Detective Comics: the history of “Mythology” - Leslie Thompkins
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke’s current run on Detective Comics has been excellent. Since the duo came on to the title as the creative team with issue 994, DC’s flagship series has had life injected into it after several years of ups and downs.
Again, this isn’t surprising given the pedigree of writer Tomasi and artist Mahnke, who have been regular collaborators for years and are some of the most reliable industry vets you’re likely to find. What really sets their current arc apart, though, is how confident and classic it feels. The pair have only been on the title for a handful of issues at this point, yet the “Mythology” story kicked off like Tomasi had been writing ‘Tec for years.
I mean, he’s no stranger to the title or the characters, so he kind of has, but… you know what I mean. This doesn’t feel like a big, flashy new start, a change to an established status quo.
No, the current arc on Detective Comics feels like the comics of yesteryear, particularly Batman stories from the 1970s. It’s telling its own, self-contained mystery, but there isn’t a sense of isolation. Batman’s current adventure feels like its part of a greater overall narrative, another piece of Batman’s long, rich history.
And that is what I appreciate about it the most: this story draws from various events in Batman’s past. It’s an old-fashioned murder mystery, which is refreshing to read, and one that delivers on the promise of exploring Batman’s past. Rather than drawing on “untold events from the Caped Crusader’s past” or revealing a heretofore unknown figure with ties to Bruce’s earlier life, Tomasi’s mystery incorporates well-established figures and characters to weave its broad tapestry. After all, the catalyst that kicks everything off is a recreation of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, with even the most minute of details replicated in the staging.
As I said, the story feels like the globetrotting adventures of the 1970s, where Denny O’Neil and the likes of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano would depict Batman in all sorts of scenarios, and not always confined to Gotham City’s borders. Even more, these stories were as much about Bruce Wayne as they were about Batman, and the supporting cast was full of diverse characters who served a variety of different purposes. There was Lucius Fox, who Bruce confided with in the day to day workings of Wayne Enterprises, and the ever present Alfred Pennyworth, gentleman’s gentleman and long-suffering assistant and father figure.
It’s fitting, then, that Tomasi’s story recalls this era, as a prominent figure introduced by O’Neil and Giordano plays a pivotal role: Dr. Leslie Thompkins, long-time mentor and confidant to Bruce Wayne, and an unfortunate victim of the arc’s mysterious mastermind.
Leslie was introduced in Detective Comics #457 and has been a comforting presence ever since. She runs a free clinic on Park Row, the notorious “Crime Alley” where the Waynes were murdered, and services the destitute and less fortunate of the area. She loves Bruce, but doesn’t approve of his choice to be the Batman. Unlike Alfred, who is perhaps just as apprehensive but still assists with his Dark Knight crusade, Leslie has no qualms about voicing her disapproval.
To me, the most important thing about Leslie’s presence is something that is too often missing in modern Batman comics: she’s a normal person. It used to be that you would get just as much Bruce Wayne as Batman in a comic, with Bruce having a life outside of the cape and cowl. It made the world feel bigger, and the stories all the richer, because there were multiple things going on at one time, often independent of one another. Someone like Leslie Thompkins may have a connection to both Bruce and Batman, but she is somebody that can interact with either character for entirely different reasons.
More than that, she is not a superhero or crimefighter, nor does she have any aspirations to become one. She is a humble doctor, and whether Batman exists or not she would continue to be a doctor. She’s important in the same way a Vicki Vale or a Jim Gordon or a Lucius Fox is important: they’re everyday people from all walks of life who represent the types of people Batman fights for. Even Harvey Dent plays a similar role on both sides of the fence, starting out as a friend of Bruce Wayne and ending up as a villain of the Batman.
For Gotham isn’t just a city full of masked vigilantes and costumed lunatics; it’s a city of people like you and me. People who have jobs and lives. People whose presence makes Gotham feel like a bigger place, an actual city that has actual people that are actually worth saving. By including a person like Leslie Thompkins in their story, Tomasi and Mahnke have ensured that theirs is not an isolated, claustrophobic tale. No, it’s one that feels like it’s part of now eighty years worth of stories, with a timeless quality that isn’t often evident in modern comics storytelling.