Detectives in DC Comics

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Remember when there were actual detectives doing actual detective work in Detective Comics?

Known now as the home of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, many younger fans may not realize that when comics giant DC’s flagship title Detective Comics first came out in March 1937, it was simply a kid-friendly comic book version of the hard-boiled pulps already available on the newsstands; full of two-fisted cops, district attorneys, criminal lawyers and especially private eyes shooting it out or dukin’ it out with the bad guys… and no superheroes at all. They promised “bang-up adventure yarns in thrilling pictures by your favorite artists!”

Whaddya think “DC” stands for?

That first issue introduced private eye Slam Bradley and “ace investigator” Speed Saunders, among others. In fact, Batman only made his debut in issue #27, and although he hasn’t left us yet, more than a few private eyes have managed to force their way into the pages of both Detective Comics and other DC titles over the years, occasionally alongside the Dark Knight, and often as heroes in their own, separate back-up features — or even as stars of their own comic books.

DCs_crimes_of_passionIn the 500th issue of Detective Comics, in 1981, DC published “The ‘Too Many Cooks…’ Caper,” they even brought back several non-costumed detectives to help Batman crack a case, including Bradley, Roy Raymond, Jason Bard, Captain Mark Compass, Steve Malone, Christopher Chance and Pow-Wow Smith

Of course, Detective Comics is now completely dominated by Batman, with (sadly) less emphasis placed on detective work and more on “crime-fighting,”  and increasingly stretched out over multi-part, confusing crossover storylines and whoever the latest Robin is.

But no matter how many twists and turns the on-going Batman saga takes, it never seems to entirely shake its roots. Over the years, various characters have become private eyes, both in and out of official continuity, including Man-Bat, James Gordon and Dick Grayson, the original Boy Wonder.

But best of all? I’m proud to say that I’ve finally tracked down issue Detective Comics #155 from January 1950, which featured “Bruce Wayne, Private Detective.”

PRIVATE EYES IN DC COMICS

COLLECTIONS

  • DC’S GREATEST DETECTIVE STORIES EVER TOLD (2021, DC Comics) Buy the comic | Kindle/ComiXology it!
    If you’re one of the
    lucky few who sorta remember when there were actual detectives in Detective Comics, this collection is for you. Includes key stories featuring Slam Bradley, Lois Lane, The Question, Detective Chimp, and some guy who dresses like a flying rodent, going as far back as 1937. Collects Adventure Comics #51, Batman #441, Detective Comics #2, #329, and #572, Lois Lane #1-2, Secret Origins #40, and The Question #8.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • To the Batcave
    P.I. writers who have contributed to the Dark Knight canon.
  • My Scrapbook
    Darwyn Cooke’s Color Model Sheet for Slam Bradley
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

 

2 thoughts on “Detectives in DC Comics

  1. You know since some popular detective stories featured reporters, photographers and investigative journalists as lead characters, you could count Daily Planet reporters Lois Lane, Clark Kent and even cub reporter Jimmy Olsen as “detectives within the DC Universe”, in fact the early Superman comics from the Golden Age had a noir detective feel in the Lois and Clark scenes. Also the early B&W seasons of the George Reeves Superman series had that detective noir feel too and the early seasons were listed under police procedural on TV lineups at the time.

    1. Yes, but that’s a can of “detective” worms I’d rather not dig into. And except for some fedoras and the fact it was filmed in black and white, I’m not sure the Superman TV show had much to do with noir at all.

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