Once Batman swung onto the scene in issue 27 back in 1939, Detective Comics has run billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne's alter ego as the main attraction in nearly every issue since. But the World's Greatest Detective isn't the world's only detective, and he certainly hasn't been the only one featured in the pages of DC's oldest series. In honor of the 80th anniversary of Detective Comics, we're looking back at some of the Dark Knight's greatest co-stars, the guys who valiantly filled up the back pages, even if that long-eared glory-hog didn't let them on the cover.
From its inception up through around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, 'Tec had several stories in each issue, sometimes about fellow detectives, sometimes about other Bat-family members, and sometimes about other DC heroes who needed the boost in profile that only sharing a book with Batman could provide. As the series has continued, it has become more Bat-focused and lost the backups, but there have been a few occasions where circumstances dictated that Bruce Wayne couldn't be the lead, and we've included some of those characters here as well.
So from Gotham mainstays to kids on the western front, emerald archers and winged warriors, here are eight of the heroes and heroines who've graced the pages of DC Comics' Detective Comics! Of course there have been far more features in the title than we could possibly fit in one article, so let us know your favorite detectives in the comments below ... and be sure to check out our previous 80 Years of 'Tec features here and here.
Slam Bradley debuted in Detective Comics #1 (in a problematic tale you can learn about in our previous feature) and was created by the same writer and artist who'd create Superman a year later. He was a quick-tempered, self-absorbed private eye who absolutely loves punching people. He was a fairly popular character and didn't leave the title for 12 years, with his final regular feature appearing in #152. He has had a handful of appearances since, notably in the 500th issue of the series where he joined forces with a number of other former 'Tec detectives like Human Target, Jason Bard and Roy Raymond, and in the 50th anniversary issue, #572, which also featured Batman and Robin, Elongated Man and Sherlock Holmes.
Green Arrow was no stranger to anthology comics after extended stays in More Fun Comics, Adventure Comics, World's Finest Comics and Action Comics, when he ended up in Detective Comics in 1982's issue #521. Despite what I said in the intro, Ollie was actually on the cover of his first appearance in a rare instance when Batman didn't appear on the cover (aside from the logo). He stayed in Detective for 46 issues, which featured a number of socially-aware stories that he'd come to be known for as he took on Afghani terrorists, biker gangs and poverty in the back alleys of the big city. His most notable story during the time was a two-parter in #549-550 called "The Night Olympics" written by none other than the not-yet-legendary Alan Moore.
Bruce Wayne's cousin, Kate Kane, first appeared as Batwoman in the pages of DC's 52 weekly series, but her first solo outing was as the lead in Detective Comics from #854 through #863. She took over the historic title during a time when Bruce Wayne was thought dead (he'd actually been shot by a god bullet and had his soul sent backwards through time and was forced to live a series of lives as his past selves/ancestors, but that's a whole other story), and she was met with such huge critical acclaim that she was given her own series as part of the New 52 after her run in 'Tec ended. And since we're talking backup features, it's worth pointing out that the run was a rare modern instance when it had regular backup tales, these starring the Renee Montoya version of The Question, Kate's on-again-off-again flame.
Created by Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the Boy Commandos were — like the same creators' Young Allies and Newsboy Legion before them — a team of young boys who were patriots ready to stand against the Nazi menace in their own unique way. The Commandos debuted in Detective Comics #64, and featured a special strike team of international orphans led by U.S. Army Captain Rip Carter. The original kids were France's André Chavard, England's Alfie Twidgett, Netherlands' Jan Haasan and Brooklyn, from ... well … Brooklyn. The feature was so incredibly popular that it was also given space in World's Finest and an ongoing series that proved to be one of DC's most successful titles. The Commandos stuck around in Detective Comics well past the end of the war with their final appearance being in issue #150 in 1949.
The mace-wielding shirt-hating hero known as Hawkman is one of DC's oldest, but despite debuting less than a year after Batman and sharing his affinity for winged beasts, he's never found much success. He's jumped from title to title and team to team over the years, so it's no surprise that he ended up with a stint in Detective Comics. Hawkman's backup features were sporadic throughout the '70s and the early '80s, only popping up for one- or two-part stories here and there, never featuring for more than a couple of issues consecutively. His first appearance in the title was in #428 and his last was in the blowout 500th issue, which included a number of characters who had been featured in 'Tec over the years. Poor Hawkman ... he can't hold down an origin or a backup feature.
The Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl (we don't talk about the first one) debuted in the pages of Detective Comics #359 and was part of the supporting cast for the following issues. She proved to be a huge hit, however, and was given her own backup feature starting with #384, which she either alternated or shared with Robin for the next 20 issues before taking it over completely for another 20. She was popular enough that several issues of the era proudly proclaimed "Detective Comics presents Batman and Batgirl." She returned again in 1979 for an even longer stay in Detective when the title merged with Batman Family and began running stories for Man-Bat and Robin as well, though she ended up sticking around longer than either of them.
Outside of the Bat-family, I don’t think it's a stretch (had to) to say that there's no DC character as closely associated with Detective Comics as Elongated Man. Elongated Man's feature appeared in the title over 70 times, beginning in 1964 with issue #327 and continued (though increasingly less regularly) into the early '80s. He was celebrated for being a rare character in Detective whose stories — often even more so than Batman himself — were actually presented as detective stories, in which he'd rely on his mental prowess over his physical powers to save the day. He also moved up a few pages to join Batman and Robin in the lead stories on more than one occasion and had celebrated returns in the 500th issue and 50th anniversary specials.
The superhero with the most appearances as a Detective Comics backup feature might not be who you'd expect, and you might not also know that he debuted in the series. That's right, everyone's favorite lonely Justice Leaguer, J'onn J'onzz the Martian Manhunter, made his first appearance in the pages of Detective Comics #225 in 1955 in a story by Joe Samachson, Jack Miller and Joe Certa called "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel." While he may seem like an odd fit for the series — especially for over a hundred issues, until #326 — it makes more sense when you remember that his alter ego was a human detective named John Jones and that Batman stories of this era were weird as all heck and frequently featured him running into aliens and monsters. In terms of page count, this run of stories probably makes up the majority of Martian Manhunter's solo adventures as the character has only ever had two short-lived ongoing series of his own, despite his long history. I think he should get Detective Comics to himself for a while and get his chance to shine.