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Everyone knows him. Everyone loves him. He’s made himself known outside of comics, and he may just outlive the comics medium (God forbid). He’s also one of the greatest fictional characters of the 20th century. Oh yes. And he’s not in the archive yet. But he will be. And that is how I sneak in the link today.
Comic fans are a superstitious, cowardly lot. Or somesuch. Also, I would assume everyone reading this knows who Batman is and knows his whole story. Bob Kane. Bill Finger. Parents shot. Vow made. Dark Knight. World’s greatest detective. Etc. He’s arguably the world’s most popular superhero (I’d give that crown to Spider-Man at the moment, though, with Batman at #2), and he’s appeared in comics, television, movies, and pretty much every form of media. Many of them were brilliant.
The thing I love about Batman is that he’s invincible. The character has survived so many interpretations and will undergo so many more. He’s been the dark avenger of the night, he’s been the happy-go-lucky camp super-dad, and everything in between, through various cycles and eras. He’s been in mysteries, action pieces, crime dramas, superhero epics, supernatural tales, and just about every damn genre there is, even a few Westerns and pirate stories and the like.
But rather than do the usual spiel– I mean, it’s Batman! There’s little new ground to cover here– I thought I’d take a look at some of my personal favorite Batman runs and stories– the cream of the crop. After all, he’s appeared in a seemingly infinite amount of stories. Many of them were decent. Many of them were crap. A few of them are some of the best comics ever. These are those stories. (Cue the Law & Order “dun-dun” sound.)
1. The Dark Knight Returns: I’ve got to mention this one, of course. In my opinion, it’s the best Batman story ever and one of the greatest comics of all time, so it deserves attention here. The conclusion to the Bat-saga, it features a Bruce Wayne consumed by the Bat, driven to the edge, trying to hold together a crumbling society, being chased by the police, and facing off against his greatest nemeses, as well as his best friend. It’s every Batman story ever put into a blender and mixed with a copious amount of Frank Miller machismo. I love it. And yes, I’m one of the dozen that liked Dark Knight Strikes Again. It’s biggest problem seemed to be that it wasn’t the Dark Knight Returns.
2. The Grant/Breyfogle Batman: This is the greatest Bat-run ever, yes. From the late ’80s into the early ’90s, and throughout three Bat-titles, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle gave us a tough, socially conscious Batman that fought against drugs and the corruption of contemporary youth. They introduced plenty of great new rogues, from the Ventriloquist and Scarface to Anarky and Kadaver and a new Clayface, as well as one of my favorite Bat-baddies of all, Zsasz, and put Batman in intriguing situations that hopefully made readers do some thinking about society, politics, or the environment. They produced modern classics, like Detective #590, a story about terrorism that holds as much weight, possibly more, today, as it did in the ’80s, and #613, “Trash,” which is a tale of crime and greed and the wasting of both life and the ecosystem. Batman was vengeful and unrelenting against crime and helpful and kind to those in need. And he called people “creeps” a lot. Breyfogle’s art is my personal favorite Bat-art. He’s going to need a Reason of his own one of these days. Greg Burgas wrote a Comics You Should Own column on their Detective run. What the hell are you waiting for, DC? Put their run in trade!
3. Peter Milligan’s Batman: Yes, the strange Brit who wrote some great comics and also some godawful ones did a small run on Batman. He wrote “Dark Knight, Dark City” (also a Comic You Should Own), which made the Riddler scary and gave life to Gotham itself. He wrote classics like “The Hungry Grass,” “The Library of Souls,” “The Bomb,” “And the Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels,” all wonderfully twisted little done-in-one tales that used new ideas or put spins on old ones. Also, those issues all featured glorious art by Jim Aparo. Milligan also gave us “Identity Crisis,” which was sanitized and turned into an episode of the animated series, and “The Idiot Root,” which is so strange and surreal that I actually find it pretty frightening. That’s a good thing, because it’s a psychological horror tale. Milligan’s is a small but classic run of brilliant stories. It really needs a collection. And yes, the other Detective issues are Comics You Should Own. That Greg Burgas knows good comics.
4. The Batman Adventures: I’m specifically talking of the issues by Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck. This was the series based off the ’90s Fox cartoon, and it did everything right. We got simple but clever stories and gorgeous art that didn’t even need words to convey a story. The stories were light and breezy and fun, perfect for readers new to comics, or young readers new to, well… reading! It’s the most perfect “all ages” comic I know of, a terrific action/adventure series for kids and adults with plenty of excellent stories and fantastic artwork. Issue by issue, one of my favorite comics ever. You really can’t go wrong.
You can see how much of a product of my era I am– everything I listed it from the late ’80s or early-to-mid ’90s. Heh. I’m sure you’ve got favorite Bat-runs of your own. Please, share them with your fellow readers and me in the comments! I bet the words “Englehart” and “Rogers” show up.
As for the current Batman comics, well… the books are the best they’ve been in years, but they still aren’t that great. I think Batman will survive, though. He always does. From his parents’ murder on, isn’t that what he’s always been? A survivor?
No matter what the era, or how wild the story, remember:
He’s the Goddamn Batman.
And I swear, I’m going to post that Reader Survey.
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