Sunday, July 15, 2012


...and so, after the last two straight up reviews, it's time for another 'Not quite a review, but still film-related' entry.

Now, as I'm sure half the internet is being reminded on a daily basis now, we're down to less than a week until Christopher Nolan's final Batman feature, The Dark Knight Rises, makes its theatrical release.  As one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer, this has a lot riding on it and can make or break at this point.  In any case, tension is at an all-time high waiting for this film.

So how can you pass the time for the next two weeks besides rewatching the first two movies until your own voice matches Christian Bale's 'smoke three packs a day' Batman growl?


That's right, if you REALLY need a Batman fix now, and the movies alone aren't doing it for you, now's a good time to start looking into several of the Batman storylines that have run in the comics over the years.

(Now, I realize several of you likely have already read these - in such a case, feel free to disregard this entry, revisit as you see fit, or even suggest some titles I missed.)

For those who aren't too familiar with the comics, consider these a decent primer for some good stories to get started with to help those next two weeks pass quicker.

That said, where better to start than at the beginning (or, failing that, a revisit of the beginning)

It says something kind of disturbing and amazing about the Batman fanbase that I look on this image and find myself completely at a loss as to a cheeky comment that hasn't already been said before.


This entry makes me sad, in a way.  Mostly because it reminds me how far off the deep end Frank Miller went around 2001.  Published in 1987, this is still considered among some of his best works, and for good reason.  In revisiting the story of how the murder of his parents inspired Bruce Wayne to become the masked vigilante with a penchant for savagely wailing on Gotham's criminal element, Miller managed to provide a gritty, down to Earth retake on the origin story, not just for Bruce, but for several other familiar faces.  Perhaps most interesting is the fact that, despite this title being named for Batman, much of the story focuses on then beat cop Jim Gordon.  It's through his eyes that we truly see the sorry state the city is in before Batman.  We join him in witnessing the police corruption, and his own internal conflict at the fact that this vigilante is actually doing the things that, deep down, he's felt were due.   Miller takes a character that's often treated as a support and turns him into a well fleshed-out focus.  Granted, the work does have a few distinctly...well, let's just call them Miller moments.  Things like Selena Kyle's backstory making her a prostitute at first. Then again, anyone who knows Miller is kind of used to this.  Despite these, the more stereotypically Miller elements are kept fairly restrained and he managed to tell a pretty solid backstory where he looks into the heads of his two leads and does them both proper justice.

Let the record show, when I tell my children of holiday traditions, I will update the myth of the Krampus for them...
Now, naughty behavior will be met by Batman beating them half to death. a bonus, this stands to make Halloween THAT much creepier for them


You know, while I will acknowledge that there are Batman stories out there that are considered better than this one, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't my personal favorite.  Like the above Year One, this provides a modern revisit on a familiar piece of Batman lore-in this case, the fall of Harvey Dent is a major element of the story.  There are a lot of things I could say for what makes this stick out. However, I think if I had to boil it down to one thing, it'd be the fact Loeb and Sale manage to succcessfully pull off a story where many of the stars of Batman's gallery all get their fair share of screentime while still blending into the overall story, as opposed to feeling like they were added simply for the sake of being there.  As a bonus, this story's murder mystery approach allows for Batman to play to his best strength as a detective.  He still gets his share of brawls, but really, the driving story here is more just trying to find out who's slaying members of Gotham's crime families before they explode into all-out war.  Anyone's a suspect (hence the all-star villain spread), and the final payoff still manages to surprise while making sense.  This story may not be said to have everything, but it certainly has enough to come close.

Additionally, if you have any particular affinity for the Nolan films, this is a must-read, as one can really see how their take on Gotham and Batman himself inspired the overall feel of the movies.

Also, if you enjoy this one, be sure to look into the sequel, Dark Victory.  I won't say it tops the original, but it still proves a very enjoyable companion piece.

I know it's an old joke, but I don't care:
When I read this, my brain processed it as a Calvin Klein ad.


