A detective in comic books is a concept that shows a hero (super powered or non-super powered) that they don't need all of the brawn or weapons to solve the problem. The most powerful utilities that a detective has is their own eyes, knowledge, attentiveness, and memory. They pose a threat when the villain is highly intelligent. Some of the best detectives carry special books or logs, to keep record of what he/she might encounter throughout their work.
The themes in detective stories always seems to include one or many twists. If it was just as it seemed, then most likely a detective wouldn't be needed in the first place.
The idea of the fictional detective who solves a mystery is far older then most people come to realize. For as long as humans have been around we have strives to discovery how and why things the way they are. It only stands to reason that this would exist in the stories we tell. The detective is the person we see as the one who is willing to look and to find out why.
The idea of the detective in literature dates back as far as the 9th or 14th century in one of the stories that are told in the tale of "One and Thousand Nights", more commonly known as The Arabian Nights. The story among the collection is called "The Three Apples". In the tale a fisherman finds a locked chest along the Tigris River. He sells the chest he found and the new owners force the lock open. Inside they find the dismembered body of a young woman (See: Women in Refrigerators). Ja'far ibn Yahya, a vizier, is given the task of solving the mystery of this woman's brutal killing in three days or face execution himself.
Ja'far ibn Yahya finds two suspects. One young man and one old man. Both claim to be the killer. The identity of the real killer is revealed when the young man is able to describe the chest the body was found in. The young man was the victim's husband and murdered his wife believing her to be unfaithful due to a series of twists. The older man was the young man's father-in-law and was trying to protect his remaining family.
During the 18th Century there was the story of Dee Gong An(Celebrated Case of Judge Dee). The story followed a tail of Judge Dee who lived during the late 600. The book included three separate stories that are all solved by Judge Dee and include themes used in murder mysteries to this very day still.
The themes consist of murder for wealth, murder of passion, and murder of rage.
One of the most well known authors of Japanese detective fiction is easily Edogawa Rampo, real name Tarō Hirai(1894-1965). He is also the founder of the Japanese Detective Story Club. His greatest inspiration came from Western style detective novels, especially the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. the detective of his own creation was named Kogoro Akechi. The first story in which he appeared as "Case of the Murder on D-Slope" (D坂の殺人事件 , D-zaka no satsujin jiken). The character was quite similar to the Holmes model of the eccentric and brilliant mind that on occasions would assist the police.
One of the most popular detectives in Western culture is the fiction character known as Sherlock Holmes, penned by the author Arther Conan Doyle. The character premiered in London in the Beeton's Christmas Annual (1887). The first story was titled, "A Study in Scarlet". The story wasn't in it's own book until July of 1888 by the publishing company Ward, Lock, and Co., and it went for the price of one shilling.
Of most literary characters, Sherlock Holmes is one that most people mistake as actually being a real person. The character was in fact based upon a real friend and colleague the author. His name was Dr. Joseph Bell.
Sherlock Holmes is an example of a super intelligent detective. These type of characters seem to have a near impossible level of knowledge that branches from many different disciples.
To this kind of character. The smallest details can have large meaning. The words that are used, the soil on the shoes, and the way a person dresses can tell this kind of detective anything they seem to need.
Street Smart Detectives
The far more American concept of the detective is better known through the idea of the Private Detective, or as the character is more often called, " P.I., Private Eye, and Private Dick". The concept of the Private Detective in literature actually dates as far back as in the works of the famed, dark author Edgar Allen Poe in his character C. Auguste Dupin from the story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"(1841).
Unlike the Sherlock Holmes, super intelligent version of a detective. The Private Eye is more seen as having 'street smarts'. They always seem to have a darker edge in their personality. They may not always be the smartest person in the world, but they know where they need to go and have a deep knowledge of their surroundings and the people within it. It's the difference between the genius and the wise man. The genius has vast amounts of knowledge. The wise man knows how to use the things he knows in more practical terms.
