Welcome back to our extensive Batman chronology and reading list! These storylines, in my opinion, include some of the best Bat-books to grace our shelves and feature some the best creators in modern comics. So without further ado…
BATMAN: DEATH AND THE MAIDENS
Greg Rucka (w), Klaus Janson (a)
Starting strong here with the superior writing skill of Greg Rucka and the unique art style of Klaus Janson, this volume sees Ra’s Al Ghul desperately seeking Batman’s help as a face from The Demon’s past stalks him to an overdue grave. As a bargaining chip, Ra’s offers Batman a chance at a reunion he thought impossible – with his parents! All Bruce has to do is protect Ra’s from whoever’s after him. Will Bruce take his deadliest foe up on the offer? Or is the enemy of his enemy really his friend? This is a complex and different storyline, spanning decades as it unfolds.
Jeph Loeb (w), Jim Lee (a)
This kicked off what would be one of the best year-long runs on Batman – an examination of the major villains as a new, perhaps even deadlier enemy begins to show his hand. In keeping what would become a defining theme of the next decade of Batman, this new rogue had strong links to Bruce’s past and with Ra’s Al Ghul gone, Hush became a strong contender for most dangerous threat ever for Bruce: an villain that knows his innermost secrets and knows how to manipulate both his enemies and his friends. To say much more would give away the bounty of surprises in store for you if you’re a first-time reader of this essential book.
BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD
Judd Winick (w), Various (a)
Confession: it’s not a popular view, but this whole period of the Bat-books was probably my favourite. The writers and artists kept the universe-destroying threats to a minimum and returned Batman to the status of urban legend in Gotham. The villains felt real and threatening. The artists across the books all complimented each other nicely. Plus, there were very few super-beings parading around. This volume kicks off a couple of years’s worth of integrated, well-plotted storytelling.
To everyone’s surprise, Jason Todd returns from the grave and begins dismantling Bruce’s work: with Gotham, with the Bat-family and with his own psyche. Although it was always a given that Jason would stay dead (and although I hated the way they brought him back as originally detailed in Batman Annual #25) I love the fact that they did bring him back. And what a threat he becomes! Assuming the mantle of ‘The Red Hood’, Jason runs amok through Gotham and through Bruce’s life. Thematically and story-wise, this ties in with Hush, as another villain emerges with intimate knowledge of Bruce’s methods and can therefore counter him at every move. It also lays the groundwork for…
BATMAN: WAR GAMES (VOLS. 1 & 2)
Various (w), Various (a)
Arguably one of the greatest Batman cross-over events, this sees Stephanie Brown (chronologically the first female Robin) ousted from the Bat-family by Bruce because of her inability to follow orders, setting off one Batman’s ‘War Games’ – his fail-safe emergency measure for Gotham should its crime wave morph into an incontrollable epidemic. This particular plan would unite all of Gotham’s criminal factions under the control of one man: Matches Malone! But when Malone fails to show at the gangland meeting that would kick the plan into high gear, a gang-war breaks out, threatening all of Gotham.
This is a actually a really decent look at what it must be like to live in a place so rife with crime it actually needs vigilantes to police it. The unusual and exciting story is epic in scope, but nuanced and focused in character and detail. It shows us what a knife-edge the Bat-family walks, just keeping a lid on a city that’s always primed to explode. It also features Black Mask at its centre, one of my favourite bat-villains of all time. These two volumes include, for the first time, the War Drums prelude and the four-part epilogue War Crimes.
BATMAN / TWO-FACE: FACE THE FACE
James Robinson (w), Don Kramer, Leonard Kirk (a)
Following Infinite Crisis, the mainstays of the DCU took a year out. Batman travelled the globe, retracing the steps and training that made him the greatest crime-fighter the world has ever known. Bruce left a reformed Harvey Dent (with his face corrected) in Gotham to ensure it would be safe. But when he returns, he finds the city littered with some of the bodies of his past villains. Has Harvey taken his mandate to protect Gotham a step too far? Or is there something more sinister at play?
