Despite not being the first, it’s safe to say that Batman is one of the most popular superheroes of all time. The star of campy 60s tv shows, multiple big budget films, critically acclaimed video games, generation defining cartoons, and almost 80 years of comics. It’s easy to become engrained with the world surrounding the Batman without ever picking up a book, but those who choose to, know the great depth and wealth of stories available. While the works of Alan Moore (The Killing Joke), Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns), and Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylam: A Serious House on Serious Earth) are often among the first recommended to new comers. They are far from the only must-read material.
With 78 years of history, here are 9 stories NOT by Moore, Morrison or Miller, that are more than worth your time…
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996 – 97) by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Set early in Batman’s career, The Long Halloween follows a yearlong investigation into a mysterious killer known as Holiday. A vicious killer who strikes ever holiday, once a month. With the assistance of Captain Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman races against the clock to figure out who it is that’s committing the murders, and try to save the next victim. Along the way we encounter many members of Batman’s famous rogue gallery, including Scarecrow, The Joker, and Poison Ivy, as well as the slow transformation and creation of Two Face.
Available here: Batman: The Long Halloween by Loeb, Jeph (2011) Paperback
Batman: The Cult (1988) by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson
Possibly one of the most brutal Batman stories written, The Cult focusses on the kidnapping and attempted brainwashing of Batman by Deacon Blackfire, and his army of homeless followers. During Batman’s absence, Gotham city has been driven into turmoil, as politicians are assassinated by Blackfire’s followers. Attempts are made on Commissioner Gordon’s life, leaving him hospital bound, and martial law is declared in Gotham, as the city decays. The books tone is helped phenomenally by the art of the late Bernie Wrightson, and is a story that is remarkably hard to shake after reading.
Available here: Batman The Cult TP
Batman Hush (2002 – 2003) by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee
Batman is being stalked. The culprit’s identity, unknown. His intent seems to sabotage Batman’s every move, and something about him seems to know Bruce Wayne intimately. Complete with a large number of guest appearances by Batman’s rogue gallery, and the inclusion of Superman, Hush contains an all-star cast, for a truly interesting mystery. Including the incredible detail of Jim Lee’s art, the story is rather hit and miss among fans, but still an interesting read just to uncover the mystery.
Available here:Batman Hush Complete TP
Batman Black and White (1996) by Various
A wonderful example of what happens when you give creative minds just a few pages, and complete free rein of the Batman world and characters. With an incredible array of talent from Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series), Neal Adams (Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore), Simon Bisley (Judge Dredd), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Alex Ross (Kingdom Come), and more! It’s hard to find a more intriguing, varied, and fascinating creative pool of tales.
Batman: New 52 Run (2011 – 2016) by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
It’s hard to pick just one story from this incredible run. The opening arc Court of Owls was an unbelievable debut. Death of the family was chilling to the bone. Zero Year gave us a truly interesting interpretation of Batman’s first year active. Even Jim Gordon’s turn in the suit was notably interesting, even if a little strange. The 52 issues of Batman from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are a must read, particularly for those looking to inject just a little bit of horror to their Batman. The pair are currently re-teaming for the Dark Metal event, but it’s this run that made them both synonymous with the Bat.
Batman and Robin: New 52 Run (2011 – 2015) by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Despite his role as a surrogate father figure to all the Robins. When it comes to the 5th Robin, Damian Wayne, there’s no surrogate about it. The 40-issue run by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason explores Bruce and Damian’s relationship with one another while working as partners. The battle-hardened Batman having to work with, and train his own bloodthirsty son. One who sees himself as greater than his father. Ready to kill those in his way, boast of his assassination skills. Tomasi and Gleason are masters at the father/son dynamic. Something they are currently exploring over in the Superman title. But their work with Bruce and Damian stands just as strong.
