Title: "The Doomsday Books"
Release date: March 1987
Writers: Mike W. Barr
Artists: Alan Davis, Adrienne Roy (main chapters), Terry Beatty, Dick Giordano (Slam Bradley chapter) Carmine Infantino, Al Vey (Elongated Man chapter), E.R. Cruz (1886 chapter), Dick Sprang (poster)
Pop-culture historians regard Detective Comics as the first comic devoted exclusively to one theme. While it began with a variety of detective-related stories, from hard-boiled Slam Bradley to Sax Rohmer adaptations, fans remember the comic for one principal reason: it introduced the Batman.
In March, 1987, DC decided to celebrate 50 years of its landmark periodical with a special story, "The Doomsday Book." As Mike W. Barr explains on the inside cover, they knew it would be a Batman story-- he's dominated the title since 1939-- but they wanted to include other aspects of Detective's history. The resulting story proves amusing, and it teams Batman and Robin with the aged Slam Bradley, Detective alumnus Elongated Man, and the celebrated Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective had, after all, shaped the genre in which this comic was rooted, and 1987 marked his centenniel.
The cover features Batman and Holmes examining Detective #27, the cover of which also hangs on the wall. That issue, of course, marked Batman's first appearance. This is a comic, so Holmes appears at his most iconic: deerstalker cap, inverness coat, and curved pipe. Within, the long and tangled tale begins in a dive bar on Christmas, with a private eye borrowed from another subgenre.
Slam Bradley appeared in the first issue of Detective. He's now an old man, still in practice, still smoking a pack a day, still wearing his fedora and trenchcoat, and still narrating his life in the world-weary, Mike Hammer style. In the traditon of comic book heroes, his hair remains dark atop, and only the sides have grayed with age. He's thinking of retiring, but he entertains a client, a man from England who calls himself "Thomas Morgan" and who claims his fiancée has been kidnapped. No sooner does he begin his tale than a group of armed men burst into the office, forcing Bradley and client to flee. By the end of the story he has found the young woman-- and learns the truth of his client's identity.
The next chapter brings Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, into the mystery. The Plastic Man-like hero is visiting London with his wife, who has gone to the theater with friends. He walks the foggy streets alone, past 221B Baker Street, on his way to meet a man who claims he's found a new, unpublished Holmes adventure. He, too, encounters gunfire-- superheroes are danger-magnets-- and a descendant of Professor Moriarty. This chapter ends with Dibny meeting Bradley, who has come to England with his clients, hoping to solve a bigger mystery.
We visit the past next, and find Holmes and Watson, early in their partnership, on a case which Holmes forbids the doctor to publish. They cannot find enough evidence against the ringleader of the conspiracy-- Moriarty, of course-- and must remain silent until they can. Cruz, who draws this adventure, had earlier adapted Doyle for DC, and his style nicely recalls old Classics Comics. It suits Holmes and the Victorian Era well.
Finally, Batman and his sidekick, already in London, make their appearance, swinging from ropes affixed to.... Well, that's very hard to say, given that they appear to be above the Thames. The heroes of the 1987 stories join forces, realizing that the current Moriarty intends to fulfill a plot of his ancestor's, foiled by Holmes a century ago. Of course, this time he faces superheroes, a grizzled old pulp detective, and some young lovers. Someone else, too, lurks in the background providing aid.
The heroes win-- no spoilers there.
Those who wish to read the original may want to stop reading this account now.
The lurker proves to be the great detective himself who, "thanks to a proper diet, a certain distillation of royal jelly... and the rarified atmosphere of Tibet" where he keeps his "primary residence," has survived more than a century.
The issue also features an exellent poster by celebrated Batman artist Dick Sprang. It nicely recalls the style and adventures of the Dark Knight's earlier days, when comic-book villains were cartoonier, comic-book technology more preposterous, and no one had heard of mylar bags.
Further commentary on and images from this comic appear at http://crossover.bureau42.com/zbatmanholmes.html