Who Taught Batman to Become a Detective?

Summary

  • Comic book writers frequently reveal new detective mentors for Batman to add depth to his character.
  • Batman’s first detective mentor was Harvey Harris, whom he studied under as a child and later saved from danger.
  • Other notable detective mentors for Batman include Henri Ducard, Dan Mallory, Willy Doggett, and Cassander Wycliffe Baker.


“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is a feature spotlighting notable examples of retcons that don’t fit into the framework of Abandoned an’ Forsaked, which is specifically about stories that outright “overturn” older stories. There are many examples of “retroactive continuity” that do not actively abandon the works of the past (especially cases where the overall continuity was rebooted). Some of them are minor, some of them are major. Today, we look at how comic book writers would frequently reveal new detective mentors for Batman.

Something that you have to understand about comic book character in the Golden Age of Comics is that the characters were never intended to be all that deep. I don’t mean that as a shot at all to the very smart comic book writers of the Golden Age of Comics, of course. Bill Finger kept so many notes on various facts about the world that his peer, John Broome, paid homage to Finger by inventing a super villain who fought Green Lantern purely armed with the brilliant ideas that he would keep in his notebooks. Gardner Fox, another early Golden Age writer, was a brilliant student of history who had filing cabinets FILLED with fascinating pieces of information. So it wasn’t like these writers weren’t thoughtful people, it was just that the nature of a comic book feature at the time, when you just had 10 pages to fill every month, didn’t really lend itself to depth.

However, over time, as the most popular heroes expanded from simply a single feature in an anthology (like Batman in Detective Comics) to supporting their own solo titles (like Batman in, well, you know, Batman), the constant need for new story ideas would eventually lead to creators deciding to plumb the untold depths of the character’s background. A famous example of this, of course, was the story that saw Batman discovering the man who killed his parents (hilariously, Finger and other writers who go back to that well a number of times – But who HIRED Joe Chill? Who was Joe Chill’s mom?” Stuff like that). In the early days, all you needed to know about Batman’s background in becoming a superhero was provided in two panels in his first origin in Detective Comics #33 (by Finger and Bob Kane)…

Batman becomes a superhero

However, that changed in 1955, when we got the start of a series of reveals of the detectives who trained Batman into becoming the Dark Knight Detective!

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Who was Batman’s first detective mentor?

The first time we met someone who specifically trained Batman as a detective was in the bizarre Detective Comics #226 (by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris), where Batman explains to Robin that he had become a big fan of the famous detective, Harvey Harris, so he decided to study under him when he was still a boy, but because he couldn’t very well show up as Bruce Wayne (his parents were still alive at the time – and yes, that makes no sense, since Bruce is clearly, like, 13 here), he decided to wear a fanciful costume while studying Harris…

Bruce Wayne donned a costume to study Harvey Harris

However, when Harris then became in danger, Bruce had to act and save the heroic detective, thus revealing himself. Harris agreed to train the mystery boy wonder, and decided to name him Robin (and yes, again, this is all super silly and weird, but, well, whatever)….

Harvey Harris agrees to train Bruce

Harris trains Bruce throughout the story, and Bruce also impresses him with his skills. A recurring bit is Harris saying he’ll figure out Bruce’s name. Anyhow, after their case was closed, Harris got Bruce to agree to wait until he was older to pursue a career in crimefighting. Bruce agreed, and sent him his costume. Years later, when Harris died, he arranged for the costume to be sent to Bruce Wayne, revealing that Harris had discovered Bruce’s secret all those years ago, but didn’t want to make him self-conscious, so kept it a secret until he died, at which point Batman was now the greatest detective of all, so it wouldn’t make him feel bad. Batman, of course, thinks Harvey was even better than him.

Who was Batman’s most notable detective mentor?

In Detective Comics #598-600, Sam Hamm, the screenwriter behind the then-new Batman movie, was allowed to write a major story for DC, including Detective Comics #600 (the regular writer of the book at the time, Alan Grant, wasn’t exactly thrilled about being temporarily taken off of the book for another writer to get all of the royalties from the 600th issue of the series. Grant later also was removed from Batman soon before the 500th issue of THAT book, but at least they let him launch a new Batman comic book, Shadow of the Bat, which did well, royalty-wise. Not Batman #500 well, but well). Working with artists Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano, the storyline saw Batman revisiting his past teachers, including Henri Ducard…

Bruce Wayne meets Henri Ducard

Ducard was a detective, manhunter and mercenary, and Bruce became his apprentice…

Bruce becomes Henri Ducard's apprentice

Where Harvey Harris was a mostly forgotten character (besides E. Nelson Bridwell improbably tying him to the Super Friends), Ducard debuted in such a prominent storyline that he was given a prominent place in Batman’s history (Denny O’Neil later revealed that Batman trained in the FBI for a month and a half, and then trained under a number of unnamed detectives, with Ducard being the only one worth noting specifically).

Ducard took further prominence when Christopher Nolan had that be the name that Ra’s al Ghul used as a pseudonym to train young Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.

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Who else has been a detective mentor for Batman?

In Detective Comics Annual #2, Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn (with art by Val Semeiks and Michael Bair), retold the Harvey Harris story for a new continuity, with this time Bruce using the pseuodnym, Frank Dixon, to study under Harris…

Bruce Wayne studies under Harvey Harris as Frank Dixon

Later, Brian Augustyn and artist Dave De’Antiquis showed Bruce using the Frank Dixon pseudonym to study under a different private detective, Dan Mallory, in Batman Chronicles #6…

Bruce Wayne studied under Dan Mallory

In his classic “Shaman” story in Legends of the Dark Knight #1, Denny O’Neil (working with artists Ed Hannigan and John Beatty) showed Bruce Wayne training with a tracker named Willy Doggett…

Bruce Wayne trained with a tracker

My buddy Alex Jaffe has an article about Batman’s various mentors that is a fun read. Check it out. He seems to differentiate guys like Doggett and Ducard from the other detectives. I think they’re all detectives.

In Batman #94 (by James Tynion IV, Guillem March, Javi Fernandez and David Baron), Bruce also studied under the famous detective, Cassander Wycliffe Baker, who refused to teach Bruce standard detective stuff, but instead trained him in how to handle continuing to fight crime even if he lost all of his assets (a skill that Batman needed years later when, well, you know, that exact thing happened)…

Bruce Wayne gets a lesson in losing

So yeah, writers love to introduce new detectives for Batman to study under, and I’m sure we’ll get some more revealed in the years to come (O’Neil cleverly set this up by noting the unnamed detectives).

I see that

Okay, folks, feel free to suggest more examples of this sort of thing! Obscure ones, famous ones, whatever! Send your suggestions to brianc@cbr.com!

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