Robot 6

Brad Meltzer remakes history in ‘Detective Comics’ #27

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ROBOT 6 EXCLUSIVE: Jim Lee's cover for "Detective Comics" #27

ROBOT 6 EXCLUSIVE: Jim Lee’s cover for “Detective Comics” #27

Over the past few years, Brad Meltzer has become one of the pinch hitters of comics.

Although his day job as a bestselling suspense novelist and TV host of History’s Decoded has kept him from taking on an extended comics project since 2006’s Justice League of America relaunch, Meltzer has stepped in for a number of comics projects over recent years, including an arc on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 and a recent short in Art Baltazar and Franco’s Aw Yeah Comics.

Next up for the writer is a special contribution to DC Comics’ Detective Comics #27, arriving next week. The spiritual heir to the first appearance of Batman will clock in at more than 100 pages to kick off DC’s 75th anniversary celebration for the Dark Knight, with contributions by Scott Snyder, John Layman, Mike W. Barr and more creators from the character’s past and present. And for his part, Meltzer will team with artist Bryan Hitch to retell “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the Bill Finger/Bob Kane short that began the Batman legend in 1939’s Detective Comics #27.

We spoke with Meltzer about the legacy of the original story and the challenges of bringing it into the modern era – and not for the first time – while DC shared an exclusive first look at Co-Publisher Jim Lee’s variant cover for the issue.

Robot 6: Brad, I talked to Mike Marts after this Detective #27 issue was announced, and it seemed like he cast a wide net to get anyone on board to do anything. When they approached you, did you immediately gravitate toward revisiting the original?

Brad Meltzer: As with all things in comics from my past decade at DC, I blame Dan DiDio for this. God bless him, for years now we’ve been talking and scheming to try and find the right project to work together again. We went down one road for a while, and then when Decoded came on the air, I had to drop out. Then we were talking about something else, and since I’m not doing kids’ books I had to drop out. The timing just became too hard for me to do things, and he said, “Here, I have one for you.” And he knew this was my weakness because Batman is the pinnacle for me. We’ve always been talking about that, and he said that since it was the 75th anniversary of Batman, they wanted to honor that first story. To me, that’s something you can’t pass on.

Do you have a memory of the first time you read the original story? Because when I was young, I had a copy of Detective #627, which not only reprinted that short but also had versions from the ’60s as well as contemporary ones …

The original "Detective Comics" #27

The original “Detective Comics” #27

And they all redid it! Yeah, the trick has been done before. The funny part is that I can’t tell you when I first read it. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it was one of the ones I read later – far later when I was an adult but not when I was a kid going, “Oh my gosh! I’ve been inspired ever since.” But when you look at that original, it’s kind of wild because comics were told so differently then. There were 12 panels on a page, and every character spouts all their motivations in a single word balloon. The scene opens up, and it’s “Commissioner, someone’s dead!” and then Commissioner Gordon goes, “Well, Bruce Wayne, do you want to come with me to the murder scene even though there’s no logical reason for you to be there?” And Bruce Wayne says, “Sure I will!” [Laughs] It all just races on from there.

To me, I think when you say that we’re “retelling” the first Batman story, it’s almost doing a disservice. It’s like we’re colorizing an old movie. You can do it, and you can modernize it, but it’s sort of robbing it of its soul. So what we wanted to do was honor the old story – to keep it in tact as much as we could. Then we could lay something new on top of it, so what you’ll see when you read this is that I tried to lay 75 years of Batman’s motivation on top of it. For me, when you look at the original story, the most beautiful part of it is that all the pieces are already there. He may not use the utility belt, but there it is. He may not like Commissioner Gordon, but there he is. All those little details and that stubbornness and determination is front and center.

And it’s amazing to see some of the other things in that first issue. Batman pushes someone into acid! Or maybe I should say that the bad guy falls into acid. I almost forgot that detail at the end of it.

I think too there are a lot of little elements over the years that have become undeniable pieces of the Batman canon: the pearls hitting the sidewalk when his parents are killed, or the bell he uses to summon Alfred but gets a bat. Did you find there were any later elements that you thought of as so essential that you wanted to work them in?

Yeah, of course. You can see right in there that the way Batman gets out of the death trap in the very first story is because he races in with his full costume, and when he gets locked inside this trap, the reason he gets out is because as he was racing inside he went “Oh look, there’s a wrench” and grabbed it. [Laughs] Batman would have 15 wrenches in his utility belt! That’s what it’s there for – to get you out of death traps. So that detail isn’t there. It’s clear in the original story that the utility belt is just on him because it looks cool. Bill Finger and Bob Kane knew how to do that, God bless them.

So for me, the interesting thing here was to see just how much got pulled in over the years. It’s kind of like how Superman learned how to fly in a cartoon, and then it makes the comics. It all kind of influences itself, and that’s not a weakness. That’s the beauty of this mythology. It’s been a living, breathing thing for 75 years, and all these different hands from Bill Finger and Bob Kane to everyone else who’s gotten to touch it has added and tweaked and massaged it into this perfect structure. It’s why the character is here 75 years later and is so perfectly defined. You can put him up against Superman, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America or anybody. No character in comics is more perfectly defined than Batman. No one. And that definition is as pointy as the ears itself.

