Detective Comics debuted in 1937 and is the longest continually published comic book in the United States.note It is published by DC Comics (and is the origin of the "DC" in the company's name), and is best known for telling the adventures of Batman, who debuted in issue #27 with the story "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate".
The comic started out as an anthology comic with each issue containing several unrelated adventures. The first issue introduced a mix of two-fisted sleuths with names like "Slam" Bradley and "Speed" Saunders as well as more exotic detectives like "Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise". Slam Bradley, one of the title's early stars, was created (from an initial character outline by the editor, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, not yet famous as the creators of Superman. He still shows up in DC Comics from time to time, usually when a writer wants to make a point about how comics have changed over the years.
Issue #27 featured the first appearance of a costumed vigilante called the Bat-Man, who became the comic's new star. Over time, Detective Comics transitioned from its anthology format to a series entirely about Batman and his associates.
The series has gone through several different incarnations over the years. In 1978, when on the verge of cancellation, it was merged with the comic title Batman Family. Over 1981-1986 the series had the same writers as the main Batman title and the two were in permanent crossover, essentially functioning as a single series published twice-monthly. Following the Batman: No Man's Land crossover story, Detective Comics was distinguished from the other Batman titles by its focus on smaller-scale and more realistic detective stories. In 2009-2010, during a period where Batman was supposedly dead, Batwoman temporarily became the headline character, reverting back to Batman when he returned.
The book reached issue #881 before being renumbered with a new #1 for DC's 2011 New 52 relaunch. After issue #52, as part of the DC Rebirth initiative, the old numbering resumed with #934. Over issues #934-981 the series became a Batfamily team book, which has its own page. Later, a five-issue arc called "On the Outside" written by Bryan Hill acted as a soft-launch for Hill's new Batman and the Outsiders ongoing series. The series has since returned to mainly focusing on Batman himself.
With the DC Infinite Frontier relaunch in 2021, as of issue #1034 the series is written by Mariko Tamaki.
Detective Comics story arcs with their own pages include:
- Detective Comics #27: The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate
- Detective Comics #29-30: The Batman Meets Dr. Death and The Return Of Dr. Death
- Detective Comics #33: The Batman Wars Against The Dirigible Of Doom
- Detective Comics #38: Robin, the Boy Wonder
- Detective Comics #508-510: The Attack of the Annihilator
- Detective Comics #567: The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!
- Detective Comics #654-682: Knightfall (*)
- Detective Comics #730-741: No Mans Land (*)
- Detective Comics #766-775: Bruce Wayne: Fugitive (*)
- Detective Comics #790-800: War Games (*)
- Detective Comics #853: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (*)
- Detective Comics #854-860: Batwoman: Elegy
- Detective Comics #867-870: Impostors
- Detective Comics #871881: The Black Mirror
- Detective Comics (Vol. 2) #9: Night of the Owls (*)
- Detective Comics (Vol. 2) #15-16: Death of the Family (*)
- Detective Comics (Vol. 2) #25: Zero Year (*)
- Detective Comics (Vol. 2) #27-29: Gothtopia (*)
- Detective Comics (Vol. 2) #27-29: Robin War (*)
- Detective Comics #941-942: Night of the Monster Men (*)
- Detective Comics #10251027: The Joker War (*)
- Detective Comics #10431045: Fear State (*)
Tropes found in other issues of Detective Comics include:
- Adaptational Heroism: In Batman: The Animated Series, Kyodai Ken was a fellow student who trained alongside Bruce until Ken tried to steal from their master, Yoru Sensei, an expy for Master Kirigi, who then kicked him out. The version of Ken introduced in Tomasi's run is Master Kirigi's bodyguard.
- Anthology Comic: Until Batman just flat-out took over.
- Artifact Title: The "Detective Comics" title would become this over time as it shifted away from its roots as a detective anthology comic in favor of becoming a Batman comic instead. Downplayed as the series does still contain elements of mystery and crime drama, on top of Batman being a detective himself. Later runs have attempted to mitigate this by having issues be titled under Batman: Detective Comics.
