My 5 Favorite ‘Batman’ Books of All Time (So Far)
Believe it or not, occasionally I feel like taking a break from offering commentary and geeking out over the latest nerdy bit of news to drop. When that happens I like to recharge myself with a good old-fashioned list, usually something personal because it’s so much more enjoyable and easier to write something that you’re passionate about and comes naturally. For this end, I’ve decided to start a new feature that we can all use to just write about whatever we want from a personal standpoint. I spent last night watching Batman: Under the Hood and reading through Grant Morrison’s Return of Bruce Wayne (don’t even get me started on that piece of…hrmmmmm.) so I sort of have bats on the brain (pun intended). As such, I’ve decided to start the first Personal Day off by throwing up this list of my five favorite Batman books of all time (so far, who knows what the future holds?). Hit the jump for the list! Assume spoilers follow.
The Batman is dead. Or so we’re led to believe (in reality, he’s been sent back in time because GRANT MORRISON happened. For those unaware, lately it seems like Morrison can’t write a single book that doesn’t involve time travel or multiverses). Without the Batman, Gotham is plunged into absolute chaos as heroes and villains alike scramble for control of the city and the right to assume the mantle of Batman. The reason I adore this book so much is how writer and artist Tony S. Daniel masterfully handles the handing of the torch, so to speak. Let’s face it, we all knew that Dick Grayson was going to ditch the Nightwing identity to claim is rightful place as Batman. It was just something that NEEDED to happen. Instead of writing a book that focused on the fight to have the title, or tried to play off some cliche’d lame mystery arc about who would be Batman, Daniel instead crafted the title to show the rise of Dick to the challenge. The book focuses on Dick coming to terms with what he has to do, and overcoming his doubts to take his place as Gotham’s new Batman. By crafting the title as the rise of Dick and his evolution from Nightwing to Batman, it makes the moment he dons that cowl for the first time all the more satisfying. You finish the book with a feeling that all is right and as it should be in the universe.
And then Grant Morrison took over the new Batman and Robin and completely ruined Grayson as Batman. You know what, let me explain exactly how I feel about Morrison right now so people don’t think I’m just a raving lunatic. All evidence to the contrary, it’s not a bias. I LOVE All Star Superman and Arkham Asylum. I’ve heard his run on X-Men is fantastic. I’m willing to give his Action Comics #1 in the upcoming New 52 a fair chance. But his “Batman opus” as people call it, is trash. Every single Morrison book involves time travel, over-complicated technical-sounding terms he probably made up, or multiverses. When it doesn’t involve those it mutates from plain confusing to just plain boring, and as a PS I’ve heard all the “just because you’re not smart enough don’t understand the words doesn’t mean it’s trash” arguments; you don’t know what the hell he’s talking about when it comes to his time travel and multiverse creatures either.
The bigger sin is that when his Batman work isn’t confusing as all hell, it’s boring. He managed to take a story that’s essentially about an amnesiac Bruce Wayne traveling forward through time to be a Batman-like figure in various time periods, something that could be absolutely legendary, and make it just plain boring.
All that being said, I’m open to suggestions for Morrison books that might change my mind. I will gladly read them and give them a fair chance; every writer has stellar work, and every writer has misses. Perhaps I’ve only been exposed to the misses, who knows?
Part of Bruce Wayne’s power and success is that no matter how insane the criminal, or how evil their plots, he can exorcise some sort of control over them and take them down. The beauty of Cataclysm and it’s follow-up event No Man’s Land is that it presents Batman with a threat to Gotham he can’t control: nature. A massive earthquake has absolutely crippled Gotham City, plunging it into a total wasteland that has been abandoned by the United States government. The dark knight’s city is dead. Cataclysm addresses the question no one thought to ask: what happens to the Batman without a Gotham City to protect? It really shines a light on how connected Batman and Gotham really are, as he fights and struggles with all of his might to bring Gotham back from the point of total destruction and shows us that Batman needs Gotham just as badly as Gotham needs him.
