Thursday, January 15, 2009

Detective Comics #500 - March 1981

The Phantom Stranger re-teams with The Dark Knight Detective for one of his strangest adventures ever!

Right around this time, DC's warhorse titles were hitting significant anniversaries, and for the most part the company went really out of its way to make those issues special.

One of the best examples of this is Detective Comics #500, which is an 84-page extravaganza filled with all kinds of amazing material, a lot of by people who rarely worked in comics.

Once you get past the amazing jam cover (which features artwork by Dick Giordano, Joe Kubert, Walt Simonson, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Jim Aparo, Tom Yeates, and more) the book hits the ground running with Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano's "To Kill A Legend":

We start with a replay of the horrible night Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, and within moments see its another nightmare held by our hero, twenty plus years later.

Unable to sleep, he slips on his Batman costume and heads out into the night. While chasing a mugger down an alley, he is assisted by his junior partner, Robin, who apprehends the man.

Batman is grateful, but wonders why Robin--who was supposed to be on a plane to Europe--is here. Robin himself remembers that, and wonders why himself. Its then that we see the reason the two heroes have met up in this spot and this particular time:
Batman and Robin arrive on this alternate world, and they stop some crooks in the middle of robbing a cargo ship.

Batman is surprised to see that some of the crooks nearly faint in terror when they get a look at him, but they don't have much time to think about it, because they are stopped by...Commissioner James Gordon and the GCPD!

Gordon tries to arrest these two strangely-dressed men, but they escape. The next morning, Bruce and Dick do some investigating at the Gotham Hall of Records:
Hmm...this world seemingly has no superheroes, or even mythical stories of heroes!

Meanwhile, across town, we see a man named Joe Chill realize that the cops are after him because of a bank heist he participated in. He begins to worry...

Outside Gotham's city limits, Batman and Robin are spying on Wayne Manor, and inside is Thomas and Martha Wayne and their young son Bruce. While Robin notices that this Bruce is a spoiled brat, Batman can't help but be stunned that his parents are here, alive, right in front of him.

Batman and Robin go back on the case, and find the crook Lew Moxon, who, on their Earth, hired Joe Chill to murder Thomas Wayne to stop him from testifying against him. They warn him that if any harm comes to the Waynes, they will be back.

They continue to try and find Joe Chill, since the historical date of the Wayne's murder is fast approaching. But Batman is shocked when he tracks Chill down, only to find Chill dying of a gunshot wound!

He tells Batman that someone else was hired to kill Thomas Wayne, but that doesn't make any sense to Batman, since the the date is wrong...until realizes that, since his parents died twenty years ago, five leap years have passed, making this day--Monday the 21st--effectively being the correct date!

Batman, in a panic, heads out to find the Waynes. Robin is already there, and as he decides whether to interfere with destiny, he sees his partner has already made the choice--he breaks up the robbery, chasing after the hit man with rage:

With the Waynes safe, The Phantom Stranger reappears, ready to transport Batman and Robin back home.

But what will happen to young Bruce Wayne, Robin asks. While the Stranger gives a typically cryptic answer, we get to see for ourselves:
...the end.

I can remember reading this story right off the newsstands, and thinking it was an instant classic. And I obviously wasn't the only one, because DC would soon pick it as one of their Year's Best, and in any future "Best of Batman" compilation book, this story always has appeared.

Alan Brennert's story is so classic, using various trappings of the DCU but taking them in unexpected directions, that it still holds up, almost thirty years later. The idea that a Batman would still be created because of that night in Crime Alley, but a Batman not driven by anger and revenge is such a great idea it almost makes we wish we could've seen a whole alternate series about that Batman. And of course as a Phantom Stranger fan, it was nice to have him be the catalyst for the story.

I'm such a fan of this story, and of Alan Brennert's comic work in general, that I asked him to do an interview with me for the blog, even though his experience writing The Phantom Stranger is limited to just this one story.

Graciously, Alan agreed, so be here tomorrow when we'll talk with the Alan Brennert and his classic story "To Kill A Legend"!


Unknown said...

Oh WOW! I was thinking/hoping this story was coming up soon. I totally agree with you Rob & anyone else that calls it a classic. It's a great story, it gives an interesting Earth to see and, I think, should have given our Bruce some peace. I would have love to have seen some follow up on this, maybe a story where we see him asleep and he's smiling or something.
I can NOT wait to read the interview, kudos again to you Rob, Kudos!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that this is an all-time classic. EVERYTHING about it works. I read it right off the news-stand, too, and have re-read it about a dozen times since. It was also in the Japanese version Best of Batman collection that I bought while I lived there (it came out during the Michael Keaton BATMAN craze), so I was able to read it in Japanese, too. Great stuff!!

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite comic stories of all time. In an age where Batman's origin was recounted every issue, it had so much more impact here. The story, the art, everything just gelled to make this THE best Batman story of all time. There I said it. And I am including DKR and Year One as well.

I REALLY look forward to that interview Rob! Brennert's other forays into comics top my all-time list as well, esp. B&B #182 with the Earth Two Robin!


Anonymous said...

One of my favourite stories ever. Great artwork by Dick Giordano, and brilliantly written by Alan Brennert. I'm looking forward to the interview with him, as though he's not written too many comics, all the ones he has done have all been generally excellent.

Vincent Paul Bartilucci said...

What can I say that hasn't already been said? Truly a classic. I, too, read this story when it was first published and I remember thinking to myself how perfect the ending was.

IMHO, "Batman" is not a mantle to be passed from character to character. Batman is a creation of Bruce Wayne. The only way you really get another Batman is by going to another reality, like this one, and finding another Bruce Wayne.

Luis said...

I own this issue! And yes, as everyone has stated, it's a classic. And what about that splash page, it has to be one of the best ones in Detective's entire run.

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