Batman turns 75 this year, and in order to commemorate the occasion, DC Comics released a special edition of Detective Comics no. 27 (the first Detective 27 was Batman’s debut appearance.) Mainly, this issue is everything you’d expect from an anniversary issue for a major industry standard. A plethora of A-list names are brought in to tell their own celebratory shorts, but the one that had the most impact on me was Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s. We’ll get to that, but when you first open the book, you’re treated to a modern retelling of that very first Batman story by Brad Meltzer, of Identity Crisis and actual-novel fame, and Bryan Hitch, the artist behind one of Marvel’s best stories, The Ultimates. Meltzer gets right to the point, with Batman investigating a murder, and the case taking him to a familiar chemical plant. Everything happening in terms of plot is pretty much by the book, but what makes it great is the quality of the execution. Meltzer lays a journal entry written by Batman himself over the events happening in the story that anyone who’d never heard anything about the character could read, and they’d come away knowing what makes him appealing to so many people. Hitch’s art here is just as good as the stuff he did on The Ultimates, with every character in the story looking like a living, breathing person instead of a four-color avatar. It’s an entertaining read that fits opening an anniversary issue this big.
After that, Gregg Hurwitz and Neal Adams deliver a story that’s both wonky and metatextual, but has a sweet message at its heart. It won’t shock you or break your heart, but it’s clever enough to warrant being included. Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram come in after that to deliver a decidedly hopeful story that mixes The Brady Bunch with The Dark Knight Returns, if that makes any sense. It’s set in the future, but it’s also bumbling and innocent. It just feels good to read. Francesco Francavilla writes and draws an all-too-brief interlude, then Mike Barr comes back to the character for a classic “What If?” jaunt that’s followed by the first chapter of Gothtopia, which is DC’s next weekly series.
This is all fine, but the real treat of the issue is Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s tale set in Year 200 of Batman. These guys are also the team behind the deceptively-great Vertigo series, The Wake, and the few pages they have to themselves in this anniversary issue manage to take everything we’ve ever seen about whatever the “end” of Batman will be, and twist it into their own narrative. Genres blend together, with the old Bruce Wayne of their story looking like an aged samurai, and the different generations of Batmen that they highlight all taking cues from different pieces of pulp or sci-fi.
The main gist of Snyder’s short is that sometime, a long time ago, Batman figured out a way to keep himself around. Not just new people taking on the mantle every time either, but a way for every successive generation of Batman to be Bruce Wayne. It involves a pretty broad stroke of sci-fi tech that Snyder might expand upon in the future, but the most important part about it is that it’s cool enough, and just creepy enough, to work in a Batman book. There aren’t any bright and shiny qualities about the beginnings of Batman’s future. It’s demented, and wrong, and unquestionably goes against the natural state of human existence. His immortality isn’t some beautiful or gracious stay of execution, but an existence that is harrowing and macabre. But, underneath it all, is the idea that there will always be a Batman, and that no matter how that happens, it should be a thought that brings us comfort. There’s an insane amount of symbolism and converting in the dozen or so pages that Snyder gets, but it’s also a really fun read that makes the anniversary issue worth picking up, especially considering that Bleeding Cool, a comic book rumor site, is reporting that plenty of these elements will eventually be touched on in the main Batman book by Snyder and Greg Capullo. Considering the Blade Runner/anime/post-apocalyptic filters that Sean Murphy lays over the different generations of Batmen, I can’t wait to see how far they get on this timeline before Snyder wraps up his run.
Snyder said in interviews that he views his Batman as almost a creator-owned character considering the latitude that DC’s given him on the book, and how much he’s been able to flesh out his beginnings and what will eventually be his many endings. That freedom is making for one hell of a story and something that is demanding more than most superhero books right now: actual empathy and literary analysis.