals both his planning and reputation have. With all the celebrations of the bonds between the Bat-family, this one serves as a reminder of how Bruce exploits the fact that “criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot,” when he only has himself to rely on to be perceived as an unstoppable force.
Denny O’Neil, writer for the darker Batman in the seventies , co-creator of Ra’s Al Ghul, scribe of the socially conscious “Hard Travelling Heroes” and Bat-editor in the eighties and nineties returns to the character again. He’s paired with yet another artist in this book known more for Marvel work, Steve Epting. The tale is a call back to one of his most famous Detective issues: number 457 “There’s No Hope In Crime Alley” that introduced Leslie Thompkins. The return is an illustration of a couple of long standing Batman theories, A) that his “support network” can be (in some interpretations) what keeps him from going completely over the edge and B) that his “no killing” rule stems from the fact that criminals can be rehabilitated. It may also be a comment on how the current version of the character veers more to the vengeance side, and less to the detective side, but it's a little hard to tell, sometimes a little decompression can be good.
O’Neil’s longtime collaborator Neal Adams draws the next story, featuring his co-creation Ra’s and showcasing the awesome, simplified muscle car Batmobile he dreamed up. Christopher Priest spins an intriguing, globe trekking mystery story connected to that historical time of an underground railroad for the League of Assassins. This and the previous one felt a little rushed. I think they should have put O'Neil and Adams back together and given them more space. Yeah, I'm an old comics fan, we know this.
For Action 1000 Brian Michael Bendis was connecting to his upcoming run on the Superman titles. This time he reteams with his artistic partner from Daredevil Alex Maleev to tell of a future Bruce Wayne and Penguin meeting in the noir style they excel in. It could have worked as the frame of an episode of Batman Beyond in another way to highlight the rogues, and Bruce’s subtle uses of planning and his reputation.
Geoff Johns, former Chief Creative officer of DC, who stepped down to focus more on writing (comics, shows and movies) teams up with the super stylized art of frequent Bat-artist Kelley Jones to present another peek into the future. Instead of the lonely scheming Batman, it's a demonstration of Batman’s true final goal of strong links with those he’s raised and trained, and an end to crime in Gotham. It shows, as do many of these tales that Batman’s main purpose isn’t instilling fear, and injuring criminals as many modern writers angle it, but preventing any others from suffering the way he did, helping those who have, and putting an end to Gotham’s need for him.
James Tynion IV, the initial Rebirth Detective writer reconnected with the artist from that run: Alvaro Martinez. It’s fitting since their tenure focused heavily on the Bat-family that this story is about its origins. The moments show Bruce and Alfred discussing bringing Dick Grayson into the fold. It's an affirmation of why Nightwing being one of the most well-adjusted superheroes with the most friends (when he’s written correctly) is an illustration that Bruce trying to protect others from the darkness he lived through is effective and noble goal. It also highlights how Alfred raising Bruce is the beginning of those connections that eventually formed the Bat-family.
The initial and current Rebirth Batman writer, Tom King, combines the anniversary of the darkness of the murder of Bruce’s parents with the importance of all those currently part of his crime fighting family. The art comes from Joelle Jones, who collaborated on some of those Rebirth tales with King, and Tony S. Daniel, who wrote and drew a pile of pre-Flashpoint Batman himself. King’s hundred issue story in Batman has a ways to go, and has taken Bruce to some seriously low points. However, his understanding of the positive group dynamic in this story, and in his run, makes me confident we’ll see Batman triumph in a way that strengthens the bond with those closest to him in a “light in the darkness” manner.
The last story is by the current Detective team. I’ve been impressed with Peter J. Tomasi’s writing and Doug Manhnke’s art (separately and together) on my favorite characters of DC (whose symbols are inked on my arm) Superman, Batman and Green Lantern. This current run is no exception. Their story for the anniversary issue serves as an introduction to the villainous Arkham Knight and their next story arc. However, within the context of this anniversary issue, it's a series of narrated splash pages letting them both impressively show off their understanding of Batman (through the Knight who doesn’t understand him), and his enemies.
It wouldn’t be an anniversary issue without those cool splash pages, and a couple other artists contributed some, along with the ones in the stories, to round out the collection.
Mikel Janin adds a historical looking one, harkening back to the “War of Jokes and Riddles” that he worked on with King, highlighting the three main players in a retro way that invokes a darker version of Batman 1966.
Nu52 Detective and Justice League team of Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson (colors) did a two page spread of the entire Bat friend and foe groups. There are a couple of those within the tales in the issue, but in my opinion, this is the most poster worthy.
Going in a completely different direction, Amanda Conner’s (colored by Paul Mounts) has the overall focus be the spirits of Thomas and Martha Wayne watching over their son, as Batman watches over Gotham. Less jam packed than the other celebration issue images, but probably the one with the most emotional content.
Overall, another excellent tour of both the character’s history, and also the multiple facets that have made him popular over the past eighty years.