This is where it all begins. Like I said in the Frank Miller post a couple of weeks ago, Year One will not be included in the chronology. To refresh, it does not really belong and it is more of a jump off point for Frank Miller’s Batman universe. But if you feel I am wrong, start there and catch up to what comes next.
Even with reading Year One, the question comes, what is next? Well I think I have the answer, I have been keeping my Batman trades in chronological order for years based on events and other characters appearances. There will be some stories that I will omit, like Year Two. It actually cuts into a couple of other stories that are actually better than some of theses, out dated stories. Don’t worry, I have the essentials for you and it will keep a great continuity, which is extremely hard in comics. So, lets get started with some Matt Wagner and some of the Legends of the Dark Knight.
Batman Venom, Snow, Gothic, Prey
Collections from the comic series Legends of the Dark Knight can be difficult to place, most usually do not take place in the continuity of the time-period, in reading things, we see the beginnings of different characters, like Snow and Venom is the first time we see Bane’s miracle drug. I have seen most of these take place before the Mad Monk and Monster Men, but they seem to nearly follow Year One or take place within the first year.
Prey features the introduction of the Batmobile and the Bat-signal as well as providing a current-continuity introduction to Hugo Strange, who we will mention again very soon. He is a well known character and he proves to be great here.
In Gothic, Batman must contend with haunting nightmares of a cruel headmaster that tormented Bruce Wayne as a child as he battles to stop Mr. Whisper from unleashing a lethal plague on Gotham. This is Grant Morrison at his finest for sure. It is dark and really takes you away from Batman and his rogues gallery and that is what really works.
Venom plays as the background story for Bane’s origin, in which Batman turns to a new performance-enhancing drug in his struggle to battle crime. Venom is an interesting story for sure. It is also written by a legend Dennis O’Neil. There is a great picture of Batman, who after he realizes he cannot use the drug, locks himself in the Batcave and goes “cold turkey”.
Snow tells the origin of Mr. Freeze and it is different from everything we have seen. It is a worthy re-telling and at the time a new look at one of the classic villains. The art is so strange, at times it reminds me of stain-glass windows and it is bright and colorful. That is what makes this one stand out.
Batman: Rules of Engagment
This is an interesting book from Batman Confidential, it was the first story arc by the always great Andy Diggle. It is about year into Batman’s career, he actually says this on the, maybe 10th page. So it confirms its placement, most of Batman Confidential takes place in the early years. This falls in line with something I wanted, but I guess it did not catch on. I just feel we need more modern tellings of things like Jason Todd as Robin and how Tim Drake becomes Robin. It would also be great to get to spend more time with Barbara Gordon as Batgirl before the Killing Joke and even Dick Grayson as Robin, he has been Nightwing since before I was born, well maybe not, it was 1984 and I was about 5 years from reading Batman.
In this story Bruce has dealings with Lex Luthor and it is about a somewhat weapons race between Lex Corp and Wayne Enterprises. Bruce and Lex go after a government defense contract, and of course, it all goes wrong. There is a lot of action and there are things Batman has to deal with, things he may not normally deal with and it is exciting. the story is very good. It is too bad we don’t get more Lex Luthor vs Batman in comics, they make good enemies and the relationship between Lex and Bruce is great.
I wouldn’t call this essential, but for a great chronological Batman experience, add it to the list. Just follow my list. This is a great action packed story, it does feel more updated, but still fits in line with the rest of the early years.
Batman and the Monster Men
This is a story that was developed from an older Batman story, from Batman #1. This is the second appearance of Hugo Strange in the chronology. Now, I did discount Batman: Year One, but this does techinally take place just after. This story also features Julie Madison, historically Bruce Wayne’s love interest in the older comics and she had not been seen since the early 1940s. So there is a little history to this book as it is a throw back to some of the original Batman stories and Hugo Strange is very cool.
This story is about the first time Hugo Strange is involved in creating monster, giant creatures out of his human patients. This story and its sequel, Batman and the Mad Monk(which is next on the list) take place in between Batman: Year One if you choose to use it and The Man Who Laughs, which is a great Joker story(we are getting there). Jim Gordon is now Captain ans Mob-affiliated Police Commissioner Loeb is out. There is a new guy who precedes Jim Gordon.
To review, I read this one early on. It was released as a 6-issue story in 2005. I have huge respect for a writer who can also do his or her own art. Matt Wagner really sets a great tone to Gotham and even a still young Batman. I loved the little side story with Julie Madison’s father, that may be one of the highlights for me, it really shows the effect of the Batman, not only as a symbol, but vengeance. This is an essential regardless of New 52 or older continuity.
Batman and the Mad Monk
This is the follow-up to Batman and the Monster Men. Again, this book is written and illustrated by Matt Wagner. The Monk first appeared in Detective Comics #31 in 1939. He is one of the earliest significant villains of the series. This is a brilliantly done, re-imagining of the character from the early days of Batman. I though this was a cool thing, take some of Batman’s original stories and villains and put them in the early part of his career and it works. If you don’t know much about the publication history, along with some of the other villains, you’d think this was dreamed up by Matt Wagner, that is what he does so well with this book.
