Stuff for the Teen Age, Biblio File
The Annotated Batman: A Top 10 List
After reading Greg Rucka's Batwoman Elegy last year, I've been thinking a lot about graphic novels featuring the original Caped Crusader, Batman. Stories involving Batman and the characters in his universe have been published for over seven decades! Since that's a lot of reading to do, I've singled out 10 of my favorite Batman tales, all available to check out or request at your neighborhood library with your library card. Enjoy!
Batman spends a lot of time using grappling hooks to swing from building to building. But what happens when someone cuts his line? After suffering a near-fatal skull fracture, Batman begins to suspect that someone has set out to systematically destroy his life. He or she has also organized all of Batman's allies against him. And what’s worse, he or she seems to be committing crimes out of character, crimes Batman can’t predict. For example, Poison Ivy manages to turn Superman against Batman with a custom-made kryptonite lipstick. As Batman struggles to uncover the culprit behind all his recent misfortunes, he is drawn into an unlikely romance with Selina Kyle (a.k.a Catwoman).
Author Frank Miller presents a definitive and engaging tale of Bruce Wayne struggling to reclaim his role as Batman in the midst of an uncertain future for Gotham City. What has the world become? Two-Face is cured, Superman is a corporate puppet, and the Joker is about to be declared sane. Gotham City is now under the control of the fanged Mutants, a visor-wearing gang that rules the city through fear and intimidation. After saving the young Carrie Kelly, Bruce fully embraces his old mantle of Batman. When Superman is sent to stop his return, only one superhero will walk away. Originally published in 1986, this is arguably considered to be one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.
Batman’s mission is to protect the innocence of Gotham City by striking fear into the hearts of villains and ultimately stopping crime in its tracks. But what happens when the city he loves is devastated by a natural disaster? After a cataclysmic earthquake — 7.6 on the Richter scale — the fictional U.S. government of the DC Comics universe abandons the metropolis and forbids anyone from entering or exiting. Batman and his allies opt to stay and restore order to the chaotic streets. With Oracle helping to coordinate their efforts, the heroes are often overwhelmed by villains, such as the Penguin, who have taken over entire sections of the city.
Batman is pretty awesome... but did he start out that way? We all know Batman’s most important ally is Jim Gordon, who is destined to become Police Commissioner of the Gotham Police Department. How did Gordon rise through the corrupt ranks of cops on the take? This is the story of both men, as well as a radical reinterpretation of Selina Kyle’s origin as a prostitute and dominatrix before becoming Catwoman. This story has become so popular — it inspired the theatrical releases of the animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and the live-action Batman Begins — that it was adapted for film in Batman: Year One.
One could argue that nothing in the life of Batman ever really changes. As a comic book character, he battles villains, sends them to jail, and then starts the process all over again. When Dick Grayson retired as Robin and became the hero Nightwing, Batman even got himself a new Robin named Jason Todd. But Jason was never really like Dick. He was angrier, more reckless. After having a fight with Batman, Jason storms away and resolves to find his birth mother. After an initially successful reunion, it’s learned that she actually works for the Joker. Batman races to save Jason from his fate, but arrives too late. Jason dies in Batman’s arms, and Batman's inability to save Jason is his greatest failure.
Author Jeph Loeb spins a tangled web of Batman’s early crime-fighting years and is aided by Tim Sale’s eerily-horrific art. There’s a new killer in Gotham City, and his (or her) name is Holiday. As his (or her) name might imply, Holiday prefers to kill on holidays. Batman works with district attorney Harvey Dent, the man destined to become the half-scarred Two-Face, to uncover the killer, while simultaneously fending off some of the more colorful characters in his rogue’s gallery. Sale’s art is surreal, often depicting things in a distorted way, such as the Joker’s impossibly-wide yellow smile. The sequel to The Long Halloween is Batman: Dark Victory and its concurrent story is Catwoman: When in Rome.
Author Alan Moore, known most famously for penning Watchmen, focuses not on Batman but instead on his chief antagonist: the Joker. Out of Arkham Asylum once again, the Clown Prince of Crime decides to make an example of Commissioner Gordon. Along the way, he savagely shoots Jim’s daughter Barbara in her doorway at home, crippling her. The situation escalates when the Joker kidnaps Gordon, tortures him, and recounts a suspiciously contradictory tale of his origin. Barbara is left in a wheelchair and ultimately becomes the hero Oracle. This title would also influence future works on Batman's rogues, including Grant Morrison's stunningly bizarre Arkham Asylum.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith tackles his own Batman story, creating an intricate tale of assassinations and red herrings involving the Caped Crusader, Deadshot, the Joker, and a mysterious villain named Onomatopoeia. The story opens with Deadshot as he attempts to kill the Joker in Arkahm. He is stopped and apparently killed by Onomatopoeia, who frees the Joker and gives him money to create chaos. Onomatopoeia’s real target is Batman, and Onomatopoeia hopes the Joker's antics will help draw Batman out. As all the characters converge on one another for a final confrontation, Deadshot is revealed to have survived, and Batman must decide whether to save the Joker or not.
Prolific writer Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book) writes an esoteric account of the “last” Batman story. Suffering from some kind of near-death experience, Batman finds himself attending a funeral... only to realize it’s his own. Guided by an avatar of his deceased mother, Martha Wayne, Bruce listens to bizarre Batman eulogies by his butler, Alfred; villains, such as the Joker and the Mad Hatter; and Superman. As Batman struggles to make sense of his death, he begins asking questions about his life and what it means to be Batman. This story is based on the classic Superman tale Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Taking place in the year 2039 (100 years after the character of Batman was first introduced), Gotham City has essentially become a police state, and Batman has become something of an urban legend. According to Paul Pope, the writer and illustrator of 100% , "I wanted to present a new take on Batman, who is without a doubt a mythic figure in our pop-psyche. My Batman is not only totally science fiction; he's also a very physical superhero: he bleeds, he sweats, he eats. He's someone born into an over-arching police state; someone with the body of David Beckham, the brain of Tesla, and the wealth of Howard Hughes... pretending to be Nosferatu."