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25 Comments

This looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.

Whelp, with the hack who crapped out Identity Crisis involved, I’ll be sure to give this one a miss.

Seriously ?

Thankfully you’ll be way in the minority.

Wouldn’t miss this for anything.

This will be epic

Zach don’t worry it could be worse Jeph Loeb could be writing part of it

I agree with Zach. No thank you.

Batman kills someone in this? like in the original? or is this just a blatant cash grab on Dan Didiot’ s part

Meltzer is a fantastic writer, be it in comics, novels, television.

I have read all of his novels and 90% of his comics work and have never failed to be entertained. I don’t understand haters of Meltzer. ]

I am gonna pick this book up just on the strength of Brad’s writing alone!!

Hahaha… Crapped out Identity Crisis? That was one of the best stories of all time. You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re in the minority of people that didn’t like it.

What can I say, Rob? Is like to like the book but I just like women too much to enjoy something that treats them as powerless objects that are just around to effect the men.

So I guess you stopped reading the Walking Dead after the Governor rapes Michonne, right Zach.

What’s “Walking Dead”? You’re just making up stuff now and I’m done talking.

Did I miss a massive celebration of Superman’s first appearance?

Zach’s right. Identity Crisis was trash in terms of being a solvable mystery and in terms of characterization, but featured enough soap opera theatrics and violence against women to draw in readers.

Same reason Millar’s garbage does so well.

Man oh man, can we not discuss comics without insulting creators and each other? Sheesh.

Hate it. Renumbering the book is disgraceful and this is flaunting the misdeed. I know it’s old news now, but where does DC editorial get off renumbering the oldest running serial fiction ever? What makes someone think “70 years of my predecessors haven’t done it, but I think I’m important enough to do it”. I can’t stand it.

Well, that last Zach wasn’t me. I know what the Walking Dead is.

I never read Walking Dead, but did Walking Dead have a female character spend an entire scene showing no more of her than the weapon on her hip, like with Wonder Woman?

Did it specifically brush over the rape, showing only how it affected Michonne’s husband, and the largely male members of his team?

Did it have a fight where all the women get taken out in the first few panels in ways specifically designed to remove their voices?

Did it go into great detail on the motivations of the men while skimming over the motivations of the women, even when they should have, such as the woman who it turns out was doing the killing in the first place?

Did it never show a single woman with agency in the whole damn thing?

I only skimmed a few volumes of the Walking Dead, but I’m pretty sure the answer to all of that is “no.”

I was never a DC reader, i am more of a Marvel zombie, i bought the Identity Crisis TPB a year ago because it was cheap. I felt lucky because i loved the storytelling and learned more about Meltzer.

My big problem with Identity Crisis, I eventually realized, stemmed from his statement that he was “going to knock Batman down a few pegs.” I realized that he felt that the way writers have been writing comics was wrong, but he would be the great hero who would fix it all and teach us how writing super heroes should be done. Instead, we got a darkening of the DC universe to such a degree that DC comics became joyless.
I was really concerned when I heard he was writing Buffy comics, but found that he captures the voices of all the characters perfectly. There was no need to bring Xander down a few pegs or teach Joss Whedon the proper way to write Buffy stories. He obviously respected Buffy and just wanted to do a good job. Let’s hope he learned his lesson on writing super hero comics.

I’m giving this one a pass. I’m sure it will have big numbers though.

Nice cover.

Good breakdown Zach.

Sometimes I wonder if enough comic fans have interaction with women that they swallow up stuff like Identity Crisis, Wanted, Kickass, etc and don’t think to question the material.

Nice cover, but where’s the purple gloves? I’ve always wanted a writer to flesh out that aspect of Batman’s sartorial taste for his first costume. “Crap, I’m not wearing gloves and I don’t want to leave any fingerprints. To the Macy’s women section I go!”

@jim24
Yeah it seems pretty weird to skip on the purple gloves yet include everything else….especially when the gloves made an appearance in the Batman comics not long ago.

I’m not a fan of Meltzer’s books, they’ll always been boring reads to me, but I’ll check this out to see what he does with his re-telling….not to mention the huge list of other writers/artists in this issue.

Never read Identity Crisis either, but I have a feeling his authoring quirks will show and I’m not really a fan of JL comics.

Prediction: this Detective Comics #27 will pale in comparison to the excellent homage done in Detective Comics #627, that featured writing by guys like Denny O’Neil and Alan Grant, and art by guys like Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle. In fact, ‘TEC #627 took “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” and re-told it with art and writing styles unique to each era of The Batman.

This issue will be marred primarily by the lackluster nature of the “talents” involved (except for Barr) and the fact that it’s going to be tied into the abomination that is the New 52.

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