With wave after wave of comic book movies hitting theatres, interest in superhero characters has probably never been higher in the mainstream. Some people who’ve familiarized themselves with the big screen versions of the Avengers or the Justice League may be tempted to delve into the comics, but that can be intimidating. Most of the iconic superheroes in the industry have decades of stories behind them, so new readers may have no idea where to begin. With that in mind, Kyle and I have decided to publish recommendations for new comics readers, jumping-off points, so-to-speak, for understanding the basics of the characters in question.
This week, we’ll cover Batman. With three-quarters of a century’s worth of history, there’s a lot to know about the character, but the good news is most of the truly important moments in Bat-canon aren’t that old, comparatively speaking. Here’s my list of graphic novels and/or story arcs you can read to get all you need to about Batman and the world of Gotham.
Year One (written by Frank Miller/illustrated by David Mazzucchelli)
Year One is pretty much what you’d expect from the title. It’s the story of Bruce Wayne’s beginnings as Batman, his first year. It covers his struggle with the crime families that predate the arrival of the supervillains, as well as his conflict with a corrupt Gotham Police Department. Parts of it aren’t really considered canon anymore, or never were, but modern canon never seems to stray too far from what Frank Miller established here. This is also a great story for understanding the dynamic between Batman and commissioner Gordon.
The Killing Joke (written by Alan Moore/Illustrated by Brian Bolland)
This is one of the most famous Batman stories ever told. It’s a window into The Joker, and a brief insight into the dynamic between hero and villain. This one comes with a warning to readers who are sensitive to the topic of sexual abuse, as Barbara Gordon, Jim’s daughter and alter ego of Batgirl, is shot and photographed in various stages of undress by The Joker. Do you remember Christopher Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight? The Joker wanted to prove that Harvey could be corrupted, made as insane as he is. That concept is straight out of The Killing Joke, only the target isn’t Harvey. It’s Jim Gordon, and he uses his daughter to achieve that. The Killing Joke also is the jumping off point to Barbara’s time as the character called Oracle, which is often referenced in Batman comics.
Hush (written by Jeph Loeb/illustrated by Jim Lee)
This one is a solid read, and good for beginners for a couple of reasons. First, because as Jeph Loeb is wont to do, it runs through just about the entire Batman Rogues Gallery in the course of the story. You’ll get a little bit of pretty much everyone here. Second, because this book also has an appearance by Superman, and the dynamic between Batman and Superman is one of the more fun things to consider in modern DC comics.
The Long Halloween (written by Jeph Loeb/illustrated by Tim Sale)
This is just a great Batman book in general, but it’s also a good introduction to another one of Batman’s iconic rogues, Two-Face (Harvey Dent). This is also a great read for anyone looking to explore Catwoman as a character.
Knightfall (written and illustrated by various)
This one is a bit of cheat as it refers to a long arc within the comics, but one that is often called upon in modern Batman storytelling. Remember when I referenced the Christopher Nolan movies? Well, this one is what The Dark Knight Rises draws from most. It’s the story of Batman having his back broken by Bane, his recovery, and his reclamation of the Batman mantle. It’s actually not one of my favorites, but it’s worth reading to get a bigger picture of the network that is The Bat Family, and why Bane holds a special place among Bruce Wayne’s enemies.
Death in the Family (written by Jim Starlin/illustrated by Jim Aparo)
This one isn’t to be confused with Death of the Family (Snyder/Capullo). Don’t get me wrong, Death OF the Family is terrific, but it’s not for this list. Death IN the Family is an important arc for Batman because it covers the death of Robin. If you’re new to Batman Comics, you may not realize there have been many Robins. In Death in the Family, Batman’s second Robin, Jason Todd, is murdered by the Joker. In later comics, Jason Todd’s death is undone, and the character exists today as Red Hood, but understanding the history established in Death in the Family is key to understanding that dynamic within the Bat Family.
That’s my list for new readers of Batman. How do some of our seasoned Batman readers feel about it? Did I miss any? Did I include some you don’t agree with? Challenge me to a duel, or maybe just tell us in the comments.