With “The Dark Knight Rises” only 12-hours away, Cameron, a Batman fan-man (that’s right, I’m a man, not a boy) runs off a list of the five best comic book story lines of The Caped Crusader.
When I sat down to start writing this, I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it make more sense to write a five best Batman movies of all-time column, seeing as TDKR is releasing somewhere around midnight, tonight?” Then the stark realization came over me that it would be damn near impossible to get past four in the five best Batman movies of all time. 1. The Dark Knight, 2. Batman Begins 3. (only cause I haven’t seen it yet) TDKR, and 4. Batman from 1989. After that it kind of just becomes a battle for which one doesn’t take as large of a crap on everything Batman is supposed to represent. The one from 1966 could be number 5, but only due to its comedic value with things like shark repellent and the factor that the whole United Nations is turned into colored dusts. Goddammit that movie is ridiculous.
Anyways, on to the list of the top five comic book story lines in Batman lore, ever.
5. Batman R.I.P – By Grant Morrison
First on our list is an entry by one of comics more polarizing writers, Grant Morrison. Morrison is believed to either be the man that saved the X-Men, or destroyed the X-Men depending on how you look at it. Anytime Morrison has gotten his hands on any established characters he always finds a way to incite nerd-boy rage with the ideals he establishes in his versions of the Character. The biggest nerd-boy-rage instigator was the ridiculous appearance of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh in “R.I.P”. The trigger word “zur-en-arrh”, which is muttered by Batman’s then girlfriend Jezebel Jet, sends Batman into a coma where the Black Glove, a Illuminati-esque group of villains, infiltrates all aspects of Batman’s life. They dump Bruce Wayne/Batman on the streets where Wayne meets a homeless man by the name of Honor Jackson (it’s later revealed that this homeless man overdosed on drugs and Wayne has been taking life lessons from a ghost, good life lessons nonetheless). Jackson helps Wayne get on his feet. After all this it is revealed that Jet and the Black Glove were working together. and that the leader of the Black Glove, is none other than….Thomas Wayne! Nope just kidding, it is actually an actor who used to be a double for Thomas Wayne (Batman’s dead ass dad) who knows Brucey boys’ dark little secret. Batman of course kicks some ass and digs his way out of his own grave, but it’s the subtle and sometimes outrageous twists and turns that make R.I.P a must read.
4. Batman: The Long Halloween – By Jeph Loeb
If you read comic books and you’re reading this, and you haven’t read “The Long Halloween” go do that, right now! Okay, you back, good. The long Halloween was one of the major influences on Christopher Nolan’s Batman, to the loosely based Two-Face plot, too the entire Falcone crime family, it’s all very obvious that Nolan was definitely reading ‘Long Halloween’ when he sat down to pen his Batman. The underlining themes are all there, the whole “decent men living in an indecent time,” feeling that is muttered by Harvey Dent/Two-Face, the slow destruction of the mob by an unknown psychopath and Batman. In Nolan’s Batman, the Joker is the unknown psychopath, who operates almost as a sort of urban legend; where as in ‘Long Halloween’ the unknown psychopath is known as the holiday killer, more operational from the shadows and is unknown through the majority of the comic seeing as it’s the mystery Batman, Gordon and Dent are trying to solve as well as bring down the mob influence in Gotham City. Even the scene with the burning of Falcone’s cash was in this first, granted it’s a little more sweet watching Heath Ledger’s Joker do it in the movie, but in the comic Batman and Dent do the burning, subsequently leading to the apparent blowing up of Harvey Dent.
