Uncollected Editions: Batman: Detective Comics #683-694 (DC Comics)


[An “Uncollected Editions” review – where we look at single issues that might’ve made a collection, but never came to be – by guest reviewer Zach King. Zach writes about movies at The Cinema King and about comics on Instagram at Dr. King’s Comics.]

When the news about the Triangle Era omnibus broke, after I preordered my own copy and corresponded with our gracious host about the bombshell news, my thoughts immediately turned (as they often do) to Batman. We stand on the precipice of collecting every Superman issue from a major era, and I remembered that we ought to be pretty darned close to saying the same for Batman. The good news is — we are, and very close at that.

DC recently concluded its multi-volume Dark Knight Detective/Caped Crusader run, 14 trades collecting every issue of Batman and Detective Comics from the post-Crisis era, up to the gates of Knightfall. (I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that these collections made it to the finish line.) The more recent trades of Knightfall have been fairly comprehensive, as have collections of Contagion, Legacy, and No Man’s Land. Throw in the recent reprints of New Gotham and Murderer/Fugitive [or Murderer Turned Fugitive — Ed.], plus perennials like Year One, and we’ve got more or less a straight run, from Batman #404–5741 and even longer for Detective Comics, #568–775.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

For Detective Comics, though, there’s a gap of roughly 10 issues, #683-#6942, that remain uncollected. And while these issues are just marking time between big Bat-events (namely, between Troika and Contagion), DC recently filled a similar lacuna in 2020 with Batman: Knight Out, which bridged the gap from Legacy to Cataclysm - and from the same creative team, no less. For those playing the home game, then, scour your back issue bins for some prime street-level Batman by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Staz Johnson. This span finds a newly-reinvigorated Batman retaking his mantle and his city, back in black as it were, in a series of two-part stories that feel almost like Dixon is writing Batman '66 sans the camp; at the end of every other issue, one can almost hear Bill Dozier imploring us to come back next month, “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.”

I can think of no better review for this run than the one that was published in the letter column for issue #691 (November 1995), in which Krishna Potluri of Beaverton, Oregon, opined, “It was ‘normal,’ and I like that.” Not every storyline needs to be a world-ending cataclysm or a character-defining crisis; indeed, after months of poring over The Batman Adventures, there’s so much to be said for a good meat-and-potatoes Batman story. It’s a little surprising in hindsight to see how close those big Bat-events were to each other, how little time our caped crusader had to breathe, and these issues serve as check-ins with the status quo, little bits of the quotidian in Gotham City. These aren’t the best Batman comics or even (with one exception) surprising hidden gems, but the history major in me looks at these stories as a lost year of Batman lore, an important waypoint between the revivification of Bruce Wayne and the annus horribilis that was to come.

Like the Triangle Titles, the Bat-books of the '90s had their own supporting cast that weaved in and out of books, and readers of a certain age will be charmed to see appearances from the likes of socialite J. Devlin Davenport and Madolyn Corbett, Bruce Wayne’s erstwhile stalker. A running subplot tracks Gotham’s mayoral election, with Jim Gordon throwing his name in the ring against Armand Krol before Marion Grange ultimately wins the day. Krol had been mayor during Knightfall, and Grange played a not-insubstantial role in the events of Cataclysm, so this run ends up feeling oddly essential for the political landscape of Gotham.

I don’t know how many of us are reading Detective Comics for electoral drama [👋 — Ed.], but I’m certain most of us would want to know which villains are present in this run. The first story features the Penguin recruiting a card shark, dubbed the Actuary, to plot the perfect heist against Batman; the Actuary’s plan ends up being a bit of a bust, but this story goes a long way toward establishing Penguin as the preeminent crime lord in Gotham, ahead of his turn in No Man’s Land. Up next, Dixon and Nolan give us a new Captain Fear, a swashbuckling hijacker whose mysterious identity was unfortunately never revealed. “Batman” and “pirates” ends up being a fun combination, with Robin searching desperately for a marooned Dark Knight, though some of the Cap’n’s cheesecake crew reminds us that this was, after all, the Nineties.