Definitely the shortest entry on this list, but the brevity honestly helps it.  This one-issue one-off by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is still considered to be one of the best stories involving seminal Batman villain The Joker.  Like Year One, the interesting thing about this story is how it seems to say more for the other characters than it does for Batman himself, though his dynamic is certainly explored here.  Moore offers an curious take on the clown prince of Gotham, exploring, as best as a one-issue story can, just what makes him work and his philosophy.  The end result manages to both say nothing and speak volumes for one of the most popular antagonists in the Batman canon.  Again, like TLH (and Year One, for that matter) if you have any strong affinity for Nolan's Batman, you'll be able to see signs of this comic's influence in his work.  Much of the core idea of how Nolan depicts the Joker can be seen as a direct nod to Moore's take on the character, and his idea belief that anyone can be pushed to his level of insanity with 'just one bad day.'  A short, strange ride, but one well worth taking.

As an additional title along this line (albeit one that is a bit trickier to find as its own trade) another solid one-off revolving around everyone's favorite sociopathic clown arose during Grant Morrison's recent run working on the character.  If you have any comic places nearby that specialize in backissues, see if they have a copy of #663, 'The Clown at Midnight' for a surprisingly creepy look into the character.

Though newcomers approach Morrison's run with caution.  It is good, but he tends to include a lot of callbacks and past references to prior Batman mythos that may throw people unfamiliar with them.  Still, as you get further in, give his run a look.

When you can screw with Batman's head this much, it makes any comments about how less-than-flashy your costume looks hurt a LOT less.


Another story from the mind of Jeph Loeb, this is another exploration into the detective side of Batman.  Unlike the earlier TLH and DV, the case is much more personal for him on several levels, both in finding himself as a target of a man who seems to know who he really is as well as being reminded of the fate of a previous Robin, as recounted in A Death in the Family (an arc I'd say to take at your own discretion.  The part involving Robin is a great piece of Batman history, but the rest...yeah.)  Alongside the much more personal focus in the mystery itself, this story also serves to bring up some old ghosts of Batman's past in general, going back to the years before he took up the costume in the first place.  The end result, while not as explosive as Loeb's earlier mystery, still makes for a memorable conclusion, especially one standout scene in Arkham.

Speaking of Arkham, while these aren't explicitly Batman per se, the ARKHAM ASYLUM series is certainly worth giving a look if you're intrigued by the mythos and want to try a different turn with it.  There are several stories in this line, with the two strongest being Grant Morrison's A SERIOUS HOUSE ON SERIOUS EARTH, a darker look into the criminal minds that inhabit Gotham's famous madhouse, and LIVING HELL, a story that dances the line into black comedy about one unscrupulous investor who discovers the hard way why the insanity plea is so rarely used in Gotham city limits.  Each of these stories really offers its own unique spin and highlight on the villains that have become such a loved part of the Batman mythos, so if you find yourself enjoying them, feel free to give these a go.

It's sort of like a lost episode of The Super Friends...
...except with several  of the cast members getting killed off cause the network censor called it early that day.


While I already acknowledged some of Morrison's line can get kind of daunting for those not really familiar with a lot of the background lore for Batman, this is still one of the storylines of his that makes for a pretty solid starting point.  Even if you don't really know of some of the supporting characters who, in themselves, are other costumed heroes of other nations in a dynamic akin to Batman, they still stand pretty well on their own in this story, that plays out like a bizarre superhero take on 'And Then There Were None.'  It holds up well on its own, as well as providing setup for the larger story Morrison was laying out at the time if you decide to venture on ahead from here (again, it is worth it, just realize going in blind could prove awkward.)

I initially had reservations about using this image since it IS spoiler territory
...but Hell with it, if you're looking for Knightfall, chances are you already know this is coming. ESPECIALLY with the new movie coming.


