On Friday, The Dark Knight Rises, the latest and last Batman film in Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy, will finally be upon us. So, it’s natural for loads of sites to provide you with “5 Batman Comics To Get You Pumped For The Dark Knight Rises!” But where we differ is, we’re taking a more scholarly approach to these Batman comics. We’ve already talked about The Evolution Of Batman In Popular Culture and given you Batman 101: A Beginner’s Guide To The Dark Knight, which gave you several great places to start reading Batman comics that aren’t heavily drenched in continuity and are some of the more simple stories that The Dark Knight has to offer.
With Batman 202: Intermediate Reading For The Caped Crusader, however, we’re taking a look at some more books that offer a little bit more than just a basic starting point. These books are all great, but they’re also a little more complicated than I would suggest just starting off. This list is here to provide you with the next step into becoming a Batman scholar, and requires a little more of the reader.
Arkham Asylum – Arkham Asylum is complicated, extremely complicated. It exists as a standalone original graphic novel and tells the story of a ransacked Arkham Asylum that has been overtaken by The Joker and it’s Batman’s job to come in, save employees, and contain the threat. Sound familiar? If you’re a gamer, it absolutely should. The Arkham Asylum video game was more or less a combination of this graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean and one of the best Batman properties, Batman: The Animated Series. While the story may sound like a simple super hero tale that’s point a to point b, but Grant Morrison is never the type to take the easy way. This graphic novel quickly turns into a psychological analysis of Batman and his rogue’s gallery more than it is a linear tale of Batman fighting villains. It’s not the best Batman comic out there primarily due to the lack of focus, and lack of focus on the character, in particular, but’s it is a rare comic that provides so much more. Yes, Arkham Asylum is a book starring a superhero, but it’s more of a comic about the mental state of the insane than anything else.
Dark Knight, Dark City – Look, the late 80s and earlier 90s were a weird time for comics. It was one of the most influential and original time periods in comics history, especially in the hands of non-American creators like Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and in this instance, Peter Milligan. In the story Dark Knight, Dark City (Batman #452-454), Batman is confronted with one of the darkest and most powerful forces in the history of Gotham City. This short story is considered by many to be the best Riddler story, and I’m not one to disagree here. Throughout the pages, The Riddler is on a mission to chase down a spiritual force attached to the city of Gotham. The Riddler goes on to commit several crimes forcing Batman to unknowingly perform a dark ritual of black magicks that summons the Bat-Demon Barbatos. This story sets up a history within Gotham that shows Batman that his city is not quite in his hands like he had always thought. It’s a dark, wonderful tale and if you read it with an open mind, it will absolutely blow you away.
No Man’s Land – No Man’s Land takes a whole lot of work to get through. Once you make it through, though, it’s all worth it. During the Cataclysm storyline, Gotham City was struck with an earthquake that leveled the city and brought the entire structure to its core. Gotham City was labeled as a lawless No Man’s Land as crime took over. Each of the main villains in Batman’s gallery formed factions in the devastated rumble of what Gotham used to be, and what made it worse was the The Batman was nowhere to be found. Commissioner Gordon and his crew of blue-boys did their best to work with what they were given and bring law and order to the chaos of the current state, but it just wasn’t enough. Hence, we were introduced to more of the Batman family. With Batman gone, Gotham City still needed heroes, and with the help of The Huntress, Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, a new Batgirl, and the majority of Batman’s supporting cast the good guys started winning. No Man’s Land is one of the finest starting points for any Gotham reader, but it’s incredibly complex, ripe with continuity and quite simply an intese read. Many writers and artists had their hands in the creation of this story which makes it muddy at times, but it’s one of the most fun times I’ve ever had reading a comic book.
