Five Great Tales of The Caped Crusader
Perhaps you know him better at the movies as The Dark Knight, but everyone’s favorite billionaire Bruce Wayne will always be a caped crusader on the comics page. His legacy encompasses at least five different movements in comic books, but in case you are looking for some straightforward, satisfying reads about the bat, here are five can’t-miss titles for relatively mature readers.
1. The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Anyone new to Batman’s adventures should probably find a self-contained story arc that will provide pathos, character development, and plenty of villains so that the hero’s world makes a quick, full impression on the reader. In the case of Batman, there are so many great stories that it’s hard to choose wrongly as long as you’re ready for some caped vigilantism. Loeb and Sale’s story was originally published one issue per month for one year, with each issue involving a different holiday. Bruce Wayne is still kind of fresh to his night shift as he tracks down a killer targeting members of the mafia. This is a dire Batman story, with some cartoonish villains involved in an otherwise straight-laced murder case, but Sale’s artwork draws readers into its serious and creepy narrative like quicksand. These 376 pages are a holiday unto themselves.
2. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, Grant Morrison & Dave McKean
Grant Morrison turns Arkham Asylum into the heart of darkness when Joker leads a mutiny of the place and Batman must confront his arch-nemeses as well as the history of Arkham Asylum’s founder. Morrison does a great job of manifesting each Batman villain’s mental disorder and treatment – for example, Two Face’s iconic scarred coin is replaced with dice and a tarot card deck. The hypothetical treatment is that he will realize his coin is just as useless as the other objects for making decisions, but instead becomes frozen from making any sort of decision at all. The true star of the book is Dave McKean’s surrealist and disturbing art, drawing upon the many talents he developed creating abstract covers for the Sandman comic series. The book's subtitle comes from the poem "Church Going" by Philip Larkin, linked below.
3. The Black Mirror, Scott Snyder, Francesco Francevilla, & Jock
Snyder gives us a great character breakdown for Batman as well as Gotham City, except this Batman is Dick Grayson, a former Robin standing in for Bruce Wayne. Gotham City has always been a character unto itself, and Snyder delivers a gritty tale from the streets of Gotham that doesn’t overstay its welcome or try too hard to fake maturity. Francevilla and Jock’s artwork sets the sinister tone early, well before the villain appears, and each chapter adds a layer to what soon becomes an intricately woven story.
4. Black & White, Various Authors & Artists
There has been a lot of darkness and mayhem in comics (and comics-based movies) for a while, which usually leads to anything silly or lighthearted feeling like a breath of fresh air. This three-book series combines multiple author and artist teams to put together brief, unique takes on Batman, ranging all over the emotional and artistic spectrum. One of the funniest bits in this series, written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Simon Bisley, involves Batman and Joker as actors playing as themselves for the comic, with the reader witnessing their pre-show banter.
5. Year One, Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
The most compelling superhero stories often involve the hero’s origins. That’s when the hero was the most vulnerable, open to suggestion, and unsure of what would happen next. This also means there are lots of origin stories for superheroes, but Miller’s got everything right back in the 80s and all following attempts have yet to surpass it. Mazzucchelli’s influence can still be felt in today’s comics, as his style feels timeless and easy to follow. Serving as Batman’s foil is James Gordon, also in his first year on the crimefighting job and running into many of the same obstacles Batman has. Their partnership has shaky foundations, but will last for generations.