Detective Comics #27 (1939)/Batman #1 (1940)
On the list more for history buffs than anything, but still two incredibly important issues in Batman’s life time. His first appearance in 1939, and the first appearance of both The Joker, and Catwoman in 1940. Certainly not the best that Batman has to offer, but hugely important. Learning the history behind these two issues, does add an extra layer of enjoyment. Did you know, The Joker was supposed to die in his first appearance? Or the story of Bill Finger, the long ignored co-creator and writer of these historic stories.
Available here: Batman The Golden Age TP Vol 1
Batman: Dark Victory (1999 – 2000) by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
A sequel to The Long Halloween, though heavily enjoyable on its own. The same creative team takes the next step in Batman’s early years, and tackles the origin of the young Dick Grayson. The first Robin. The story deals heavily with the themes of isolation and loneliness, especially after the events of The Long Halloween. Affecting not only Batman, but the now traumatised and orphaned Dick Grayson, and the struggling Commissioner Gordon.
Available here: Batman: Dark Victory (New Edition)
Batman: Death in the Family (1988 – 89) by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo
Heavily controversial at the time it was released, and still a major talking point when discussing fan outcry and involvement. Death in the Family is a defining point in Batman’s career. The death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Another death that Bruce couldn’t prevent. A death he feels heavily responsible for. Death in the Family also holds a significant point in pop culture history as the moment where fans killed Robin. DC held a call-in poll to help decide whether or not Jason would make it out of the story alive, dying with just a hand full of votes separating the options. The death of Jason is an important moment in not only Batman’s history, but in comics and pop culture. Much like Detective Comics #27 and Batman #1, not a great story, but hugely important.
Available here: Batman: A Death in the Family (Batman (1940-2011))
These are just a handful of amazing stories of the Caped Crusader to try, aside from The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Killing Joke, or Batman and Robin. Batman’s history now spans almost 80 years, and it’s incredibly unlikely that his popularity will fade. There are still plenty of stories to be told in Gotham.
Avoid All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder….
(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine. I have not read every Batman story in existence.)
While the properties are everywhere in the 21st century, comics are still one of the hardest mediums to get started with. Especially if you want to dive into the mainstream stuff, such as Marvel and DC. With the use of the internet, you can make the job a little easier for yourself. You can look up character history, cool stories, and maybe get an idea of what you want to read. But it can still be over whelming, with nearly 100 years of comic book history. Enter, YouTube! Through YouTube, it’s never been easier for you to stumble across great comic book content. There are countless Comic Book channels, giving you brief histories of key characters. Run downs of major or recent storylines. Tips on collecting and preserving. Even channels doing fun comic related games, and dares. All you have to do is quickly type ‘comic book’ in the YouTube search engine, and there you go! However, these channels can start to blur together after a time. The same brief histories, of the same characters, feeding back the same information till you can recite it from memory.
Since launching their first Comic Misconceptions video on March 26th, 2013. Scott and the Nerdsync crew have worked hard to deliver quality, fun and informative videos for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a well-read veteran, who can recite ever single Lantern oath from memory. Or a movie going fan, who wants to break into the source material. Nerdsync breaks down their material to be completely accessible to even the newest of readers. Beyond that, their choice of subject is far and wide. Giving nice little twists on the now stable Comic Book/YouTube formula. You want a history of Superman? Not only will they give it to you, they will go through the real-life reason for his creation, and the story behind that. When a film comes out, and every channel is scrambling to bring you a funny story or origin relating to the characters involved. Nerdsync proves their nerdy worth by talking about science, history, mythology and psychology. There is a reason why the Nerdsync slogan is ‘helping you grow smarter through comics’!
