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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

COMIC BOOKS 101: DC COMICS-READING BATMAN PT 2

Previously I wrote an article helping new readers figure out the best places to pick up Batman from DC Comics . For those confused or still uncertain about major events in DC Comics (which connect to various “jumping on” points for Batman) I wrote an article detailing the big company altering stories in my history of the DC Universe article. This time around I am going to open up a bit more on the adventures of The Dark Knight, and take a look at some of the bigger, and in my opinion, best stories for potential Batman readers. This will include small and big story lines that exist in various continuities within the DC Comics publication history for the character. There won’t be any set “this is better than that” to the stories listed, simply moments in the characters publication where a particular plot stood out that I think is easily accessible with minimal to decent amount of knowledge for the character and is also very enjoyable. For those die hard readers, I’d suggest looking up some of these story lines and potentially finding the various issues in between to get a “stronger” hold on the event.  So with all that out of the way, let’s take a look at some awesome books to read starring our hero of Gotham City!

PRE-CRISIS BATMAN!

These stories take place before and up until the big Crisis on Infinite Earths saga in the 1980s. Some of the most notable writers from this period include Len Wein and Denny O’Neil with excellent artist such as Jim Aparo and Neal Adams. To make it simple I will just list a few of the “collected” editions that stand out as fantastic reads for anyone wanting to read some of the “classic” Batman stories.

·         Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol 1 (Various Creators) – This bad boy pretty much contains anything you’d want from the “Golden Age” of Batman in DC Comics (for more on the Golden Age see my history of DC Comics article). It starts with Detective Comics 27 (1st Appearance) as well as first appearances of Robin, Catwoman and other characters. Honestly, if you enjoy this pick up all the Golden Age Omnibuses.

·         Batman by Neal Adams Omnibus (Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams/Others) a fantastic collection of stories from the 1960s-1970s era of Batman.

·         Tales of the Batman: Len Wein (Len Wein/Jim Aparo/Others) – Collection of stories of Batman from the 1970s and early 1980s.

·         Notable Mentions: If you really enjoy this “era” of Batman check out stories by Alan Rennert, The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (collects Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Teen Titans Annual #3)-This is where Robin takes on the identity of Nightwing!

POST CRISIS BATMAN!

So the Crisis has come and gone, multiple earths are done and DC Comics is focusing on one major linear continuity. Some aspects of the Pre-Crisis Batman get done away with, and a more streamlined history is made with Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. To get a better idea of how the Post Crisis Batman begins his journey as the Dark Knight check out my part 1 of this series detailing the chronological first year of Batman. From this point on I will just be suggesting some fantastic Batman Books in publication order (doesn’t mean they are in fictional chronological order).

·         Batman: Year One (Collects Batman #404-407)-Even if you want to skip all the other early Batman stories suggested in the first article, definitely pick this storyline up as it sets the tone for almost all Batman books going forward.

·         Batman: A Death in the Family (Collects Batman #426-429) – Tells the sad story of the end of Jason Todd, the second Robin (who later on becomes The Red Hood).

·         Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying (Collects Batman #440-442, New Titans 60-61) – The beginning of Tim Drake, who becomes the third Robin.

·         Batman: The Demon Saga ( Collects Son/Bride/Birth of the Demon) – Essentially the beginnings of Batman’s romance with Talia Al Ghul, and the birth of Damien Wayne (who later becomes the current Robin).

·         Robin: A Hero Reborn (Collects Batman #455-457/Robin #1-5) – Tim Drake officially as Robin.

·         Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth (One Shot Special) – This is Grant Morrison’s first time writing Batman. An excellent story focusing on the psyche of Batman.

·         Batman: Sword of Azrael (Mini-Series) Introduces Jean Paul Valley who later will replace Batman during the events of the Knight Fall Saga.

