With Further Ado #036: Watching the Detectives

Detective Comics just hit an amazing milestone. This series just published its 1,000th issue.  Pretty impressive?  There’s been a lot of buzz about it.  But  to me, there’s another thing going on: the celebration of oversized issues of Detective Comics.

For “fans of a certain age”, the old 80 Page Giants hold a special place in our hearts. Before old comics were regularly reprinted and repackaged into real books -like today- we thought this was the closest we were ever getting to bookshelf-worthy collections.   Each one had so many stories, and even though the price tag was hefty (“Hey, who has an extra quarter just lying around?”, we would think), every 80 Page Giant was worth it.

Technically, though, there was never an 80 Page Giant for Detective Comics back in the day. The Batman series had a few (and yes, several were annuals), but Detective Comics per se never did.

Then in the 70s 100 Page Super Spectaculars burst onto the scene. They started focusing on DC’s top characters, but soon became a format for certain titles, like Justice League of America, Batman and, you guessed it, Detective Comics.

The changeover for Detective Comics – bulking up to these glorious 100 pagers, came during a magical time for the series.  The Batman stories were top-notch, but there was this quirky new back-up series included. It was called Manhunter. 

Manhunter was a character name that DC had used in the past.  This was an innovative reboot by a fantastic writer, Archie Goodwin, and a young writer, Walter Simonson.

IDW’s Scott Dunbier has claimed the title of #1 Manhunter Fan, but I think I’m a close second. When this series started, it seared my eyeballs and exploded my brain. If there was a word that means “wow times a thousand”, I’d have used it to describe Manhunter.

Manhunter was an adventure strip, but as Walter Simonson recently described at his ITHACON panel, the idea was to create a counterbalance to Batman.  Manhunter was everything that Batman was not.  Batman focused on domestic adventures in Gotham City, Manhunter globetrotted to exotic locales. Batman was dark and moody, Manhunter embraced a bright and garish look. Batman, other than the occasional batarang, eschewed weapons, while Manhunter was a weapons master.

At ITHACON, Walter Simonson described how he worked hard in his early days not to be pigeonholed as a “science fiction artist”. When assigned a short period piece, a story about the Alamo, he eagerly accepted it. He then thoroughly researched each setting for every panel.  His hard word was noticed, so much so that when it came time to pick an artist for the international Manhunter strip, he was approached. Manhunter was a such an impressive success at the time that soon every editor knew his brilliant work.

Last Wednesday, DC released Detective Comics #1000;  jam-packed with the work of outstanding creators.  Reportedly, comic shop retailers did well with selling this milestone comic.

But over in the Wal*Mart, there was another Bat-Surprise waiting for Detective Comics fans.  As part of DC’s 100 Page Comic Giant series, Detective Comics finally got another chance to shine with the 100 Page treatment. More than that – ‘tec (as we used to call the title) even got its own cardboard display case!

Unlike most of the Wal*Mart DC comics, which usually reprint more recent stories, this one dug deep into Detective Comics’ rich history offering the first adventures of Batman, Robin and Batgirl. There are a few wonderful surprises, including two of my favorite Detective stories, both with gorgeous Dick Giordano art.  Trivia fans will note these adventures showcase the first appearances of two regular characters on the Gotham TV show – Leslie Thompson and Barbara Kean.

Happy 1,000th Birthday, Detective Comics! Thanks for all the fun.