‘Detective Comics’ #1000 is affecting anthology worthy of Batman’s legacy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Few names loom as large in the modern-day comic book pantheon as Bruce Wayne’s. In the 80 years since the character of Batman was first introduced in “Detective Comics” #27 in 1939, the Dark Knight has continued to fascinate readers and secure his place as an icon in popular culture.

It’s challenging to pin down what readers love so much about the Batman character, who is, objectively, just a crazy guy who dresses up as a giant flying mammal. Is it his noir sensibilities and detective brain? His cool gadgets and sparring prowess? His colorful “rogues gallery” (arguably the best in comic book history)?

Whatever it is, it’s been enough to sustain the “Detective Comics” title for 1,000 issues, an achievement that “Action Comics” — home to everyone’s favorite boy scout, Superman — also celebrated last year. To commemorate this achievement, DC published a sprawling, 10-story anthology — plus a sneak peek into the storyline that will kick off “Detective Comics” #1001 — that pays a memorable tribute to Batman’s storied history.

While the 10 short stories of “Detective Comics” #1000 wildly vary in terms of style and content, they all aim to pay homage to Batman’s legacy. Impressively, none stick out as egregious weak links. The vignettes run through a gamut of Batplots, exploring classic topics such as the murder of Wayne’s parents, Dick Grayson’s ascension to the mantle of Robin and the machinations of various villains.

One of the anthology’s more charming offerings is “The Legend of Knute Brody,” written by Paul Dini, a veteran Batman writer best known for his work on “Batman: the Animated Series.” This story chronicles the flashbacks of several villains — including Harley Quinn, the Riddler and Poison Ivy — as they relay how their various plots were foiled by Gotham’s clumsiest henchman-for-hire, Knute Brody.

The playful plot is a fun excuse to revisit some of Batman’s campier foes, and the story’s artwork (penciled by Dustin Nguyen, colored by John Kalisz and inked by Derek Fridolfs) has a fittingly bright color palette and cartoonish tone, framing Poison Ivy’s flashbacks in green-tinged panels and endowing Harley Quinn with her trademark perky smile.

Other artistic standouts include the stories “The Batman’s Design,” with art by Becky Cloonan and colors by Jordie Bellaire, and “I Know,” with art and colors by Alex Maleev. Cloonan and Bellaire render an engaging fight sequence almost entirely in shades of orange and blue, with the story panels almost blending into the black gutter behind it. The art lends a gloomy, noir aura to the whole affair.

Maleev’s art for “I Know,” which follows an encounter between an aging Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot, has a similar atmospheric spell. Panels almost resemble watercolor paintings, the muted palette and shadowy backgrounds infusing Brian Michael Bendis’ narrative with nostalgic melancholy.

While some of the anthology’s stories feel limited by their length, almost every entry nevertheless boasts impressive writing and a deep understanding of the Batman ethos. The diverse range of visual and authorial skill on display in this issue is more than enough to please devoted followers of Batman’s 80-year biography. It’s chock full of sentimental moments for the character’s storied past but more importantly, “Detective Comics” #1000 makes a convincing case for his promising future.

Batman may be just a crazy guy who dresses up as a giant flying mammal. But he’s also a legend. So here’s to 1,000 issues of “Detective” Comics, the title that defines DC — and let’s all hope for 1,000 more.

Contact Grace Orriss at [email protected].