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.
In 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
- DETECTIVE COMICS
Detectives who have appeared in Detective Comics, and their first appearance.
- Speed Saunders by E.C. Stoner (March 1937, Detective Comics #1)
- Slam Bradley (March 1937, Detective Comics #1)
- Larry Steele (July 1937, Detective Comics #5)
- Batman (1939, Detective Comics #27)
- Roy Raymond, TV Detective by Jack Miller (?) & Ruben Moreira (1949, Detective Comics #153)
- “The Private Eye Who Couldn’t See” (August-September 1952; Detective Comics #29)
- Timothy Trench (1st appearance 1968, Wonder Woman; back-up feature 1976, Detective Comics)
- Jason Bard (1969, Detective Comics #392)
- The Odd Man (1978, Detective Comics #487)
- Sasha Bordeaux (2000, Detective Comics #859)
- OTHER DC (AND VERTIGO) PRIVATE EYES
Their first — and occasionally only — appearances as P.I.s.
- Dr. Occult (October 1936, New Fun Comics #6)
- Johnny Peril (August/September 1947, Comic Calvacade #22)
- Sierra Smith (September-October 1948, Dale Evans #1)
- Mark Compass (August 1948, Star-Spangled Comics)
- Batman (January 1950, Detective Comics #155)
- Bruce Wayne (January 1950, Detective Comics #155)
- Rex the Wonder Dog (1952, Rex the Wonder Dog #1)
- Bobo the Detective Chimp (1953, The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog)
- Star Hawkins (1960, Strange Adventure #114)
- Sarge Steel (1964, Sarge Steel-Private Detective [not originally a DC character])
- Angel and the Ape (1968, Showcase #77)
- Jonny Double (1968, Showcase)
- Christopher Chance, The Human Target (early seventies)
- Nathaniel Dusk (1984, Nathaniel Dusk: Lovers Die at Dusk)
- Jonni Thunder (1985, Jonni Thunder #1)
- Man-Bat (July 1978, Batman Family #20)
- Ms. Tree (1981, Eclipse Magazine; 1st DC appearance: 1990, Ms. Tree Quarterly [not originally a DC character])
- Joe Potato (1989, Detective Comics)
- The Dead Boy Detectives (1990, Sandman)
- Jack Herriman (1999, Scene of the Crime)
- James Gordon (2001, Gotham Noir; DC Elseworlds tale)
- Milo Garrett (2002, 100 Bullets # 31-36)
- Richard “Dick” Grayson (2002, Nine Lives; DC Elseworlds tale)
- Roy Raymond, Jr. (March 1997, Robin #38)
- Matthew “Mac” MacGregor (2008, High Moon, [Zuda.com web comic])
- Frank Grissel (2010, Fogtown)
- 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.
- 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.