Friday, December 13, 2013


Writer: Mike W. Barr | Penciler: Alan Davis | Inker: Paul Neary
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: John Workman | Editor: Denny O'Neil

Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis have a slightly peculiar run on DETECTIVE COMICS. Their issues begin after CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, in the rebooted world of "Batman: Year One" and other such stories. They are telling tales featuring the Batman teamed with post-Crisis Jason Todd, the angry brat who would eventually perish by the Joker's hand.

And yet, no one seemed to tell them this. These stories might as well be set in the pre-Crisis universe. Indeed, they draw upon pre-Crisis continuity, such as the fact that Catwoman is reformed and aware of Batman's secret identity. Robin here has not become the unlikable character who would eventually be killed off -- he is very much like the classic Dick Grayson Robin, in fact.

Can you imagine modern-day
Batman sharing a friendly
grin with a hooker?
And as for Batman himself? Well, this is the Batman I like. Sadly, he's also the Batman who hasn't existed in comics for a few decades now. But in these stories, the pre-Crisis, post-O'Neil/Adams "Darknight Detective" is in full effect. He's serious, driven, and even grim when need be, but he also pals around with young Robin, frequently calling him "chum". He cracks smiles and drops the occasional one-liner, and almost seems to be having -- gasp! -- fun doing what he does.

Which reminds me, as an aside, of John Byrne's counter-argument for those who say the Batman must be crazy to do what he does. Byrne opines that fighting crime and beating up crooks every night is the ultimate sort of cathartic therapy, and so Batman should really be about as sane as they come. I find myself in agreement with this point.

The first couple issues presented here are a two-part story in which the Joker kidnaps Catwoman and, using an experimental CT scan device, reprograms her brain to return her to a life of crime -- all in hopes that she will reveal Batman's true identity to him. Unfortunately, the brainwashing scrambles her memories and Catwoman no longer knows Batman's alter ego. It's really a tragic story, as the Joker's main goal was to unmask and humiliate Batman, but the only real, lasting effect is "collateral damage" in the form of Catwoman's reversion to villainy.

The second installment of the two-parter was one of the few Batman comics I owned as a kid, and it's interesting to re-read it now, twenty-some years later. I knew nothing about DC continuity back then, and this story didn't really draw me in. I don't think I touched another Batman comic for a few more years. There was just something about DC when I was young that turned me off. DC comics didn't speak to me like Marvels did.

Which is not to say there's anything wrong with this issue. It's a fine story, and beautifully illustrated (it's really a shame Alan Davis has drawn so little Batman in his career) -- but it wasn't enough to hook seven year-old me into reading regularly. Although that could simply be due to the fact that it was nothing like the Batman I knew from television. Batman's characterization may have been, as noted above, but the story was grimmer and more realistically serious than I had been trained to expect from the character.

The last of these three issues is a done-in-one adventure featuring a new twist on the Scarecrow -- rather than causing fear, he has invented a formula which removes fearful inhibitions, turning anyone exposed to it into a careless daredevil. Naturally Batman gets a dose, and he must essentially scare himself into being cautious enough to defeat the Scarecrow.

One of my bigger comic book pet peeves shows up in this issue, made even more glaring by the previous story's idea that the Joker wanted to unmask Batman. In this issue, the Scarecrow captures Robin and knocks out Batman, and never bothers to look under either of their masks. This happens all the time in superhero comics, frequently, to everyone from Batman to Daredevil to Spider-Man, and it totally undermines the whole "secret identity" conceit. Unfortunately, if a writer ever wants to do a story where Our Hero is captured by the bad guy, it's unavoidable. You just have to turn off half your brain to enjoy it.

But other than that minor quibble, I really liked this story overall. It was very much in the same vein as the classic O'Neil/Adams issues, which is about the highest praise I can give a Batman story.

He's still a relentless, avenging hardcase -- but he has a sense of humor.
This is my Batman!
By the way... throughout these stories, Batman consistently calls Jason Todd, "Jay". I haven't read many Batman comics from the eighties, but every one I have read usually features the character referred to simply as "Jason". I don't know if Barr was toying with a nickname that never caught on, or if this is an artifact left over from the character being called Jay in pre-Crisis stories only before going only by his full name in the post-Crisis world, but I thought it was something worth mentioning.

Next: The Barr/Davis run concludes, plus a short BATMAN BLACK & WHITE tale by the same team.


  1. I really loved this brief run of Detective. You're absolutely right that it was pre-Crisis storywise in terms of Jason Todd's happy-go-lucky personality and Catwoman's relationship to Batman, as it came out before "Year One" and the redefinition of how Batman met his new Robin in the first New Adventures issue. My whole adult life I've preferred Batman's cape and cowl to be rendered the black it's supposed to be rather than blue, yet when it comes to generally lighter renditions like the Barr/Davis Detective I can't complain.

  2. Blam -- My youngest memories of Batman are the blue and gray look, and while I think that's fine for things like SUPERFRIENDS, I'm with you that for the "serious" Batman, the cape should be black. However, I prefer the black cape with blue highlights (which I know is a pet peeve of yours), as that's the look of my favorite iteration of Batman outside the comics, the original Bruce Timm ANIMATED SERIES version. But the highlights need to be very sparse blue, with the cape primarily black, for it to look right to me.

    1. Super Friends easily gets a pass on the blue cape. And I will never forget seeing the first image of Timm's Batman in Entertainment Weekly my senior year of college; it was all I could do not to accost everyone I met shouting "Look! This is exactly how Batman is supposed to be drawn!" Yet when the series went back into production with the pure-black cape, I thought that it and Robin's costume were finally perfect.

  3. Honestly, I'd probably never have gotten so worked up about the blue-for-black on Batman had it not been for two, or maybe three, things: (1) Comics in which Batman's blue was so light it matched the blue of Superman's outfit. (I'm looking at you, World's Finest in the '80s.) (2) Later comics in which Tim Drake got a new costume that included black boots and cape, which were given actual gray highlights, meaning Batman's blue was inescapably not just blue-for-black but really blue. They had the technology! (3) The straight-up awesome of how it looked when TAS and still-later comics gave us true black with dark-gray highlights.

    1. I've just always "read" Batman's cape, when depicted as black with blue highlights, as a very shiny, very dark blue cloth which reflects light, rather than straight black. Really, sort of like the Adam West cape, but much darker. I see Cyclops's old costume the same way.

      Of course, running around fighting crime at night in a shiny cape makes little sense, but then so does dressing up in a costume in the first place!