The reason it has lasted so long can be summed up in one word: Batman!
Detective Comics 500Thing is, Detective Comics was also more than Batman....there was Robin, his faithful companion, as well as many back up features over the years, so this issue split its focus, giving readers 7 special stories done by a wealth of talent, as evidenced by the cover of Detective Comics #500 (March, 1981), with Dick Giordano providing the large Batman and Robin, Walt Simonson doing the Batman in the magnifying glass, Joe Kubert drawing Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez drawing Elongated Man, Carmine Infantino providing the back cover's Robin as well as Deadman and Commissioner James Gordon (inked by Bob Smith), Tom Yeates providing a Bruce Wayne, Jim Aparo finishing the rest of the detectives, with Bob LeRose providing the classic covers.
Now, most of these are detective stories, so, all the spoilers with the solutions to the mysteries will either be in links or at the end of the article....after a spoiler space for fans! Now...onto the stories!
BatmanFirst up, "To Kill A Legend" by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano, with a one page summary of Batman's origin (as a dream) which leads him out onto the streets to stop another crime. With a bit of magical manipulation, Batman ends up in Crime Alley (the spot where his parents were killed), and he gets a little help from Robin.
The Phantom Stranger appears (having been the manipulator) and explains that Batman has a chance to save his parents on another world (as he failed to do here, as did the Bruce Wayne on Earth-2, predating his story of becoming the Batman in Detective Comics #27). So, Batman (with Robin following along) so to this Earth, to find a young spoiled Bruce Wayne, who likely won't be more than the playboy Batman pretends to be, encounters the younger versions of Jim Gordon (a Lieutenant in Gotham's police force) as well as his fiancee, librarian Barbara Kean (giving Batgirl's mom a full premarital name for the first time).
Along the way, Robin discovers this Earth has no historical heroes, nor a planet Krypton, so that this world needs a Batman. Events progress to the faithful day and time of the alleyway shooting after Bruce and his parents attend a movie...but, what will Batman do?
Slam BradleyNext up, a convention of detectives, with Slam Bradley, one of the stars of Detective Comics #1 as the lead (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), with all these detectives (who all had features in Detective Comics), leading to "The 'Too Many Crooks...' Caper" by Len Wein and Jim Aparo.
The detectives were honoring Archie Evergreen, a retiring detective....who, while talking to Slam, gets shot in the back at the party, prompting the roomful of sleuths to act to find Archie Evergreen's greatest enemy and murderer.
Slam meets the other detectives at this time: Captain Compass, naval detective; Jason Bard, Gotham private investigator; Mysto, magician detective; Roy Raymond, TV detective; Pow-Wow Smith, frontier lawman and Christopher Chance, the Human Target. They all resolve to find the killer, with Slam starting with getting the lowdown on Archie's greatest enemy, smuggler Victor Dominion.
Compass and Chance get proof of Dominion's other crimes on his yacht; Smith, Bard and Mysto confronting Dominion at his mansion, with Bradley confronting him and bringing Dominion down (literally) by shooting his escaping helicopter. But, who was the murderer? Raymond provides the facts, that, were "Impossible...But True".
BatmanNext up, back to Gotham, and an adventure of Batman by Len Wein and Walter Simonson which seems like a simple tale, as in a two page story, using every novel writer's bad cliches...a quite entertaining little Batman tale unfolds in "Once Upon A Time..."....a tale with no particular mystery!
Elongated ManThe ductile detective, Ralph Dibny, and his wife, Sue, stumble onto a talking raven, and a dying man mumbling "Reynolds" in "The Final Mystery Of Edgar Allan Poe" by Mike W. Barr and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. The injured man in his office was Edwin Allman Pohe, a noted collector of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, with his head struck by a candlestick and holding an old piece of paper in his hand. Pohe's assistant, Marcia Douglas, tells the Dibnys that Pohe was expecting someone, perhaps a rare book dealer to be stopping by, as well as giving the facts of Pohe's collection, which she supported (but didn't know that "Reynolds" was also Poe's mysterious last word).