One thing, he is able to equal the feel of the first book, but at some parts if feels a little more modern and in scenes with the Mad Monk, you get transported back to almost a medieval time. It is a fun book over all and it is a must read, especially since it is considered the second part or sequel to Monster Men. Again we get the feel of the book from the art and the colors, Wagner at times feels like an old time comic book artist who has a vision of the future.
From the things I have read of Matt Wagner’s work, these could be my favorite, if you have the time, read Trinity. Trinity tells the story of how Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman met and it is a very cool story with Ra’s Al Ghul and even Bizarro. I decided not to add stories about the Justice League or Batman/Superman team-ups, the chronology can get fuzzy. Superman’s pre-New 52 timeline is a mess.
Batman the Man Who Laughs and Lovers and Madmen
The Joker, what is his true origin, who is he? That is the question everyone wonders, he has many alias’ and many different origins. I have read a couple and this one is good, there is another that is very good, but I am not sure if it fits, its called Lovers and Madmen from the Batman Confidential line. So take your pick on which to read, they are both good, but this seems to be everyone’s favorite. It also is referenced in the New 52’s Death of a Family.
The Man who laughs delves into some of the Joker’s first crimes and doesn’t really work as an actual origin story, it picks up after he is already in the game. But it is classic Joker and is a very good Joker story. I would not call it one of the best, but it is very good and worth the read.
I would like to mention a little more about Lovers and Madmen, Lovers and Madmen so Joker before he has his clown face and it does work more as an origin, but for some reason it is not recognized as his origin. I think it has some great content and is worth a read. I really like the work that comes out of Batman Confidential. Both are totally worth reading, I would read Lovers and Madmen first.
Batman The Long Halloween
When I started this journey into the timeless world of Batman, I wanted to do my Top 10 Batman stories and for some reason, I couldn’t wrap my head around how to present the list. If I ever had to do a list of my top Batman stories, this would be number 1.
The Long Halloween is written by one of THE best comic writers in my lifetime, Jeph Loeb. I will be honest, it took me a long time to get to this story, I hated the art of Tim Sale, at the time, I was more into things that were as close to real as possible, like Alex Ross. But when I finally read the Long Halloween and got the chance to really look at each panel, wow. I love Tim Sale and he as become one of my favorite artists in comics, his work on Daredevil Yellow was amazing and he really works well with Jeph Leob. The lack of color really hits the way the story goes, it is so dark and full of different shades of blue, terrific.
This story takes place after the events I just mentioned and it is the beginning of the end of organized crime in Gotham, with the Falcone family and the Maroni family. It also shows more of the rise of the rogues gallery, which most have already begun their reign of terror. We do see the likes of the Joker, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and a few others. But the biggest and best, is Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon and Batman working together to take down “the Holiday Killer”. The story is a “who dun it” with twists and turns and it is a true detective story for sure. That could be why I love it so much.
The art, the writing, everything that is put into this story it is a true Batman story. There is a feeling of escalation through out the story, we see a changing of the guard from organized crime to the rogues. But it is not complete, there is a part two to this story and if you read the Long Halloween, which is a must, you have got to read the next chapter. But this is the best of all the Batman stories, it has everything you could ever want.
On a side note, there are moments between Batman and Catwoman that are so damned great, that really help make the story. But at the same time, there are some great moments between Bruce and Selina. There is so much good, the relationship between Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent, the wondering of who in the hell the Holiday killer is, read this above everything.
Batman Dark Victory
With the fallout of the Long Halloween, there are so many things still going on in Gotham, a new D.A. since Harvey Dent is gone and the Falcone family is falling apart, but they will not go down without a fight, well unless one of the Falcone’s can do something about it. Mario is back from Italy and ready to clean up the Falcone family name, while Sofia has taken her father, Carmine Falcone’s role as head of the crime family. But, as I said, there is escalation with the rogues, they are appearing more and more and have a bigger presence in this story, there are also a couple that did not show up in the Long Halloween, Penguin and Mr. Freeze.
This is a little different, the art is on! But there is way more color to this book, but it still works in every way. The Long Halloween, everything seemed so bleak and while things were bleak, in the beginning we all were thought the light was coming. But we were wrong and we just got another great detective story with higher stakes and we saw the end of organized crime in Gotham, that is a good thing, but…the Rogue’s Gallery is now in full effect.
One of the key features, this is the best telling Dick Grayson’s origin. It sticks to the basics, but Jeph Leob adds his personal touch. I love this story. You can follow it up with Robin Year One, which is actually really decent story and DC put it together with Batgirl Year One and these stories coupled make a lot of sense and are great, buy it!
This is a great time to stop, we have basically covered the first four years of Batman’s career. We have actually passed two of my top 10 Batman Graphic Novels.
Next week we delve into Batman’s darkest hours, we will deal with loss, rebirth and maybe a little Knightfall. Join us wont you?