Friday, December 20, 2013


Writer: Mike W. Barr | Pencilers: Alan Davis, Terry Beatty, Carmine Infantino
Inkers: Paul Neary, Dick Giordano, Al Vey | Colorists: Adrienne Roy, Carl Gafford
Letterers: John Workman, Todd Klein, Romeo Francisco | Editor: Denny O'Neil

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

Art by Mike Kaluta
DETECTIVE COMICS #572 is a "jam" issue, celebrating the title's fiftieth anniversary, and starring three of the book's regular featured characters of decades past: Batman (of course), the Elongated Man, and Slam Bradley, who I had never heard of before. Upon looking him up, I've learned that he starred in DETECTIVE #1, and has appeared sporadically in the DC Universe since.

Beyond the above group, the story also stars Sherlock Holmes, who, it seems, is a real person in the DC world. Watson's chronicles of Holmes' cases are treated here as works of non-fiction, and everyone views Holmes as a well-known historical figure. It's a conceit I enjoyed, and it fits just fine into a shared universe like this one. However, Barr goes overboard with the idea here, revealing in the story's finale that Holmes is still alive and fairly spry at well over a hundred years of age, due essentially to nothing more than clean living.

The bookend chapters are illustrated by Davis and Neary, but the middle sections of the story are by Terry Beatty with Dick Giordano, and Carmine Infantino with Al Vey. And with all due respect to these talented artists, when your work is sandwiched between sections drawn by Alan Davis, it's hard for it to look good in comparison. It's almost like setting the other artists up for failure.

Sadly, the writing here is somewhat lackluster as well. Barr tries to create a one hundred year-old mystery with its ultimate resolution in the present day -- involving the descendent of Professor Moriarty attempting to kill the Queen of England -- but it's not a particularly compelling tale. The story falls into the same trap as so many other latter-day (non Conan Doyle) Holmes tales, in making Moriarty Holmes's arch-foe. Moriarty was in one Holmes story and mentioned in two more -- out of more than forty, total! He wasn't that big a deal. However, I will note that Barr has a good handle on Holmes's "voice", as illustrated in the hundred-year flashback story.

Additionally, there's one other bit in this issue that troubled me more than anything else. Especially considering how much I've enjoyed Barr's Batman, I couldn't believe he inserted it into the issue: Near the beginning of the story, as Batman and Robin duke it out with a group of Moriarty's thugs, Batman protects himself from an Uzi blast by using one of the goons as a human shield. How did this make it past Denny O'Neil? How did DC's top brass sign off on it? How could Davis have even agreed to draw it?? If I remember nothing else about Barr's Batman -- and again, I like his iteration of the character -- I will definitely remember his callous disregard for human life, something that goes against the moral code of every version of the character since the Golden Age ended.

Issue #573 returns Barr and Davis to a more standard Batman tale, featuring the return of the Mad Hatter -- though in doing a little research, I've learned that this is not the traditional Jervis Tetch Hatter, but an imposter who apparently ran around the Batman books for a few years. However he is also identified as "Tetch" here. So I'm not quite sure how his impersonation was revealed, since he looks nothing like the original Hatter.

Anyway, the story involves the Hatter committing a series of -- as you might guess -- hat related crimes, culminating with Batman drawing him into a trap by throwing Bruce Wayne's "hat into the ring" in a special city council recall election. The story is predictable and not terribly engrossing, making it the second issue a row that failed to hold my interest. There is, however, one really fun bit, in which Batman fights the Hatter's gang on top of an enormous replica of a pool table. It's clearly an homage to the Dick Sprang stories of the fifties, which frequently featured Batman fighting bad guys on similarly gigantic set pieces, and I thought it was a wonderful homage.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, with Robin seriously injured during the Mad Hatter's attempted escape from Wayne Manor. This leads into a story billed as "the new origin of Batman", in which Batman brings Robin to Dr. Leslie Tompkins for emergency medical treatment. In a nice touch, after describing Crime Alley, where Tompkins's clinic is located, through his narration, Mike Barr adds the final line, "There is no hope in Crime Alley," which was also the title of a classic Denny O'Neil story from the seventies.

This issue, cover dated the same month as the final chapter of Frank Miller's seminal "Batman: Year One" over in the monthly BATMAN series, uses flashbacks to flesh out aspects of Bruce Wayne's childhood and young adulthood, while Batman waits for Leslie to finish operating on Robin. By the story's end, Robin is stabilized and Batman has prepared to release him from his sidekickly duties -- but Robin will hear none of it, choosing to remain in the role even after nearly losing his life.

