The Caped Crusader has long held the title of “World’s Greatest Detective,” but does Batman deserve it? The DC Universe is filled with spectacular sleuths and brilliant crime busters — including an entire intergalactic police force — so we’re taking a look at how the ‘World’s Best’ stacks up to the rest!
For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus on the best known contenders to the mystery-solving crown, while leaving out one-off characters, famous cameos (sorry, Sherlock), and outdated early incarnations of established characters — for example, Batman’s butler, Alfred, started off as a comedically ineffective detective.
BARRY ALLEN/THE FLASH
Let’s start with the other professional investigator on the Justice League: The Flash! Barry Allen is a forensic scientist, which means he basically uses police resources to solve crimes related to him personally as the Flash. So, probably not the best employee. While Batman does have some knowledge of forensics, it’s generally believed that the Flash is slightly better at it. That said, Batman is still supposedly a better detective overall.
TIM DRAKE/ROBIN/RED ROBIN
Each of the Robins represent an aspect of Batman. Dick Grayson was the superhero aspect, doing the impossible and smiling the whole time. Jason Todd was the brutal, vengeful aspect, which ultimately got him killed. Damian Wayne is the warrior aspect, a deadly fighter but poor leader. It’s Tim Drake who’s really the detective, having the distinct honor of being the only person other than Bruce who Ra’s Al Ghul referred to as “Detective.” Bruce has even admitted that Tim might just be a better detective than he is… someday. You’ve gotta give props to the guy who figured out Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same guy based on footage of Dick Grayson as an acrobat.
RENEE MONTOYA/THE QUESTION
Contrary to popular belief, the Gotham City Police Department does have a few cops who aren’t hopelessly corrupt. Detective Renee Montoya is one of those few — and arguably one of the absolute best cops on the force. Or, at least, she was until the corruption within the organization disgusted her enough that she quit and went into an alcohol-fueled downward spiral. But that wasn’t the end for her. She was taken under the wing of the vigilante known as The Question, eventually taking his mantle. She used her incredible detective skills and the freedom of working outside the system to become one of the best crimefighters in Gotham City.
RALPH DIBNY/ELONGATED MAN
If you imagine Plastic Man but actually useful, you’ve got a decent idea of who Elongated Man is. He’s a self-trained detective with stretchy powers. In fact, he’s one of the most highly respected detectives in the DC Universe, despite spending his time with general laughingstocks like the JLI (simultaneously the least effective and most entertaining incarnation of the Justice League). Sadly, after his beloved wife, Sue, died, Ralph became more than a little self destructive. Less unfortunately, he and Sue ultimately became ghost detectives. As in, detectives who are ghosts. A bittersweet ending.
EDWARD NASHTON/NYGMA/THE RIDDLER
Despite what you may think, the Riddler is a genius. An absolutely insane genius with an overinflated ego and a compulsion to leave clues about his various crimes just to prove how smart he is EVEN THOUGH THAT ALWAYS BACKFIRES, but a genius nonetheless. As for the detective part, following an event called Infinite Crisis, the Riddler received a major head injury which put him into a coma. When he got out of that coma, he abandoned his criminal ways and reformed as a private investigator. He was (surprisingly) successful and remained one of the few people in the DCU to deduce that Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same person.
Yeah, that’s a monkey in a deerstalker cap. What more do you need to know? Detective Chimp (“Bobo” to his friends) was regular chimp who was dressed like a detective and taught to mimic crime-solving techniques by his owner. When his owner was murdered, Bobo actually helped solve the crime. Through a series of even weirder events, Bobo eventually drank from the Fountain of Youth and gained super intelligence as well as the ability to speak. Since then, he’s been investigating the stranger side of the DCU, sometimes even swapping theories with Batman in an online chat.
JIM CORRIGAN/CRISPUS ALLEN/THE SPECTRE
The Spectre is an entity that basically functions as “God’s Wrath” on Earth. This mission is a bit… ambiguous, and the entity must be tied to a human host to function. It’s had quite a few notable hosts over the years, including detectives Jim Corrigan and Crispus Allen as well as the Green Lantern Hal Jordan (when he was dead… it’s complicated). While all were admirable detectives before the Spectre showed up, their skills took a hit once bonded to the entity due to its somewhat unstable nature.
ROY RAYMOND, JR./OWLMAN
The grandson of a great detective, Roy Raymond Jr. did most of his investigating on TV. Most people dismissed his investigations as being sensationalist or purely entertainment but Bruce Wayne actually admired Roy’s skills. So much so that eventually he was recruited onto a superhero team called the Outsiders and given the costumed identity of “Owlman.” Batman presumably decided to ignore the other Owlman, his evil doppleganger from a parallel Earth. Either way, solid detective.
J’ONN J’ONNZ/MARTIAN MANHUNTER
When he’s not being green (or masquerading as one of his eleven other personas across the globe), the Martian Manhunter sometimes solves crimes as detective “John Jones.” While he is incredibly intelligent and a great detective, his actual deduction skills need to be brought into question given that he can read people’s minds. Seems like cheating. That said, he’s one of the most popular and well-known heroes in the Southern hemisphere of the DCU given the fact that he’s essentially green Superman with EVEN MORE incredible powers.
THE BATMAN REBUTTAL
Everyone on this list is supremely skilled. They’re masters of deduction. But when an actual god gets murdered (as happened in Final Crisis), there’s only one guy you call to investigate: Batman. There are few heroes on Earth as smart as Batman, who has spent years training and honing his skills against some of the most horrifying psychopaths in the DCU (plus one dude who’s just straight up made of clay). Batman has been called ‘the most dangerous man on Earth’ (by Superman, no less), and is the only living being to ever figure a way out of Darkseid’s Omega Sanction (a “living death” that shoots the victim through time). While Batman may not be the greatest fighter in the DCU (shout out to Cassandra Cain) or the smartest person (possibly a tie between Brainiac and Mxyzptlk), there’s no one (yet) who is quite at his level in terms of sheer deductive reasoning.