In a world of brightly colored superheroes flying and swinging around comic book stores, Batman sets a strong precedent of a different kind of super-hero. Dark, brooding, and willing to go to the extreme to get what he’s after. Unlike most other super-heroes Batman is without powers, relying more on his wits and ingenuity than paranormal powers be they magical or genetic. Although people point to Superman as the world’s most popular hero, if you look at comic sales, movie grosses or even their shared publisher’s origin of its name – “D”etective “C”omics – Batman’s the man behind the goliath.
But with 70+ plus years of history to comb through and multiple series coming out each month, where do I start? You don’t need Oracle to help you out in that regard… you’ve got iFanboy. Here’s five entry points into the world of Batman, Bruce Wayne and Gotham City that’ll cover the bases for a rewarding experience. No utility belt required.
Batman: Year One: Although Batman’s origins has been told numerous times, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli take on the costumed crusader’s first year as Batman and turn into a seminal street-level story that has cast a long shadow on every Batman story to come. Both the Christopher Nolan Batman films as well as Scott Snyder’s current run on Detective Comics have their roots in this 1988 four-issue arc, and it touches not only on Batman but also his extended family of Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon and the Wayne family itself.
Batman: Arkham Asylum: Although he didn’t become the chief Batman writer until over twenty years after this came out, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum (with artist Dave McKean) took Gotham’s super villain prison and made it a character unto itself in Batman’s carnival-like world. In this graphic novel, Joker and other inmates of Arkham take over the prison and carve out a list of demands beginning and ending with one thing: Batman. Gotham’s crusader delves into the haunted halls of Arkham to save the hostages and put a stop to the rampage of his rogue’s gallery, but not without putting his own life to the test.The Killing Joke:
Gotham Central: In The Line of Duty: To get to know the man, you must know where he lives – and the late 90s series Gotham Central does that to the hilt. This series by writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka explore Gotham City through the eyes of its Special Crimes Unit, as they take on Batman’s biggest villains … and on occasion, Batman himself. Both Brubaker & Rucka have gone on to extensive careers in crime fiction in and out of the world of super-heroes, and Gotham Central remains a keystone in both their – and Batman’s story.
Batman: The Killing Joke: They say every hero is defined by his adversary, and who more perfectly defines that than the Joker? This seminal story transforms the comedic cackling criminal into a stone-cold force we know today. With the pointless shooting of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s inventive story took both the reader and the franchise to a new place and set up stories that live to this day. Bolland’s art in particular made the mold for how Joker would be depicted in the future, from Jim Lee to Jack Nicholson and on to Heath Ledger.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Batman would be in a far different place had Frank Miller never come along, but fortunately for us he did. In This futuristic story sets up Gotham City as hell on earth, with street gangs roaming the city and Batman missing for the past ten years. Much like the epic Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven, Bruce Wayne is pulled back in for one last mission – to save the city, despite whoever comes to stop him. The aged Batman enlists a new, female Robin and goes after cultish street gangs, criminals and even Superman himself to bring his city back from the brink.