Character created by Bob Kane, with Bill Finger
YES, that BATMAN.
The Dark Knight.
The Caped Crusader.
One half of The Dynamic Duo.
A sinister figure lurking in the shadows.
Now, don’t get me wrong–as I’ve had to tell numerous readers over the years who are upset at his exclusion of Batman on these pages–Batman is NOT a private eye.
No, no, no…
Nor is his alter ego millionaire playboy BRUCE WAYNE. At least most of the time.
Because, of course, Batman is not for hire. He does what he does because he must.
“Bruce Wayne, Private Detective,” the cover story in the January 1950 issue of Detective Comics. Unlike much more recent “Elseworld” tales that feature familiar heroes and villains of the DC universe recast in various occupations and time periods, this tale actually falls squarely into recognized Batman continuity.
Well, the continuity of that era, anyway.
Those weaned on the Bat’s current grim-faced Dark Knight may not recognize the chipper and decidedly angst-free guy in the cowl gleefully showing Vicki Vale, newspaper reporter and current girlfriend of alter ego Bruce Wayne, around the Batcave for a photo essay she’s working on. And their heads will definitely explode when Wayne later lets the Lois Lane-wannabe talk him into taking over the office of an ailing private eye pal of hers, Ed Wedge, after Bruce idly dismisses Batman as a “glorified detective” and boasts that he could probably do just as well.
Yeah, it’s a little bit disconcerting to see Bruce portrayed as a pussy-whipped suitor with a 24/7 grin plastered on his mug, commanded by a domineering Vicki to “make like Humphrey Bogart” or else, but once you get past the premise, the story’s actually a fun little read, an enjoyable twelve pages of hokum, typical of Batman tales of the time, complete with a wise cracking and perpetually grinning Robin, an only-in-the-comics death trap for Batman to escape from, a dopey motive and a far-fetched solution, plus a smug challenge just before the story wraps up: “Readers! Bruce has the answer! Have you?”
And if you liked that one, be sure to seek out “The Other Bruce Wayne,” which originally appeared in the October 1957 issue of Batman. The convoluted premise in this one is even more far-fetched: Commissioner Gordon summons Bruce Wayne to his office one night to meet… Bruce N. Wayne, a distant cousin on his father’s side and his namesake. This new Wayne, just in from “the Coast,” turns out to be “one of the greatest private detectives in the country,” according to Gordon. While in Gotham City on a case, he insists on staying with his cousin and teaching him a few “detective tricks” in order to make a man out if him.
If you like this sort of head-spinning What If? stuff, but can’t quite get your head around a jolly, jocular Batman who seems to have OD’d on happy pills, you should certainly check out a couple of more recent (and decidedly darker) Elseworlds tales, particularly Nine Lives: Who Killed Selina Kyle? and Gotham Noir, which cast Dick “Robin” Grayson and Commissioner Gordon as private eyes, respectively.
It should also be noted that, even if Batman isn’t really a private eye, he has upon occasion crossed paths with fellow DC private sleuths Christopher Chance (aka “The Human Target”), Man-Bat, Jason Bard and, of course, Oracle.
Of course, since his creation back in the thirties, Batman has had a huge honking impact on not just comics or crime fiction but on our culture itself, influencing and appearing in films, radio and television, cartoons, comic strips, and of course comic books. One of the more fascinating results of this is the large number of P.I. writers who have contributed to the Batman canon in film, prose, television and of course comics books themselves.
Listing all of Batman’s appearances would be pointless. But for your enjoyment, a few suggestions:
(1940-present, DC Comics)
- “The Other Bruce Wayne” (May 1946, #111)
- DETECTIVE COMICS
(1937-present, DC Comics)
- “Bruce Wayne, Private Detective” (January 1950, #155)
- DC MEETS LOONEY TUNES
(2017, DC Comics)
A series of one-offs, teaming up various DC superheroes with assorted Warner Bros. cartoon characters.
- THE GOTHAM CENTRAL OMNIBUS | Buy the graphic novel
(2022, DC Comics)
Writers: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka
Artists: Michael Lark, Stefan Gaudiano, Kano
No, it’s not full of private eyes, but anyone who hangs out at the dark end of the crime fiction street will dig this 968-page brick rounding up all 40 issues of Gotham Central (2002-06), DC’s Eisner-winning series that zeroed in on the gritty day-to-day of the Gotham City’s beleagured cops who have to battle everything from psychotic supervillains to run-of-the-mill mobsters and petty thieves–not to mention internal corruption, red tape and a masked nutjob running around the city at night fighting crime dressed up like some kind of flying rodent. Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer, Renee Montoya and the rest of the GCPD all clock in, as well as a few choice cameos by the afore-mentioned nutjob, in this landmark series that injects Hill Street Blues-style grit into the DCU.
- To the Batcave
A listing of P.I. writers who have contributed to the canon of the Dark Knight.
- Detectives in DC Comics
A preliminary listing of all the private eyes who have shown up in DC Comics.