- Asian Speekee Engrish: In issue #27, Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise investigates a mystery in Chinatown; cue people remarking that it's a "velly nice day" and saying things like "me have fliend, he have nice loom for lent".
- Barehanded Blade Block: In issue #589, Batman does this with a battleaxe.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: In issue #833, the Joker shot Zatanna in the throat so she couldn't recite a spell to save her, then locked her in a tank of water while strapping Batman in an electric chair. He didn't shoot her in the head because he wanted Batman to watch helplessly as she died. This didn't go so well because first, he's BATMAN! and second, Zatanna was able to write a healing incantation on the lid of the tank using her own blood, which made the spell even more powerful.
- The Book Cipher: In "And the Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels" (#630), the villain, Stiletto, uses an obscure book about shoes for a cipher. When Batman goes to the bookstore, the owner mentions how strange it is that he just sold several copies of a book nobody would buy normally. Batman asks him who bought the book in order to learn who's in on the plot.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: In #1041, Bruce's apartment and his micro-cave have been blown up, and he doesn't have access to the Manor and main Batcave. He has to have Oracle remind him where an old stash is, resulting in him wearing his 90s costume.
- Canon Immigrant:
- Kyodai Ken from Batman: The Animated Series appears—albeit as Kirigi's bodyguard. And as a hallucination.
- Sort of, as the Arkham Knight identity is imported over, but this trope was combined with Decomposite Character, Gender Flip, and Samus Is a Girl as this version is really Astrid Arkham, daughter of Jeremiah, and not Jason Todd.
- Issue 1000, which introduced the aforementioned Arkham Knight, also brought a Truer to the Text version of the Condiment King (a stocky adult clad in blue and white named Buddy Standler) after Birds of Prey, volume 1, #37 brought in an In Name Only version (a Lean and Mean, Red and Black and Evil All Over teen named Mitchell Mayo).
- Clothing Damage: In his original stories, Slam Bradley suffered from an editorially-mandated tendency to get his shirt torn in a way that showed off his muscular physique.
- Comics Merger: During the "DC Implosion" of the 1970s, sales of Detective Comics declined to the point where it would have been cancelled if it hadn't been the company's historic flagship title. In an effort to stave off that fate, it was combined with the better-selling Batman Family — from issue #481, it had the Batman Family format and covers that proclaimed Detective Comics starring the Batman Family, with "Batman Family" much larger and more prominent. As sales improved, the "Detective Comics" logo got larger and the "Batman Family" logo smaller, and from #496 it reverted to its usual format.
- Decomposite Character: Rather than being Jason Todd - like in the video game they originate from - the Arkham Knight is a separate character called Astrid Arkham, the daughter of Jeremiah.
- "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: In "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" (#64), the Clown Prince of Crime says this line to a cop who is leading him to his execution: "So this is the famous Last Mile, eh? Don't cry, boys...this will hurt me worse than it'll hurt you! Ha! Ha!"
- Gender Flip: Combined with Decomposite Character and Samus Is a Girl, this version of the Arkham Knight is Jeremiah Arkham's daughter, Astrid.
- Hardboiled Detective: Slam Bradley.
- Hillbilly Horrors: Averted in issue #410, which features a group of carnival freaks living out in the swamp. Normally this would be a setup for Hillbilly Horror, but the villain in the story is actually the former circus strong man, the most normal of the group.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: In a backup strip in issue #447, some valuable documents are stolen from the campus library, and Robin's prime suspect has an alibi; he was under a pile of bricks at the time. Robin accuses him of faking being trapped under the bricks, and the guy retorts that he didn't have anything to do with the robbery. Robin: "Who said anything about a robbery?"
- In Name Only: In-universe. A story arc in issues #622-624 covered a Batman comic book being written by a publisher who managed to trademark the Batman name and costume because Bruce never did. The story's about how Batman is in fact Satan himself trying earn redemption by cleaning up the evil he let loose on Earth, using a mortal host named Simon Petrarch. The Joker is the manifestation of the demons who don't want evil to be wiped out, Robin is Simon Petrarch's guardian angel whose mortal host, a seven year old boy, is psychologically destroyed by the Joker, Catwoman's a spinster who sold her soul for beauty and power, Batgirl is Simon Petrarch's psychotherapist, and the Bathound's a devil dog that transforms into the Batmobile. The artist and writer based on the series on what he's seen and heard about Batman, but later ended the series when a serial killer was using the issues as the inspiration to kill as "Batman".
