The Dark Knight has a long history, but we’ll show you where to start.
Our format on DFSG is simple:
One essential version of the character’s origin, one that will give new readers the information they need to move forward.
Three tales that not only entertain, but give the new reader a comprehensive view of character.
One alternate reality tale that exemplifies the character’s versatility.
“Year One“- Batman #404-#407 (1987)
Written by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli and Richmond Lewis
Though Batman’s origin has been retold numerous times, there was no question in my mind which is the definitive version. Miller and Mazzucchelli, who a year earlier redefined Daredevil with Born Again (expect to hear about that one again in a later column), once again strip their title character down to show how they really function. In Batman’s case, he isn’t dismantled, but is just starting his crusade. The beauty of this origin is that it functions efficiently with almost all versions of the character. Miller’s Batman is, in this turn, the intrinsic Batman. Miller also redefines the roles of Jim Gordon and Catwoman in this arc, and gave them clearer voices than they’d ever had before. Though in many ways a simple Batman story, Year One changed perception of Gotham on the whole and defined many aspects of the series that remain so to this day.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs (2005)
Written By Ed Brubaker
Art By Doug Mahnke and David Baron
Picking up shortly after the events of Year One, The Man Who Laughs provides a striking vision of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker. For new readers, the one-shot will allow an appropriate and engaging transition from the bare-bones Batman shown in his origin to the more elaborate adventures showcased across the character’s history. A beautifully rendered vision of Batman’s early days.
Batman: The Long Halloween #1-#13 (1996-1997) & Batman: Dark Victory #0-#14 (1999-2000)
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale and Gregory Wright
I couldn’t really separate The Long Halloween and Dark Victory without losing some of their importance. In short, Loeb and Sale provide one of the finest tales of Batman’s early days and give new readers a nice overview of the denizens of Gotham and their motivations, including the early days of Two-Face and Robin. It is also a wonderful way to introduce the logic behind Dick Grayson and the other sidekicks that pop up through the character’s long running story. Though separated by their Maxi-Series titles, the two volumes must be considered one of the finest runs in the character’s history.
“Hush” – Batman #608-#619 (2002-2003)
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair
Though not unlike his previous Bat-Events in scope, in Hush, Loeb plays with even more characters in the collective Gotham toy box. While new readers won’t have all of the background for this one, the mystery driven narrative doesn’t require much of this knowledge and I can’t help but believe the massive cast will do anything but pique the readers interest in all of the tales they’ve yet to tap into. It is a definitive tale of Batman for this reason, as part of the allure of the character is his large and perfected supporting cast.
An Alternate Universe
The Dark Knight Returns #1-4 (1986)
Written by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
While Miller found success in bringing Batman back to his roots a year later, in 1986 he took a chance an created a shocking vision of The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Returns, or more accurately The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Triumphant, Hunt The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Falls, place an aging Batman in a world where he never quite accomplished his goals. Bitter and vicious, this version of Bruce Wayne takes liberties with the superhero code, and hands out justice in a way audiences had never seen. Though this Batman isn’t, and was never intended to be THE Batman, The Dark Knight Returns had an unequaled influence on the character in the years that followed. There is only one alternate Batman to start with, and this is it.
It was a challenge to write the Superman edition of this column because many of the character’s stories require a lot of base knowledge. The benefit of that was when I thought of a good one, I knew it immediately. Batman has had so many great, relatively self contained, stories that I had almost the opposite challenge. A lot of big ones were left off, and I tried to keep the new reader in mind when I did this. Batman: The Killing Joke is absolutely essential, but is more so for The Joker than Batman. A Death in the Family is important, but once again, puts a lot of focus on supporting cast. Knightfall has its place too, but requires knowledge of a bunch of other characters to have impact. Not unlike The Death of Superman, it only holds weight if you get why Batman does. Stories like Under The Red Hood, Batman and Son, The Court of Owls and I Am Suicide were all considered as introductions to the contemporary Batman, but I think readers would be better served starting with the early days and using Hush as an introduction to his bigger world. From their, the full picture can come into view. Oh, and trust me, I definitely want to tackle The Joker and Robin here as separate features too.