·         Batman: The Knight Fall Saga (Collected in 3 Volumes-waaaay to many issues to list) – The epic story that starts with an exhausted Batman having to overcome almost all his adversaries and battle a new enemy-BANE! The collections will (aside from Azrael) contain all the relevant story information showing Bruce Wayne no longer being Batman, Azrael taking over the mantle, and ultimately Bruce Wayne’s return as the Dark Knight.

·         ZERO HOUR (Mini Series) – The big effect on Batman is the deletion of Joe Chill (from Batman: Year (which is why that story isn’t on the list), and the creation that Batman was an urban myth.

·         Batman: Prodigal (Batman #512-514/ BSOTB #32-34/ Detective #679-681/Robin #11-13) – This is the real first time Dick Grayson takes over as Batman.

·         Batman: Cataclysm/No Man’s Land (collected in 5 volumes) – Loosely inspired the Dark Knight Rises movie. A massive earthquake hits Gotham and US Government has given up on the city. Batman and his allies must fight to keep the city safe.

·         Batman: Harley Quinn (Collections various issues) – The famous character makes her transition from the animated series to the printed book. Paul Dini writes the introduction of Harley Quinn into normal Batman continuity.

·         JLA: Tower of Babel (Collects JLA #43-46) – Batman has devised a way to take every member of the league, and an old enemy is using those very same tactics to do just that! Watch as the league falls to Batman’s own contingency plans for them.

·         Bruce Wayne: Murderer?/Fugitive (Collected over 4 volumes) Bruce Wayne is believed to have murdered a young woman named Vesper Fairchild with all evidence pointing to him as thetrue culprit. An easily forgettable storyline, but one I enjoyed and decided to place here.

·         Batman: Hush (Collected in 2 volumes) – The big storyline that put Batman back in the main stream. Illustrated by top artist Jim Lee and written by industry veteran Jeff Loeb, Batman must tackle what seems like an endless assault by his villains all orchestrated by a brilliant master mind.

·         Superman/Batman (Series collected in trades) – Just throwing this in here as it was a series solely focused on the friendship/adventures of Batman and Superman with some interesting dynamics and big moments affecting the DC Universe.

·         Batman: War Drums/Games (Collected over 4 volumes)- A lot happens here, but the big spark is a new character Spoiler (who becomes Robin) accidently enacts a massive contingency plan Batman created to unite all gangs under the persona of Matches Malone. Things of course go all wrong, and when the dust settled the relationships between Batman and his allies in Gotham are drastically changed.

·         Infinite Crisis/Identity Crisis (mini series) – The event affected the DC universe (see DC history article), specifically Batman as this related to the return of a certain believed deceased character. Joe Chill once again exists in Batman’s history (Otherwise the event itself can be skipped concerning Batman).

·         Batman: Under the Hood/War Crimes (Collects Batman #635-650/Detective Comics 809-810) – The Return of Jason Todd as the Red Hood, as well as tying up loose ends from Batman War Games. Infinite Crisis has some ties into events of this series.

·         Batman and Son (Collects Batman #655-658) – Talia Al Ghul returns to reveal to Batman they had a son together-Damien Wayne.

·         Batman- Grant Morrison’s run (Collects a lot of Batman issues) – Writer extraordinaire Grant Morrison took over the Batman title for a number of years crafting a huge epic starting with Batman and Son and eventually ending with Batman: Incorporated (which didn’t really conclude until the New 52!) While Detective Comics had some really fun stories, Morrison’s Batman was dominating everything. Highly recommend just grabbing the entire run.

·         FINAL CRISIS (Miniseries) – Not Morrison’s best work, and mostly involved the investigation into the “New Gods” characters of the DC Universe. The real take away here is at the end, Batman seemingly dies. This leaves a void for who will pick up the mantle.

·         Batman: Battle for the Cowl (Miniseries) – After Batman’s death it seems a few different “allies” are looking to take up the title and carry on the legacy, but not everyone can live up to Bruce. In the end a NEW Batman is found. This takes place before Grant Morrison’s return of Bruce Wayne storyline.