The show’s host, one Scott Niswander, brings a fun, passionate and energetic feel to the show. Encouraging his audience to get involved, create their own content, and start discussions. The show prides itself on its community of ‘loveable nerds’, banning together to help pool together resources, create on going jokes, and sometimes, just taking to the internet to spread their love of comics. Over the 4 years since Nerdsync burst on to the scene. Other shows and creators have taken to the channel, and added their own little segments, connecting to their own work. Giving us an even greater variation, to an already wonderful channel. We have Hass with Comicana, bringing us insightful looks at how comic pages work. Exploring the flow of panels, pacing and tone, using recent books, and well-known classics. We are given a dose of legal history with Joel in Super Suits, breaking down the insane history of comic book lawsuits. Not to mention the fantastic cameo and cross over appearances from the like of Auram, Ricky of Stewdippin, and Mike of PBS Idea Channel.
What makes Nerdsync stand apart, is its dedication to education through comics. In the world of academic, comics have a surprising and glorious history. They have been the subject matter when talking about so many real-world events. Including politics, genetics, physics, mythology, and pseudoscience. While these concepts, books and papers, may seem dry and none accessible to outside readers. Nerdsync delivers compelling, interesting, and outright fun material, that inspires and entertains the audience. It’s hard to deny the number of comics, characters, theories, and principles you will be exposed to, without realising it. And, you will enjoy every second of it.
“Holy here we go again Batman!”
Six issues in to the Super Sons series, and it’s time to start the boys second arc. One that explores not only the super sons team, but introduces Jon to the Teen Titans! After an issue off, the wonderful Peter Tomasi returns to writing, and the fun and energetic art of Jorge Jimenez explodes off the page.
After the previous issue, we find the Kent’s living in Metropolis, and Jon preparing for a night of super heroics, and a chance to test his ever-growing powers. Tomasi is fantastic at highlighting the family dynamic of the Kent household. Even when confined to a handful of panels, their interactions are perfect.
Jon: “Come on, it’s FRIDAY – Damien’s Dad lets him stay out all night.”
Clark: “Damian’s Dad dresses like a bat and gets hit in the head 28 times every night. So maybe not the best argument.”
After the first arc of Super Sons, and the in-between issue, this is the first time we can really see Lois and Clark’s thoughts on Jon’s team up with Damian, and putting himself in harm’s way without Superman around to save him. There moment together as Jon leaves, adds to Clark’s development as a father, and shows, not only that he is learning from his own past, but the example his own father set.
As with the previous 5 issues, and there appearances together in Superman, Damian and Jon play off each other with an incredible beat to their dialogue. As they take to the streets to fight crime, Damian’s more harsh and darker upbringing comes out almost instantly, jumping to conclusions, such as jay walking quickly turning to store robbery, while Jon, despite being the younger of the pair, acts as the voice of reason between the two.
The Teen Titan’s introduction here works remarkably well, with Beast Boy acting as his usual jokey self, appearing as a cat beside Jon, just after Jon rescues neighbourhood cats, almost rubbing in Jon’s more wholesome and ‘uncool’ roots. The moment the Teen Titans show off, there is an immediate change in how Jon is treated. Robin, while still cocky and commanding, takes on a far more authoritative and constructed tone, almost hammering in Jon’s younger age, as though the work Jon and Damian do, is below actual Super heroics. It seems that even being the son of Superman doesn’t grant you all the privileges. The abandonment of Jon is even commented on by Starfire, despite his abundance of power, he is still just a ten-year-old kid. Despite Jon’s almost carefree attitude, it’s clearly shown that it bothers him, providing a very interesting look at Jon as an average ten-year-old. Upset at not being invited, feelings of being left out.
Despite the book itself focusing on the adventures of Damian and Jon, this issue spotlights the Teen Titan’s incredibly well, in a brief encounter with Atom-Master and Chun Yull, the team’s dynamics and how they work off each other are defined and played with. Something that is remarkable to see in such a short space of time. This arcs villain rears his head, and while his appearance is brief, his impact hammers in the theme of age and youth in this issue, and possibly the entire arc. Damian’s feelings of superiority due to his older status and training, may well be a hindrance to him here.
Damian: “Weird. No one is answering.”
Jon: “Who are you calling?”
Damian: “My Team. I have more responsibilities tonight than just us.”
Jon: “Sounds super-important if they’re ignoring your calls.”
