Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Truly Trivial: Who was the first superhero to appear in Detective Comics? (Hint: It wasn't Batman)

Detective Comics #1 (March 1937). Cover art by...Image via Wikipedia
Seventy-one years ago this week, Batman made his debut in Detective Comics #27. Together with Superman, who appeared the previous year in Action Comics #1, the Caped Crusader helped launch the Golden Age of Comics, and thereby became one of the most recognized, enduring, and profitable fictional characters in modern history.

Not bad for a guy who inherited a two-year-old comic title that he shared with other fictional detectives.

While Superman inaugurated Action Comics, Batman was simply the latest in an ongoing series of character experiments in the Detective Comics anthology title. Detective #1's cover story involved Ching Lung, a (more than vaguely racist) ripoff of Fu Manchu, and the only enduring character to emerge from that issue was hard-boiled pulp detective Slam Bradley, who was invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster -- the creators of Superman. In fact, Batman wasn't even the first superhero to debut in Detective Comics -- just the most successful.

Who was the first superhero to appear in Detective Comics?

A full seven months before Batman appeared in April of 1939, the Crimson Avenger debuted in Detective Comics #20.

Only serious comics fanboys have probably heard of The Crimson Avenger, who began life as a not-so-subtle imitation of The Green Hornet. Both the Avenger and the Hornet had a color-based title, an Asian sidekick (Wing and Kato, respectively), and a gun that fired knockout gas. The Crimson Avenger is considered the first DC Comics superhero, and as such the character is held in reverence by other superheroes in the DC Universe. By some accounts, the original Crimson Avenger's fedora, mask, and cloak are used as part of the member initiation ceremony for the Justice League.

As for Detective Comics, a number of far more recognizable characters have made first appearances in the still-ongoing title. These include:

  • Commissioner Gordon (Detective #27)
  • Robin (Detective #38)
  • The Penguin (Detective #58)
  • Two-Face (Detective #66)
  • The Riddler  (Detective #140)
  • Martian Manhunter (Detective #225)
  • Batgirl (Detective #359) 

And those are just the guys you've heard of (you've heard of Martian Manhunter, right?), and doesn't include the dozens of other Detective-originating characters that inhabit the quarter-bins of comics fandom, and nooks and crannies of the Truly Trivial.