Where Do I Start with Batman Comics?

I used to write on a site called Comics Vanguard, a place I still love dearly. I’m going to serialise some of the more recent posts from that site onto The Spire, so I can keep a track and update them accordingly as things shift and change.

New readers come to comics all the time – but comics have been going for decades and decades now, and it can be really confusing to work out a good place to start from. When I first starting reading comics, it was with a mixture of Wikipedia, Ebay and the ComicBookResources forums that I worked out which character was which, what trades I should buy, and which comics were the good  comics.

So if you are, yourself, looking to start reading Batman – but don’t quite know where to start – then here’s my guide to the best contemporary starting points for the characters, from most recent to most distant:

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CURRENTLY:

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman

DC Comics wiped away all their old continuity three years ago and replaced it with a fresh start for everyone. Some of the notable stories remain part of the backstory for Batman, but mostly things have pushed forward in a new direction. As part of this writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo launched – and are still writing – the central Batman book.

A series of lengthy stories, each with a different arc and barely any subplotting, you can pick up essentially any of the stories and get a reasonably healthy standalone Batman adventure from it. Starting with The Court of Owls, each story has lasted about ten issues, evokes a mini-crossover near the end where all the related Batman books cross into the story for an issue, before concluding. Some of the stories have been better than others – Death of the Family is a Joker story which flounders somewhat, although I’ll put issue #2 of the series right up there as one of the best Batman comics of the last few years – but the tone has been consistent throughout.

The team have just finished a story set in the past, called ‘Zero Year’, which establishes the moment that the public first found out about Batman. It’s a madcap piece of work, stitching the movies into the 1966 TV show into decades of comics – but creates a singular origin for Batman in Gotham, and manages to streamline a small army of characters. You get to see Joker, Riddler, Alfred all develop and grow into the characters they are today, and the story is incredibly enjoyable.

With that storyline over, Batman is now in two places – one is ‘Batman Eternal’, a weekly comic book series which will last a year and focus on all kinds of characters in Gotham. It’s twisty-turny, and probably best to ignore for the time being as it’s not too easy to jump on. Instead, your step on will be ‘Endgame’, the new Batman arc by Snyder, Capullo, and colourist Fco Plascencia. There’s not much known about this, but it looks like it’ll see Batman face off against the Justice League.

That’s the current status quo for Batman.

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ONE STEP BACK:

Grant Morrison’s Batman/Batman & Robin/Batman Inc

The most recent definition of Batman came about from Grant Morrison, who had an incredibly lengthy recent run which moved from series to series. Starting out by replacing the current Robin – Tim Drake – with Bruce Wayne’s son Damian, the book tells several mystery stories before culminating in a big gothic climax called ‘Batman RIP’ which is fantastic.

The series then follows Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as they take over the role of Batman and Robin, for a phenomenally entertaining book that lasts 15 or so issues. Following that, Batman Inc takes the idea of Batman and sees Bruce Wayne attempt to set up a different ‘national’ Batman in
several countries around the World. Starting out as a ‘country of the week’ type format – Batman in Japan! Batman in France!” this slowly evolves into a massive culmination of everything he’s been writing since the start.

It’s self-contained, very strong, very weird, and gutpunches near the end.

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TWO STEPS BACK:

No Man’s Land

Before Morrison, Batman was in the hands of various crime maestros including Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. And those two (along with an assortment of various other artists and writers like Alex Maleev, Devin Grayson and more) were involved in a decent jump-on storyline called ‘No Man’s Land’. Massive in scope and scale, and successful around 60% of the time, this storyline ropes Gotham off from the rest of the world following an earthquake.

As a result, the city is carved up by various villains – Penguin and Two-Face take over portions of the city for themselves, along with a number of other familiar faces like Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy and Joker – whilst Gotham’s police attempt to take them all down. Batman, having been away, returns to Gotham to try and get everything under control. He’s aided by various aides like Huntress, Batgirl and Nightwing, and it’s a self-contained arc which gives you a look at basically every important Batman character of the last fifty years.

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THREE STEPS BACK:

Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One

Telling the basic origin of Batman, this remains one of the very best works of comics every published. Told in gritty and realistic form by Miller, he’s aided by sublime artwork from Mazzucchelli, forming one of the strongest creative teams imaginable and offering a definitive take on how Batman began.

Slowly building up a Gotham City in which we get glimpses of humanity amongst a stricken populace, Bruce Wayne returns home after years away to find his home has been taken over by slums, gangsters, and a corrupt police force. He’s joined by a new police officer, James Gordon, who is determined to try and bring things back to respectability.

Concise, sharp, and still breathlessly entertaining even now, this is your go-to place for learning about Batman. Y’know what? Ignore all the previous steps until you’ve read this one.

BEYOND:

If you jump on and enjoy any of those, you could also try some of the following:

Black Mirror: This series features Dick Grayson – the original Robin, now grown up and inheriting the Batman mantle– taking on a sinister threat in the city. This is dark, creepy, and with brilliant art from Francesco Francavilla and Jock. It’s written by Scott Snyder, and would be especially worth reading if you’re liking the current Batman series.

The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale – a distinctive and engrossing murder mystery which ropes in a lot of notable villains and brings together Batman, James Gordon and Harvey Dent, this was one of the main inspirations for ‘The Dark Knight’ film. Collected in one book.

Knightfall – the storyline which influenced The Dark Knight Rises, this sees Batman attacked by a new figure – Bane – who is his physical superior. When Batman can’t defeat his enemy, how will he recover? Collected in three volumes. The first is the best part of the story.

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