Detective Comics No. 27: The one that started it all


In celebration of the Dark Knight’s 80th birthday, we take a look back at the comic book that got it all started, Detective Comics No. 27.

On Saturday March, 30, DC Comics is celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the most popular, important and recognizable comic book heroes of all-time: Batman. Throughout the week, we’ll take a look back at nearly a full century of Batman’s comic life and break down some of the Dark Knight’s highlights during his run at DC.

As the introduction pointed out, on March 30, 2019, Batman will be celebrating his 80th year of existenc,e and the entire comics world will be celebrating and reminiscing about how the Dark Knight has impacted their life. This will include thinking about some of their favorite Batman stories.

While there have been better stories, one of the stories that has to be added to any list is the very first Batman story in the pages of Detective Comics  No. 27. In order to tell the history of Batman, you have to start from the beginning, as Detective Comics and Batman have become synonymous with each other.

It wasn’t always like that, however, as there was a two-year period, or the first 26 issues, that there was no mention of Batman in Detective Comics. Originally the National Comic Publication title was an anthology series that dealt with, you guessed it, detective stories. It wasn’t until Detective Comics No. 27, the most valuable single issue of all time, was published in March 1939, and Batman was unveiled. And the character became an instant smash hit with readers, appearing in every subsequent issue of Detective Comics since.

Now that the brief history lesson is over, let’s take a look at why Detective Comics No. 27 is such a landmark issue, and how so much of what we consider to be so fundamentally Batman was introduced in his very first appearance. We don’t have to go far to see that, as the cover of Detective Comics No. 27 tells us everything we need to know.

Credit to DC Comics and creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

The iconic cover unveils Batman in a high-flying pose, holding a criminal in a headlock while hanging on to his Bat rope. That is as Batman as it gets. The design of Batman as we know it, an amalgamation of the designs from creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, has fundamentally changed very little. Modern artists often reference this look. We don’t have to go far to see this, as Lee Weeks and Jorge Fornes referenced this look just last week in Batman No. 67.

In the opening panels of the issue, we get the first mentions of Bruce Wayne and someone who is turning 80 years old this month, Commissioner Jim Gordon. The relationship between the police commissioner and the young socialite is established in the opening panel of the book. They have such a close relationship that Gordon is willing to take Bruce to a murder scene for fun because, “Nothing else to do, might as well” Ah the 1930s!

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One underrated aspect of this issue that would have been cool to experience in 1939 is that for a kid reading this issue for the first time you had no idea Bruce Wayne was (**Spoiler Warning** Batman). It’s not revealed that this is the case until the last three panels of the issue, which was something that must have driven the kids wild in the late ’30s.

Quick side note, it’s very weird to look at hindsight, but Kane and Finger tried a hyphenated “Bat-Man” in Detective Comics No. 27, which was dropped very soon after in Detective Comics No. 29.

The story itself, The Case of the Criminal Syndicate, is very much of its time. It is filled with panel-to-panel narration that the story, which by today’s standard would be a very efficient or good way to tell the story, but for the 1930s this was cutting edge storytelling. It also created an aesthetic for Batman, and Kane and Finger world build quite effectively, which they did by using what they saw around them in 1930s New York.

Credit to DC Comics and creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

This sort of pulp storytelling and noir aesthetic is still with us today. Whether it’s dealing with the Maroni and Falcone families, with the 1930s mobster world building or the dark and grungy scenario we see in Batman: The Animated Series, a lot of those elements that were used in Detective Comics No. 27 are still used today.

One thing that is very apparent is the lack of “rogues” in this issue.  This story focuses more on mobsters and business partners trying to kill each other off to gain majority ownership of APEX chemicals, (Yes, THAT APEX chemicals.) That is what most of the first issues consisted of in Detective Comics until issue No. 39 when he faced his first super villain in Dr. Death. His first well-known villain made his first appearance in issue No. 36, in the form of Doctor Hugo Strange in 1940. The Joker made his appearance that same year in Batman’s first solo titled book, Batman No. 1.  

Speaking of the Joker, one very interesting thing to note from this issue is the way the main villain, Alfred Stryker, was vanquished. After Batman foiled his plot to kill his remaining business partners, Stryker decided it would be a good idea to take one last swing at Batman, before falling into a tank full of acid. Sound familiar? That origin story was later re-used in Detective Comics No. 168 in 1951, “The Man Behind the Red Hood!

Next. 100 Greatest Superhero Stories Ever. dark


The first appearance of the Caped Crusader was and continues to be a classic Batman story. So much of what we know of the Dark Knight was established in his very first story, and there are elements that many writers are still using to this day. For obvious – and not so obvious – reasons, there is no Batman without Detective Comics No. 27.