This series has featured some pivotal Bat-moments.
It’s shaping up to be a huge year for Batman. Not only is he celebrating his 80th birthday in 2019, but Detective Comics is reaching its 1000th issue on March 27. The Caped Crusader sure has come a long way since his debut way back in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. It goes without saying that the past 80 years’ worth of Detective Comics stories have featured many formative Batman moments. From major character introductions to influential origin stories, here are 20 issues of Detective Comics that altered the course of the Batman franchise.
As seen in: Detective Comics #27 (1939)
No issue of Detective Comics is more important or influential than the one that introduced the world to the Caped Crusader for the very first time. Detective Comics #27 features the very first Batman story – a crime tale called “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” While many key elements of the franchise had yet to be added – the rogues gallery, the sidekicks, etc. – the basics of Batman’s appearance and his war on crime were intact from the beginning.
Batman’s First Supervillain
As seen in: Detective Comics #31 (1939)
The first several Batman stories in Detective Comics featured the Dark Knight beating up (and occasionally killing) ordinary gangsters and thugs. It wasn’t until issue #31 that Batman battled his very first costumed supervillain, a character called the Monk. This issue also happens to feature the first appearance of the Batarang, an essential tool in Batman’s increasingly outlandish arsenal. Both additions were important steps in Batman’s evolution from vigilante to true superhero.
The Debut of Robin
As seen in: Detective Comics #38 (1940)
The earliest Batman stories tended to be pretty dark, but it wasn’t long before National Periodicals began shifting the character in a more lighthearted and kid-friendly direction. This issue cemented that trend as it introduced Batman’s erstwhile sidekick, Robin. Ever since, Batman has rarely been without a Robin by his side. Robin’s debut proved to be such a boon for the series that soon nearly every superhero comic was adding a boy sidekick of its own.
The First Clayface Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #40 (1940)
The Monk may have been Batman’s first costumed villain, but 1940 was the year where Batman’s more iconic foes began making their debuts. This issue introduced the world to Clayface, a shape-shifting monster who was once respected actor Basil Karlo. The Batman franchise has been through many incarnations of Clayface over the years, showing that this is one formula that never loses its appeal.
The First Penguin Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #58 (1941)
Detective Comics also featured the first appearance of the Penguin in a tale called “One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups.” This story showcases the villain’s craftiness, as he rises from his lowly status as an art thief and murders his way into taking over a gang. This story also introduces Penguin’s penchant for trick umbrellas.
The First Two-Face Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #66 (1942)
Detective Comics #66 introduced one of the greatest Batman villains of all time in the story “The Crimes of Two-Face.” While the character was then known as “Harvey Kent,” this issue serves as the basis for every Two-Face origin story that followed. Readers see Harvey’s downfall and his growing obsession with duality. Two-Face’s debut served as an important shift for the franchise, offering readers a glimpse of a villain with a close personal tie to Batman himself.
The First Riddler Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #140 (1948)
Riddler became the last of the major Golden Age Batman villains to be introduced in Detective Comics. Here readers encountered a villain clever enough to give Batman and Robin a run for their money. Riddler arguably didn’t achieve his full potential as a villain until the 1966 TV series gave him a popularity boost, but this is still a landmark Batman issue by any standard.
Joker’s First Origin Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #168 (1951)
Joker’s background remains one of the most elusive mysteries in all of comics, with even Batman himself struggling to pierce through all the lies and half-truths put forth by the Clown Prince of Crime. This Detective Comics issue was the first to attempt to explain how Joker came about, revealing him to be a small-time crook masquerading as a villain called the Red Hood, at least until he was bathed in chemicals and transformed into the Joker. This brief origin story became the basis for the seminal graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke.
The Debut of the Martian Manhunter
As seen in: Detective Comics #225 (1955)
Batman isn’t the only iconic DC hero who made his debut in Detective Comics. This issue introduced the world to the Martian Manhunter. It made sense for J’onn J’onzz to appear in Detective Comics first, as in the beginning he masqueraded as a human detective named John Jones. It wouldn’t be long before J’onn took on new life as a founding member of the Justice League of America.
Batman Meets Batwoman
As seen in: Detective Comics #233 (1956)
Given all the homophobia and paranoia inspired by Fredric Wertham’s book The Seduction of the Innocent, and seeking to mirror the rapidly expanding cast in the Superman comics, DC introduced Batwoman in Detective Comics #233. Kathy Kane was portrayed as Batman’s crime-fighting partner and love interest. Original Bat-Girl Betty Kane was added to the lineup a few years later. Both Batwoman and Bat-Girl were important early examples of female superhero characters, but both were eventually eliminated from the franchise by editor Julius Schwartz in the mid-’60s.