This book sounded like an absolute dream when I heard about it: Paul Dini, one of my favorite Batman writers, crafting a story featuring and elaborating upon Hush, who is one of my favorite villains, that was created by yet another one of my favorite Batman writers, Jeph Loeb? The entire idea is perfect, featuring more layers of awesome dreams than Inception. Thankfully the book did not disappoint, and it illustrates exactly what makes Hush such a wonderful and fascinating adversary for the Caped Crusader. By this point in the canon it’s almost impossible to get the drop on old Bruce, the man is prepared for every situation that could possibly come his way, but Tommy Elliot still manages to be six steps ahead of him and completely blindside Batman when his true intentions are shown.
Then we get to Dini’s fleshed-out backstory for Tommy Elliot/Hush, where we see the true brilliance of this book. It is so, so, so, so, SO common these days for books to make the villains sympathetic via backstory. It seems lately like every single villain isn’t such a bad guy, he was just a victim of consequence! Poor villains! /end sarcasm. What Dini decides to do with Elliot is not make him sympathetic; he makes the kid a complete monster. He orchestrates the death of his father, getting extremely angry when his mother survives the crash, and eventually murders her as well whilst taking off with her vast fortune. Now, I know what you’re saying. “But his dad would beat him and his mom did everything she could to keep him sheltered with her!” You’re right, they did. But here’s the thing: his best friend is Bruce Wayne, whose parents were at the time the most prestigious individuals in Gotham. You tell one of them what’s going on and the problem is fixed. No need to kill your dad. As for his mother? If you’re 25 years old and you’re still staying at home suffering because your mother tells you to, then you don’t need to kill her to escape. Walk away. Leave. Especially when your girlfriend at the time is a mob boss’ daughter. “But his mom, she cut him off of the fortune when he tried to leave!” So? Then he’s going to have to fend for himself or get help from his girlfriend, who was more than willing to help.
My point is, there were far more sane and logical solutions to Tommy’s situation. Yet he still chose to murder them, take their money, and abandon his lady. That doesn’t make you sympathetic; that makes you a monster. It’s a refreshing villain backstory, that’s all I’m saying, and why I love this title.
The definitive origin story of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. While I love the way writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli take the essential Batman origin and make it not only modernized, but believable, the real joy of this story is how they handle Jim Gordon. This book isn’t so much the origin for Batman; it’s the origin of the friendship between Batman and Gordon, and it transforms Gordon’s character into a respectable, beloved ally. Through Gordon we see the life on Gotham’s streets, as an ordinary citizen, while Batman examines Gotham like a puzzle from the rooftops. It’s a nice duality. For years people always joke about how Gordon could never figure out how Bruce Wayne was Batman, when he’s supposed to be a great detective in his own right. There’s a fantastic moment in this book where Bruce has allowed Gordon to see him without his mask, and it would seem his crusade is over. Gordon responds that he “can’t see very well without his glasses,” which is entirely plausible, and lets him leave. This changes Gordon from a moron that can’t piece Batman’s identity together into a man choosing to keep this secret in order to do what’s right for Gotham.
I was fortunate enough to see the adaptation of Year One at Comic-Con this year at it’s premiere as the latest in the DC Animated lineup, and I’m happy to say that it’s phenomenal. Everything I mentioned that myself and others love about the book is retained in the film, right down to the tone and pacing. Pre-order it now, you’ll be glad you did. It’s even on sale.
Lastly, we have a tie for my favorite. I don’t consider it a tie though, as I count Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween and Dark Victory as one large continuous story in two volumes. These two books are my favorite Batman books for a multitude of reasons. First off, they contain everything that is the essence of Batman. There’s mystery, detective work, badass entries designed to terrify criminals, that special kind of humor only the dark knight can deliver, the works. But where these books truly shine is in their portrayal of secondary characters. The Long Halloween is seen by many, myself included, as the one and only definitive origin story of Two-Face. Half the reason I adored Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was because it was essentially The Long Halloween on cinema. All I can really say is, read it. Now.
I have similar reasons for loving Dark Victory. It feels like a perfect continuation for The Long Halloween and much as it re-wrote and created a definitive origin for Two-Face, it does the same for Robin, the Boy Wonder. Once you finish reading it, the idea of Robin doesn’t seem cheesy or insane, and Robin himself is likable instead of being “that annoying sidekick.”
Well, those are my favorites. If you guys have any suggestions on what I should read based on these, or just have some books you plain enjoy, please comment! I’d love to read them.