·         Notable Mentions: While all the above stories were fantastic and easily read without TOO much background, something that can easily be lost (and I don’t think has been collected) is the tail end of Detective Comics before the NEW 52 began. Check out Scott Snyder’s early start on Batman with excellent artwork from JOCK.

THE NEW 52

For a better account of how DC Comics changed up their continuity and altered their timeline check out my review for the history of the DC Universe. The big take away, The Flash altered the past causing a very dark chaotic present. In his attempt to fix the timeline, something went wrong and while most of the DC Universe continuity stayed intact, a lot of characters underwent complete reboots (total change up of a character) or soft retcons (very minor alterations to a characters fictional history). Batman had a soft retcon. Many of the stories I just mentioned (and others) still “existed” but were slightly skewed. To what degree and how much was left up to whomever was writing the character at the time. The core Batman books were all renumbered starting with #1. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo took over Batman (and created an epic run-see my Batman Part 1 article), Tony Daniel took over Detective Comics, David Finch and Paul Jenkins on Batman: The Dark Knight (a forgettable series) and Green Lantern Corp dynamic duo Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi took over Batman and Robin. Each series lasted roughly 52-53 issues each. I’ll list just ingeneral some of the big stories:

·         Batman: Zero Year (Collects Batman Vol2 #21-23/Various Tie-Ins) The new origin of Batman and Gotham. Definitely start with this

·         Batman & Robin: Born To Kill (Collects B&R Vol2 #1-8) Establishes the Batman/Robin Dynamic in this revised DC Universe

·         Batman: Court/Night/City of Owls (Collects Batman Vol 2 #1-11/Various Tie-Ins) Epic story by Scott Snyder involving a illuminati like threat to Gotham.

·         Batman: Faces of Death (Collects Detective Comics Vol2 #1-7) Continues to Establish Batman’s place in the new 52, with the big moment being Joker having his face apparently cut off by new villain The Dollmaker.

·         Batman: Demon Star/Gotham’s Most Wanted (Collects Batman Inc. Vol 2 #1-13) So this one is a little tricky. It starts off still in the PRE-Flashpoint DC Universe as it continues Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. series. The second half jumps into the current New 52 timeline, wrapping up the series. The story is pretty wild but the big take away is the death of a major character.

·         Batman: Death of the Family (Collects Batman Vol2 #13-17/Various Tie-Ins) The Joker returns! In a dangerous and deadly way. He seems to know all of the Bat Family identities and has a sick game in store for them all. (Note this takes place before and during Morrison’s Batman Inc.)

·         Batman & Robin: Requiem (Collects various issues) – Batman and his crew mourn the loss of a dear ally, a loss Bruce doesn’t take easily.

·         Batman: Eternal (Collects Batman Eternal #1-52) – A mega yearlong event that took place while the main Bat titles all went on Hiatus. Batman is being outsmarted and played by a deadly adversary but it doesn’t seem to be anyone he can think of.

·         Batman & Robin: Hunt for Robin/Robin Rises (Collects Batman and Robin Vol2 #33-37) Keep in mind there was a point when the title of this series would be Batman & “Insert a Guest Character’s name” while Robin was away. This story line picks up the fifth Robin’s return and the changes that he’s undergone.

·         Batman: Endgame (Collects Batman Vol2 #35-40/Tie Ins) – The epic conclusion to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman run. Sort of there are other stories they did after this, but Endgame really is the big sendoff involving Batman and Joker.

·         Batman: Super Heavy (Collections Batman Vol2 #41-50) – When Endgame wraps, it seems once more Bruce is dead, and once more someone needs to step up to be Batman! This time it’s in the form of Commissioner James Gordon who through comic book logic is able to shape his body naturally into a fighting machine and tons a Mech Suit to help Battle crime. The story is pretty much terrible and came across as Snyder running out of ideas, BUUUT it does lead up to Bruce’s return and the reason why he’s so rejuvenated. The last two issues of the Batman Vol 2 helps set the slate clean for Tom King to take over during Batman: Rebirth.

