Robot 6

Quote of the day | ‘Detective Comics’ is an oxymoron

“Batman is considered THE detective in comics (he first appeared in Detective Comics and has been there for 70+ years, after all) and the rest of the Bat-Family are right up there with him. But, the reputation, I’m sad to say, is undeserved. It’s HARD to write a detective in a comic book format. I know. I’ve been there. There’s only so much room for clues and for drawn out searches. Stories in comics have to move so fast that being a detective, even for Batman, usually comes down to a trail of muddy footprints, with a mud that comes ONLY from one certain place in an area of five square yards, where the murderer happens to be standing right now …”

Paul Tobin, killing my long-held dream that Detective Comics will ever live up to its name.

Is he right, though? I love Paul Tobin, but is it that tough to write a mystery comic? Seems like Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker might disagree. Or is it just tough to write a mystery comic featuring Batman or other superheroes? Tobin’s certainly correct that most Batman stories aren’t actually detective stories, but is that a problem with the comics medium, the superhero genre, or just the writers themselves?

Is it a problem at all? Am I the only one who’d really enjoy seeing Batman do some actual sleuthing? Or Lois Lane put some actual investigating into her journalism?

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12 Comments

Mike W. Barr sure wrote plenty of good detective stories in his Maze Agency series.

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. But other market forces (particularly, an audience more concerned with action and payoff than a methodical accumulation of facts) probably make it less rewarding for the creators than other types of stories.

I agree, look at Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, and now Scott Snyders. it managed to be quite good. For example Grant Morrison’s Black Glove Story with the Club of Heroes, an excellent mystery.

Thank you, Rob S. I immediately thought of Maze Agency when I read this.

Watchmen is proof that comics can be an amazing medium for mysteries. Think about all the little details that are in there — visual clues can be shown without drawing undue attention to them, unlike eiterh movies or prose.

So can, it be done? Of course! Is it done often or well? That’s got a different answer. But it’s all dependent on the creators having the talent and putting in the effort.

I’d guess that Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka wouldn’t say “Writing mysteries is easy!” if for no other reason than not wanting to devalue their own effort.

sandwich eater

June 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I was going to object, but then I realized my favorite Batman detective stories were all from Batman: The Animated Series.

Paul Tobin is talking outta his damn hat. I’ve read a metric crap-ton of good Batman detective stories (some ‘fair-play’ detective stories and stories where he acts as a detective). Paul Tobin is just trying to excuse creative ineptitude.
What he means to say is that he can’t figure out to do what writers like Steve Englehart and Denny O’Neill could do in their damn sleep.

Also, Max Allen Collins (Ms.Tree), Dan Spiegel (Crossfire) and Mike W. Barr (the Maze Agency) would like a word. I predict it’ll be a short word… about four letters.

If you want to criticize Detective Comics for not living up to the full potential of its name, I’d say that’s fair. There have been a handful of great mystery stories and about a trillion mediocre ones in that title over the years. But to imply the medium itself somehow makes it harder to do good mysteries? That’s nuts. Surely, it’s hard to write good detective fiction in any medium… prose, film, television, whatever… but go read Brubaker, Rucka, Azzarello, etc and tell me comics is somehow less conducive to mysteries. The “amazing coincidences falling into place to provide an instantaneous solution so that our hero barely has to do any thinking at all” phenomenon that Tobin is speaking of is pretty common in Batman stories but certainly not in EVERY example of detective fiction in comics.

Plus, this raises a question of what kind of detective stories are we talking about? There are snappy little whodunits, elaborate political conspiracy stories, crime comics that get filed under “mystery” whether there is a specific mystery or not… there are a lot of stylistic sub genres. Tobin is making a really broad generalization.

Also, regarding what to do about the Batman problem… I agree with Rob S. If you write Batman comics that have the pacing and structure of an actual detective story, the fans get impatient and start complaining that they want more punchy explodey time and your grownup brainy guy stuff is boring. This is why Brian Azzarello was less than a hit as a Batman writer, despite being one of the best writers working.

I do have to say, however, that I’m impressed by fan support for Scott Snyder who seems to be pretty good at mystery building. I haven’t read any of his stuff lately because I quit DC but his Detective Comics arc where James Gordon Jr was a murderer was suspenseful and kept me involved. See, there’s one of those rare examples of a good, decetivey Batman stories.

Good points, but def nor inherent in medium. Maybe just superheroes, but even there stories are commonly so decompressed that I doubt it.

Jake Earlewine

June 22, 2012 at 5:43 am

Pól Rua said it well: “What he means to say is that he can’t figure out how to do what writers like Steve Englehart and Denny O’Neill could do in their sleep. Also, Max Allen Collins (Ms.Tree), Dan Spiegel (Crossfire) and Mike W. Barr (the Maze Agency)…”

The problem is that most Batman writers, editors, and publishers regard Batman as yet another dadgum super-hero. Just one of many. They suffer from Joel Schumacher disease and exhibit the same flaw that mars (and sometimes totally ruins) all the Batman movies. These so-called creators believe in what Schumacher calls “extravaganzas” — unrealistic punch-em-ups full of explosions and super-villains in ridiculous costumes acting from insubstantial motivations. In these stories, you don’t even need Batman — YOU COULD SUBSTITUTE ANY SUPER-HERO.

My favorite Batman stories are the quiet stories where he actually “detects” — the kind of stories O’Neil and Englehart wrote. The kind Julius Schwartz and Archie Goodwin edited. I’m still hoping someday a Batman movie will be made where the focus is on a lone, dark night (no K, thank you) detective. It could be done for a low budget! All they need to do is take one of O’Neil or Englehart’s best stories and develop it.

Let’s hear a round of applause for Ms. Tree, Crossfire, and Maze Agency! Yes, great detective stories can be done in comics! But if you don’t have the talent to write mysteries, you can simply have Batman and Bane beat up on each other for the rest of eternity.

@Raven

Define why Club of Heroes was a good mystery. Can you?

Mysteries are hard to write in any medium, not just comics.

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