Ralph goes to very the date on the old paper, finding out it was only aged to look old, as Sue finds out Reynolds was a publisher Poe knew around the time he died. Ralph figures out that Edgar Allan Poe had a magazine he was to print before he died, and tracks down the man Pohe was suppose to meet (to supposedly sell him a copy of that magazine, which was never printed). Finding him, a Steve Billman, he also had access to old printing plates, and Ralph, Sue and Marcia went to find the killer!
Batman"The Batman Encounters -- Gray Face" is a text story, by Walter B. Gibson (the creator of the Shadow), with spot illustrations by Tom Yeates.
This story deals with Batman's detective and escape artist skills, as Batman has to track down the mysterious villain of Gotham's Chinatown area....Gray Face, after Herbert Garland was found, wandering the streets, speaking of dragons after an encounter with Gray Face.
Batman's abilities are put to the test surviving the trials put on him by this foe!
Hawkman"The Strange Death Of Doctor Erdel" was the case that Hawkman chose to solve (with some help from his wife, Hawkgirl) in the story by Paul Levitz and Joe Kubert.
Doctor Erdel was a scientist in an isolated laboratory who died of an apparent heart attack, where Erdel was found by his assistant, Fred Schneider, and Erdel's niece, Anna, inherited Erdel's patents and wealth.
Erdel's heart attack was found to be brought on by electrical shock (likely from one of his inventions, that have sat untouched for years).
Hawkman and Hawkgirl track down Anna (finding her innocent, as she had given away the money and devoted herself to charity work, with a tear stained scrapbook of her uncle's achievements), then to finding Fred, who had changed careers, becoming a successful ornithologist (thus eliminating his motive to want to steal Erdel's work).
So, the Hawks head back to check to see who could have directed the computer to deliver the fatal shock to Dr. Erdel? And which famous Justice Leaguer was Dr. Erdel responsible for?
BatmanLast, but not least, is "What Happens When A Batman Dies?" by Cary Bates, Carmine Infantino and Bob Smith, where....well, Batman dies!
Disillusioned by the constant need for his services, Batman is feeling like his war on crime does no good, making him careless in taking down a few thieves at a simple mugging...
....not realizing that it was a trap by dog master Stryker, so that his hound, a trained attack dog, could bite the Batman with its poison coated teeth.
The poison is killing Batman, and Robin and Gordon have to figure out how to save Batman (with Batman using his force of will to try to survive, ends up summoning Deadman, a wandering spirit able to possess bodies and control their actions, to help).
Deadman, possessing Robin, injects Batman with adrenaline, combined with Deadman possessing him, allows Batman to rise, and start to track down his killer as well as deal with his feelings of despair.
SpoilersAfter this brief depiction of Batman's villains by Jim Aparo (from a slightly earlier dollar sized issue of Detective Comics, and these and other previously invented villains were sadly lacking from this issue of Detective Comics)...
.....the answers to the mysteries!
Here they are!
Batman's dilemma to save his parents or not on the alternate Earth: he does, which does inspire that Earth's young Bruce Wayne to take up the study of criminology as well as athletics, leading him to a path as a possible Batman, out of awe instead of fear.
After dropping his TV show tagline, Roy Raymond reveals Archie's killer to be....Archie himself! Using a small remote control, he fired the shot into his own back (Archie was dying, and wouldn't have been able to bring Dominion down in the time he had left, so, came up with this plan to have the world's greatest detectives do it for him).
Elongated Man and Sue did find the killer...Marcia! She was trying to destroy clues along the way, as she and Billman were trying to sell Pohe a fake Poe magazine (but, the magazine did exist in rough form, so Ralph had it printed and a copy give to Pohe upon his recovery).
Hawkman found that, in an empty room, the culprit behind the computer shocking Erdel was....the computer! This computer achieved sentience, and wanted Erdel out of the way so it could view the galaxy unhindered by human contact. It was also the teleportation device which brought the Martian Manhunter to Earth in his first appearance in Detective Comics #225 (thus, this absolves J'onn of his guilt for the death of Dr. Erdel).
Last, Batman found inspiration from the spirits of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and all those he had saved as Batman (who had later passed on). Batman and Deadman found Stryker's dog training facility, finding the dog, and getting a sample of the poison for a cure, as well as stopping Stryker (who met his fate at the jaws of another of his attack dogs).
With this, Detective Comics was halfway to 1000 (not unlike Action Comics a few years before!) building from 100, 200, 300 and 400....