by Michael Clancy
Batman is one of the most recognised superheroes around. While he may be a multi-millionaire industrialist, he seems to have an every-man quality that appeals to many people. Whether you read the comics religiously, have a passing interest in the Adam West-starring 60’s TV show, or have never consumed a single piece of Batman-related media, chances are you know something about the character and his myth. Bruce Wayne. The Joker. Robin. The Batmobile. Gotham. These are all words that have transcended their source and entered the public consciousness.
However, as comic book continuity can be a ridiculously intricate web of mythology, non-permanent deaths, and ret-cons, it can be quite difficult to penetrate the world of Batman and Gotham. When comic book characters also spawn film series, TV shows, and video game franchises – all with their own version of continuity – it can make this task seem even more daunting. While I would usually recommend jumping in at the deep end and going from there, sometimes it’s good to have a starting point. So whether you’re an established, hardcore Batman fan, a casual fan, only getting started, or just want to get into the mood for The Dark Knight Rises, here are five essential pieces of Batman-related media to get you going.
1. Batman: Year One – Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, this story, first printed in 1987 in Batman issues 404 to 407, depicts the beginning of Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman, and Jim Gordon’s with the Gotham City Police Department. Gone are the campy days of Adam West. Miller’s compelling writing and Mazzucchelli’s moody artwork, bring to life a vision of Gotham steeped in gritty realism. While only a four-part story, it has been immensely influential. In 2000, Darren Aronofsky planned to film an adaptation but the idea was scrapped as the studio believed the source material to be too dark for cinema audiences. Flash-forward five years and the fingerprints of Miller’s tale can be seen all over Nolan’s film series. The darker, more realistic depiction of Batman in the Christopher Nolan films, is heavily inspired by this storyline from the comics.
2. Batman: The Animated Series – Running from 1992 to 1995, Batman: The Animated Series is considered by many to be the greatest Batman adaptation ever, if not the greatest animated series ever. The series’ distinctive visual style depicts Gotham as a modern day 1920’s Art Deco-inspired metropolis. Drawing inspiration for episodes from the early days of the Batman comics, it is a sophisticated, original, and dark interpretation of the Batman comics – using the 20-minute length episode framework in some truly imaginative ways. Kevin Conroy, as the voice of Batman, and Mark Hamill, as the voice of the Joker, have gained the acclaim of critics and fans alike, with their vocal performances becoming an iconic element of Batman’s legacy on screen. The Animated Series’ legacy and influence can be seen in both the comics and the films. Harley Quinn, a fan-favourite character since the 90s, had her debut in the series before crossing over into the comic universe’s continuity.
3. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – The second graphic novel on this list written by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Bruce Wayne ten years after he has retired the cape and cowl. It’s set in a dystopian version of Gotham, which is being terrorised by a criminal group called The Mutants. When Harvey Dent is released from Arkham Asylum, it sets in motion a series of events which force Bruce Wayne to once again take up the mantle of Batman. Setting the story in the future allows us to see a world in which superheroes have aged, leaving behind a vacuum to be filled. Frank Miller also illustrated the tale. His detailed artwork combined with his use of small panels, creates a sense of claustrophobia, capturing the societal fear prevalent in Gotham.
4. Batman: Arkham Asylum/Arkham City – Superheroes work well on paper, and on screen, but while the genre and its tropes seem easily translatable to the platform of PC and console gaming, the reality is that there has not been that many great superhero video games. The Batman: Arkham series of games have bucked that trend. Released in 2009, the first in the series was an engaging, thrilling, and faithful video-game adaptation of the Batman comics. While transporting the Joker to Arkham Asylum, Batman gets caught in the middle of a villainous plot devised by the Joker. The gameplay combines third-person combat, stealth, and puzzle-solving elements. The intuitive combat controls, and the huge range of gadgets available give the player the closest experience available of donning the cape and cowl. The story is filled with twists and turns as Batman encounters a large selection of his rogues gallery. The 2011 sequel expands on these elements, relocating the action to a larger area of Gotham.
5. Batman: The Court of Owls – In September 2011, DC relaunched their entire comic line under an initiative called The New 52. While many characters and franchises emerged completely reinvented, Batman’s mythology remained intact for the most part, with only some minor changes. That is not to say that the relaunch did not breath some fresh life into the Batman titles. Written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo. The Court of Owls runs through issues 1 to 7 of the relaunched Batman title. While investigating an attempt to frame Nightwing for murder, Batman uncovers a secret society which runs Gotham from the shadows and appears to have a connection to the history of the Wayne family. Batman has always been described as the world’s greatest detective and this takes him right back to these roots. The storyline is steeped in mystery and is quite creepy at times. While the artwork is deceptively cartoonish, it manages to capture the darkness of Gotham’s underworld. It is an important tool in the portrayal of the story; at one time the artwork is even flipped upside-down to completely disorientate the reader.