The Ultimate Batman Reading Guide (Part #3)
So far in the Ultimate Batman Reading Guide we’ve examined the different versions of the Batman origin story, the best reading available for The Joker and the best stories featuring Batman’s sidekicks Robin and Batgirl. Now it’s time to look at some of Batman’s greatest moments as a detective – after all, he is the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’!
Batman as a Detective
THE LONG HALLOWEEN
Jeph Loeb is a divisive comic writer. He’s certainly contributed strong stories in the past, but recent times seem to have seen him take up residency on the corner of bat-shit crazy and bananas. Comic readers will no doubt remember the disappointment when he took The Ultimates in a completely loony directions and television viewers would best know the demented turn that ‘Heroes’ took in the second and third seasons. Regardless of what titles he’s cocked-up lately, his early work on Batman sill holds up as some great writing.
Set during the ‘Year Two’ era of Batman it charts the creation of Two-Face while Batman and Gordon try and tackle the Gotham mob families. Throughout the year assassinations are carried out on prominent members of the mobs by a serial killer dubbed the ‘Holiday Killer’, as he only strikes on major holidays. With suspects ranging from DA Harvey Dent to the incarcerated Calender Man, it is a well-constructed mystery story with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. It’s a long collection but well worth putting aside the time for because once you get started it’ll be hard to put it back down.
Set in an alternate universe, the world of Gotham is given a Film Noir coat of paint. Set in the 1940’s the characters are not superheroes and villains but PI’s and hoodlums. Dick Grayson is the detective known as ‘Boy Wonder’, Selina Kyle owns the Kit Kat Club, Mister Freeze is the cold-hearted hit-man and so forth.
When Batman is knocked out by an unknown attacker he awakens next to the body of Selina Kyle. What follows is a tale of suspicion, blackmail, murder and mystery. Although it departs from the usual setting for Batman, the reworking of the characters is brilliantly handled and very inventive. The story unwinds as a great pace and delivers a strong. Highly recommended.
With the complex on-going narratives and huge cast of characters who currently exist in the Batman universe the series can find itself out of sight of the original intention of the story to be a detective series. Sometimes the superhero-ness of the series gets put aside for a genuinely solid mystery. When Commissioner Gordon is gunned down and left in a coma it’s up to the Batman family to find the assailant. When the close-friendship between Batman and Gordon, and Oracle being his daughter it becomes an immensely personal case for the main characters. For readers looking for a modern Batman story with its roots in classic mystery story telling this is worth checking out.
A Batman comic without Batman – why am I suggesting that you read this? Because it’s bloody brilliant. Written by Ed Brubaker, who also penned ‘The Man Who Laughed’, envisioned a series set in the Gotham of Batman comics but with the focus on the police department’s Major Crimes unit – those tasked will tackling the big villains. The expert script blends politics, police procedural drama, relationships and action with Batman only making the occasional cameo appearance. Starting with Mister Freeze murdering one of their own and the MC Unit debating whether or not they want to turn on the Bat-Signal to ask for help, the fantastic series covers stories as diverse as The Joker taking inspiration from the Washington Sniper case to the day to day life of the intern who’s job it is to turn on the Bat-Signal (as no member of the police department are allowed to touch it).
Sadly the series ended it’s run after a few years, but the entire collection is available in four trade paperbacks and is essential reading for anyone looking for a good detective story.
Batman in the Future
The only concept that seems to be as fascinating for viewers and writers as Batman’s past is where Batman might wind up in the future. Some of these stories deal directly with Bruce Wayne whilst other hypothesis who may take up the mantle once he is gone.
Set in the year 2039, one hundred years after the original appearance of Batman, and Gotham is a police state where everyone’s identity is monitored by the government. Except one man – The Batman. The masked, low-budget vigilante operates outside of the law and society and is constantly hunted by the feds. Capt. Gordon, grandson of James Gordon is also on his trail to find out what he knows about the murder of a federal agent.
This is a rare science fiction themed story, paced like a classic mystery. The Big Brother controlled futures are a dime a dozen in fiction, but this is the only chance you’ll have to find out how such a society can deal with Batman!
BATMAN BEYOND: HUSH BEYOND
Based on the animated series of the same name, ‘Batman Beyond’ focuses on the adventures of Terry McGinnis who is mentored as a new Batman by Bruce Wayne. Equipped with a cyborg suit and enhances his human physicality while Wayne provides support from the Batcave. Whilst comic book fans are more than picky when it comes to people messing with the characters and formula, ‘Batman Beyond’ was embraced by the fan community. Remaining canon while sustaining the tone of the rest of the Batman series it’s a refreshing take on the classic character.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Written by Frank Miller, the man behind ‘Batman Year One’, this story takes place in the years following Batman’s retirement. Whilst Bruce Wayne lives out his life the streets are awash with crime, the Joker is catatonic is a mental ward and Robin is presumed dead. Superheroes have been forced into to resign or flee by a distrusting public, except Superman. The legend of the Dark Knight is slipping into urban myth. When the supposedly rehabilitated Harvey Dent returns to a life of crime Batman comes out of retirement after ten years.
Playing of the themes of crime, character and the media, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ holds a well justified spot as one of the most popular Batman stories ever conceived. Bruce Wayne at his limit is a stronger and more interesting character than ever before and it redefined how the character was written from that point on.
THE ULTIMATE BATMAN READING GUIDE WILL RETURN!