Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shatterblog!: The 10 Best Batman Stories

In excitement for comic-con, and having just read about 20 Batman trade paperbacks, I want to do a countdown of my very favorites. I chose "stories" because some of them take place across a couple books, and I don't feel right separating them. I'd like to note that the top 3 on this list are well above number 4, not because the quality of 4-10 is bad but because these are truly amazing examples of what Batman can and should be.

10) Death in the Family

The concept of A Death in the Family is a really cool one. This is the comic in which the second Robin, Jason Todd, dies. That may seem like a major spoiler, but you can see by the cover exactly what's going to happen. It was determined by fan vote that Jason Todd should be killed by the Joker. The story is fairly good, but both the art and the writing are sort of dated, it being from the '80's and all. Still, the fact that it made this list mean's, in my opinion, it's worth a read.

9) Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place on Serious Earth
This comic is very cool and unique. For one, the art style is fantastic, eerie and painted-looking, completely unlike the art of any other Batman stuff I've come across. It was sort of the basis for the hit video game, but only loosely. It tells a story of the Bat trapped within Arkham with the prisoners controlling it. It also tells the story of the founder, Amadeus Arkham. I recommend this for the art style alone, but the backstory to the Asylum is fantastic, as well as the actual story going on. The look at the method of "treatment" for Two-Face may be my favorite moment in the whole book, and that's saying something. It's just brilliant.

8) All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder
This book takes a lot of crap because of what a dick Batman is to Robin at the beginning. However, the writer has defended it (including the infamous "I'm the goddamn Batman" line) as making sense because this is early in the Bat's career. He's still cocky. He's not fully settled into all the responsibilities, and he's definitely still coping with the loss of his parents in a major way. The story is great, especially keeping that bit of information in mind. This is the book that turned me from a die-hard Robin hater to a genuine fan of the Boy Wonder. The art is Jim Lee, which automatically means it's pretty awesome. The scene with Bats. Robin, and Green Lantern is truly spectacular. I love it. 

7) Cacophony

To anyone who knows me, it'll come as no surprise to see a Batman comic written by Kevin Smith make the list. I'm a huge fan of Kevin Smith and all his works. That said, I want to clarify that me liking him didn't affect my decision to put this story on here. It's just fantastic. The interaction between B-Man and the Joker, especially toward the end, is some of the best dialogue I've ever read. The opening is really cool and actiony, and the new (new to me anyway. Maybe he's been in other books?) villain, Onomatopoeia, is fantastic. No idea why, but I became attached to him pretty quickly. He's just damn cool. Kevin Smith says in the intro that his next Batman book, Widening Gyre, will be better. However the second volume STILL isn't out, so I have refused to read the first. I sorta doubt it can top this story, but we shall see.

6) Long Halloween

Anyone who's seen The Dark Knight has seen bits and pieces of The Long Halloween. It's Two-Face's origin story, and a decent amount of inspiration was pulled from it. However, it is very different from the movie and I definitely recommend reading it. The main story is about Batman, Gordon, and Harvey Dent trying to catch a killer, dubbed Holiday, who murders members of one of Gotham's crime families on every holiday. The second half of the book has a bit more to do with Two-Face, but the whole story is great. The ending is really fantastic, I had no idea at all what was coming. The art on this one takes a bit of getting used to, but it's nowhere near as out there as some others. Long Halloween might have my favorite Catwoman costume, although I'm sure there's a lot of disagreement in that department. Unfortunately, it's also my least favorite rendering of the Joker. His teeth are too big and his face looks stupid.

5) Killing Joke
This one's definitely a classic. Having both the Joker's origin story (or at least one of them), as well as the crippling of Batgirl (that's not a spoiler, you should know she becomes Oracle), this is an absolute must read.   Truly the Joker's character comes out in the best possible way here. He delivers a lot of his most memorable lines, and this is my favorite iteration of the Joker artistically. Seeing Batman and Jim Gordon deal with Barbara's horrific injury is a great insight into the characters, but honestly everything plays second fiddle to the Joker's marvelous performance. Really, this is the best Joker-centric story I've read (topping Death in the Family, The Man Who Laughs, and Brian Azarello's Joker). 

