According to DC Comics, yesterday was officially International Batman Day. Now some blogs decided to dedicate the day to stories about Batman and his persistent awesomeness over the past 75 years, but not me. No, I decided to spend Batman’s 75th birthday stalking criminals from rooftops. Being that I live in the suburbs, and that people value not having random strangers on their roof, it was not long before someone called the police and I was hauled away. I tried to explain that I was merely doing my part to keep the streets safe but they failed to see reason in any of it. 12 hours later, I am free and decided the safest way to celebrate Batman is to do a simple list article. So here we go, the top 5 Batman stories of all time!
5: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (Neil Gaiman)
The idea behind What Ever Happened to the Caped Crusader is simple: What would the very last ever issue of Batman be like? How would you celebrate his storied history? How would you play with everything, in every continuity, and summarize it all within a short punchy comic? Well Gaiman’s take on the end of the Bat is pure genius. Having an out of body experience, Batman attends his funeral that is filled with friends, allies, and foes. Everyone, from Alfred to the Joker, is there, and each get their chance to share their story and what Batman meant to them. It plays with audience expectation over and over again, and in what is probably one of the greatest accounts, Alfred’s, we have a bizarre, sad, and yet somewhat hillarious take on the crime fighter’s mythos.
4. The Long Halloween (Jeph Loeb)
What makes The Long Halloween great is it’s way of incorporating such a large amount Batman’s rogues gallery into a single story thread. Like an Arkham game, Loeb set’s upon a singular theme — in this case the Holiday Killer, or simply Holiday, targeting people on specific holidays over the course of a year (from Halloween to Halloween) — but works in the Joker, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, The Mad Hatter, and The Riddler, while also giving us the origin of Harvey Dent’s rogue alternative, Two Face. Written over 13 issues, this story line is long and deep and incredibly satisfying and the art work by Tim Sale is some of the most unique work presented in Batman’s storied past!
3. The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)
When people describe their love of Batman’s darker material, they are probably referring to the work of authors like Frank Miller who created some of the most brilliant story arcs for the Caped Crusader. While not his greatest (save that for number 2 on this list), the Dark Knight Returns deals with one of the most pressing issues that separates Batman from other heroes, his mortality. He is just a normal man, and because of that, he ages. So what if Batman got really old? What would the world be like? Facing his age, Batman has retired and as a result crime is on the rise in a neo-future Gotham. Brought out of retirement when a recently “cured” Harvey Dent holds the city for ransom, a 55 year old Bruce Wayne returns to the ol’ cape and cowl seeing the city for what it has become in his absence. But the cooolest, most epic part of the entire series has to be where Batman and Superman duke it out in Gotham. It is masterfully done, and is apparently being used as a reference point in the upcoming Batman vs Superman film due to release in 2016.
2. Batman: Year One (Frank Miller)
While there are multiple takes on the Dark Knight’s origin, Batman: Year One is by far the one that stands above the rest. What makes Frank Miller’s story of Batman’s beginnings so strong is the fact that it focuses as much on Jim Gordon as it does Bruce Wayne. Both of these men see the city for what it is, and both set out to prove that it can be saved. Like the Long Halloween, Year One takes place over the course of a single year and the reader witnesses the gradual evolution of these two heroes in the fight against injustice, as Gotham is ripped apart by warring mobsters. The story also does a great job at introducing Cat Woman in new and effective ways.
1. The Killing Joke (Alan Moore)
In what is certainly the most controversial Batman comic to date, Alan Moore’s sadistic portrayal of the Joker is almost universally regarded as the greatest take on Batman and the Joker’s relationship ever. Moore pulls no punches in this story, including the horrendous paralyzing and rape of Barbara Gordon. The story presents a new and interesting take on the origin of the Clown Prince of Crime and his exercises of sadism. The story pursues moral questions regarding the nature of their relationship, and the knowledge that no matter how many times Batman stops his most vicious of adversaries, he will only continue to kill and kill again. If you have only the most passing of interests in Batman, this is the one comic that you MUST read.
So those are my picks for the best Batman stories written, but that isn’t to say there are not a hundred other great story lines. Even now, DC comics is doing some amazing story work with their chief character and I urge you to read as much as you can. Here’s to another 75 years of the Dark Knight.
Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar