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Recommended Batman Comics 102: Batman – The Animated Series…

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

I know that movies traditionally have a minimal impact on comic book sales, but to celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I thought I’d make a list of accessible jumping-on points for fans of Batman in mass media. There are several wonderful things about Batman. There are two especially relevant to this article. First, Batman is an infinitely adaptable character. He can literally be anything to anybody. It is entirely possible for somebody to love one interpretation of Batman while loathing others. So I’ll be breaking down my recommendations by source, so you can look at your favourite interpretation of Batman and find the most thematically and tonally relevant jumping-on points:

The second factor is that Batman is one of the few characters blessed with a back catalogue of accessible runs and stories, so there’s quite a few recommendations for each. It’s as simple as finding one that works for you.

We’ll continue with perhaps the most comprehensive and consistent portrayal of the character in mass media, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series.

While Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of Batman is very much grounded in something resembling the real world, Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series has a wonderful ability to celebrate pretty much all aspects of the Caped Crusader. There’s noir in there, a bit of science-fiction, some superheroics, globe-trotting adventures.

While I think that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more concentrated distillation of the Batman mythos than Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I think that Timm does a fantastic job offering a comprehensive portrayal of the Dark Knight. Indeed, it’s a shame that Warner Brothers seem to have no plans to celebrate the show’s upcoming twentieth anniversary. We might, though.

The stories selected here are a bit broader than those for Nolan’s films. They’re a bit more “out there” and bit more obviously “comic-book-y.” They’re loud, fun and delightfully all over the map in terms of tone and theme.

Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories

It is a crime that more of the comic books based around the show – The Batman Adventures and Batman: Gotham Adventures, for example – are not readily available. During the nineties, a lot of people would argue that these were the most consistent Batman comics being published. Still, at least we have this hardcover gem. Featuring work by Dini and Timm on the tie-in comics, the book is a wonderfully enthusiastic celebration of everything that made the show special. The title story is an origin of Harley Quinn, perhaps the show’s most successful creation, but there’s a whole bunch of great and enjoyable and accessible Batman work to be found here.

Accessibility: Medium to high.

What you need to know: Some passing familiarity with the show might might come in handy, but mainly that the Joker has a henchwoman named Harley Quinn.

Paul Dini’s Detective Comics Run

Detective

Death and the City

The Private Casebook

The Heart of Hush

Paul Dini took over writing Detective Comics at the same time that Grant Morrison was writing Batman. While Grant Morrison’s take was certainly more ambitious, Dini’s work was certainly more accessible. A lot of it was simply doing what he had done so well on the show – taking villains and reworking them to make them more complex or sympathetic. He did an especially wonderful job with Hush, perhaps the most significant new addition to Batman’s rogues gallery in quite some time. Unfortunately, Dini didn’t write the whole run, and some of it is tied to continuity, but it’s still a great read, especially when Dini teamed with Dustin Nguyen on art.

Accessibility: Medium

What you need to know: The Riddler figured out Bruce Wayne was Batman, but then got hit on the head and forgot; the Ventriloquist is dead; there’s a villain named Hush who harbours a grudge against Bruce Wayne and knows that Wayne is Batman.

“Dark Moon Rising”

Batman and the Monster Men

Batman and the Mad Monk

Writer and artist Matt Wagner takes the gritty seriousness of Frank Miller’s Year One and introduces all manner of strange concepts into the career of a young Batman. These two books are essentially “remakes” of early Batman stories, and they work so well because they push Bruce out of his element – instead of dealing with thugs or common crooks, he’s wrestling mutated monsters and vampire serial killers. There’s also a lot of character development at play here as well, as Wagner slow transforms Bruce from the angry young man seen in Miller’s Year One to the more rounded and heroic figure of later stories.

Accessibility: High

What you need to know: Bruce had a girlfriend named Julie Madison.

Batman by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams, Vol. II

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams, Vol. III

I’m normally reluctant to recommend classic comics to people who want to read comics. I find it’s best to jump in with accessible modern stuff and work backwards. However, Batman has several classic early runs that actually read quite well – if you can put aside the awkward purple prose and overly elaborate thought balloons. The O’Neil and Adams run in particular has become something of a touchstone for the character, informing virtually all subsequent portrayals. It took the Caped Crusader back to his darker roots following the campness of the sixties, without going quite as extreme as Frank Miller did. In particular, it’s a very heavy influence of the animated series, with several stories serving as direct adaptations of stories from this duo.

Accessibility: Medium to high.

What you need to know: A bit of patience with classic comics is recommended, but they’re well worth it. Also a passing familiarity with the Joker or Two-Face is recommended.

Scott Snyder’s Batman Run

Court of Owls

Night of the Owls

The City of Owls

Launched as part of “the new 52” last year, including this feels a bit like cheating. The run isn’t over yet and only the first book has been published as a collected edition. Still, it’s well worth a look. Snyder wrote the superb Black Mirror and continues on fine form here with a story that manages to balance psychological complexity with a decidedly superheroic Batman, one who discovers that Gotham might still have a secret or two in store for him. It’s big, epic, bold stuff, but it’s written through a decidedly “Batman” lens. It comes highly recommended.

Accessibility: High.

What you need to know: Everything you need is in there.

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