The icons of the Private Detective comes mostly from 1940 era character Marlowe that was portrayed by the actor Humphery Bogart. This image of the trench coat and fedora wearing private detective became a standard in the film-noir genre. The character is often a heavy smoker and drinker.
The idea of the Police Detective shares much in the same themes of the Private Detective, but they are a regular member of law enforcement. This makes them limited by all the regulations that come with it. The police detective stereotype is more often seen as being a brash and reckless person with many personality problems who take issue with their superiors. Often seen fighting for the 'little guy'. Examples of this type of fictional characters are Harry Callahan, from the 1971 film Dirty Harry; and John McClane, from the 1988 film Die Hard.
Other versions of the police detective is the image of the strictly by the book type of person. Always in a suit and the complete professional. This idea was made popular by the character Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, in the TV series Dragnet that began in the 1950s and ran through to the 1970s.
A third type of police detective is the Burn Out personality. This police officer often has a seriously troubled past and is often on the brink of sanity. They tend to go off the handle easily. One of the most popular examples if this type of detective was the character Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson in the 1987 action-comedy movie Lethal Weapon. This character is more often seen in a reluctant partnership with a by the book type of detective.
Police Detective are often separated into different aspects of investigation that goes along with their expertise and specialties. These can be for crimes such as homicide, theft, arson, assaults, and gang related crimes.
The concept of the detective has reached throughout the comic book industry almost from the beginning. There is no one arch-type that this form of literature picks from. In fact, comic books often create new types of detectives by merging the many types of characters.
Before The Bat-Man made Detective Comics his own, The title featured regular detectives every week. Such as Larry Steele, Speed Saunders, Bart Regan, Crimson Avenger, Steve Malone, Cosmo, Buck Marshall. Bruce Nelson and "Slam" Bradely.
Inarguably one of the most famous of all the comic book detectives is the character Batman. He first appeared in the Detective Comics #27(1939). Batman's real identity is Bruce Wayne. He witnessed the murder of his parents right before his very eyes. This was the key point in his life that strove him to spend the remaining of his childhood and teen years to crafting himself into the best he could be. Though more often people see Batman as a strong man that has few equals when it comes to combat. Bruce also has a mind that rivals that of the most famed brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes. He is determined to bring uncorrupted justice back to Gotham City so no child need suffer the same fate he did.
Of many of the rogues gallery Batman has, the villains that puts Batman's mind to the limits are the Joker and the Riddler. Batman has the ability to see the methods behind the Joker's seemingly random madness. Against the Riddler, Batman shows that he can solves the most detail puzzles this evil genius can conjure up.
Batman also shows his ability to match this skill of brain with equal ability in brawn. He is a masterful martial artist. In the area of hand to hand combat, there are few humans who stand in his level.
The combination of these skills was shown against the super powered Bane. Sheer strength and fight technique wouldn't be enough to overcome the level of strength Bane has at his hands. Batman's techniques in fighting keeps him alive, but it's his mind that helps him over come that gap in strength. Batman carries the Black Case book which carries the insane and mysterious cases that Batman has encountered. He is currently writing in the white case book.
Batman's team of sidekicks and allies are also trained in Detective skills, especially Tim Drake, Dick Grayson and the Birds of Prey.
James Gordon is also a resident of the same Gotham City protected by Batman. He is a police detective who moved from Chicago and rose through the ranks to eventually become the Commissioner of the entire Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). At one time he was one of the few honest cops in all of Gotham.
He was originally distrustful of the Batman's actions, but soon began to trust him as his strongest ally in bringing peace to Gotham City. With the amount of 'super villains' and corruption in the city, Gordon saw the need for a vigilante, such as Batman. His traditional role in the series has been as a liaison to Batman and the one who shines the iconic Bat-Signal on top of police headquarters to let Batman know he is needed in town.
Other GCPD and Gotham detectives include Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Jason Bard
He is also the father to Barbara Gordon, the second Batgirl now known as Oracle. .
