Batman: Detective #27
by Michael Uslan, Peter
Snejberg. Lee Loughridge
(DC Comics, 2003)

Michael Uslan, Stan Lee's co-creator in the Just Imagine series, takes a crack at writing Batman in Detective #27, a one-shot Elseworlds story that re-imagines, Stan Lee-style, the origins of Bruce Wayne.

A secret society of detectives, formed by the venerable Allan Pinkerton, has for decades been involved in a covert war against another secret society. Their latest recruit is playboy Bruce Wayne who, orphaned at a young age, has spent his life in training of one form or another, but for what, he doesn't really know yet. Enter the secret society, whose members are known only by their numbers in a successive lineage sort of deal. Together, they combat evil from the shadows, taking on presidential assassins, terrorists and the like.

This is the first problem with the story: it already sounds like a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen knockoff, a comparison that the story never manages to escape from throughout what could have been a brilliant bit of American history-driven crime noir, complete with its own very special twist on the concept of Bruce Wayne actually being Detective #27.

It's an imaginative twist, built around the concept of Bruce Wayne being Batman without actually having to become Batman. Inside this fascinating concept is a historical factoid that provides the basis for this reworking of the origins: the Darknight Detective made his debut into pop culture history in Detective Comics #27, one of the many pulp/crime fiction comics of the era. In Uslan's Detective #27, both story and title take the reader back in time to the '40s era in which Batman was first created, both literally and figuratively, in a wrinkle in time sort of way.

Wayne does not don the cowl and cape, but his heroism, Uslan suggests, is inherent: Wayne ends up living a secretive life as a reluctant successor in a long line of self-sacrificing, unknown heroes. He is still an orphan, still determined, one way or another, to avenge his parents' murder. The notion that Bruce Wayne would be still single-minded in his pursuit of justice with or without the mask is one of the central themes of the story, and Uslan makes a convincing case for such a scenario.

Detective #27 has strong historical legs, featuring a variety of characters involved in a mildly interesting plot to avert a terrorist disaster 75 years in the planning. The central characters are well drawn, leaping off the page as living, breathing human beings. The surreal artwork is spectacular and marries the story to the plot with perfection, doing an excellent job of replicating the emerging modernist style of the times.

Still, it's hard to shake the feeling of rather contrived running gags. Also, the story's best character, Selina, the Catwoman burglar, is trotted out for a few enticing scenes but is otherwise ignored. The plot moves in a very predictable fashion and by the end the story is more charming than substantive. It's an act of love but without a great deal of depth. Still, not a bad read.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 29 May 2004

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