BATMAN: DETECTIVE NO. 27 is a 2003 Elseworlds graphic novel published by DC Comics. Written by Michael Uslan and illustrated by Peter Snejbjerg (whose work I really like), this is not about DETECTIVE NO. 27, the seminal 1939 comic book that introduced Batman to the world. It's about DETECTIVE NO. 27. Oh, and Batman never appears in this story. Confused?
The story begins on the night of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 . The president's murder spurs Allan Pinkerton (he of the legendary Pinkerton Agency), to form a secret society of detectives to battle the Knights of the Golden Circle, a crime cabal led by a Jokeresque madman named Professor Carr. The Knights engineered Lincoln's death which has set in motion a plan to destroy an American city, a plan that will take 74 years to come to fruition.
Pinkerton names himself Detective No. 1, with each subsequent member of the society having a number rather than a name. Over the years, the ranks of the secret society include such stalwarts as Teddy Roosevelt, Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, Nick and Nora Charles, The Hardy Boys, Sam Spade and The Shadow.
The murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne in 1929 set young Bruce Wayne on a ten-year sojourn around the world where he studies and trains (under "Lamont Cranston" among others) to be a master detective. When he returns to Gotham City, he finds Doctor Hugo Strange and Professor Jonathan Crane involved in the Knights scheme to unleash a fear toxin in a major city. Bruce is recruited by the society to be "Detective No. 27" and he's aided by Alfred (Detective No. 25), The Boy Commandos, Catwoman, The Crimson Avenger (Detective No. 26), and others. Wayne never becomes The Batman (although Uslan continually sets us up to expect otherwise) but he proves himself a capable crime fighter nonetheless.
The secret mastermind behind the plot is revealed in a shocking third act (I never saw it coming) but the story ends with Bruce embracing the ethos of "Carpe Nox" (seize the night), which hints that he may yet become The Batman. Studded with real life personages such as Sigmund Freud, FDR, Babe Ruth, Charles Darwin, and Gregor Mendel and with a brief appearance from Superman himself, DETECTIVE NO. 27 is the RAGTIME of comic book super-hero stories. Uslan knows both his American history and comic book lore and he deftly weaves this material into a gripping story that's full of action, humor and surprises. The art by Peter Snejbjerg is outstanding. It has a Will Eisneresque quality in some of the character's body language and facial expressions and it's clean, uncluttered storytelling at its' finest.
I don't know if DETECTIVE NO. 27 is still in print or not. I found my copy at Half Price Books. It's well worth the effort to track down and read. Recommended.