...once again, the books that inspired Nolan turn up here.  Alongside the somewhat infamous 'A Death in the Family', this is one of the biggies in Batman history.  At least, Knightfall itself is, anyway.  The two books that make up the first installment in this trilogy, Broken Bat and Who Rules the Night, make for one of the altogether darker chapters in the Batman canon as they first introduced readers to the, at the time, new villain Bane.  The two later chapters are something of a mixed bag by comparison.  Much of the impact is largely just in the first third of this story, though the later parts make for an interesting middle finger towards the 'darker, edgier' style comic heroes were taking during the 90s.  The first two books, however, are where a lot of the really memorable parts of this storyline come in - Bane's protracted psychological war to completely destroy Batman, the now famous 'broken bat' of the first book's title, and the exploration of the ideal of the Batman vs the actual human Batman.  It makes for an interesting look at the comic book hero, and seeing him at his limits shows us a whole other side of the character than we usually get to see in the comics.  For not actually meeting until the end of the first book, the battle between Batman and Bane still manages to maintain a very personal element for both parties that really helps tie the assorted extra storylines together.  Will Nolan be able to do this book justice?  Can't rightly say at this point, but points to him for considering it as a source for ideas given just how much it adds to the character and universe.

I'll say this much for Frank.
He DOES get more creative with the fanfiction 'vs' matches than a lot of other people do.


Once again, we take a visit to the time before Frank Miller went completely off the rails.  In a sort of appropriate bookends, where the last story by Miller recounted the Dark Knight's origins, this work by him explores his later years.  An alternate universe piece, this envisions a Gotham that, despite the Batman's best efforts, remains largely the same.  Many of the old villains have since been bogged down by age, but other threats still pop up.  After years of having the cowl hung up, an aged Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to try and take back the city he once fought for.  While the piece definitely shows signs of Miller wearing his politics on his sleeve, it definitely introduces enough interesting ideas to make up for it.  Things like the change in Gotham's stance towards vigilanteism (after some years of acceptance, Batman is back to being public enemy #1 in the eyes of the new commissioner,) and exploration of the rifts that have formed between the heroes as the world they fought for changed (the bad blood between Batman and Superman drives much of the second half of the book, especially after the cold threat of nuclear war finally bubbles over.)  In terms of how it handles the world at the time it was written, as well as the comics it's trying to explore, Miller takes this several interesting places.  The result is a grim, but compelling tale of a future that might have been and some interesting developments of the familiar faces readers had come to know and love.

On an interesting sidenote, it's strangely humorous to note that, despite the general consensus towards Frank Miller's depictions of women, he actually broke some ground by giving readers the  first female Robin.  Further adding to the surprise, and some relief given she's only 13, Miller doesn't invoke the sexualization that has also drawn him his share of criticism.

Hopefully these help keep anyone who's itching for a fix busy until Friday.
And again, if you see any worthwhile ones I missed, by all means, give them a shoutout, cause I'd bet money I missed something.

Till next time!


  1. I love The Long Halloween, because I love Harvey Dent. He's so tragic, even moreso than Mr. Freeze, because his friendship with Bruce (and make no mistake: Bruce does not have many friends) is what makes his downfall that much harder on Batman.

    ...that is why I hate the Nolanverse movies. :[

    1. I tend to still give the Nolanverse a conditional greenlight. On the one hand, yeah they dick over some of the elements of the setting: rereading TLH really did leave me feeling a touch disappointed with how Harvey kind of got marginalized. Especially since the way they had it set up could have really gone to some interesting territory in the second half, but wound up getting sidelined for the Joker. At the same time, I still have to give them some credit in part because they're the only films that really seem to acknowledge that Gotham has other people handling the criminal element besides just the Batman. I mean, I still enjoy them, but looking back at the Burton films, Jim Gordon really was just a talking head for the most part in those days. So it is somewhat nice to see a film remember that the law is actually trying to do its part rather than the earlier films seeming to be largely content to go "Let the Batman handle it."

      It's kind of a 50-50 split like that.

      Still like them, but I'll acknowledge they definitely had some areas they could have improved on.