Comic Book Curious

Starter Guide: Batman

August 17, 2021

Comics can be intimidating, we can all admit that. If you’re new to a character, how do you sort through decades of stories and thousands of issues? Add in renumberings and near constant reboots it seems too daunting a task no matter how cool a character may appear. Fear not, dear reader, our team of comic experts are here to help you find the best places to begin with some of comics’ most beloved characters.

So, Batman, where to start?

Batman first appeared in comics in 1939; he’s consistently been the star of multiple titles at DC Comics for over 80 years. Don’t freak out. No one would ever expect you to read all those issues, and even better, you really don’t need to. Batman has so many individual self contained tales that can help to bring you into the world of Gotham City and the strange denizens that reside there. Here are few titles to look for at your local comic shop:

A battle damaged Batman holding a broken Riddler cane

Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Zero Year (2014)

Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Greg Cappullo

There are a lot of great retellings of Batman’s origin, but I think this is one of the freshest and most fast paced takes on it. We follow a young Bruce Wayne as he slowly creates the persona of Batman while doing battle with The Riddler who has plunged Gotham City into a Mad Max style apocalypse by shutting off the city’s power. This works as both a great action story and a fantastic introduction to Bruce Wayne and the world of Batman. We get to see how each piece of the Batman mythos comes to be and Snyder even manages to sneak in the origins of some other very important characters.

Batman stands next to his father’s grave

Credit: DC Comics

The Long Halloween (1997)

Writer: Jeph Loeb, Artist: Tim Sale

When Batman was first introduced he was hailed as “The World’s Greatest Detective” a title some writers can forget about in all the stories of supervillain punching badassery (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This very noirish tale puts Batman right at the center of a mystery as a serial killer stalks Gotham. The Holiday Killer, as he comes to be known, commits a very high profile murder on each major holiday sending the city into a panic. This engrossing mystery forms the spine of the story as we see the vast majority of Batman’s rogues gallery, build up the mythology of Catwoman, and tell the best version of the tragic origin of Two-Face.

Joker holds his head as laughter takes up the background

Credit: DC Comics

The Killing Joke (1988)

Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Brian Bolland

There’s no debating that Batman’s arch nemesis is the deadly and unpredictable Joker. While there are countless stories of these two foes doing battle none have gotten to the heart of their conflict better than this one. Moore allows us a peek into the mad mind of the supervillain and it’s not a pretty place. We get to see the origin of The Joker, or maybe we don’t, he is the most unreliable of narrators. Iconic art merges with the pitch black tale that gets at the heart of madness that lies in The Joker and the clash between him and the Caped Crusader.

Batman between two warring armies of villains

Credit: DC Comics

Batman: The War Of Jokes & Riddles (2017)

Writer: Tom King, Artist: Mikael Janin

Tom King’s run on Batman is one for the history books, this interlude in the middle that flashes back to the early days of the character is not only a highlight but a story that can be pulled from the larger plot and enjoyed on its own. The story is basically what the title states, The Joker and The Riddler go to war with one another. Every member of the rogues gallery must choose a side and Gotham is torn apart (again). This story presents a younger, more inexperienced Batman pushed into an impossible situation and trying desperately to save his city no matter the cost to himself or his soul. Bonus points for giving us an emotionally affecting take on the silly lower tier villain Kite Man.

The silhouettes of Batman and Superman engaged in a fight

Credit: DC Comics

The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

Writer/Artist: Frank Miller

Legendary creator Frank Miller wanted to reinvent Batman for the grittier and more mature comics world of the 1980s. He did so by taking the story a few decades into the future and presenting a broken down and retired Bruce Wayne. He’s miserable and suicidal, but when a new threat emerges in Gotham he dons the cape and cowl once more and comes alive again as The Dark Knight. A brilliant gamechanger for the Batman mythos, this book presents us with a dark, dystopian take on the DC Universe. We get the ultimate smackdown between Batman and Superman, meet one of the most chilling versions of The Joker, witness the tragic ending of Harvey Dent’s story, and are introduced to one of the best Robins. This is a book jam packed with iconic Batman moments and images from one of the masters of the medium.

Honorable Mentions:

Batman: Year One: Miller’s noirish take on the origin is a classic

No Man’s Land: An epic story of Gotham being devastated by an earthquake and cut off from the rest of the world.

Dark Victory: The sequel to Long Halloween that introduces Robin

Gotham Central: A series focusing on the police officers of Gotham

Hush: Another great mystery that spans the scope of the Batman universe

Can't get enough Batman? Check out the top five Batman writers here!

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