The Batman is well known to be my favorite fictional character. Popular for 70 years and running, I’m going to assume you know the basics either through regular pop culture or the massive success of the Chris Nolan movies. So the angle I’m taking here is to talk about my five favorite Batman stories from the comics. I’m nowhere near a hardcore comic guy, but I have friends who are, and knowing how much I enjoy Bruce Wayne, over the years they’ve pointed me to a lot of the great graphic novels…
Batman: Year One – written by Frank Miller, this story is the essential starting point for the current incarnation of the Dark Knight. Young handsome socialite Bruce Wayne has returned to his hometown of Gotham after spending many years abroad. Around the same time, Detective James Gordon transfers into the Gotham Police Department, but is quickly disgusted by the level of corruption, and does what he can to remain one of the city’s good cops. Starting on opposite sides, by the end the vigilante and the hero cop form an alliance to bring hope back to a hopeless city. A major, major influence on Batman Begins.
The Long Halloween – widely regarded as ‘Year Two’ in the Batman universe, this old school murder mystery has the Batman trying to track down a mysterious serial killer who’s taking out members of Gotham’s underworld on holidays. Batman and Det. Gordon are joined on their crusade by young charismatic District Attorney Harvey Dent, but a tragic accident turns their friend into a very dangerous enemy. Yep, a major influence on The Dark Knight.
Dark Victory – Set a year after the events of the Long Halloween, a new serial killer is on the loose, with all signs pointing toward Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent. In the early stages of the Batman’s crusade, a tragic accident at the circus leaves a young acrobat orphaned. Feeling a kinship with the kid, Bruce takes him under his wing, eventually as a partner. The modern day introduction of the Dynamic Duo.
The Killing Joke – simply stated, the greatest Joker story ever told. Taking over an amusement park, the Joker decides to use Commissioner Gordon to prove his theory, ‘all it takes is one really bad day to make anyone go insane.’ Through flashback, we get one ‘possible’ origin of the Joker, where he was a struggling comedian who got mixed in with the wrong crowd, lost his wife and child through a freak accident, and just…snapped. To get to Gordon, he shoots his daughter Barbara (paralyzing her for life), rapes her, then kidnaps Gordon and shows him the pictures of the rape blown up to IMAX size. Gordon refuses to snap, and when Batman finally catches up to him, the Joker (correctly) theorizes that somewhere in the past it was ‘one really bad day’ that made a grown man dress up like a flying rat. The Batman tries to talk sense to the Joker, knowing their mano e mano is leading toward a fatal resolution, but the Joker, in a rare moment of clarity, tells him it’s too late for that, before telling a joke that points out (correctly again) that Batman is just as insane, he just happens to be fighting on the right side of the law. A great story all around, and um, not for the kiddies…
Knightfall – my single favorite Batman story. I actually prefer the novelization to the year long comic version. This is the story that introduces the villain Bane, who comes up with one of the best plans ever: break out all the arch villains in Arkham Asylum, let Batman chase them down, and when he’s exhausted, then make your move. Even as Batman senses Bane’s plan, he has to push forward and capture all the master criminals. He’s no match for Bane, who breaks the Batman’s back, leaving him for dead. Bruce chooses newcomer Jean Paul Valley to take up the cowl; the kid has all the physical attributes, but is much more brutal than Bruce ever was under the cowl. The ‘new’ Batman defeats Bane, but doesn’t give up the cowl when Bruce makes a full recovery. Bruce eventually defeats his wayward apprentice of course, who becomes Azrael, an ally in present Batman stories.
Honorable mention goes to the song, The Dark Knight, the final track on Hans Zimmer’s score for the last movie. Over 15 minutes long, the theme creates the mood for the final scene of the movie, and in my humble opinion, makes great ‘speeding down the 101 at three in the morning’ music for wannabe Caped Crusaders.