Damian: “They’re raw. Young. I’m still working on them. One day maybe you’ll even be ready to be a Titan.”
This arc, in the first issue at least, is shaping up to be an interesting one when it comes to growing, not only Jon, but especially Damian as characters. While it’s fun and interesting to see their personalities play off of each other, they need to grow. Especially Damian. The added benefit of this issue, is a curiosity to explore the current Teen Titans book. The team makes enough of an impact here, as well as showcases another side to Damian, that certainly leads to a desire to check out their solo title.
As the start of a new arc, this issue is a perfect jumping on point for new readers, as well as intriguing set up for things to come.
Comics have had this stigma following them for years. That they are created solely for children and the illiterate. Comics are primarily known for their colourful characters and leaps in logic, and because of this, for years, it was hard for people to shake that mindset. By 2017, we have entire film and game franchises based on the world of comics. While the print media doesn’t get as much attention as it should, the franchises and culture spawned from their pages have spread worldwide, to every culture and corner of the world. Pop culture has taken on a life of its own, and intertwined itself with our own. With characters we can all connect with, or at least recognise, some have gone on to use these familiar grounds to tell their own personal stories. To help them overcome terrible situations, and to impart their message to those that shouldn’t have to suffer in silence.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story – Battling Depression and the Aftermath of Assault.
Paul Dini is responsible for one of the most beloved animated comic series of all time, Batman: The Animated Series. Having been a part of Warner Bros. Animation department, working on Animaniacs, and Tiny Toons, as well as creating the widely popular character of Harley Quinn. Paul Dini is practically a veteran of pop culture. In his 2016 book, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, with art by Eduardo Risso, Dini tells a very personal tale. Discussing not only his life long battle with depression, but an incident one night that shock him to his very core, and caused such physical harm, that he found himself in hospital, requiring major surgery. Dark Night tells Dini’s incredibly personal story about how pop culture, and specifically Batman, has helped shape his life, and got him through that painful point in time. Dark Night explores the importance of pop culture. How we use figures in our lives, the real and the fictional, to personify our demons. The idea of the Scarecrow telling us to give into fear. The Joker, mocking us for weakness. But how our heroes can knock some sense into us, and act as our guiding light out of darkness.
It’s A Bird – The fear of inevitable illness and worthlessness.
Steven T. Seagle is a comic writer who has just been given every comic writers dream, the chance to write Superman. However, Seagle is nowhere near excited, due to his inability to connect to Superman. The idea of Superman brings to his mind his fears of death, long term genetic illness, and loss, due to what happened during his first encounter with a Superman comic. Steven relays to the reader how he came to understand a disease he fears, his strained relationship with his father, and his feelings of worthlessness. It’s a Bird provides a touching semi-autobiographical story that explores mortality. The cultural significance of the Icon, the importance of Superman, and the power of an idea. The book follows Steven while he battles his own memories, and talks to those around him, asking what Superman means to them.
Something Terrible – Childhood Sexual Abuse and Breaking the Cycle
Sexual abuse is one of the worse things someone can experience, particularly at a young age. Your sense of self and safety are corrupted, and you feel like you can never trust those around you. Dean Trippe is one man who suffered such a terrible ordeal in childhood, and sought comfort in his love of Batman. However, he hears of the cycle of abuse, that ‘the abused becomes the abuser’, and as he grows up, marries, and has a son of his own, he lives with a metaphorical gun to his head, in fear that it may be true. Through this short book, Trippe explores what happened to him, the impact it had on his life, and decides to draw himself a new version of events. This stunning book acts as a reminder to all affected, that they are not alone. That even their fictional loves, in Trippe’s case Batman, can be used to help in the healing process. Trippe portrays the reality of the events in a slightly off black and white tone, only to explode in colour when the world of pop culture comes to young Dean’s aid, in a single page spread that brings a tear to the eye. While the comic is available online for anyone to see, the printed version contains a touching added epilogue of Dean ‘returning the favour’ for Batman.