- List of Transgressions: In "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" (#64), as part of his master plan in putting his Joker Immunity to the test for freedom, the Joker rattles off a "seemingly never-ending list of his incredible crimes" to the police, including robbing the National Bank of Denver; this goes on for days until it's more than enough to warrant a death sentence.
- Love Is a Weakness: The idea that drives Karma, a new villain who hunts Batmans sidekicks out of a belief that they make their mentor weaker.
- Master of Disguise: Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise.
- Not His Sled: Jason Todd is not the Arkham Knight in this continuity.
- Only Mostly Dead: In "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" (#64), this is part of a plan for the Joker: after he is fried by the electric chair for all of his past offenses, his henchmen quickly retrieve his body from the prison morgue and bring him Back from the Dead with a life serum within 15 minutes in order to keep him from slipping off from "only mostly dead" to "all dead". Once he is revived, he walks away a free man... that is, until he is apprehended for newer robberies.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: Issues #983-987 were the "On the Outside" arc, an arc so obviously meant to launch a new Outsiders ongoing that many called it the instant the arc title was revealed.
- The Power of Blood: In issue #833, Zatanna is shot in the throat by the Joker and dunked into a tank filling with water, effectively keeping her from reciting her incantations backwards. When Batman escapes his own deathtrap to free her in #834, he finds her throat completely healed. Upon inspection, Bats discovers she'd used her own blood to write "HEAL ME" backwards on the inside of the tank's lid.Batman: A spell written in blood. For a mage like Zatanna, no enchantment is more powerful.
- Private Detective:
- Slam Bradley, as well as many of the other detectives from the early years.
- In issue #822, the Riddler decides that his intellect is better shown off by solving crimes than by inventing them, and sets up as a private detective.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: In "The Riddler on the Roof" (#373), Elongated Man visits Gotham while Batman's busy elsewhere, and Commissioner Gordon shows him the Riddler's latest clue. He stops the Riddler shortly before Batman, who has finished his own case and seen the clue, shows up. However, when they compare notes, they have completely different interpretations of what the riddle means, even though they both connected it to the same crime. Basically, either Batman, Commissioner Gordon, or both were Right for the Wrong Reasons—and out of sheer spite, the Riddler won't say which.
- Samus Is a Girl: The Arkham Knight is a female named Astrid Arkham.
- Shadow Discretion Shot: In "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" (#64), there is a shadow of the Joker strapped to an electric chair in the death chamber as the warden pulls the switch and shocks him to death. Not a pretty sight on page 4.
- Start of Darkness: Issue #168 is an origin story for the Joker.
- Stupid Crooks: "Rocket Scientist" in issue #704 details the career of one of Gotham City's most incompetent crooks. His actions included once disguising himself by painting his face red (following an earlier mishap due to his choice of masks) only to collapse because the paint was toxic.
- The Tooth Hurts: In issue #832, Shark pulls out his own teeth with pliers to plant them as fake evidence of his supposed death by sharks. He mentions that it was very painful, but he's got lots of teeth (three rows!).
- Tree Cover: In Spoiler's first appearance—Issue #647—Robin skateboarded to her house then slipped behind and hung out in a tree across the street to observe as Batman was trying to discover who had been visiting her father Clumaster in prison before he was paroled. She is quite annoyed to learn that they think she might be involved in his latest scheme when she runs into Robin on her way to go foil her dad's latest scheme.
- We Can Rule Together: Karma extends this offer to Cassandra Cain in #984. Naturally, she refuses.
- Yellow Peril: Issue #1 contains more than one tale about an upstanding white detective defeating sinister oriental villains, and the cover illustration features a stereotypical Chinese mastermind smiling evilly at the reader.