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Recommended Batman Comics 103: Tim Burton’s Batman Films…

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.

And now we’ll take a trip back in time to the late eighties and early nineties, when Tim Burton’s take on the character (with his films Batman and Batman Returns) seemed to dominate pop culture’s impression of the character.

Burton’s Batman films have been overshadowed a bit by Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but it’s hard to deny the influence that they had. Burton’s decidedly stylised approach to the Caped Crusader really gave the character a distinctive look, and the branding for the original film made the iconic yellow oval truly ubiquitous. More than that, though, the series did manage to reconcile the camp of the sixties portrayal with a much dark aesthetic – producing a wonderfully bizarre tone for the films that I think holds up remarkably well.

Burton’s Batman films were physically dark and occasionally quite strange. While there was a very clear psychology at play for the Caped Crusader, he very clearly took a backseat to his more eccentric and outlandish villains. While Nolan’s Batman films might have been grounded in a sense of realism, the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films were decidedly more fantastic and outlandish, and this list of recommendations reflects that.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list of recommendations:

Batman by Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rogers

The run by writer Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rogers from the seventies is collectively known as Strange Apparitions. On the surface, it’s an entertaining collection of stories featuring any number of impressive stories revitalising various classic concepts, characters and ideas. (It reintroduced Hugo Strange and the assassin Deadshot, among other things.) However, it was really one of the first runs to really take a look at the psychology of Batman. While O’Neil and Adams reintroduced Batman as a tragic hero, Engelhart and Rogers got under the character’s cowl just a bit, exploring what kind of a man might dress up as a bat, and the implications that his nightlife would have. Engelhart even wrote a draft of Burton’s Batman, and the Bruce Wayne portrayed in those films is heavily influenced by this take on the character.

Accessibility: Medium

What you need to know: There’s not too much confusing about the plot, by DC have had a lot of trouble packaging this run consistently, because there are early issues that Engelhart wrote without Rogers pencilling, and an epilogue illustrated by Rogers but written by another writer. Sadly, this collection is not as easy to buy as it should be.

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth

If you liked the visual aesthetic of Burton’s movies, you’ll love this. Dave McKean’s delightfully macabre artwork provides the backdrop to my favourite work Grant Morrison has done with the Caped Crusader. It’s an exploration of the insanity that links Batman and his foes – a recurring theme in Burton’s films. When the Joker takes hostages in the eponymous institution, Batman is forced to venture deep into the asylum, where he confronts not only its ghastly and grotesque inmates, but also some uncomfortable truths about himself.

Accessibility: Medium to high

What you need to know: A passing familiarity with Batman’s villains might come in handy – especially second-tier ones like Maxie Zeus, the Scarecrow, Doctor Destiny or Killer Croc.

Batman: Hush

A lot of Batman fans truly hate this story. I don’t quite agree – I think it’s certainly an enjoyable exploration of the character’s world. A massive multi-part epic that sees a new villain uncover Batman’s secret identity, Hush is just an excuse for writer Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee to explore the world of Batman. It’s essentially a “greatest hits” catalogue of defining Batman moments. We get Batman fighting Superman, courting Catwoman, swordfighting Ra’s Al Ghul and threatening to kill the Joker. Burton’s films revelled in the Caped Crusader’s colourful adversaries, and Hush does the same.

Accessibility: Medium to high.

What you need to know: A passing familiarity with Batman’s villains might come in handy. It’s all explained in the story, but it’s handy to know that there was a Robin who died (Jason Todd) and that Bruce and Catwoman have been flirting since they first met, decades ago. Also, Lex Luthor is president of the United States, there’s a vigilante in Gotham named Huntress who Bruce doesn’t approve of, and Bruce has a rocky long-term relationship with Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul.

2 Responses

  1. Great post. I’m a huge Batman fan and I really like Hush generally but could see the “reveal” of who Hush is from the very beginning which kind of kills the story in a huge way.

    • Thanks Ben. The thing about Hush is that it doesn’t really work as a mystery – the same way that The Long Halloween doesn’t work as a mystery. However, as a story in its own right it’s a pretty solid tour of Batman’s world. I also like the way that Loeb suggests throughout his Batman work that Bruce might not have had the healthiest relationship with his father, and that some of his anti-social traits are inherited, just as much a legacy as Wayne Manor or the fortune.

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