We all deal with trauma in different ways. Sometimes it’s hard to find a comfort, and easy to feel like you are alone. But these stories exist to prove that it is possible to find a way out, and that no matter your coping method, what world you choose to live in. You are not alone.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso is available in both Hardcover and Paperback through DC’s Vertigo Imprint. Available on Amazon.
It’s a Bird by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen is available in Paperback with an out of print Hardcover. Published through DC’s Vertigo Imprint. Available on Amazon.
Something Terrible by Dean Trippe is available in Hardcover from Iron Circus Comics. Available on Amazon.
DC’s New 52, now that it’s at its end, can be seen for what it was. A failed cash grab to try and rope in an older audience, and move the characters in, what they thought was a darker, more appealing direction, while forgetting who they are. Some good titles did come out of it, the Batman line springs to mind including Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleeson’s Batman & Robin. However, the rest of the DC universe moved away from its strengths. Particularly characters such as Superman and the Blue Beetle. Overall, the New 52 did its job, brought in a new audience, mostly for Snyder’s Batman, but it also served another purpose. To show DC exactly what they should be. DC Rebirth not only acts as an introduction to the new titles, but as an acknowledgement from DC that there was a problem.
While the DC Rebirth one shot, could have been as simple as 20 pages giving seemingly clever allusions to plot points we already know. The one-shot instead gives us a wonderful look at the reshaping of the DC universe, through the eyes of an outsider, and a truly touching story of love. The story is narrated throughout by the pre-flashpoint Wally West, Kid Flash, as he tries to return to a world that has forgotten him. First to Batman, trying to bring up the events of Flashpoint, hoping to spark a memory of his existence, before being pulled away by the speed force as he fails. As Wally travels through this world, looking for his lighting rod, his tether to this world, we see the New 52 through his eyes. His comments feel more like an acknowledgement from Geoff Johns that it had problems, that it was missing what made these heroes iconic.
“I have so many questions. Left unanswered. The history I know continues to echo. Seeing everything. I realize it wasn’t ten years that was stolen from us. It was love.”
As Wally comments on the changes, we see little details starting to correct themselves. Friendships being reformed, events being set up. While Wally’s journey is essentially an excuse to show off all the heroes and give hints to their possible stories that lie ahead, it’s his commentary that makes it worth reading. Finally, Wally’s encounter with Barry Allen, The Flash, just as he is starting to fade away, is both emotional and triumphant. Watching Wally give up on being part of this new world, excepting the new Kid Flash, giving him his blessing, and thanking Barry for a wonderful like, is heart-breaking. The moment where Barry remembers him, only for a second, and pulls him through. Breaking down, franticly apologising for ever forgetting his dear friend and sidekick. The image of Flash and Kid Flash embracing is triumphant. At once emotional in context, and standing for everything DC needs to be again. Even for a none Flash reader, it’s a tender moment.
“Thank you for an amazing life. Thank you for your kindness. For your inspiration. For being there for me so many times. For now. The last time. You were right Barry. Every second was a gift. That’s why I won’t die in anguish. I’ll go with love in my heart. Good-bye Barry.”
The books epilogue has become a talking point more so than anything, the reveal of the Comedian’s iconic smiley face button buried in the wall of the Batcave. As well as the final page taking dialogue from the final book of Watchman. While it’s interesting to see, and certainly sets up future events that are sure to ‘shake up’ the universe at some point. However, they feel forced in, just to give fans something to salivate over, and to debate franticly, up until the time the point is revealed. Luckily, it takes nothing from the overall story, and acts simply as a quick set up.
Written by Geoff Johns and pencilled by Gary Frank. The DC Rebirth One-Shot is more than worth the read, even outside of a set up for the new line. Giving a complete story as well as hints for future events across the line. For those interested The DC Rebirth Deluxe Edition is certainly worth the money, with some wonderful extra pages. Worth it for any DC fan, or novice alike.