Many of us have our own definitions of what count as the “greatest” stories ever told. Stories we parade around as our recommendations to any new or curious reader who wants to hear our thoughts. Many of us put out our top-10 lists on forums, or argue on twitter about which story is the best one ever told. And these lists do not even have to be in order or have a defined structure. They could just be a handful of stories you think are awesome.
DC and Marvel are both no strangers to this concept, they’ve published trades in the past collecting their favorite stories. They might give us a collection of origin stories, or deaths, or weddings, or world-shattering events. This time around, DC has given us a list of what they believe to be their “Greatest Detective Stories Ever Told.” Whether or not this is a valid claim, we will see. I will be taking us down this rabbit hole of days gone-by and do my job as a critic to give my readers as much information as they can, so they can decide if this comic is good for them.
Adventure Comics #51 & Detective Comics #2
So let’s nip this in the bud. These two are absolutely, 100% the most problematic of the stories. If anything in this collection is going to give you a reason not to buy this book, it will be these two. Made all the way back in the golden age, I’m not going to argue these came from a different time. There are some deeply offensive comics in these runs, and if you are a person of ANY color, you will find yourself offended by the racism on display here. There’s something for everyone: Chinese, African, First Nation, it’s all very bad.
None of the individual stories in these runs are that engaging if you are even capable of turning your brain off and mindlessly enjoying a story regardless of its problems. They are boring stories with nothing that really hooks you in. If you even wanted to be hooked in.
The only reason I can think to include these issues in the collection is for collector-purposes only. Like many issues from way back in the Golden Age, these issues are virtually impossible to get your hands on physically. Otherwise, if even the possession of these stories turns you off, then it is understandable that you would buy something else with your good money.
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Moving from the worst of the worst in this collection, if there ever was something that could be called one of the “Greatest Detective Stories Ever Told”, this issue is definitively that.
Celebrating the diverse history of DC’s detectives and mystery solving, paying homage to classic Noir and even an homage to Sherlock Holmes himself, this multi-part story, compressed into a nearly 60 page issue is perfect.
The story is focused on 4 main characters, each a notable detective in their own right with a backlog of stories behind them. You have of course, the famous Batman who needs no introduction. Included as well are Slam Bradley, one of the first comic book detectives ever who is still remembered in the older generation, and Elongated Man, someone who’s been forgotten recently, but still one of the best Detectives ever made.
Lastly is Sherlock Holmes himself, who gets his own dedicated story and the overarching plot revolves around him and his legacy.
Not only is the cast of characters an all-star batch, the creative team itself is amazing as well. You have the amazing Denny O’Neal as the editor overseeing the entire piece, so you know this story is going to be well structured. And as a massive fan of Batman and the Outsiders, I am proud to say this story was written by the ever talented Mike W. Barr. On art you have Alan Davis, Carmine Infantino, and a whole list of other amazing talents.
The adventure is engaging, the art is fantastic, and the pacing and structure are perfect. This issue pulls out all the stops, and if you want any reason to pick this comic up, it has to be this one.
There’s more Batman where that came from, I mean honestly, it’s DC, they know Batman is their biggest seller and he’s also their flagship “Detective.” You have to expect quite a few Batman related stories to be included.
This one is an adorable little story about Batman and Two-Face both trying to catch the other and put them in a trap, but they are thinking almost identically and keep missing the other because of this. It’s a rather humorous, if not ingenious way of telling a story.
And fortunately for many of you, this is also one of the early Tim Drake issues, where he is first introduced to Alfred, the Batcave, and eventually the idea of being Robin himself.
Half of the story is dedicated to Tim going over Dick Grayson’s backstory, how he learned about it and their secret identities, and trying to make a case for Dick to return to Batman’s side as Robin.
If you’re like me and find Tim to be more annoying than anything else, these parts of the story may seem disinteresting, but there’s the fantastic Two-Face vs Batman storyline going on as well. And if you are a Tim Drake fan, then more power to you and a greater recommendation for this story.
This issue isn’t something that would make me want to buy this collection, but it’s not a bad inclusion and definitely a welcomed one at that.
The Question #8
The Question is one of my all-time favorite runs ever made, and this issue is absolutely one of the better stories to recommend to people who are hesitant to give it a read. It has deep questions about Moral Philosophy, existentialism, awesome martial arts, gritty crime, and some of the more realistic and nuanced depictions of humanity itself, all in a single run.
Now, this issue itself is probably not what I would call one of the “Greatest Detective Stories Ever Told.” It’s a great story, but its detective work is small-time. There’s no great conspiracy or locked-room murder to solve. There’s just someone going around enacting vigilante justice on horrible people and killing them. The Question isn’t even really trying to stop the vigilante for any serious moral justice. He’s just curious. He wants to know why.
