WTF, DC?: Detective Comics #567

A few months ago, I found Detective Comics #567 in the back issue section of my local comic shop for the bargain price of $3. “Special! An off-beat bat-tale by award-winning author HARLAN ELLISON!” screamed the cover.

Aside from being the most litigious man on the planet, Ellison is a writer of some repute. He’s also the author of famed Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” and his work was the inspiration for The Terminator (more or less). I have his short story collections Strange Wine, Gentleman Junkie, and Deadly Streets in a box somewhere, and, despite backhanded endorsements from Dorothy Parker, they’re mostly unread.

I understand Detective Comics #567 came out 26 years ago, but aside from being scripted by a well-known sci-fi writer, it also carries another notable distinction: it’s the absolute worst Batman story I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, the premise is genius: Batman spends a frustrated evening thinking he’s stumbled onto various crimes-in-progress only to discover the people of Gotham are more decent than he gives them credit for. The dialogue, however:

Why’s Batman giving the hardworking switchboard operator at Gotham PD such a massive amount of ’80s ‘tude? Because he can’t get no respect! Take this mishap:

That’s the entire story. Stuff like a would-be break-in turning out to be an innocent couple trying to get into their locked car, over and over and over again. Titled “The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!” Ellison posits the idea that Batman is an easily-fooled shlub living a thankless life of inept crimefighting.

It’s plausible Batman could mistake a harmless non-crime for the real thing, but it feels like, I dunno, maybe he’d do a little more detective work before jumping to conclusions the way he does so thoroughly and repeatedly in Ellison’s story. And it seems unlikely he’d be such a self-pitying whiner when things don’t go his way.

But Ellison doesn’t stop there. He takes great pains to make it appear that the citizens of Gotham actually have a better handle on what’s happening in their city than Batman does:

If he’s that shitty at his job, you wonder why he doesn’t just retire after the events of “The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks.”

I mentioned in an earlier post that Damian Wayne needs to be scripted in a certain way in order to be believable, and I cited Battle for the Cowl as an example of his characterization being so completely off that it makes Damian seem like a parallel-universe version of himself:

Similarly, Detective Comics #567 is filled with moments that will have you shaking your head in disbelief. Like the phrases “puke-for-brains” or “jeez” emerging from Batman’s mouth :

Or whatever the hell this is:

Or Batman expressing his desire for one moment of peace:

Or this segment, which is both ludicrous and predictable, since it follows a half-dozen nearly-identical story beats:

There’s a reason my Ellison collection is mostly unread, and that’s because his narration tends to be saturated in the pseudo-street-level wannabe-hipness that’s present in everything Batman thinks or speaks in “The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!”
The character is grating because he bears little resemblance to the hero readers have grown accustomed to.

It’s almost like Ellison’s never read a Batman story before, which seems impossible. According to the Comic Book Database (and numerous other sources) Ellison’s first “published writing” was a letter to the editor in Real Fact Comics #6 in 1946, when the future author was 12 years old. He’d been reading comics for four decades by the time Detective Comics #567 came out, which makes “The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!” that much more jaw-dropping in its awfulness.

Three years later screenwriter Sam Hamm, of the 1989’s Tim Burton-directed Batman movie, would do scripting duties on the “Blind Justice” miniseries in Detective Comics that functioned as a strong supporting argument for why non-comic scribes should stay away from the medium completely. Seriously – “Blind Justice” contains numerous scenes in which a grown man passionately argues that maybe Batman’s problems could be solved with the power of friendship. It’s as painful to read as it is to describe.

On the other hand, if the idea of an old woman beating her would-be mugger into submission before telling off Batman is appealing to you…

…by all means, hunt down Detective Comics #567.

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13 Responses to WTF, DC?: Detective Comics #567

  1. Today is my birthday, and try as I might, I doubt I’ll get a better present than Batman muttering, “Rassafrassin….”

    Thanks!

    • Oh, and by the way, “Blind Justice” has always been one of my least favorite Batman tales ever (behind maybe “Year Two”), but I’m gonna make it a special point to track this Ellison issue down.

      • My least favorite is probably Matt Wagner’s “Faces,” but I don’t remember “Year Two” (or “Year Three,” for that matter) being any good. Happy Birthday!

  2. I just re-read “Faces” last week, oddly enough. Reading it again for the first time since it originally came out, it struck me how silly the whole thing was. And I’m a huge Wagner fan.

  3. Hanniel Idung says:

    Characters that I will like to see and I list even though they might never get shown are A.J. The son of Aquaman and Mera he is a great character who has this Damian look could also have that quicker dimension aging but know growth spurts if placed in regular earth second would be Koryak another son of Aquaman who like Jason ironically died and came back I would actually add him to outlaws due to his rage. Third is Geo-Force and his nephew Gregor Jr. Who could be a younger hero. 4th Lor-Zod back to the Damian thing I would like to see a team with Damian Wayne,Iris west 2, Lor-Zod, and A.J. 5th Impulse Iris west 6th Lorena Marquez really like the character and brings diversity 7th Hotspot enjoyed him in TT 8th Thanatos would be great for why A.J. Was born and raised in that realm. 9th Lagoon boy brings a different aspect on atlanteans 10th Cassandra Cain completely epic. my list

  4. chris says:

    Very interesting premise, but I think Ellison’s best comics work happens when he lets someone else write his dialogue. He’s done quite a bit of comics work over the years and most of the time that’s how it goes down. Love his short stories and collections, though, but I don’t think he’s ever done a run of any length on any one book, thus things are lost in translation. Always was curious about this issue, but now I’m not so sure about tracking down a copy as other books merit more of a hunt.

  5. Eric says:

    Detective #257 which credits Harlan with “an assist” is much better, mercifully. I recommend that one, interestingly enough it features the 1st appearance of the Reaper (who’d be reworked for “Year Two” and “Mask of the Phantasm”.)

  6. Eric says:

    This might seem too silly and out of character for Batman and suited only for the camp days, but there were plenty of comedy episodes of Batman TAS that made silliness work. Atleast it shows his human side more and not just being a prick.

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