Barbara Gordon Becomes Batgirl
As seen in: Detective Comics #359 (1967)
While the original Bat-Girl fell out of favor after a few years, her successor proved much more enduringly popular. Detective Comics #359 introduced the world to Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, just ahead of her live-action debut on the third season of the TV series. Whether as Batgirl or Oracle, Babs has been a core member of the Bat-family ever since.
The O’Neil/Adams Era
As seen in: Detective Comics #395 (1970)
DC spent the late ’60s and early ’70s trying to move the Batman comics away from the campy tone of the TV series and bring the franchise back to its dark, gritty roots. This issue wasn’t the first to present a darker Batman, but it did feature the first team-up between writer (and future Batman editor) Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams. Together, these two would come to define the look and tone of the Batman franchise in the Bronze Age, as well as add critical new components to his mythology and supporting cast.
The First Man-Bat Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #400 (1970)
As a Batman artist, Neal Adams will probably always be best remembered for introducing the world to Ra’s al Ghul in the pages of Batman #232. However, he also debuted another iconic Batman villain in Detective Comics #400. This milestone issue marked the debut of Kirk Langstrom, aka Man-Bat. This character proved to be one of the most tragic and sympathetic Batman villains to date, compelling DC to try out a solo Man-Bat comic (which sadly lasted a mere two issues before being canceled).
Revisiting Batman’s Origin
As seen in: Detective Comics #457 (1976)
Everyone knows Batman’s origin story these days, but DC never really delved headlong into this sad story until Detective Comics #457. Featuring a pairing between writer Denny O’Neil and legendary artist Dick Giordano, this issue offered a much closer look at the tragic events that transformed Bruce Wayne into Batman. It also introduced another key supporting character in the form of Dr. Leslie Thompkins and the foreboding “Crime Alley” setting.
As seen in: Detective Comics #469-476 (1977)
Detective Comics played home to a brief but fruitful collaboration between writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers in 1977. retroactively dubbed “Strange Apparitions,” This eight-issue saga marked one of the first real attempts at telling a more long-form Batman story. This short run includes several all-time classics like “The Laughing Fish” and “The Sign of the Joker,” and it proved to be a major influence on projects like the 1989 movie and Batman: The Animated Series.
Batman’s Second Year
As seen in: Detective Comics #575-578 (1987)
With Batman: Year One delivering a radical new take on the Dark Knight’s origin story in 1986, writer Mike Barr elected to continue that story in the pages of Detective Comics. This storyline is notable for pitting a rookie Batman against an unstoppable foe called the Reaper, as well as forcing Batman to join forces with Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents. Year Two also boasts a who’s who lineup of ’80s Batman artists, including Alan Davis and a young Todd McFarlane. The Reaper himself didn’t become a lasting addition to Batman’s rogues gallery, but he did inspire the titular villain in the 1993 animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
The First Ventriloquist Story
As seen in: Detective Comics #583 (1988)
The more time passes, the harder it becomes to add new Batman villains who can stand alongside the classics. This issue proved it could still be done even 50 years after Batman’s debut, as the original Ventriloquist entered the stage. Arnold Wesker brought an entirely new form of madness to Gotham, channeling all of his murderous rage and aggression into a dummy named Scarface.
Batwoman Takes Over
As seen in: Detective Comics #854 (2009)
For most of its shelf life, Detective Comics has been Batman’s book first and foremost. That finally changed in 2009, during a time when Bruce Wayne was believed to have died during the events of Final Crisis. In his place emerged Kate Kane, the new Batwoman. Writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams used their short run on the series to cement the new Batwoman’s place in the Batman family and establish hr as a very different heroine from the original Batwoman.
Scott Snyder’s Batman Debut
As seen in: Detective Comics #871 (2010)
Few writers in the 21st Century have left as big a mark on the Batman franchise as Scott Snyder. And before taking the reins of DC’s flagship Batman book, Snyder got his start with the character in Detective Comics. This issue kicked off a lengthy storyline called “The Black Mirror,” one which featured Dick Grayson wearing the cape and cowl and which cast Commissioner Gordon’s long-lost son James Jr. as a terrifying new threat to Gotham City. This story may have paved the way for future epics like “The Court of Owls” and “Dark Nights: metal,” but it also remains Snyder’s finest Batman work.
The Joker Loses Face
As seen in: Detective Comics Vol. 2 #1 (2011)
DC’s New 52 relaunch ushered in a dramatic new era for Batman and his fellow heroes, wiping away a significant amount of old continuity and giving DC’s heroes (and their readers) a fresh start. Detective Comics made a particularly bold statement with its new #1 issue. This opening story ended with one of the most grotesque Joker moments ever, as the iconic villain cut of his own face and left it nailed to a wall at GCPD headquarters. This twist set the tone for Joker in the New 52, showing readers the Clown Prince of Crime was more deadly and terrifying than ever.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.