Where to Start Reading – Batman
Recently I have been chatting to a few friends who occasionally pick up comic books. They maybe rent them from the library on the eve of a big Marvel or DC blockbuster movie just to learn a little more about the character. Perhaps the movies or TV shows have piqued their interest and they have began to explore a popular comic book franchise from there. The most frequent question I am asked, including on my radio show, is where do we start?
Batman is one of the most popular characters in the DC universe and for potential new readers it can often be difficult to know where to start. Batman has thousands of issues and appearances in stand alone graphic novels to contend with so confusion is understandable. I can reassure you that although Batman has an incredible publication history dating back to 1939, you certainly won’t need to read over 75 years of history to understand the Dark Knight.
Here’s a few of my tips on how to get started reading about one of the most powerful and iconic pop culture figures who has permeated successive generations.
Frank Miller’s Batman Series
Although he was already a comic book legend in the making long before tackling Batman, The Dark Knight Returns made Frank Miller a creative god. This title helped move the comic book medium to a darker and arguably a more sophisticated place. Frank Miller along with his contemporary Alan Moore helped bring a literary feel to comic book superheroes. The Dark Knight Returns has stayed within popular zeitgeist due to nods from DC blockbuster films such as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. As the years rolled on since the publication of this masterpiece, Miller has created successive titles which fleshed out a terrifying character inside a loose and expanding narrative. With Batman: Year One through to his most recent installment of the nocturnal detective’s story – Dark Knight III: The Master Race. Frank Miller has accomplished something which no other Batscribe has been able to achieve – covering Bruce Wayne through the eras of Batman’s inception to an era long past his retirement. If you are interested in a gritty, urban and politically controversial take on the Dark Knight, check out Miller’s catalogue on the DC Shop.
Batman : No Man’s Land
The transition of Batman from the 90’s to the early 2000’s was marked by this storyline. Building on the critical events from the 90’s story Knightfall where Batman was nearly killed by Bane. This story focused on a Gotham riddled with problems, ranging from the Plague then a massive Earthquake and Tsunami combination. This last catastrophe led DC to an interesting conjecture. What would happen if Gotham was effectively cut off from the rest of the world? This conjecture gave birth to a Gotham environment unlike any other we had seen in the Batman universe up to this point. A Gotham run by it’s rogues gallery, where the Joker gang fought with Two Face’s mob for control of territory and the Penguin exploited the misery of the populace for his own twisted gain. This is one of the most harrowing storyline narratives of the characters history and essential to understanding the Batman in the new millennium.
Hush was an incredible narrative which uncovered some of Bruce Wayne’s hidden past and forced him to deal with unresolved demons. It puts Batman through a gauntlet of some of his worst villains. He also faces down a Superman who is completely under Poison Ivy’s control and the beat down that Batman gives him in this story is one of the best sequences in the combined history of Batman and Superman. Through this narrative we can see Jeph Loeb’s great understanding for the Batman universe and the characterisation and tone of the (inf)famous characters will help newcomers understand the motivations of Gotham’s most famous inhabitants.
This is in no way an exhaustive list but possibly these are some of the best jumping off points for any potential Bat-fan.