·         Notable Mention: Batman played a pretty big role in the New 52 Justice League Relaunch as well, with the biggest moment being towards the end of the run when Batman ended up sitting on the new God Metron’s chair. (Metron is a “godly” like being who’s chair feeds him an unlimited amount of knowledge regarding everything). This Batman used the chair to discover a great many secrets, including who the Joker is. For more on this check out Justice League The Darkseid War.

That pretty much does it for the New 52 Batman. Honestly,the other series aside from Snyder’s Batman weren’t that great. David Finch’s The Dark Knight didn’t last past 30 issues, and was mostly forgotten about (despite a few interesting stories here or there and great artwork). Detective Comics mostly felt like a series that constantly was a Tie In to some other event taking place in another DC Comics book. The real runner up to Batman would be Batman & Robin as it had some significant storylines. A few moments to keep an eye out for are Forever Evil which had Nightwing get exposed as Dick Grayson and seemingly killed this lead into his own new series called Grayson. The Batwoman series, which now affects Detective Comics, and Justice League since it starred Batman but isn’t really crucial to the character. Those events affect his storyline in DC: Rebirth. Otherwise, if you were to ONLY stick with Batman in New 52 you’d be absolutely fine.

DC:REBIRTH

This brings us to the latest incarnation of the DC Universe, using the banner of “REBIRTH”. I go into further detail about what DC:REBIRTH is in my History of the DC Universe article, but as a quick recap:

To boost sales and adapt to the changing atmosphere of comics and movies, DC Comics cancelled almost all of their books with the intent to re-start the numbering system under this “tag line/banner” of Rebirth! Essentially, DC Comics felt during the run of the New 52 many of their characters lost aspects of their personality that made them enjoyable to fans to begin. The goal of the Rebirth was to give writers more freedom, and to bring forth the traits many fans felt were missing from their beloved characters. This was more of a soft reboot (remember, that means slight alterations to historical continuity, but nothing drastic) which allowed creators to open up new story ideas for the characters. Batman was affected in the following ways. Detective Comics returned to its original numbering system (this was done so the series could finally hit its 1000th issue), the series was also turned from a solo Batman book to a more “team” oriented series focusing on many of Batman’s younger allies led by Batwoman. The core title Batman was taken over by Tom King and shows Batman trying to deal with two super powered siblings who may or may not be the destruction of Gotham. Dick Grayson went back to being Nightwing, and although we don’t see him Damien Wayne is still Robin. While this iteration of the DC Universe is still fairly new I already can highly recommend checking out ALL Batman related books.

ALTERNATE REALITIES/EARTHS

Throughout DCComics publication history there have always been miniseries, or one off stories involving their characters in unique and alternate settings. These settings could take the form of wildly different historical settings, worlds, timelines, or whatever whacky idea the creator had in mind (see Neal Adams Batman: Odyssey series!). Some of these stories simply came and went, lacking any originality or long lasting effects. Others have become so loved that they stand out as some of the greatest Batman stories ever told, even though they are not considered within any set continuity. Here are a few stand outs I think any Batman fan would enjoy. Added bonus, since these take place within their own little worlds, there is even LESS of a need to have any background knowledge.

·         Frank Miller Verse (The Dark Knight series) – When Frank Miller created the Year One storyline, he set into motion a great many cogs to the big Batman wheel. His work was so loved; DC Comics brought him back to do his own miniseries. It was called the Dark Knight returns. Set in a dystopian future-Batman is much older and disgruntled than ever before. He faces off against mutants, Superman, the government, and of course the Joker. The miniseries was such a hit that DC Comics had Frank Miller create several sequels and prequels. Here is the proper reading order for those interested:

o   Batman: Year One (this storyline exists within Pre 52 Batman continuity and Frank Miller continuity-from this storyline history goes in very different directions)

o   All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder Vol1 (This series never got finished but had Jim Lee on art with Miller writing. Early days of Batman and Robin’s rather violent history together)

o   Spawn: Batman (Random Team up between IMAGE comics character Spawn and Batman-remained in continuity according to Frank Miller)

o   The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade

o   Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (super influential on Batman stories including the recent Superman vs Batman movie)

o   Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

o   Batman: The Dark Knight III: The Master Race

·         Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (One off book) – Considered the first “Elseworlds” (title given to stories existing Outside standard DC Fictional Continuity) this highly acclaimed story involves Batman existing in 19th century London.

