Next month, writers Tom King and Phil Hester are teaming up to bring back one of Gotham City’s oldest protectors. No, not Batman. Heck, I’m not even talking about the original Green Lantern and his cabbie sidekick Doiby Dickles.
I mean Slam Bradley, the hard-drinking, hard-talking PI. Originally a lead character in Detective Comics, Bradley has been a mainstay in Batman’s orbit since the ’30s, and has even headlined several series. He’ll get that chance again as King and Hester make him the lead in Gotham City: Year One.
Working alongside illustrator Eric Gapstur, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Clayton Cowles, King and Hester tell the origin story of DC’s famously crime-riddled city. At the center of this tale is Bradley, who is on the case of Helen Wayne, a Gotham City heiress who goes missing. Bradley’s investigation will uncover deep corners of rot within the city, long before colorful baddies like the Joker or the Penguin take up residence there.
“Night falls quickly in Gotham City,” Hester said of his setting. “The shadows cut across guilty and innocent alike. I feel lucky to be the artist to show you just how this city got so dark in the first place.”
The tale returns Gotham to its noir roots, revealing it as more than a playground for supervillains. With his strong blacks and blocky figures, Gapstur’s style recalls not only Hester’s own illustrations, but also the work of Frank Miller, king of noir comics. Promo images show Bradley after a battle, the bandages on his craggy face underscored by the shadows that fill every wrinkle, not unlike Sin City protagonist Marv.
But Slam Bradley has been around much longer than that, even longer than superheroes themselves. Way back before the series was just another Batman comic, Slam Bradley debuted in Detective Comics #1 in 1937. His creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would debut Superman the next year, paving the way for Bob Kane and Bill Finger to introduce Batman in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. But until then, Slam took the lead in Detective, bringing pulp novel action to comic book readers.
But by the time Detective Comics #153 hit the stands in 1949, Slam had been demoted from original cover boy to obscure background character. He disappeared from comics for 32 years, and then only made occasional appearances in detective stories or as a younger version in Superman comics (later retconned into Slam Bradley Jr.).
Fortunately, Slam made his way back into proper continuity thanks to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke, whose Catwoman stories created a noir world perfect for a two-fisted detective. Starting with the Detective Comics story “Trail of the Catwoman,” and continuing through the Catwoman solo series that followed, Bradley served as a crusty old mentor to Selina. A scum bag with a heart of gold, Bradley helped bring out the best in the title character while also shining a light on Gotham’s filthy underbelly.
Unsurprisingly, working with Catwoman brought Slam regularly into Batman’s orbit, especially when he decides to investigate the identity of Hush, later revealed to be Bruce Wayne’s boyhood friend Tommy Eliot. Thanks to Brubaker and Cooke, Slam became popular enough to get a live-action version, in the form of Kurt Szarka in a Batwoman episode from season one. But he has since been buried under Batman reboots and new directions, destined to go the way of his erstwhile sidekick, Shorty Morgan.
But King and Hester have provided a perfect vehicle for Slam to pound his way back into the DC Universe. “In Gotham City: Year One, Phil and I will take you to a noir drenched past,” promises King. It’s a place “where the secrets that made Gotham become Gotham, the sins that made Batman become Batman are finally and violently revealed.” Sounds like Slam Bradley will be right at home.
The six-part series kicks off on Oct. 4.