A Death In The Family – Where do I start with A Death In The Family? Well, to know of its importance to the overall mythos, we have to go back a ways. Let’s go back to The Golden Age for the sake of things. Batman as a loner hero became a little too intense in the eyes of the comic book publisher now known as DC Comics, and was given an apprentice, an orphaned boy who was to provide comic relief and lighten up the dark tone of the pulp-inspired weird creature of night. This young boy was named Dick Grayson, the original Robin. Robin became a mainstay of Batman and Detective Comics for decades and the relationship between Batman and his young ward were called into question by the condemning nature of Fredric Wertham who started a war on the corrupt and immoral nature of comic books with his manifesto Seduction of the Innocent. The public outcry and backlash on comic books created the Comics Code Authority which deemed all sorts of behavior beneficial to a classic Batman story unpublishable. Thus, Batman and Robin became heroes to citizens in ways such as going out in daylight and helping the public. Saving cats, judging contests, and going to alternate universes and gaining the powers of Superman, but we’ll get to that on another day. All of this led to a dull comic book universe where basically nothing was happening and in the 1970s Dick Grayson left the side of Batman and became Nightwing (lovingly referred to as Discowing by awesome people). After Nightwing became his own hero, the problems started happening again, and Batman needed another sidekick to lighten things up. Since it was the 80s, what readers got was a troubled young teen by the name of Jason Todd. Jason Todd acted out with harsh violence and refused to listen to his mentor. This behavior seemingly attempted to capture the attitude youth/punk movement of the 80s, but it backfired. Readers despised Jason Todd and when the call from DC Comics came down to its readers a simple question was asked. Readers were called upon to call a 1-900 number and vote on whether they wanted to see Jason Todd die or survive the upcoming, Joker-centric storyline. And that storyline was A Death In The Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo. Many voted in this poll and it was finally decided that Jason Todd would at some point perish thanks to the bloodlust of comic book readers. This is quite simply one of the most troubling things in the history of comics. The story itself takes place mainly in the middle east when Todd has decided to try to track down and reconnect with his long lost mother. Unfortunately for Jason and Batman, however, his mother was in cahoots with The Joker. The Joker is at his worst in the storyline and gruesomely beats Jason Todd within an inch of his life with a crowbar and ultimately sets another elaborate death trap which causes the building in which Jason is trapped to explode thanks to a whole lot of bombs. As a comic, I really enjoy this book. The art by Aparo is obviously amazing, and the story is incredibly heartbreaking on so many different levels. If you get a chance, make sure you read this book. It’s good, but more than that, it’s important for a variety of reasons. The reverberations of the story can be felt in the previously mentioned Hush, as well as several stories we’ll get to on another day. But for now, know that this is a must-read for anyone wanting to delve into the world of The Dark Knight.
Birth of The Demon – This is the dawning of Ra’s Al Ghul. Birth of the Demon collects several short graphic novels consisting of the epitome of Ra’s Al Ghul stories. It perfectly represents different elements of the character including his immortality, the secrets of The Lazarus Pits, his beautiful daughter Talia, his admiration for “The Detective,” and the son of The Batman, who we would come to be known as Damian (more on that later, as well). Ra’s Al Ghul has clearly played a huge role in the Christopher Nolan films as he is the one who trains Bruce Wayne in the art of The Ninja and has a terrorist plot to take down the modern day Babylon known as Gotham City. While these specific thing don’t necessarily happen the same way they do in the film, the comics world is much richer with Al Ghul. Not every appearance of Ra’s reveals more of the mythology, if you’re looking to learn more about this character, look no further than Birth of The Demon as it is basically the Ra’s Al Ghul saga.
Gothic – Gothic, by Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson, is one part of an overall series called Legends of The Dark Knight. The point of Legends of The Dark Knight was to tell short, graphic novel-style stories over the course of approximately three single issues that focus on a point in Batman’s early career that took place some time after Batman: Year One. Legends of the Dark Knight introduced many of Batman’s rogue’s gallery into post-Year One continuity and had many celebrated stories such as Snow, Prey, and many others. Where Gothic differs from these, however, is with its bravery to step outside the box. While most writers were focusing on ghost story, in Gothic, many things that you would think could not exist in the realm of a Frank Miller-created universe were introduced, which brought back an element that Batman had been missing for quite some time – the supernatural. The supernatural has been a part of Batman’s history since the early days when he fought off a group of vampires who tried to murder and turn his beloved fiancée (but more on that later). Gothic isn’t the most important, complicated, or drenched in continuity story out there, but it doesn’t really work as an introductory story, what with all the magic, demons, ghosts, and angels within the story, either. It’s a good mystery that deals with high concepts and ultimately has a wonderful pay off. Janson’s art is superb, as is Morrison’s writing. It barely comes up as a mainstay of Batman books, but you should really give it a try if you come this far in your readings. It’s quite simply a flat-out good comic. It’s fun to read, it makes you think and most importantly draws you in for a fantastic ride.
There are so many different ways to read Batman comics. You can read for fun, you can read for a thrill, and you can read to broaden your mind. These comics listed above are a median-level read for those who have started reading Batman and want to get deeper into the realm of the comics. It requires more from a casual reader of comics, but reading these books will show you a greater appreciation for these works and the works that are yet to come. If you’ve ridden along with me this far, there’s no turning back now as we step forth into Batman 303: An Advanced Guide To Batman Comics in two days. Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-website.