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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #198

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.

(updated 7/18)

7/17/07

198. Batman

Batman, Cooke.jpg

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.

Breyfogle Batman.jpgBreyfogle Batman 2.jpgBreyfogle Batman 3.jpg

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!

Batman Milligan.jpgBatman Milligan 2.jpg

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.

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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:

Goddamn Batman 2.gif

He’s the Goddamn Batman.

And I swear, I’m going to post that Reader Survey.

20 Comments

I was beginning to worry that the biggest stars of superhero comics might get forgotten in this list as so much care was devoted to giving obscure greats their just desserts.

Thank you for putting my worry to rest today.

Norton Zenger

July 17, 2007 at 7:03 pm

The Grant/Breyfogle Batman was what got me into comics. Actually, it was one of the worst stories of the whole run, which I guess is evidence against comics having to be _good_ to get kids into them (and everyone knows kids have no taste anyway), but for me that’ll always be the definitive Batman.

I do wonder if other people’s first comic book was good, bad, or whatever. I did have a lot of good comics as a kid- Gruenwald’s Cap, Simonson’s Thor, Giffen and DeMatteis’s JLA- but I think a lot of it is I don’t remember the lousy comics I had, cause I didn’t read them as often.

You didn’t mention my favorite, the Batman Year One issues just after the Dark Knight books, by Miller and Mazzach…Mazza…damn I should have looked it up.
I like it even better than Dark Knight, which was an artistic masterpiece in every way but almost fascistic in its world view.
Dark Knight Returns came out alongside Watchmen, and while they were both brilliant and incredibly exciting at the time, their combined effect on the comics industry has been kinda mixed.

I also really liked the Grant Morrison issues of Legends of the Dark Knight, with art I think by Klaus Jansen, called ‘Gothic.’
And the first Manbat issues.

Grant/Breyfogle fans Repre-ziz-sent!

The first appearance of Scarface, I think, was what made me realise that the really weird stuff wasn’t coming across in any other medium.

The team of Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano did the definitive Batman, as far as I’m concerned.

The run of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin in the late ’70’s would be my #2.

Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis did some very nice stories circa 1987.

Going back to the Golden Age, I always loved the art team of Dick Sprang and Charles Paris.

I thought that Batman Year One was superior to the Dark Knight Returns.

I still remember that when I was a child, instead of storybooks, I’d ask my mother to read me issues of Batman as bedtime stories. In retrospect, that was probably one of the main things that shaped me into who I am today.

No matter how bad the DCU gets and how disinterested I am in their latest crossover event/crisis, I always hold out hope that Batman is going to be the one book that I’m still going to want to read. I guess no matter how disenchanted I get with every other character in DC, Batman’s always going to be the one character I’ll stand behind no matter what.

Also, count me among the other 11 people who liked DK2. It was a completely different beast than DKR, but for my money it was everything Kingdom Come should have been, and I’m glad I got the hardcover of it back when I came out.

He has survived because there is a simple set up to his character–He’s got a hook, and everything other than the hook is negotiable–sometimes it works, sometimes not.

That’s why he works in a Western, as a pirate, in sci-fi, and cheesy stories, as well as dark, grim & gritty.

I love the old 60’s series and I loved Batman Begins–in my opinion it’s the second best superhero movie ever made (So far)

I loved the Killing Joke as well.

Too many people seem to think you can only like 1 Batman–nonsense–you can like as many as you want-
The Elseworld versions (especially Gotham by Gaslight–which originated before Elseworlds, but it was so good they used it to launch Elseworlds. Also “The Blue, the Grey, & The Bat” & others.)

I love the O’Neill/Adams Batman & Jim Aparo, Marshall Rogers, Steve Englehart, etc, etc…

A lot of the old reprints I’ve read from the late 50’s to late 60’s got real silly-and worse–but most are still fun to read.

The only versions I completely avoid are the Val Kilmer & George Clooney versions.

hifidigitalboy

July 18, 2007 at 12:09 am

I have to say that the Arkham Asylum graphic novel (Grant Morrison/Dave Mckean) is one of the finest interpretations of Batman ever. I think it sums up the relationship that Batman had with his enemies. A fine piece of work.

Rohan Williams

July 18, 2007 at 1:06 am

Great entry. The Batman Adventures is easily my favourite ‘all ages’ comic, too. I was already buying the other Batman comics anyway, but even as a kid I thought that that book easily beat the ‘in-continuity’ stuff of the time. And when I got older and read Year One and realised the Gordon issue of the Batman Adventures had been influenced by it, I had a mild geekasm.

Batman has a higher success rate, I think it’s safe to say, across a variety of different mediums than any other character. With the exception of one movie, everything Batman-related has generally been pretty good.

Batman adventures is definitely one of my favourites.
One of my favourite runs of Batman stories, though, is a fairly obscure one. Back when Englehart and Rogers were doing amazing stories with the character in the 70’s, DC had an anthology series called ‘Batman Family’. It ran for 20 issues between 1975 and 1978 (thanks, GCBD!) but I never knew because I was reading Australian B&W reprints at the time.
All I knew is that it contained one of my favourite Batman stories EVER! ‘The Monstrosity Chase’ by Denny O’Neill with Art by Michael Golden.