4) Knightfall (Broken Bat, Who Rules the Night, Knightsend)

Knightfall is another classic must read. This is the story of Batman's defeat by Bane and all the insanity that goes on after. I won't go into detail, but the basic premise is Bane frees all the prisoners of Arkham, defeats Batman by breaking his spine, and takes over Gotham. Bruce selects a successor while he seeks treatment, but things get rather out of hand in the second volume, Who Rules the Night, so the third volume is B-man fixing the situation. Lots of great psychological stuff for Batman, which offers a lot of insight into his character. Bane is a really cool villain, and I can't wait to see what they do with him in The Dark Knight Rises. This one's a bit old and the art is dated, but it looks good and it's nowhere near as bad as Death in the Family

3) Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again

These two I couldn't get through fast enough. The premise is that Batman is retired, and Bruce Wayne is sixty years old. He come's out of retirement in a grand fashion, and the story from there out is amazing. The opening page is extremely memorable, and sucks you right in with one of Bruce's better lines ("This would be a good death. But not good enough."). The art on this one is a bit weird, but I found myself liking it after a couple pages. The dialogue of the street gang, the Mutants, is really weird and full of odd slang, but not knowing exactly what they're saying isn't a big deal. This is one of the few Batman stories to incorporate humor in a form other than the Joker (although the Joker's part in these is just amazing). I can't go into any specifics about what makes this story so great without ruining it, but every page is just fantastic. Even if these aren't technically considered Batman canon (I believe the canonical story of Bruce as an old man is Batman: Beyond), these two large trade paperbacks are well worth reading. There are a few really off moments (I will never understand Dick Grayson's appearance in Dark Knight Strikes Again.), but the overall plot is unbelievably good.

2) Court of Owls

It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the first seven issues of the New 52 relaunch of Batman would topple classics to climb so high on the list. However, Court of Owls really is one of the best Batman stories ever told. It deals with Bruce Wayne being targeted by a secret society, the Court of Owls, and their assassin the Talon. The Court is an old fairy tale in Gotham, and Batman has trouble believing at first. This is a real treat for both established Batman fans and those just getting into the New 52, and I can't recommend it highly enough. There are great twists and turns, well written dialogue, and my second favorite art overall, toppled only by Jim Lee (All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, Hush). Side note: I have yet to read them, and due to their cross over nature I can't include them on this list, but for further reading check out the Night of the Owls crossover event. It takes place in Batman, Batwing, Batgirl, Catwoman, Red Hood, and even an All Star Western comic. A trade hardback may be incoming.

1) Hush

Most Batman fans will be unsurprised to see Hush topping a list. Easily one of the greatest, if not THE greatest Batman stories ever told, with Jim Lee's incredible art to boot. Hush deals with Batman being tormented by a mysterious new villain with a bandaged face. Again, any specifics on the story could ruin it, so I'll keep this very vague and brief. Every villain's parts in the overall story is well planned, and the twist at the end, especially some of Batman's lines, is unbelievably well written. Batman's mixed feelings for Catwoman come out really well here, and got me, who generally feels like romances dull the plot, really interested in how things between them would turn out. The book(s) keep you really sucked in, and I definitely think that Hush is the ultimate Batman story. 

I just couldn't resist showing off the incredible art for Hush a little more. Being number one on the list, I feel justified in giving it a second picture. 

So there you have it. My very favorite Batman tales. Protip: To increase enjoyment of all Batman stories by 500%, read all Batman's lines in Kevin Conroy's voice, all Bruce Wayne lines in Christian Bale's voice, and all Joker lines in Mark Hamill's voice. If you don't know these voices, watch Batman Begins for Bruce Wayne, and an episode of an animated Batman series for the other two (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City  are also acceptable for Bats and Joker). The only exception to this rule is Brian Azarello's Joker (honorable mention), which should be read in Heath Ledger's voice. 
If you have any questions, or disagree with any of my ratings, drop us a comment or send me an email!

By Chazz, of Shatterblog!

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