This is a big comic – 144 pages – but it’s a big occasion, one thousand issues since Batman debuted in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. The Gotham Guardian’s not starred in every one since then, having stepped aside for Batwoman to take centre stage at one point, but the shadow of the Bat has always been there. As is traditional with anniversary issues, this is an anthology of stories, most of them done-in-ones. I’ll try for terse with my views…
From the literal splash page, with Batman waking into a watery grave, on, ‘Blowback’ is a visual treat. Peter Tomasi’s story is an excuse for artists Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy to showcase Batman’s most famous foes (and, for some reason, Deathstroke). Colourist Nathan Fairbairn adds an extra layer of goodness and letterer Rob Leigh outdoes himself on that first page. The only letdown is the reveal of the mystery villain – maybe he’s someone from the creative team’s current ‘Tec run, but I don’t know as I gave up on that when the current Joker overload started. Maybe other people caught on to the bigger picture – if so, feel free to enlighten me! Also, I don’t get how the story title relates to the action…
Pretty much every Bat sidekick appears in ‘The Master Class’ to unravel the story behind the corpse of a cop found on a Gotham rooftop. Brian Michael Bendis does a terrific job of distinguishing between the voices of Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, Red Robin, Spoiler and Robin as we see their individual approaches to detection. David Marquez does the same thing, from a physical point of view, in page after page of glorious work. One technically brilliant panel shows our heroes from below, standing on glass, and I love his demonstrating that Batman doesn’t need oodles of bulky bits of body armour to look cool.
And then there’s a visual of the dead detective from the point of view of Damien, Tim, Dick and Babs. If ever there was a good argument for Bendis to move onto a Batman book (just one, I like different voices) as he leaves Metropolis, this fun, smart tale is it. And if we could have Marquez too, wow!
‘I would like to go a whole day without talking or thinking about The Joker’ bemoans Tim in Bendis and Marquez’s tale. Me too. So of course, the next story is a Joker focus. It’s mostly great, though, as writer Matt Fraction shows us just how much the Clown Prince of Crime enjoys birthdays. The script is witty, while Chip Zdarsky’s full-colour Animated Series-style art is spectacular. The ending is a bit of a downer, though.
I guessed who was writing the next story with the first panel, the beginning of a lengthy info-dump on becoming a Gotham PD trainee. Yes, it’s Greg Rucka incorporating real-life research again. Still, dry as it is, it’s relevant set-up for once, as we meet Lynne Baker, who only wishes to serve and protect. The problem is, every cop she meets this side of Jim Gordon is a stinker. Will Lynne be sucked into the systemic corruption of Gotham PD?
I hate the Rucka notion that pretty much the only trustworthy cops in Batman’s city are his Gotham Central characters. Still, he paces the story well and the message is ultimately hopeful, while Eduardo Risso’s atmospheric art complements the words nicely.
I’ve not always been a fan of Riley Rossmo’s DC work, appreciating him as a stylist but feeling he often overdoes the body distortions. With ‘Ghost Story’, though, he reigns things in a tad and the result is perfect for James Tynion IV’s joyous team-up between Batman, Robin and my favourite spook, Deadman. Rossmo uses a stippling technique to great effect, while Ivan Plascencia’s colours are eye-popping. And points to Tynion for a great new villain name, the Spectre Collector.
We know Batman can swing from buildings, but who knew Bruce Wayne had a great golf swing? Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, penciller John Romita Jr and inker Klaus Janson reveal all in ‘Fore’, a refreshing callback to the days Bruce Wayne had a life. Arif Prianto adds well-chosen tones to the best work I’ve seen from Romita and Janson in ages. Bruce seems to have a double brow at times, and Jim Gordon has a weird goatee, but this is head and shoulders above their current Action Comics work.
Marv Wolfman is one of just two writers commissioned for this special who really looks back to the history of Detective Comics, delivering a mystery featuring the grandchildren of characters who once shared the pages with Batman. The seaborne adventure, ‘Odyssey’, features the delightful artistic pairing of Emanuela Luppachino and Bill Sienkiewicz, with sensitive colours by Jordie Bellaire.
The other writer using the book’s own history is Grant Morrison, as he introduces us to the Silver Ghost (no relation to the Freedom Fighters villain). You’ll probably guess where ‘Detective 26’ is going, but it’s huge fun thanks to an amusing script by Morrison and quirkily detailed art from Chris Burnham and that man Fairbairn again.
Bruce Wayne looks amazing as he dies from cancer following a long-ago fight with Dr Phosphorus in ‘Legacy’ by Tom King and Walt Simonson. Seriously, talk about a buff silver fox. And the soon-to-be Widow Wayne, Selina Kyle, is all kinds of slinky. Dr Phosphorus, as ever, is a boring skeleton man, but nicely greened by Laura Martin. The page count is longer for this one than is needed, but I like what King does with his possible future fantasy and it’s an unexpected pleasure to see Simonson return to the villain he co-created.
Commissioner Gordon narrates ‘As always’, a look at what it’s like to stand and wait back on earth as Batman fights for its fate with the Justice League. I could do without being reminded of writer Scott Snyder’s ultimately frustrating run on the JL series – the story he told over two years still hasn’t ended – but there are some nice lines, and the idea that after a tough night on the town Batman makes Jim Gordon stand with him until sun up is hilarious. Plus, the artwork by penciller Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado and colourist Marcelo Maiolo is attractive. The story title would be more effective had the ‘as always’ phrase been consistent – it’s ‘like always’ a few times, but Snyder deserved his spot in this celebration of Batman.
A battle with Calendar Man becomes something far bigger in ‘Generations: Fractured’ by writer-artist Dan Jurgens, inker Kevin Nowlan and colourist Hi-Fi. A reworking of something done for DC’s aborted 5G project, this looks like it could be great fun. Jurgens has long been the DC lifer I’d most like to see given a run on Batman and this short only confirms that wish. The Jurgens/Nowlan combo, previously seen in Superman: Aliens, is a real treat, especially when they go into homage mode.
Is Covid-19 a thing in the Joker War storyline that has driven me away from current Batman books? Lucius Fox is certainly covered up, but this is Gotham, he could be expecting the Scarecrow to drop by with a canister of fear gas. Anyway, ‘The Gift’ has Batman thinking back to his sixth birthday as he tries to help a couple of cops – apparently opening presents early was ‘my first vigilante act’. Weird kid. Writer Mariko Tamaki doesn’t succeed in getting me interested in picking up any stories connected to this, but there are some nice lines, when she doesn’t have characters effing and jeffing. And I love that the apparently down-on-his-luck Batman has to properly climb up the side of a building. It’s just a shame no one from Laugh-In is there to open a window… Dan Mora’s art, coloured in neons by Tamra Bonvillain, is very easy on the eye, a definite win.
This massive comic is rounded out with a stylish contents page courtesy of Ken Lopez, and a number of pin-ups, my favourite being Lee Bermejo’s gorgeous tribute to the Forties Batman film serial, and a tremendous Golden Age Crinkled Caped Crusader by Jim Cheung and colourist Alejandro Sanchez. The great José Luis García-López is apparently as nonplussed as myself at the idea of Deathstroke as a Bat-rogue, burying his head up the Penguin’s posterior…
Phew… I think it’s safe to say this is the biggest comic I’ve ever reviewed. I had a blast, though – there’s not a bad story in the bunch, and there are several real crackers. Eighty-one years since his debut in Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s ‘The Case of the Chemical Syndicate’ – referenced, inevitably, in one of the stories here – Batman continues to inspire great work. Here’s to the next thousand issues.