In Detective Comics #27 in 1939, writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane introduced a new character to the world:
That now-monumental story launched one of the most recognizable pop icons of the last 100 years.
And now it's Brad Meltzer's job to honor it, in this week's Detective Comics #27 — keeping the essence of the story while modernizing it and using it to explain what makes Batman so great.
Because DC restarted all its comic book numbering in 2011 when it rebooted and modernized its comic book universe, there's another comic book coming this week called Detective Comics #27.
With 2014 marking the 75th anniversary of the hero's debut, DC is making this Detective Comics #27 into a celebration of the character. This issue will feature an all-star roster of Batman creators past and present, including Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy, Peter J. Tomasi and Guillem March, Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen, Gregg Hurwitz and Neal Adams, John Layman and Jason Fabok, and Frank Miller.
But perhaps the most daunting task was given to Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch, who have created what DC is calling a "modern-day retelling" of the first Batman story – the one in the original Detective Comics #27.
Meltzer is well known for his best-selling novels and investigative TV show, Brad Meltzer's Decoded. But for comic book fans, he's also seen as "one of us," since he's been writing comics for years, from his first, fan-favorite Green Arrow story to his sales chart-topping run on Justice League of America.
With this week's Detective Comics #27, Meltzer debuts his first solo Batman story, but it's not exactly his own — the plot and characters are the same as Batman's introductory story 75 years ago, but told in a modern way.
Newsarama talked to Meltzer to find out more about his Detective Comics story and why he's reluctant to call it a "retelling."
Newsarama: Brad, we've been told that this is a "retelling" of the classic tale where Batman was first introduced in 1939. What can you tell us about the story up front?
Brad Meltzer: You know, gosh… the word "retelling" makes me want to throw up.
Meltzer: It just sounds terrible, right? That I think I can "retell" what Bill Finger and Bob Kane did 75 years ago. I mean, the gall. Even I'm disgusted with myself.
It was very important to me that we were not retelling. What we were doing was honoring. That's all that needs to be done, is to honor the story.
And that's why, in the story, all I tried to do was make it about the 75 years of Batman's motivation. That's the thread I pulled through it.
I think it's silly to retell something that's such a classic. You can take a '69 Mustang, and you can put a muffler in it, and make it not rumble as loud. And you can put a satellite radio in there, to get the music you want. And you can make sure you get windshield wipers so it doesn't streak and make that noise. And you can update it all you want, but all you're doing is robbing it of its soul. You rob that car of its soul.
It was very important to me not to rob this car of its soul.
Nrama: So is it a different story?
Meltzer: No, no, it's a murder mystery with the same characters.
[My goal was] was to keep everything we could, down to the framework of panels. I mean, I literally wrote it…. Bill Finger and Bob Kane did it in 55 panels. Seventy-five years later, I wrote a script that was exactly 55 panels. And God bless Bryan Hitch for adding a couple more panels to screw up my synchronicity, but I wanted to even honor that.
The main change was, in the original version, every character announces their motivation the moment they walk into the panel. It's just how things were written in that late-'30s/early-'40s era. Every character walks in and says, "Hi, I'm here. Let me explain where I'm from and who my sister is and who my brother is and why you might think I'm the killer. What are you doing?"
So obviously, we played with that.
But to me, the best part of the story is that all those details that make Batman great are all right there. They're all right there in front of you in that first story — so many of them are right there.
Nrama: Can you give an example of what you mean? Something that you realized when you read the story — a "detail" that has been with Batman all these years, and had its genesis in this story?
Meltzer: The very first panel on the very first page has Batman and Commissioner Gordon sitting together as friends.
And I'm like, "Oh! It's right there."
In a strange, odd way, I thought it was like anything else, where things just get introduced over time. But right at the front is this true relationship. Was it as defined as it is now? Of course not. Are there pearls in mid-air, in mid-fall, that we've seen in every Batman story in the last 20 years? Of course not.
But there were so many pieces that were already there, including, most importantly, that frantic, blind, stubborn determination and refusals to give up, which is, to me, what makes Batman the best character of all time. And certainly the most defined.
Nrama: So what I'm hearing is that it's the same story, but you've told it in a modern way.
Meltzer: Yeah, yeah. I was like, "let's keep the plot." But you'll see, what we did was add an overlay to it. And you'll see the overlay. I don't want to ruin that part of it.
Again, I think it's important to honor, and I think that was a vital part to me.
Nrama: This is the first time you've written a story that is just Batman, right?
Meltzer: It is.
Yeah, I've done Justice League, I've done Green Arrow… I've always written him as part of another story, and in the background.
Listen, that's what [DC Co-Publisher] Dan [DiDio] said. "You want to do Batman with Bryan Hitch?"
No, I don't want to do Batman with Bryan Hitch, he said sarcastically.
Nrama: What was it like working with Bryan?
Meltzer: What I love about Hitchy is that he is a true professional, and he's as obsessive about drawing as I am about writing. And when I write my story, I'm like, just let me be. I'm going to do my thing, and then we'll talk about it after, and here are all the choices, let's talk about it as we do it, because I'd love your input on this.
Also, he has such a clear, perfect vision for what has to happen. And I don't think you can be at the top of your game in any medium unless you have a full belief that what you're doing is the perfect way to do it, even though you, of course, are your own worst critic, which Hitch and I both have incredibly in common.
And listen, how good is he? I spent just about every dollar I got paid for that story buying the art that he was drawing.
The best pages in there? Don't try to buy them, because I have them.
Nrama: And just to clarify for some of our readers who might wander… this isn't in modern continuity, right? It's just to pay homage to the origins of the character.
Meltzer: Right. There's no, "this is pre-52" or "this is post-52" or "this is just the Marshall Rogers era." That's not how it is.
This is… whatever incarnation you love, this can apply. And that's all we were trying to do. It's not about what issue number and panel number and universe number does it fit into. To me, it's about the best part of Batman.
In all those incarnations, they all have something in common. And it's just trying to find that something. And you'll see the answer at the end.
That's something we reveal at the end — what to me is his true motivation for why he is Batman — and that is true in every incarnation, and to me, must always be true.