In the meantime, there’s a growing subplot about Question and his ex-Girlfriend discussing cases and bonding together, with probably one of the realist depictions of an actual relationship ever shown in a comic book.
Written by O’Neal himself, and Art by Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, the creative team behind this issue are on top of it all. This is a solid issue. A great read, and if this encourages you to give the whole run a shot, then I’ll be a happy camper.
Detective Comics #329
The last of the Batman related stories (and the last of the Elongated Man stories as well), this is a harmless story plucked from the 60s. No idea why, the protagonists don’t even do anything to solve the mystery, it falls in their lap.
Discovering a lead on an escaped criminal that takes them to an ancient castle in England, Batman and Robin find themselves exploring it, dodging all the death-traps and eventually rescuing the people who own the castle from the criminal they were chasing down.
In the back-issue, Elongated Man wants to learn why a man painted a horse Purple, following him and eventually learning about the existence of an old abandoned gold mine.
Both stories are harmless, but definitely don’t fit the theme of the collection, and really aren’t worth it. They contain non-mysteries that solve themselves with little effort on the protagonist’s part. The solutions are unsatisfying, but not offensive.
Secret Origins #40
Now, an interesting inclusion to this run. I believe the primary reason this issue was included is because it contains the origin of Detective Chimp. They’ve been a fan-favorite meme among the comic book community for a while now. An absurdist character that just screams “could only exist in a superhero story.”
Personally, I find the first story much more interesting as a reader. It sets up not just the origin of Gorilla Grodd, one of the Flash’s greatest enemies ever, it also explains the very origin of Gorilla City. But the various stories are all enjoyable. One warning is this story does also include the origin of Congorilla.
Now, Congorilla is definitely a problematic character and this should not be ignored, but compared to the golden age issues, it is definitely not the worst thing. There are no offensive caricatures, the Africans do not speak like a minstrel show. This is a story that I believe can be ignored if you find the character still too offensive for your liking (and you shouldn’t have to weigh the options of how much is TOO offensive).
Overall, the issue isn’t really needed, but it’s included in the bundle, so that’s as much as I can say.
Lois Lane #1-2
To wrap things up, this is a story worthy of its own isolated review. It’s such an interesting read, but falls short by the end I feel.
Set up as a story for Lois Lane, as she tries to tackle the growing crisis of child abductions that had been growing rampant in the real world back then. At the same time, there’s a rift building up as Clark and Lois have broken up, Clark is now seeing Lana Lang, Lois’s Sister has come into town for a visit to try and rebuild a fractured relationship, and Lois herself is driving everyone away from her as she gets more and more confrontational, antagonistic, and stubborn.
The story is building to a lot of things, and none of it really goes anywhere. Lois calls Clark out for being Superman, but not doing enough to stop all these child abductions that are happening all over. Later he tries to talk to her and explain, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and we never learn what Clark is thinking about all this, even though the story has Lois call him out for it.
The story goes to great lengths to be as nuanced and grounded as it can be with the subject matter. It discusses the real human problem of trauma, neglectful parenting, and the abuse people inflict on others and on themselves. Lois goes to a shelter to talk to victims of sexual abuse for her article. She interviews parents who both have lost their children and gotten them back, and those whose children are still missing to this day.
And yet, because the story is so nuanced and grounded in realism, it can’t offer an actual solution to any of this. Which is fine, on paper, but leaves the rest of the driving conflicts: Lois’s friendships, family, and loved ones. These just seem to get wrapped up without catharsis. Like she talks to her sister and discusses the idea of them mending their bridge, but we never really learn what caused the divide in the first place, which should be included in a self-contained story.
Overall, Gray Morrow and Joe Orlando do an amazing job with the art, utterly gorgeous work. And Mindy Newell does her best to tell the story, it just lands a bit flat by the end, that’s all.
Overall, among the stories included, the ones that really sell this collection, that make you want to pick it up and fork over Twenty bucks to have it in your home, are Detective Comics #572, Question #8, and Lois Lane #1-2. Lois Lane itself is the most expensive, being worth the entire collection all by itself. If you are looking at this economically, this is the most affordable way to get these issues.
The rest of the stories are either inoffensive and boring, cute but unnecessary, or downright racist and problematic. For all of these, either assume they don’t exist, or treat this as being collector’s items. Because as I said before, you are never going to find those Golden Age singles on the market (nor would you probably want to except for collector’s purposes).
As a complete product, I feel this is absolutely worth your money, and something you should probably buy. Buy that’s just my opinion, I’ve provided the information in my review so that hopefully you too can be the judge of this product’s worth and decide if you want to pay its cost.
Until next time everyone.
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