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Exclusive preview: Denny O'Neil's return to Crime Alley in Detective Comics #1000

By Ernie Estrella
Detective Comics #1000 Crime Alley HERO

Forty-three years ago, Batman descended upon Crime Alley to save pacifist Leslie Thompkins from getting mugged in a flashback story, "There's No Hope in Crime Alley" in Detective Comics #457. It was readers' introduction to the woman who found Bruce Wayne the moment after his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, were gunned down.

The famed comics scribe and editor, Denny O'Neil wrote that story with artist Dick Giordano and since then she's gone on to be a regular supporting character in the Gotham-centralized titles. Morena Baccarin plays a younger version of Leslie in the FOX series Gotham. In the landmark 80th Anniversary issue of Detective Comics #1000, O'Neil returns to Crime Alley for a riveting sequel story with artist Steve Epting and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. SYFY WIRE has the exclusive preview of that eight-page story.

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As a known pacificist, O'Neil had always had a problem writing characters that dealt with their problems with their fists, but legendary editor Julius Schwartz asked O'Neil to write a story with no strings attached. 

"There was a hole in the Batman continuity," O'Neil told SYFY WIRE exclusively. "And it wasn’t imperative that it get plugged, but that’s where Leslie started. It was a chance to put into the continuity a dissenting voice. 'No. Violence is not the answer to everything.'

"In my head, Bruce Wayne agrees with Leslie, but thinks she’s still naive, she doesn’t understand how complicated this is, which was my attitude to war for a long time. Comics have evolved in the last 50 years, but in the original 'Crime Alley,' it had to be softened a bit. We were still recovering from the decade-long witch hunt of comics during McCarthyism. It was understood that you don't offend anybody, but nowadays, the stuff that others have done, is beyond anything I would have ever considered."

Journalist and social activist Dorothy Day was the real-life inspiration for Thompkins, who despite the Gotham streets being plagued with crime, remained in the city to help the poor. Every year on the anniversary of his parents' death, Bruce heads to Crime Alley to make sure Thompkins is safe. But in Detective Comics #1000, he has veered too close to the extreme.

"Batman’s about to punch a child," O'Neil teases. "So this was a chance to give Leslie a speech I wanted to give her about violence. It doesn’t make Batman look too good and I think you have to preserve the notion of hero when you’re doing these characters."

Inspired by the recent atrocities at the border where children were separated from their families, O'Neil found this as an opportunity to stand up to Batman, who sometimes comes off as a bully. "You can make them flawed, and that’s one of the big changes when I came into the industry 50 years ago and now. I don’t think I could have written that speech for her 40 years ago." At only eight pages, "The Return to Crime Alley" is a powerful story.

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O'Neil contributed to countless Batman stories as a writer and editor, so a new story from him for Detective Comics #1000 was essential. When asked his most proudest moments and contributions to Batman, he quickly noted three: Batman: Death of Innocents where Batman loses a girl to a landmine that he didn't get to in time. Secondly, as an editor, Batman: Seduction of the Gun was an anti-gun story he oversaw, written by John Ostrander in 1993 that was eventually used by then Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder to help pass a gun control law. Finally, there was the infamous "Death of Robin" storyline that included audience participation by voting on what they wanted to happen.

"The death of Robin stirred up a lot of fuss that I don’t regret having done," said O'Neil firmly. " It enabled us on a storytelling level to get rid of a character that was a pain in the ass. You’ve heard of stories taking a life of their own, well, that Robin took on a life of his own and boy, was he obnoxious."

Preview three pages of Denny O'Neil and Steve Epting's "Return to Crime Alley" in Detective Comics #1000 below, then pick up the entire 96-page 80th anniversary issue March 27, at a comic shop near you for $9.99. Let us know if you remember Detective Comics #457 and what you're looking forward to with Detective Comics #1000.