Charles Victor Szasz (Vic Sage) otherwise known as the Question is another popular detective of the DC universe. His origin is that he was at one time a popular TV Newscaster of Hub City. He wears a special mask that obscures his entire face (and used to change the color of his hair and clothes) but still allows his to see and breath. He is a brilliant detective with an inquisitive mind and combat skills taught to him by Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva. He used these skills to root out corruption and itch his curiosity. He was aided by Professor Rodor.
His tactics in gaining information would often involve threatening criminals into talking.
When "Charlie" Sage perished after his fight with cancer. The identity of the Question was taken up by his partner and friend, Renee Montoya. She was a former member of the Gotham City Police Department under Commissioner Gordon. After Charles passing, Renee returned to Gotham and took on both Charles mask and his identity of The Question.
Rorschach or Walter Kovacs is another DC detective from the popular comic series called The Watchmen. He was based off of Ditko's Mr. A & the Question and created by Alan Moore. Kovacs was a little unstable as a detective because he was mildly insane but still showed great intellect, like the Question he was also a good fighter.
The origin of Kovacs was explained that he offered his services to investigate a kidnapping of a young girl. Through violent methods of investigation he was led to a dressmaker. Inside he found the girl's clothes, but no sign of a body. Looking to the dogs in the back, to his horror he found the dogs were chewing on the human femur of a young child. Kovacs killed the dogs, waited for the murderer to return, and he killed him in cold blood. This was considered by Kovacs as his own personal death, but the birth of Rorschach. He did eventually team of with the Watchmen and the hero Nite Owl, but both partnerships dissolved after some time.
Often prone to fits of rage and extreme measures to get the information he seeks. Still, he has a almost fanatical obsession with the truth. No matter the outcome. This led to his own death at the hands of Dr. Manhattan.
Once a member of Batman's rogue's gallery. The villain known as the Riddler, Edward Nigma, actually turned to the side of good after recovering from a coma. As a villain he would torment Gotham City and Batman in general with diabolical puzzles and riddles. His mind pushed Batman's to his limits. He later used his intellect to become a Private Detective and create a legitimate fortune for himself. He is often even hired to assist heroes such as his one time foe Batman and many others. He was scarred in the line of duty when he assisted Dick Grayson, as Batman, in stopping a bombing threat, and soon after began to start acting in a suspicious manner that has made some question if he would return to his villainous ways. Which he eventually did return to being the villain.
Tony Chu is an example of a police detective with a rather imaginative and unique ability as a detective. Published in the CHEW comics. He has the ability to seen the history behind anything he eats. If he was to bite into a hamburger he would see how the cow was slaughtered to make it. For most of Tony's life his power did little for his life as far as his dietary habits were concerned. That all changed the day he was having a meal in a restaurant and the flashes he got from the food showed him that the cook was a serial killer. Tony chased the murderer into an alley way. Before he could be arrested, the killer committed suicide. Tony needed to find out about the killer's victims and took an extreme measure. He actually ate part of this killer. Though his attempt was successful. His supervisors could not accept how the information was acquired. Though he lost his position in the police. He was hired as part of the FDA and he uses his powers to fight crime.
The mutant Madrox, full name James Madrox, was once known by the code name of Multiple Man. In the Marvel Universe series, as with all mutants Madrox was born with his powers of multiplication. He can create duplicates of his own body that can move and act independently. If they are injured or even killed the information they acquire will be transferred back to the original body. For some time he was a member of a special team of mutants known as X-Factor, a government sponsored team. For a time it was thought that Madrox had perished from the Legacy Virus, a deadly virus that only infected mutants. It was discovered. In truth, this had only been a duplicate. The real James Madrox was a member of the X-Corporation in Europe with no memories of his old life. After the dismantlement of X-Corporation, Madrox created a a private instigation organization called XXX-Investigations. This name was later changed to X-Factor Investigations, and member of the previous X-Factor and X-Corporation would come to join Madrox in his detective agency.
Later, Madrox would use his powers to cheat at the popular television series, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" by using his duplicates to obtain all the knowledge he needed to win. With this money he was able to buy the whole building of X-Factor Investigations outright and pay his team a decent wage.