The Ultimate Batman Reading Guide (Part 2)
Part #2 of the Ultimate Guide to Batman is brought to you by G-FUNK and JAMIE Z.
Did you miss Part #1? Click HERE to read about the best origin stories and Joker tales!
Batman is sometimes portrayed in other media as a solo vigilante, and even when teamed up with another side-kick or crime fighter he nonetheless comes across as a very independent figure, not reliant on others and preferring to keep to himself. The reality in the world of the comics is quite different. Although Batman rarely confides in people and even lets his guard down he has an ever expanding ‘family’ who he relies on as much as they rely on him.
The line-up is wide and varied – Huntress, Spoiler, Oracle, Nightwing, Red Robin, Batwoman, Azreal, The Outsiders, The Birds of Prey, Batman Inc. – but there’s two figures who have featured longer and become just as iconic as Batman himself: Robin and Batgirl.
THE ESSENTIAL ROBIN
ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN by Frank Miller
A retelling of the Dick Grayson story for a new generation of readers. Originally receiving mixed reviews due to Batman being a more violent character than previous depictions, it is an early model of the Dark Knight who was without the balancing influence of Robin. Frank Miller delivers excellence as usual, with a far darker look at a costumed vigilante inducting a child into his twisted world. With growing concerns from Gordon and Alfred, it’s a rare occasion that the viewer questions Batman’s methods. Worth the price just for Batman and Robin capturing and taunting the Green Lantern.
It also features art by Jim Lee, which is a bonus in any title.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY Jim Starlin
What new readers might be know is that whilst Batman has always been Bruce Wayne there have been a number of youngsters taking the mantle of Robin. Dick Grayson was the original Robin after his parents were murdered (his origin story was covered in Part 1 of this guide) and when he struck out on his own to become Nightwing Batman took on a new protegee. Jason Todd was caught stealing hubcaps from the Batmobile while it was parked in Crime Alley (for real) and Batman say the chance to rehabilitate the wayward youth by redirecting his wild streak towards crime fighting.
Todd wasn’t as popular with the fans as Grayson due to his argumentative attitude and violent approach. ‘A Death in the Family’ was a significant story arc for two reasons. Firstly, it was a well told story with plenty of twists and turns, following Robin as he seeks out his mother. Secondly it gave readers to opportunity to vote via a phoneline as to whether Robin would live or die. The people spoke, and Robin was felled under a viscous and shockingly brutal attack by the Joke wielding a crowbar. One of the more emotionally driven Batman stories, it’s become a landmark title in comic history.
A LONELY PLACE OF DYING by Marv Wolfman
Following the death of Jason Todd, Batman fell apart. He became reckless in his patrols and often had to reign himself in when apprehending criminals. He pushed himself to the limit and refused to heed the advice of his friends, including Alfred. Then Tim Drake stepped up. A nine year old boy and amateur sleuth, Drake had already deduced that Batman was Bruce Wayne, that Dick Grayson was both Robin and Nightwing (by comparing his fighting style to acrobatic moves) and that Jason Todd was Robin until his murder. Jason Todd had also seen that Batman was becoming unhinged and stepped in to tell his hero what he needed: a new Robin.
Although he didn’t expect it, Nightwing and Batman both agreed that Drake was not only right but that he was the person for the job. Batman took Drake under his wing, beginning a new chapter in the Batman saga. Tim Drake proved nearly as popular as Dick Grayson in the part, recently earning his own line under the guise of Red Robin.
VIOLENT TENDENCIES by Chuck Dixon
Tim Drake soon proved himself to be the most popular Robin since the original, and one of the things that made him such a strong character was the humanity he displayed. Whilst previous Robins were orphans, Drake has to hide his nighttime activities from his ailing father, balance a school (then collage) life and deal with relationships outside of the Batcave. Following the death of his former girlfriend Stephanie Brown (aka Spoiler) his life became even more complex. This volume shows of the character to great effect, seeing all of his problems come to a head when the new vigilante, Violet, caches his eye with her Robin Hood approach to crime.
BATTLE FOR THE COWL
Following the death of Bruce Wayne the heroes of Gotham were sent into turmoil. Whilst the criminal underworld took the opportunity to run free the vigilantes needed to form a plan and decide if they needed a new Batman, and if so who would take on the role. Dick Grayson was the obvious candidate, having worked with Wayne the longest, but another Batman has already arrived on the scene. His identity a mystery his violent approach is not conducive to Bruce Wayne’s ethos. The pretender is revealed to be Jason Todd, alive and insane. As much as I hate needless resurrections of comic characters this creates a tense stand-off between Grayson and Todd that marks the beginning of new roles for them, plus Damien Wayne, Stephanie Brown and Tim Drake as Batman, Red Hood, Robin, Batgirl and Red Robin respectively.
BATMAN & ROBIN VOLUME #1 by Paul Dini
Following the events of the previous story, Dick Grayson donned the cowl and stepped into his mentors boots. Drake hung up his tights and took the identity of Red Robin, leaving Damien Wayne to become the 5th Robin. Bruce and Talia al Ghul’s sociopath son, who was genetically engineered and trained from birth to be an assassin, makes for the most interesting dynamic between hero and side-kick yet with the new, acrobatic kind-hearted Batman being paired with a vicious, deadly side-kick in need of a father.
THE ESSENTIAL BATGIRL
by Special Guest Contributor JAMIE Z.
Batgirl is one of the most famous of the female superheroes. Her image is an essential part of the Bat-family and has been for half a century. I have listed below some trade paperbacks, graphic novels, and single issues that I feel are essential to getting to know each of the Batgirls.
This was the story that really made me fall in love with Batgirl. More than any others, this one fleshes her out into a multi-faceted character rather than just Batman’s smiling sidekick. Batgirl: Year One shows Barbara’s struggles to be the person she wants to be and to prove all the naysayers wrong.
BATGIRL: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD by Dennis O’Neil
This collection starts with Batgirl’s first appearance in 1967 and goes on through the 1990’s. It collects some of her most fascinating appearances and is a prime example of the growth of female superheroes over the years. It also shows us Barbara’s complicated relationship with Dick Grayson, Robin.
THE KILLING JOKE by Alan Moore and BRAVE AND BOLD #33: LADIES NIGHT by J. Michael Straczynski
Batman: The Killing Joke marks the end of Barbara’s run as Batgirl (until the reboot at least) and is one of, if not the most, pivotal moment in her life. The story itself focuses more on the other characters but it is such an important scene for Barbara that it’s worth including in her line-up. I also highly suggest the companion piece Brave and the Bold #33: Ladies’ Night which parallels the events in The Killing Joke but shows us more of Barbara and her relationship with other superheroes along the way.
Silent Running collects the very first appearances of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. Her amazing fighting skills impress Batman while her lack of social abilities worries Oracle. An attempt to “fix” her brain leaves her without her sixth sense abilities and with a newfound power of speech. Cain’s journey is an intriguing one but it all starts here with her first putting on the Batgirl suit.
Batgirl Rising is the beginning of Stephanie’s career as Batgirl (after previously being Spoiler and even briefly Robin). She struggles with her new identity and being accepted by Barbara, who doubt’s Stephanie’s abilities to be a superheroine.
What does the next Ultimate Batman Reading Guide hold? Detective stories and more!