I always liked Chuck Dixon’s Batman a lot; he was serious without being angsty, human and still a super-hero, and Dixon is one of the industry’s best pure plotters. When he wrote a ‘Detective Comics’ story, Batman did some legitimate detecting. (I loved in “Cataclysm” the way he deduced Quake-Master’s true identity from the way he phrased the ransom demand.)

I also loved pretty much anything based on the Animated Series–the bit I always remember fondly is when the Joker captures both Batman and Harvey Dent, and then proceeds to unmask Batman on live television. But when he unmasks Batman, he finds Harvey Dent…and turns to see “Harvey” slipping out of his bonds, pulling on the cowl, and charging at him. Beautiful.

And, to briefly turn to a different medium and a different Batman, I loved “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker”. The Joker’s death is–sacrilegious but true–better done than in ‘Dark Knight Returns’, and the final confrontation between the new Batman and the new Joker is just perfect.

If you only had one rendition of the Batman to give someone who’d never read or knew anything about the character, I’d give them Batman Year One.

Along with the incredible art, it breaks down not only who the Batman is, but Gotham as well. Which is as vital to the character as any of his weapons or “toys” are.

And I have to disagree a bit with your top choice of Dark Knight as the best Batman story. While I agree that overall it may be listed alongside some of the greatest super hero comics of all time, it only works if you’ve read Batman comics before. If someone who’d never read or had little knowledge of the character read just Dark Knight, they couldn’t fully appreciate what Miller was trying to say.

The Kirbydotter

July 18, 2007 at 8:13 am

I don’t usually like the Golden Age versions of superheroes, but I must say that I have a soft spot for Dick Sprang (and Charles Paris). They are one of the rare art team that can make me read a Golden Age story (Simon and Kirby is pretty much the only other team that have the same effect on me)

Grant and Breyfogle are probably the team that made me keep Detective Comics on my pull list for the longuest time. Loved their work. They even reintroduced Ace the Bathound! How cool was that? We were talking about Jim Aparo yesterday, well I would say that Norm Breyfogle was the one who followed the dedicated craftsman’s footsteps, steady and reliable, keeping up the good work for a very long run on the same character. Underrated, Norm Breyfogle certainly did one of the few “definitive” Batman.

Doug Moench and Kelley Jones did a marvellous and often overlooked run on Batman. I think that is probably because they came right after the krappy Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightend storylines that made a lot of Batman readers leave the book (myself included). Moench and Jones gave Batman the credibility he desesperately needed after that lame Knighgimmick mess, they made him a detective again, putted a heavy gothic imprint on their run (with guests like Deadman, Man-Bat, Spectre, etc.).

Puckett and Parobeck’s Batman (BATMAN ADVENTURES) was the best being published at the time. This was during the forementioned dreadful KnightFall/Quest/End era. Puckett and Parobeck (I miss his cool and fun artwork SO much!) did another “definitive” Batman, the pure classic mythological Batman.

Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams.
Steve Englehart & Marshall Rogers.
Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli. (I prefer by far their YEAR ONE to Miller’s DARK KNIGHT)
Mike W. Barr & Alan Davis.
Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale.
All classic, fun and cool short runs.

Another one of my favorite era of Batman, was the Bronze Age 20 issues run of the BATMAN FAMILY anthology (that continued for a time in Detective Comics for more or less another 20 issues?). The best artists of the Bronze Age contributed art for the anthology: Mike Grell, Jim Aparo, Howard Chaykin, Don Newton, Craig Russel, Jim Starlin, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, etc… They were great reprints of Dick Sprang and classic stories like the 1st Ace Bat Hound, Fatman, etc. The anthology featured not only Batman, but Batgirl, Robin, Man-Bat, Batwoman,Batmite, etc.

Two of my favorite Batman stories are Mignola’s “Doom That Came to Gotham” and the Planetary/Batman crossover. The latter specifically encompasses all that Batman has been.

You haven’t read the Invisibles or Animal Man…and you don’t list Engelhart and Rogers (or O’Neal and Adams) among the greatest Batmans ever.

Mr. Reed you are officially on notice.

Maybe I’m just a big old James Robinson fanboy, but I thought his One Year Later arc was amazing.

My favorite Batman, though (which says a lot about me, I guess) is the grim, stick-in-the-mud straight man of Justice League International. He seemed like Batman, but in context it was funny and it worked beautifully.

We will always be in debt to Batman for giving us the DCAU, god bless him.

You haven’t read the Invisibles or Animal Man…and you don’t list Engelhart and Rogers (or O’Neal and Adams) among the greatest Batmans ever.

Mr. Reed you are officially on notice.

Actually for recognising the brilliance of Peter Milligan’s run he’s got a job for life!

(and for my tastes, leaving out Steve Englehart’s run only backs that up)

Ooohh the grat Bat-Breyfogle, where are you man.

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