When the art duties switch over to Staz Johnson, it’s for my favorite story in the uncollected issues — “The Blazing Heart”/“Burning Love,” a strong contender for the best Firefly story ever. While that might be damning with faint praise (how many great Firefly stories are there?), this tale is truly engaging, finding Firefly torn between his obsession with fire and his budding romance with a neighbor. Indeed, this story verily puts the “mania” in “pyromania,” making a compelling case for why an arsonist demands the attention of the Batman, and Firefly’s costume (particularly under the colors of Matt Hollingsworth) has never looked better, here a creepy cross between the Rocketeer and Spider-Man’s Vulture.

Staz Johnson stays on for the introduction of a new version of Spellbinder, courtesy of an Underworld Unleashed tie-in tale. Fay Moffit sells her soul to Neron for the ability to create foolproof hallucinations, and the sequences where she effectively blinds Batman and Robin are frankly staggering. Those all-white backgrounds prove to be great uses of blank space in the comics panel, recalling the old John Byrne “snowblind” gag from Alpha Flight #6, but it also poses a genuine and unique obstacle for Batman to overcome. Here and with the Firefly tale, I wondered how much overlap there might have been between Dixon’s Detective Comics and Batman: The Animated Series; Lady Spellbinder’s abilities end up mirroring the episode “Blind as a Bat,” while Firefly’s obsessive courtship seems to prefigure the Garfield Lynns of “Torch Song.”

Throughout these 10 issues, we see Batman cracking wise, a more lighthearted Bat in the wake of Knighfall. But Dixon’s own offbeat sense of humor is on full parade in a two-parter that boasts Poison Ivy on the covers, though more properly it’s Maxwell Veezey’s show in his debut as Allergent. Think Condiment King by way of weed-killer - Allergent tries to eradicate all plant life in Gotham City to soothe his hyperactive pollen sensitivity. It’s almost too silly by half, perhaps a necessary bit of levity before the plague horror to come in Contagion, but a late-issue cameo from Lock-Up (again, imported from The Animated Series) ties this run more tangibly to the expanded trade collections of Batman: Legacy.

In this era of hefty comprehensive collections, if 10 issues of Detective Comics seems like a thin paperback by comparison, the letter columns remind us that Graham Nolan may have taken a hiatus from Detective, but he was still very much on the shelves. He and Chuck Dixon had just turned in a hardcover one-shot about Batman’s greatest moral dilemma. The back cover of The Joker: Devil’s Advocate puts it best: “The Joker is about to be executed for a murder he may not have committed. Only the Batman can prove his innocence … but should he?” Devil’s Advocate is long out of print, but it’s a truly fantastic yarn told by two of Batman’s most definitive storytellers, and the prospect of including it with these 10 missing issues ought to make this collection a necessity. Plus, Lady Spellbinder might not sell books, but the Joker surely would - especially in one of his best stories.

Put another way, we’ve already had a Knight Out. Don’t we all deserve a Knight In? Or am I just playing “devil’s advocate”?

  1. You could get even farther with Batman, all the way up to Flashpoint (and beyond), were it not for seven uncollected post-NML issues by Larry Hama and Scott McDaniel (#575–581).  ↩︎

  2. Two of these, #685–686, involve a crossover with Robin and King Snake. This story was recently collected in Robin, Vol. 5: War of the Dragons, and we might expect them to appear in a forthcoming Robin Tim Drake Compendium.  ↩︎

Comments ( 4 )

  1. AnonymousMay 13, 2024

    Detective Comics 693 with Alergent was the first Batman comic I ever read. The cliffhanger of Batman and Robin going over the bridge in the Batmobile? I had to know what happened next!

  2. I loved the Firefly 2 part story. It definitely deserves more attention from bat fans

  3. AnonymousMay 15, 2024

    I was stumped when Knight Out released, in hardcover no less. Maybe that collection had more Dixon/Nolan to it? I would really love to see a collection for 683-694. There also happens to be a similar Detective gap from issue 776-789 whose absence from the collected landscape is confounding given that Ed Brubaker is one of the writers.

    What really chuffs me is the uncollected annuals. I think we got until Eclipso The Darkness Within but nothing else from 1993-2000 for either book.

  4. I love how Zach's post has resonated with you all. Clearly this is a trade DC needs to make happen!


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