This is part of D.C.’s ‘One Year Later‘ event dealing with the return of it’s heroes. James Robinson was given the task of prepping the Bat-books for the arrival of Grant Morrison, which can’t have been the easiest assignment. But luckily, Robinson is an amazingly talented writer, as his JSA: The Golden Age Mini-Series and his run on Starman have proved. He’s more than capable of crafting incident-filled plots whilst bringing out the best in his characters. Here, he gives us a chance to see some real pathos, with Harvey juggling his id as he tries to do the right thing. Available in Hardcover only, this is a beautiful looking book that gets your appetite whetted for…
BATMAN & SON
Grant Morrison (w), Andy Kubert, J.H. Williams III & Tony S. Daniel (a)
The first in Grant Morrison’s multi-volume saga, this has Talia Al Ghul, Daughter Of the Demon, showing up in Bruce’s life once again. Now free of her own father, she decides to introduce Bruce to his son… Damian. In turn, we’re introduced to the brattiest side-kick in comics as Bruce and Damian test their new relationship.
Damian attempts to oust the rest of the Bat-family, taking what he feels is his rightful place as the ONLY Robin in town and heir to Bruce’s empire. However, Damian’s methods prove a little extreme for Bruce and the new kid finds himself at odds with pretty much everyone. This moves from high-comedy to high-drama in a heart-beat and is one of the most fun and entertaining runs in years.
BATMAN: THE RESURRECTION OF RA’S AL GHUL
Grant Morrison & Paul Dini (w), Various (a)
The main difference between Jason Todd’s return and Ra’s Al Ghul’s come-back is that no-one expected Todd to be born again. With Ra’s it was inevitable. With his house in disarray, and its fortune contested by his daughter Talia and a mysterious villain known as the Sensei, Ra’s spirit is restless and preparations are made to deposit that spirit into a new body… Damian Wayne’s! This is hardly vintage Morrison but proves an entertaining stop-gap on the way to the masterpiece that is Batman R.I.P.
BATMAN: HEART OF HUSH
Paul Dini (w), Dustin Nguyen (a)
This serves as nice precursor to Batman R.I.P., with Hush returning with a very final plan to destroy Bruce Wayne by becoming… Bruce Wayne! A terrific book, with an almost silver-age style plot-line that complements Morrison’s own tastes and interests. This story starts a new chapter for relationship between Bruce and Selina Kyle (Catwoman), something that’s been part of Bat-books since their inception. It also has repercussions for the pos-R.I.P. Bat-universe (and we’ll get to that in a later reading list!). A terrific book.
Grant Morrison (w), Tony S. Daniel (a)
OK, let’s get the negatives out of the way first here: as a monthly comic, this was a difficult read to say the least. Confusing and elliptical, Morrison treated Batman in a similar way he’d treated Animal Man back in the ’90s, making all the stories about a character, regardless of time elapsed, fit into a single narrative. But what was successful and funny with that book was annoying and seemingly foolish here.
Now the positives: As a trade paperback, this is a masterpiece. Showcasing Morrison’s love of Silver Age stories and their place in the personal histories of these fictional people, he gives them a life and existence beyond the page and beyond the memories of his readers. He makes them live (kind of ironic for a story entitled R.I.P.) and breathe, educating the reader about the history of comics as well as the murky pasts of the characters at hand. The story is simple enough… Batman falls foul of a group called ‘The Black Glove’ who may or may not be the product of a madman’s folly – a mental breakdown. And the only way for Bruce to stop them is to go through his own kind of breakdown, regressing through his own history to become a very different type of Batman, one who may win this battle but who won’t return from the war…
Ultimately, this best read as part of Morrison’s DC legacy, along with Final Crisis, Batman and Son and his later Batman arcs. But for now, with its apparently conclusive ending, this is the perfect place to end our reading list. Whew!
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these lists. We’ve certainly enjoyed writing and researching them. As before we’ll be updating them with new material as more trades are released, as well as doing further lists on The Batman family books and other characters. Don’t forget to check out my Star Wars reading list and Adam’s Green Lantern reading list. And, in case you missed them here are the first two parts of the Batman Reading List: Part 1 & Part 2. All the books detailed in these articles are available at Orbital now. Happy reading!