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum; A Serious House on Serious Earth – By Grant Morrison
Grant Morrison, as I said previously, is the most polarizing writer in comics, things like this, this and this, all point to the general feeling that he is either the most influential and original writer of our generation, or he’s a total hack without a single shred of talent. He has re-written two universes in comics only to see the changes he made get retconned out of exsistance; on the other hand some say that what he did to the X-Men, and what he did to the entire DC Universe with Final Crisis were necessary changes. No one wanted to see a million mutants but it was fun, things like Beak and Xorn were okay characters and the death of Batman in Final Crisis as well as the Martian Manhunter were welcome additions. Aside from those things, in late 1989, Morrison created one of the darkest and more influential comics involving Batman and the revolving door policy that is ‘Arkham Asylum’. Much like the video game of the same name, ‘Arkham’ takes you on a more psychological ride through the mind of the caped crusader; asking the question of , “is it us who are the monsters in here or, are you one too?” Joker acts as a tour guide as Batman makes his way through the locked down Asylum. The story itself is almost like a seven levels of hell with the joy of self evaluation at the end for Batman. As always Batman prevails and puts all the nuts back in the nut house, but he leaves the asylum with more than just the scars of his parents deaths. Oh and on the topic of Grant Morrison again, here’s a link to his website, if you click it, you’ll either visit the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen, or the worst thing you’ve seen, either way he’s a great writer.
2. Batman: Year One – By Frank Miller
Frank Miller is best known for Sin City and penning the worst Robocop of them all, he also did one of the better Batman books with “The Dark Knight Returns” (it’ll be in the honorable mentions, don’t worry). ‘Year One’ is, as obviously titled, an introduction to Batman, it deals with the obvious of Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents murder and how he became the Batman. The underlining, and, little more interesting theme in all this, is that of lieutenant James Gordon, a new transfer to Gotham City. The story follows Bruce as he inches his way into crime fighting, and Gordon as he learns the ins-and-outs of the corrupt System of Gotham City. Miller uses his classic Noir style to portray the two story lines that eventually intertwine, creating the bromance we know today as Batman and Commissioner Gordon, Bat-Gord. David Mazzucchelli’s art in the book gives it the feel of a comic strip straight out of the 1940’s accentuating the whole Noir-feel of the book. As with ‘Long Halloween’, ‘Year One’ also played a role in Nolan’s Batman Franchise in “Batman Begins”, the iconic scene in which Batman uses actual bats to escape a building swarmed with cops? Ya it’s pulled right from the pages of this book.
1. Batman: The Killing Joke – By Alan Moore
‘Killing Joke’ is widely considered the best Batman book of all-time by many people besides me. Many story lines in DC and Batman lore began here. Before ‘Killing Joke’, the Joker, was a dumb character who resorted to laughing gas filled lapel flowers and Boners. In this he’s a complete psychopath who is trying to prove the point that even good people can lose it on a bad day. He goes about trying to prove this point by shooting Commissioner Gordon’s Daughter, Barbara, through the stomach and in the spine, it is also implied that at some point, the Jokers goons raped Barbara while she was paralyzed. Gordon is then kidnapped after the shooting/raping and tied up in an old Carnival, he then is put through a horrible test of wills as he’s sent through a ride that shows him the pictures of his brutalized daughter.
Alan Moore everyone! The mastermind behind “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and”Watchmen”(both feature prominent scenes of rape, so he keeps a running theme) is the reason Heath Ledger was such a sociopath in the TDK, and the reason Barbra Gordon was in a wheelchair instead of a Batgirl costume for years. This book transformed the way Batman was looked at for the rest of comics history, it was no longer just a kids game anymore, shit was getting real.
Those, as I see it, are the top five Batman story-lines of all-time, I’m sure some will believe otherwise, but these stories are the ones that have transcended the character of Batman and left a lasting impact, to someday get retconned, as pretty much everything does, but, nonetheless, these stories have stood the test of time, and hopefully whomever takes over the next installments of the Batman franchise after Nolan will take some notes from these books.
Honorable mentions: Batman: Hush, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Joker: The Man Who Laughs, Joker by Brian Azzarello, Batman: Knightfall, Batman: No Man’s Land, Batman: Arkham Asylum – Living Hell, Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison (literally any of that in trade is awesome), Detective Comics presents Batwoman, The new 52: Batwoman, Whatever happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman.
Cameron is an editor/co-creator of HefferBrew. He is a major Fan-Man of Batman yet is so broke he’s probably going to be the last of his friends to see Batman. The life of a struggling writer everyone, woo. Reach us on twitter at @HefferBrew, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and like us on Facebook.