Monday, February 18, 2019

The Guild of Detection, Detective Comics #1000 and the return of Ralph and Sue Dibny

After his New 52 debut in the pages Secret Six, Ralph is finally back in the DC Universe. And so are Slam Bradley, Detective Chimp and the Question along with other classic DC detectives like the Martian Manhunter and the Dark Knight himself. This time, as part of the Detectives Guild, a new team that will appear in the first feature of Detective Comics #1000, written by Scott Snyder, with art by Greg Capullo.

The return of these characters for the 1000th issue is only logical, since most of them have strong ties to Detective Comics, and this is not the first time something like this happens for an anniversary issue. In this post, I'll provide a little background information on their ties and previous teams with similar rosters.

Ties to Detective Comics

Detective Comics started as a 68-page anthology book with several features, each lead by a different detective type of character. All of them with names like "Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise", "Gumshoe Gus" or "Buck Marshall". There isn't any superhero or vigilante stuff in those early issues.

One of the few characters that debuted in the first issue (March 1937)  is Samuel Emerson "Slam" Bradley, a rough private detective with a Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe vibe. Among the members of the new Detectives Guild, he is the oldest, and his stories continued until issue #151 (September 1949).

Many of his early cases involve Fu Manchu type of villains like Fui Onyui (the one from the first cover), which he defeated with his fists and short temper (hence the "Slam" part of his name). After the creation of the Crimson Avenger (#20, October 1938), the title started to shift focus gradually towards masked vigilantes and superheroes. Decades after his featured ended he returned sporadically as an old brainier man.

Batman, of course, debuted in issue #27 (May 1939) and has been the main feature of the book ever since. Since his debut, he has been an answer to Superman that merges the superhero with detective tropes. Today he might be DC Comics' most popular character and the World's greatest detective within its fictional universe.

 The Martian Manhunter debuted in issue #225 (November 1955) and his feature ran until #327 (April 1964). Unlike most of the detectives in the book, he mostly uses his superpowers to solve crimes. 

Ralph Dibny, "the Elongated Man", debuted as recurring character withing the stories of the silver age Flash. In them, it could be said that the duo solved some mysteries, but it was mostly done in a standard superhero fashion. Most of the key events of Ralph's life, such as getting his super powers, becoming a superhero, getting rich and famous as a circus performer, giving away his secret identity and marrying Sue Dibny happen in those stories, but it was until editor Julie Schwartz moved him to Detective Comics that he was defined as a great detective. Most of his stories were published monthly in that title from #327 (April 1964) to #383 (January 1969), and then sporadically throughout the 70s, with comebacks for the 500th issue and the 50th year anniversary (#572).

Ralph was soon was established as a brilliant detective, matched only by Batman. Although most of the classic Elongated Man's mysteries were puzzling, they were also lighthearted and not necessarily solved with deductive reasoning. It was only until the modern age that he gets to do things like solving the mystery around Edgar Allan Poe's death or outsmarting the demon Neron.   

Capullo's rendition of Ralph is a bit weird. He is wearing his Secret Six uniform, but his face resembles Mad's Alfred E. Neuman, and he is way skinnier and shorter than usual.

Hawkman and Hawkwoman had a sporadic feature throughout the 70s. They are basically space cops solving crimes on Earth using their alien technology.

While Vic Sage never had a feature as The Question in Detective Comics, Renee Montoya did, back in issues #854 (June 2009) to #863 (May 2010). Vic is an investigative journalist, and like his creator, Steve Ditko, is heavily influenced by objectivism.

Detective Chimp only appeared as a supporting character in #845 (August 2008) and Traci Thirteen is completely new to Detective Comics, although her father, Dr. Thirteen appeared in issues #509 and #520.

In the only picture available of the Detectives Guild, it is hard to tell who is Traci Thirteen, but the woman next to Ralph rather resembles the New 52 version of Sue Dibny, and there is an unidentified couple in the background. Sue is Ralph's wife, a great detective and mystery writer on her own. She has a history of tagging along to whatever team hew husband belongs, so it wouldn't be strange if she was a member of the Guild herself. After all, Ralph and Sue are famously based on Nick and Nora Charles, who also did everything together.

Forerunners of the Detectives Guild

The roster of the Detectives Guild is quite similar to at least three previous DC teams: "The Doomsday Book" ensemble, the Croatoans and an animated version of the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.

Previous detective teams: The Croatoans, Mystery Analyst of Gotham and The Doomsday Book ensemble.

DC Comics made the first ensemble of this type for Detective Comics #572 (March 1987) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the title. In the story, titled The Doomsday Book, an informal team-up consisting of Slam Bradley, Batman, Robin, the Elongated Man and Sherlock Holmes try to save Queen Elizabeth from a descendant of Professor Moriarty.

52 #18 (November 2006) introduced the Croatoans, a group of detectives that met regularly at the House of Mystery. It consists of the Elongated Man, Detective Chimp, Edogawa Sangaku, Traci Thirteen, and Tim Trench. They are known for having unlocked the mysteries of Stonehenge, Easter Island, Kasper Hauser, and even the television series Lost.

The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City first appeared in Batman #164 (June 1964), but its roster consists of Batman, Robin and non-superhero detectives from Gotham City, like Commissioner Gordon and Kaye Daye, a mystery writer. However, out of DC Comics canon, the roster of this group was modified for the animated movie the Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (January 2018). This version includes Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Plastic Man, Aquaman, the Question and Mystery Inc. (yes, that means Scooby-Doo and his gang).

Also, out of DC Comics canon, The Elongated Man, Batman, the Martian Manhunter and Detective Chimp appeared together in issue #39 (January 2008) of the Justice League Unlimited comic book.

Future of the Detectives Guild

So far, it's hard to tell if the Detective Comics #1000 story is of any consequence for Ralph and the rest of the Detectives Guild. It is only known that it will focus on Batman's training as a master detective. However, it's clear that its premise comes from a long tradition of DC Comics.

UPDATE: Here is what's actually in the story.

After reading Detective Comics #1000, there isn't much else to say besides stating that it's actually called "The Guild of Detection", Slam did most of the talk and I'm 99.99% sure Sue is part of the Guild of Detection.

The story, titled "Batman's Longest Case" has Batman as the latest addition of a group of detectives informally known as "the Guild of Detection". It indeed includes Elongated Man, Slam Bradley, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter, Detective Chimp, the Question, the brunette woman in the pink dress, and a male and female couple in the background. The later four characters were not named, but the Question is easily identified and, in the next and only other panel she appears, the woman in pink is close with Ralph looking nothing like Traci 13 and an identical to Sue in Secret Six. So, it's most likely her.

This would make Sue officially one of DC's greatest detectives. It has been established that she has hacking skills that rival those of Barbara Gordon (who is not on the Guild yet), that she became a best-selling mystery writer and that she can beat both Ralph and Batman solving a case. Consequently, she is quite an asset for the team.

As the oldest character of Detective Comics, or at least the only one that remains kind of well known these days, it's only natural that Slam Bradley lead Batman's introduction to the Guild, which has been around for a long time and has a large book collection of unsolved cases from all around the Universe and even the realm of magic. 

So far, no further appearances of the Guild of Detection have been announced, but it wouldn't be unlikely that Snyder introduced it with a future story in mind.