·         Batman: Red Rain/Bloodstorm/Crimson Mist (One off books) – Batman has to deal with Vampires, getting bitten himself!

·         Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance (3 issue miniseries) – During the Flashpoint miniseries, one of the big alterations to the DC Universe world was that Bruce Wayne was shot and killed instead of his parents. Now his father, Thomas Wayne is running around as a much more violent, gun toting Batman.

·         Kingdom Come (Miniseries) – In a future where it seems more and more super beings are popping up and constantly fighting, the world appears set to implode. Superman comes out of retirement to try and keep the peace, as does Batman donning an awesome exo-skeleton suit. The idea of Batman using automated “Batmen” to fight crime because he can’t anymore, has been used to varying degrees a few time in other Batman related books.

·         Batman Beyond (Comics/Animated Show) Originally created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini as an animated show to follow after their own on the Batman Animated Series, the story and character had become so popular DC Comics decided to begin a “Beyond” timeline starring Terry Mcguinnes as Batman and many other “future” versions of their DC heroes.

·         Dark Claw (Amalgam Universe One Shot) – As a just for fun with their fans, DC and Marvel teamed up to create a miniseries seeing their companies characters interacting. One outcome was that some of these characters “merged” together. In this case, they took aspects of Wolverine and Batman and created Dark Claw. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds and was really fun to read.

·         Black Masterpiece (One off book) – Set during the Italian Renaissance, Batman is actually Lorenzo De’Medici which is a front for Leonardo Da Vinci (Bruce Wayne persona)

·         Batman: In Darkest Knight (One off book) – What if Bruce Wayne/Batman became a Green Lantern? Well this shows it.

·         Superman: Speeding Bullets (One off book) – What if instead of his regular parents finding him,instead Kal-El is found by Thomas and Martha Wayne. When their murder still happens, Clark decides to get revenge and becomes Batman! (so basically Batman with Superman powers).

·         Batman: The Arkhamverse (Video Games/Comics) – Video Game Developer Rocksteady created a brand new take on the Dark Knight for WB/DC Comics with Arkham Asylum. The game had gotten such critical acclaim (mostly for being the first “good” Batman game) that it spawned sequels, and comic book spinoffs thus creating its own little world.

There are probably a ton more great “alternate takes” on the character but the ones above really stand out as unique and interesting presentations. Other notable versions would be the various film depictions, TV shows (both live and animated), and the recent Lego versions.

 

BATMAN!

What Batman book should you read first? What story should you begin your journey into enjoying the Dark Knight? Well in all honesty you can pick any of the books listed in this article or my previous one and completely enjoy them! I’ve given a rough idea of some of the “bigger” storylines that had major effects on the character, and often doubled up as a strong story that a new reader could pick up and not be too lost. The beauty of comics is thereare no real “laws” when it comes to reading them. They simply exist to bring enjoyment and fun, and to give a temporary escape into a world of heroes and villains. I truly hope this article has helped you find a few stories to check out (most of which can be found at comic conventions or online at like Amazon.com) and please by no means take this as a “definitive” Batman list. The character has been around for more than 75 years, and played such a vital role in the DC Universe that he will appear in almost every character’s series at some point in time. There might be a fantastic Wonder Woman storyline involving Batman (see Wonder Woman: Hiketeia) or any other combination of characters. Feel free to sound off in the comments with some of your favorite Batman stories, and anything you’d recommend for a new or even hardcore reader!

-Jeremy Scully

Follow me on twitter @LRM_JEREMY

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.