Slam Bradley (Gotham City: Year One)

Created by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson
Developed by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel
Written by Tom King

Comics. They’re not just for kids anymore.

In case ya hadn’t noticed…

Certainly, Gotham City: Year One , a 2022-23 mini-series from DC Comics, will have plenty of ten-year-olds (and more than a few long-time Batman fans) scratching their heads.

Yeah, DC Comics, as in the iconic Detective Comics, the flagship comic that made its debut in 1937 and gave an upstart publisher its initials; the longest-running American comic book ever; the groundbreaking comic that initially sought to be a Black Mask-style book for kids, filled with private eyes, cops, G-men and various other crimefighters; the home of Batman since 1939.

But the Caped Crusader was not Detective Comics’ first major detective. Nope, that would be SLAM BRADLEY, a two-fisted palooka of a private eye who brawled his way through over 150 cases, starting right from issue number one. Ol’ Pointy Ears only showed up a few years later, although he promptly stole the thunder from Slam.

Granted, Batman was a more evolved character than Slam ever was—the rough-and-ready Slam was squarely aimed at children (his annoying partner, Shorty Morgan, was proof enough of that), and remained so for decades. Long after his Detective Comics run, the brouhaha-loving gumshoe, while always a hoot, remained evolution-free, popping in and out of the DC Universe, making fleeting cameos and occasionally pounding the crap out of assorted villains, while possessing all the depth of a Post-It note.

It was really only in in this century that Slam was allowed any real depth, when the aging sleuth was finally revealed to have not only a past but, even more surprising, a heart. And that heart’s on display plenty in this one, which posits itself as an alternative history of Slam, and perhaps the whole DC Universe. In the ever-elastic world of comics, it’s 1961, and Bruce Wayne, never mind Batman, hasn’t even been born (although he does hover in the shadows of this series’ framing sequences, almost priest-like, as the bed-ridden Slam offers his confessions of a sort).

In this version, Slam is an ex-cop turned middle-aged private investigator, a world-weary pipe smoker still capable of the rough stuff, if he must—but he’d rather not. (He’s such a radically different, fleshed-out version of the original character that I’ve given this version of him a separate entry here).

He’s not up to “anything important” when a mysterious young “coloured girl” wanders into his office. She offers the detective a hundred dollars to Slam to simply deliver a letter to the stately manor of Richard and Constance Wayne, pillars of Gotham society (and Bruce Wayne’s grandparents). It’s easy money, and Slam hasn’t got much going on at the moment, so he agrees.

Unbeknownst to Slam, it’s a ransom letter, and he’s reluctantly dragged into what the Gotham press will soon tag the “kidnapping of the century.” Turns out the Wayne’s infant daughter, Helen (the so-called “Princess of Gotham”) has been abducted, and the villains intend to use Slam as the go-between. The plot may sound simple, but King uses it as a springboard to jump on everything from race and class, greed and privilege, corruption and human weakness. Also up for grabs? The previously established history of not just Gotham but (for careful readers) Batman himself.

Firmly rooted in what-if, perhaps, it’s nonetheless an audacious and decidedly noirish retelling of a history comic buffs may have thought they knew all too well; with echoes of everything from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping to such classic noir fare as The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown folded right into the mix . And the slash-and-burn angular artwork by the team of Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur and by Jordie Bellaire, wielding a limited colour palette and heavy us of blacks to striking effect, complementing the shadowy, savage heart of the story—proclaims that this is something different.

It is. It’s a prime slab of solid noir storytelling, set smack dab in the middle of (but not quite part of) DC mythology. It’s too bad DC seems to have scrapped the old Elseworlds banner they started back in the late eighties, which presented stories set outside the DC’s main continuity, featuring alternate versions of well-known characters and exploring “what if” scenarios. This story would surely be a prime candidate; inspired by, but not necessarily part of the canon.

As it is, it’s an eye-opening re-imagining and updating of one of DC’s earliest heroes. Oh, Slam still has plenty of game, and is just as hard-boiled as ever, but he’s no longer a one-trick pony, and this brave take opens up a can of worms that perhaps needed to be opened for some comics fans (and some of its revelations may be a bridge too far for some).

What if?

Comics had changed a lot since 1937…

* * * * *



  • GOTHAM CITY: YEAR ONE Buy this book
    (2022-23, DC Comics)
    Written by Tom King
    Art by Phil Hester
    Color by Eric Gapstur
    Inls by Jordie Bellaire
    6 issues


  • GOTHAM CITY: YEAR ONE Buy this book
    (2023, DC Comics)
    Rounds up all six issues, plus bonus material.



  • MAY 10, 2023
    The Bottom Line:
    DCs’ original two-fisted dick returns, neck-deep in the “kidnapping of the century,” in a gutsy, gritty, noirish, 60’s-set reimagining,  shaking up DC history big time (at least for careful readers).
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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