New comic book day fell on Halloween this year, and DC Comics delivered a special treat for fans of its most terrifying locale: Gotham City. In addition to this month’s earlier one-shot, Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1, this week brought Batman Secret Files #1. It is another anthology focused on the Dark Knight and the many associated friends and foes who share the streets of Gotham City. The issue won’t play a key role in continuity and is positioned to be an evergreen read containing single stories that can be read and enjoyed no matter your perspective on Batman. It also brings an impressive lineup of creative talent including artists like Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes along with writers like Tom King and Jordie Bellaire. Batman Secret Files #1 is sure to please new and old fans of the titular character.
However, it’s unfortunate that this sort of story functions as a rare treat tied into an annual holiday and the rare fifth Wednesday of a month, which publishers often use to deliver unique publications. There is nothing about Batman: Secret Files that inherently limits its storytelling potential or popularity amongst readers. Reflecting on what makes this one issue stand out, along with the possibilities for an ongoing Batman: Secret Files series, it quickly becomes clear that there needs to be more, even if it falls under a different name.
Gotham City Is a Big Town
One highlight of Batman: Secret Files #1 is how it casts a wide net across the many interesting residents of Gotham City. There are narratives focused both on mid-tier villains like Scarecrow and strange allies like Detective Chimp. While Metropolis, Central City, and other DC Comics locales also have rich histories with interesting characters on almost every block, none is quite as dense as Batman’s hometown. His impressive rogues gallery, ever growing family of Bat-friends, and a police department stacked with big personalities provide plenty of fertile soil for great stories.
The nature of series like Batman and Detective Comics is to keep the focus on the man under the cowl though. Even as the Rebirth initiative pushed Detective Comics toward being a team-oriented series, Bruce Wayne was almost always the centerpiece of the collective. That arrangement makes sense given the history of those long-running titles and how they anchor DC Comics sales, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be more space to explore the stories that might be pushed out of the spotlight in more Bat-centric titles. An anthology series like this provides an opportunity to tell a great tale about Detective Harvey Bullock or Anarky without emphasizing their relationship to Batman. It provides a balance where minor characters can shine and potentially even grow, without disrupting the much needed fuel of the core Batman series.
Batman’s Past Is an Open Book
There’s also a need for a series to address the history of both Batman and Gotham City. Over the past decade this aspect of DC Comics has taken a beating with the New 52 initiative rewriting history with only intermittent clarifications, and then Rebirth repeating that process. While the ultimate results have been some great series under the Rebirth banner, a lot of questions remain as to when and how key past events occurred. First meetings and classic battles are in question until an editor or issue references them. A series like Batman: Secret Files provides creators a chance to rebuild the continuity behind a modern Gotham City and update classic encounters from another era. Stories focused on Jim Gordon or B-list villains allow for a restructuring of how things work in the Rebirth era of DC Comics.
Batman’s expansive history also allows for a lot of “secret” or “forgotten” tales to be told in the past for their own sake. Not every narrative needs to have an impact on continuity and setting comics in the past allows creators to ignore current complications of who’s dead, who’s incarcerated, who’s in space, et cetera. Instead, they can jump into whichever best suits a great one-shot comic and tell a great new Batman story that even the most studious superhero fan can still say “counts.” This approach provides something for just about every reader as events remain in continuity without major concerns for how they might be impacted by a summer event or Batman crossover.
Superhero Comics Need More Anthologies
While the concept of a superhero anthology is an especially great fit for the Batman franchise, building on a massive stock of characters and expansive history, more than anything it’s a great idea because DC Comics readers could use more anthology titles. The possibilities generated by a title like Batman: Secret Files are useful because they allow a wide range of talented creators to work with these properties. Extended runs on Batman from writers like Scott Snyder or Tom King allow fans to experience a complex vision of the character and watch truly epic stories play out across years. At the same time they reserve these stories primarily for high-profile creators. An anthology allows for experimentation and risk-taking, providing a chance for indie artists to take a crack at an icon and for readers to discover rising stars within the medium.
An anthology title also provides readers with a new chance each month to try a new style of story. Long runs and story arcs mean that if something isn’t clicking with fans, then they simply have to wait until something more to their liking arrives. An anthology offers multiple new stories in a variety of styles and tones each and every month. It is certain that not every story will be to every reader’s liking, but this approach means they only need to look to the very next story or wait another month to try something else. Anthologies like 2000 A.D. have accomplished both of these goals for decades, promoting new talent and providing a stirring collection of stories. DC Comics already has one of the most potent fictional locations in all of comics and an anthology series set in Gotham City could accomplish a lot. Let’s hope that Batman: Secret Files #1 provides an opportunity to also develop a #2.