No other characters have such a massive amount of stories written about them as Superman and Batman. Heck, just with their titular series, there’s 773 issues each. With Detective Comics (only starring Batman) and Batman combined, there’s 1681 issues as of publication date. So, where do you even start with that ridiculously towering number!? Good thing Capeless Crusader has an in house comic historian to guide you through the confusing world of comics. Batman, whether he’s dark and brooding or light and cheerful, is iconic and tops most lists of favorite comic characters. His rich background is based on believable, if lofty ideals, and he is one of the most accessible and easy to like heroes in modern comics. For those reasons, we’ll be taking a look at The Batman in this week’s Point of Entry.
Now, you could start with the very beginning, and I recommend you read at least Detective Comics #27, only to see the very birth of the character of Batman. Traditionally, Detective Comics had more than one continuous story contained within it’s pages. During the early days, around five stories were contained in the anthology series per issue, but over time, the stories got more narrative and lengthy, eventually focusing on it’s breakout star: Batman. Over a hundred continuous issues of Batman’s Detective Comics appearances can be found collected in DC’s Archive Edition series, collecting issues 27 to 171 in 8 volumes. The Archive Editions also collect issues 1 through 37 of Batman’s self titled outing. If you want some Golden Age camp and to see many character’s first appearances, this is a good way to go. You can watch the evolution of the character from serious vigilante taking on street crime and the mob to happy mentor foiling the goofy villain of the month. It should go without saying, but, don’t expect amazing writing going this far back.
As detailed in last week’s Point of Entry, Crisis on Infinite Earths is a great start for the DC Universe, and it’s also a great place to start for Batman’s greatest stories. The narrative point of entry is my preferred way, as it’s the biggest and easiest. As the name would suggest, the narrative way is focused on story, as such you should start with Batman: Year One, published 1987. This four issue story written by Frank Miller details, appropriately, the first year of Batman’s time as a vigilante, as well as James Gordon transferring to Gotham’s police force. Year One has many “sequels”, but the only two you should be concerned with are The Man Who Laughs and The Long Halloween. The Man Who Laughs directly continues the ending of Year One with the first meeting of the Joker and Batman. The Long Halloween is a thirteen issue series that takes place over the course of a year while Batman investigates a series of murders while trying to prevent a gang war between two major mobs. It has a direct sequel with Dark Victory, which happens around a year later. Dark Victory wraps up most of the plot threads and character storylines introduced in Year One, marking this as a fine stopping point for the intro to Batman’s early years.
Beyond the intro to the early years, there was a very interconnected feel to the Batman series of books, going from the 90s to the early 00s. But before that, Batman got grim and dark, with a Robin dying in A Death in the Family, and the Joker shooting Batgirl in The Killing Joke. Both of these are Joker centric, and required reading for any self respecting Batman fan. During the interconnected decade of stories, Batman was replaced in Knightfall, one of the most well known Batman crossovers. A new villain enters Gotham, determined to defeat Batman. Everyone knows that Bane breaks the bat’s back, leaving a decimated and broken Bruce Wayne to leave the mantle of Batman for almost a year. This allows a new person to take it up, but things go awry. Knightfall is collected in three volumes, totaling 1948 pages. After two years, the Batfamily of books went through a weird period of almost four years of continual story, starting with Contagion. Contagion led to Legacy, Legacy to Cataclysm, Cataclysm to No Man’s Land. No Man’s Land is one of the longest crossovers for Batman, clocking in at a complete total of 80 issues and 2088 pages. DC has yet to do another story on this scale for a single family of books, and for good reason. Fans were exhausted with crossover fatigue, and the editorial team was so overworked, it caused one editor to retire three years early.
One of the indisputable rock stars of the comic world, Grant Morrison, was entrusted with the main story of Batman for seven years. Despite such a long time, there’s a relatively small amount of issues. That’s not necessarily such a bad thing, as Grant Morrison is one of the most meticulous writers in all of comicdom. Morrison’s Dark Knight tales are amongst the most essential to the current issues, as his run went through untouched during the New 52 relaunch. There’s some conflicting story elements, such as Final Crisis had to happen so The Return of Bruce Wayne could happen, but Final Crisis didn’t happen in the New 52. Most of these conflicting elements went away when DC brought the complete multiverse back with their Convergence storyline last year. Morrison began his run in a bold way, by introducing the biological son of Bruce Wayne, Damian Wayne. The story Batman and Son lays the ground work for Morrison to “kill” Batman in (my personal favorite) Batman R.I.P. Dick Grayson, also known as Robin and Nightwing takes over the mantle in Batman & Robin until The Return of Bruce Wayne, after which started a new, global series Batman, Incorporated. That series lasted through the New 52 relaunch and finished off Morrison’s legendary run of Batman. Since a great deal of Morrison’s tales relate to the Batman’s personality in the New 52, that brings us to the next point of entry.
Fans had very mixed reactions to the New 52, some claiming it was an unnecessarily dark and brutal world, lacking the heart of the previous DC universe. I found that to be quite the opposite with the Batman titles, with Bruce interacting with his son, and several of my favorite interactions with Alfred. The main series written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo is certainly one of my favorite runs on a title by one team, and it’s the perfect point of entry for Batman. All ten volumes are pulse pounding action thrillers, any one of which would make a perfect summer movie. Despite their high octane action, Snyder’s run has a great deal of emotion. Whether it’s Alfred sobbing, begging Bruce to stop, or Bruce waxing poetic about the city, you truly get sucked into the world, and there’s almost a melancholy feeling left when you finish it all. You really are missing out if you haven’t read the New 52 Batman series.
With DC Rebirth being a reality for a month now, every character has gone through some change. The change for Batman is that his crimefighting family has grown, with a potential new sidekick, villains turning good, and mysterious superpowered beings showing up. This point of entry is still brand spankin’ new, with every issue still on the racks at your local comic shop. Only four issues between Batman and Detective Comics have come out during the new Rebirth initiative, and almost no knowledge is needed to really have fun with the titles. Batman is dealing with trying to find the identity of the Joker, once and for all, leading him to team up with a bunch more heroes in Gotham City.
A small aside: I really recommend Batman: Hush, which is a self contained, year long detective story that will have readers guessing every step of the way. It just didn’t really fit anywhere, but it’s a great start.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this week’s Point of Entry. Be sure to check back next Friday for another in depth look at a series worthy of digging into.
See you in the funny pages – Andy