Where to begin reading Batman comics

Jennie investigates DC Comics’ current batch of titles to suggest good starting points for those unfamiliar with Batman’s comic book adventures…

Batmansuggestions

With the critical and financial success of Batman Begins during the summer of 2005, the superhero movie was dragged from the ashes of 1997’s Batman and Robin and 2003’s underrated Hulk. This new concept of creating superhero films with a more realistic and darker tone helped to dispel the common misconceptions that comic books have a tendency to be immature, and pushed Batman to the forefront of the Marvel vs. DC movie battle.

After Christopher Nolan’s confirmation that The Dark Knight Rises will be his last Batman film it would seem that the franchise that revitalised and redefined the character of Batman – and a whole genre – for a new generation is drawing to a close. With this news, it begins to feel like the end of an era.

There can be no denying that the last decade has been good to the Batman franchise. Two commercially successful movies, a wildly popular and acclaimed game-of-the-year in 2009 in Arkham Asylum, and even a well-received stage show in Batman Live. Although the caped crusader has always been an appealing character with a fairly constant presence in the media, comic book sales figures still don’t match up to the success of movie and game adaptations.

One could speculate that the reason for this is that comic books are not the easiest world to jump into, and it takes a brave soul to pick up a comic for the first time and tackle the talk of canon, crisis and crossovers. It also doesn’t help that with the Batgirls, Robins, Batwomen and various villain based spin-offs, choosing the right books to read can be daunting – but hey, we all have to start somewhere!

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Throughout the Batman panoply there are some excellent self-contained stories that originate from limited series. These are books that can satiate a comic book craving, and tend to be more accessible to comic novices, as they deal less with long-running mythology and more in presenting an exciting and immediate story that can be told over a shorter timescale.

A good example of this is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, a 13-issue limited series that deals with the Gotham mob, a killer who only strikes on holidays and a tentative re-telling of the origin of Two-Face. However, short series often do not offer the same kind of absorption in a universe as reading stories in longer form can.

It would seem that DC have finally caught on to this fact and pushed, as part of their New 52 relaunch, a large collection of books orbiting the Batman character. These comics titles are still part of the overall continuity of the DC universe but start at issue one to get you hooked!

This month sees the release of the New 52 line’s fourth issues. Some books are beginning to wrap up their first runs and hints of bigger plot developments are starting to appear. This also means that collected trade paperbacks of the comics will begin appearing on the shelves in the coming months, so perhaps now is a good time to start thinking about where to start if you would like to dip your toes into the murky waters of Gotham.

One of DC Comics’ flagship titles, Detective Comics is less like a detective story than one may expect given its name. The shocking opening storyline is not for the faint-hearted as a new villain, the deranged surgeon known as the Dollmaker, has set his sights on claiming Batman, Commissioner Gordon and even the Joker as his playthings.

While this type of plotline may not be to everyone’s taste, if the horror-suspense styling of movies like Saw is something you enjoy then Detective Comics first arc will certainly push your buttons. The art is strong, matches the story very well and there is a huge twist at the end of almost every issue!

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The second of the bat-books, the eponymous Batman, is very different to Detective Comics. The main plot arc focuses on Gotham’s underground society The Court of Owls, and the story is told at an intelligent pace that builds overall plot while keeping the issues self contained and satisfying to read. Batman has been reminiscent of Loeb’s work, where detection and political motivation of the people without the masks play as big of a role in the plot as the masked villains.

Writer Scott Snyder’s story feels like it is a long-term investment with a deeper plot unfolding each issue, but it also maintains a nice crossover with Nightwing on occasion so it doesn’t feel completely isolated from the rest of the Batman family. The art on this book is a little boxy, but this is only noticeable in the scenes where the male leads are together without their masks. In this story, Batman is clever, athletic and importantly a sleuth – as he should be.

Batman and Robin, the third of the core titles, was in the unfortunate position of following on from a very popular run by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly.

The previous run saw former-Robin Dick Grayson taking Bruce Wayne’s son, Damien, as his ward after Bruce’s apparent death. In the new run Bruce has returned to his role as mentor, allowing the father-son dynamic duo to flourish. Of course, the book is not completely focused on this aspect and there have been very well received stories during the run so far. However, it seems that Batman and Robin’s reception has been hindered somewhat by the popularity of the earlier creative team.

The final part of the tetralogy, Batman: The Dark Knight, is a title I know fairly little about. The title began before the New 52 soft reboot but was reset to coincide with the other DC #1s. Overall, reviews have been mixed, with the frequent appearances of classic Batman villains being the real draw for this title. The general feeling seems to be that if you want a Gotham all-star plotline then picking up a copy of Loeb’s Hush might be the way to go.

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If the four series above are not enough for the bat-mad there are several others featuring the Dark Knight as a guest character.

Batman and Bruce Wayne have featured more prominently than expected in Judd Winick’s new Catwoman ongoing series, initially as a fleeting liaison. Wayne’s role seems to be developing into someone who knows the secret identity of Selina Kyle and may be planning on taking a larger role in her life – or comic book. Could this be pre-emptive fan-service to Catwoman’s role in The Dark Knight Rises next year?

Add to all this additional up-and-coming appearances in Batgirl, potential crossovers with Nightwing, and of course Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League, and it would seem there is plenty of Batman to go around. Following the most high profile and accessible relaunch in comic book history, what better time has there been to pick up your first Batman book?

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