Late to the Batman Party
When it comes to Batman, I’m a relative newcomer, a 31-year-old transported back to the heady days of being ten years old and discovering a comic book world for the first time. The aficionados out there will probably deride me for this, but I fell in love with the world of Batman through Christopher Nolan’s recent movies. Ten years before Batman Begins, I’d switched off completely after sitting through the sacrilegiously awful Batman and Robin with its Bat-credit cards and garish depictions of Bane and Mr. Freeze.
Nolan’s dedication to producing the best movies possible propelled me in the direction of the comic books. So here are the ones I like best; if you’re a beginner like me, these could be the ones you’ll want to check out first.
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
The obvious place to start is with an origin story, but be prepared for the fact that this one is as much, if not more, about Jim Gordon than it is Bruce Wayne. It tells the story of Gordon and Batman’s first year fighting crime in Gotham, both quickly realising the scale of their task as the extent of corruption in Gotham becomes clear. Gordon is just as interesting a character as Wayne, and their developing relationship will keep you hooked as each learns to trust the other.
The Long Hallowe’en by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale
This is one to pick up if you love a good detective story. Set early in the career of the Dark Knight, it’s the story of Batman’s attempt to snare the serial killer Holiday with the help of his allies Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent. This is so much more than a simple whodunnit, and the weighty themes are complemented perfectly by Tim Sale’s unrelentingly gloomy illustration. I like Sale the best out of all the Batman illustrators I’ve encountered so far: his restricted use of colour reminds me very much of Nolan’s movies (which makes perfect sense, since Nolan cited him as an influence on the look and feel of the movies).
The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
If the Joker is your favourite of all the villains in Gotham, this one is essential. The artwork by Brian Bolland is stunning, amplifying the most jarring moments in Moore’s storyline and helping to create a keen sense of pathos in the first half of the story. The Joker’s origins have been depicted in different ways by the comics and films, but I can’t imagine there being a better origin story than this.
The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
This comic is epic in every way imaginable. An ageing Bruce Wayne steps back into the Batsuit after ten years out of the game, unable to stand back and watch Gotham descend into lawlessness. The scope of the book is huge: you’ll wrestle with the character of Wayne and his motivations and become emotionally entangled with the story of a city hanging on by its fingernails.
Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
A bit more divisive, this one, and definitely one to read once you’ve got a better handle on more traditional Batman comics. But the setting of Arkham Asylum is, for me, an irresistible nightmare, and the hugely detailed illustrations render Gotham’s madhouse as a disorienting and freakish hellhole. The illustrations turn some people off, as does the non-linear storyline, but I urge you to embrace the chaos and follow the Dark Knight as he struggles to maintain his sanity.
There are of course many more classic Batman tales, but these are definitely good places to start, and we have these writers and illustrators to thank for the fact that Batman didn’t become stuck in the mould of a madcap comedy crimefighter after Adam West’s whimsical portrayal in the 1960s series. So if you’re a Batman beginner, get your hands on one of these novels and prepare to be wowed by the theatrical world of the Dark Knight!
Still after a comic fix? Have a look at our booklists:
Image credits: let me see that rope by Tom Simpson