It's pretty clear in these final two issues that Barr is suddenly -- either by his own choice or under editorial instruction -- basing his Batman upon the grim, humorless character presented in "Year One". His good cheer is suddenly gone, essentially explained away as a façade, and he is becoming more like the character readers have come to know over the past few decades. I'm sure it wasn't an instantaneous transformation, but the seeds have obviously been planted.

As noted previously, I will not cover the final Barr/Davis issue, part one of "Batman: Year Two", nor will I review FULL CIRCLE, the one-shot reuniting the pair a few years later. Perhaps I'll get to them someday, but for the time being I'm going to leave things with the final regular issue of the Barr/Davis run.

That said, there is one last story in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: ALAN DAVIS. It's a six-pager from BATMAN: BLACK & WHITE, titled "Last Call at McSurley's". Written by Barr, illustrated by Davis and Mark Farmer, lettered by Pat Prentice and edited by Mark Chiarello, it actually turned out to be one of my very favorite tales in the volume. It is a reunion story for Barr and Davis, published in 2002 -- almost fifteen years after their original run ended.

"Last Call at McSurley's" pencil art
from Alan Davis's website
The story features brief vignettes of Batman solving a series of minor crimes by way of picking up tips at McSurley's, the seedy bar introduced by Barr and Davis in their second issue all those years before. When Batman learns that the bar is about to be foreclosed upon, he sneaks ten thousand dollars into the hat McSurley's customers are passing around for a collection, thus saving the bar. Batman even cracks a smile at the story's end.

And that's it. With the exception of "Year Two", FULL CIRCLE, and his issues of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS, this is every Batman story illustrated by Alan Davis. As I said previously, it's really a shame Davis never drew any more Batman over the years. His grasp of the character is just about perfect. But then again, I feel like I say that about every character Davis draws!


  1. I've been a complete DC fanboy for, well, as long as I can remember, which is why I pretty much ignore "The New 52" and current management. And I always liked a good jam anniversary issue. So I'd have picked up 'Tec #572 when it came out (as I did) even if I hadn't already been reading the Barr/Davis Detective (as I was). I haven't reread it in ages, mind you, and that panel of Batman swinging the one hood into the path of the other's machine gun surprises the heck out of me, but I well remember the inclusion of Slam Bradley, a favorite of mine just for his status in DC publishing history, and Sherlock Holmes, whose appearance in the present day always struck me as a fun little thing.

    1. I don't have a huge issue with Holmes popping up in the present day; my problem was more with the fact that there was no explanation for how he was still alive at such an advanced age. If he'd been taking some secret serum or something, I could've lived with it.

      It's been fun reading some older DC stuff recently. Previously the vast extent of my DC reading was through assorted mini-series and the occasional "evergreen" reprint of a classic run, like O'Neil/Adams and Englehart/Rogers on Batman. But recently I've been grabbing collected editions of certain runs I've always wanted to read, now that DC is finally releasing them. I have various seventies BATMAN books, the Byrne SUPERMAN and Perez WONDER WOMAN waiting for me, along with the more recent Palmiotti/Gray/Conner POWER GIRL, and a handful of others.

      But first, hopefully after I finish my current long-term Roger Stern Spider-Man project (which won't be until the end of the year), I plan to read and write my thoughts about the Wolfman/Perez TEEN TITANS. I can't wait to read that run after all the great things I've heard about it over the years (including from you, I believe, over at Gentlemen of Leisure).

    2. Wolfman/Pérez (New) Teen Titans should be right up your alley as a fan of contemporaneous X-Men stuff. As I think I mentioned over at Teebore's a while back, I reread pretty much the whole run maybe a half-dozen years ago; it's definitely dated in terms of certain conventions, but it's also ahead of its time in several respects. The heart of it, 1983-1985 or so, is just great character-based superhero comics.

    3. I know Holmes says "The pipe is just for show these days, I'm afraid" (or something close too it) but I'd have sworn that he tells Batman he'd been chewing or drinking the root of some herbal this-or-that. While Sherlock Holmes isn't The Shadow or even Doc Savage, that strikes me as just enough of a nod for a character in heroic fiction (especially the DC Universe incarnation of such a character) to let it pass. Maybe I'm remembering wrong, and either way I have a feeling I'd still let it slide just to see a smiling Batman offer him a light.

    4. As I think about it, you may be right. It was last Fall that I read the story, so I don't really recall. I just feel like it wasn't overt enough. But I'm very anal about these sorts of things. I think he had been living with monks or something as part of the explanation.

      I'll try to take a look this weekend.

    5. Just found the page online... I was nearly spot-on in remembering that line I quoted but I put just a smidgen more potentially supernatural a spin on what he says about his longevity than is actually there. Gotta be Tibet! 8^)