Batman is a household name worldwide. From movies, to toys, to everything in-between…Batman is everywhere. While many lament the sheer amount of Bat content constantly coming out, there is a reason he is so popular with so many. Batman is an extremely beloved character and means so much to so many. Instead of bringing you some sort of top 10 reads list or something similar, our staff brings you a bit about their personal relationship with the characters of Gothams and a story they want you to check out that means something to them.
I don’t think my love of Batman and Gotham characters is a secret in the slightest. I grew up on a stream of Batman. Hell, we started this whole thing as a DC podcast, so my allegiances have never been a secret. Batman for me has always been a versatile character that you could use to tell any type of story. He was the character you could drop into any story and it would make sense. I’ve talked about Batman on the show at length so I wouldn’t take up space here from our other writers. Batman is a character you can always depend on to keep the lights on. Now more than ever, I appreciate the characters’ stories, family, and what he stands for.
Now I assume if you know me, you would assume my recommendation would be “Heart of Ice” from Batman: The Animated Series. I do think if you haven’t seen it, it’s time to pop it on and get ready to put your heart on ice. But I wanted to recommend a story I haven’t read since I was young up until the moment before writing this. I want you to read Gotham Knights #18 “Cavernous” from Devin Grayson, Roger Robinson, John Floyd, Rob Schwager, and Bill Oakley. It’s an issue that I read multiple times when I was younger because it made me realize that Batman was depressed. That his choices and things he had done actually alienated the people he cared about. Batman didn’t have the emotional tools needed to reach out to others to tell them he just didn’t want to be alone so instead he did his normal pushing them away. But eventually he asks Aquaman to help him get his penny unlodged after the Earthquake (See No Man’s Land). But there is a moment on the last page that is very worth reading this one off issue for. You don’t need any knowledge of the stories surrounding this, it’s rather stand alone to highlight the loneliness of the bat.
I often get very sick of Batman. I loved him as a child of course, because of all the movies, cartoons and toys. But growing older and getting into comics I start to resent his overexposure and by extension Batman himself. But then occasionally I read a great Bat story or revisit a classic episode of the animated series and I remember that Batman is just the coolest thing. Unlike a lot of characters Batman’s world could survive entirely on it’s own. Divorced from the wider DC Universe, Gotham is a living, breathing world with its own internal logic and world. Batman’s villains know each other, they have their own rivalries and relationships and that’s not something you can say for most superhero rogues. There is just something about Gotham that is so endlessly appealing, that brings out the best in its creators. With a moody atmosphere but also poppy fun. Because Batman can be anything. He’s malleable in a way other characters aren’t. That’s why despite the oversaturation of the character I will always love Batman. Because it’s a whole world of stories and characters in its own right that feels timeless and larger than life in its own way.
Shadow of the Bat #1-4:
Up in the pantheon of Batman writers there are names like Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Denny O’Neil and rightfully so. But for me my favourite work with the Bat of Gotham has always been with Alan Grant. I revisit his stories a LOT, especially those with art by the late great Norm Breyfgole. Together these two created the ultimate image of Batman to me. A dark mysterious creature of the night. Breyfgole’s stylized art depicts a Gotham larger than life. It’s angular and all encompassing and within it stands Batman. Stylish and angular, a haunting shadow streaking across the night sky. It perfectly suits Grant’s dark and psychological stories. But it’s not all darkness. I’m a believer in Batman needing empathy and levity. This particular story has Batman fighting a murderous serial killer, but also walking a lost girl home. Alan Grant’s Batman is one that perfectly encapsulates all aspects of the character to me. He’s a dark vengeful spirit but a compassionate hero at the same time.
But what’s a specific story from this run that I recommend? Really anything by Grant and Breyfgole I say is worth a read. One story stands out to me though and that’s the first arc of Shadow of the Bat. This was a new Batman title made especially for Grant to go wild, and his first arc was a real mission statement. The story here takes place over four issues and follows Batman as he tries to solve a series of serial murders around Gotham City. The catch is that he’s already sure of who it is, Victor Zsasz. This is Zsasz’s first ever appearance and Grant and Brefygole established everything about him here. His sickening need to kill people, his obsession with marking himself with tallies from his victims and his lanky visage. The only problem for Batman is that Zsasz is already in Arkham, after he caught him in a previous adventure. So Batman has to break into Arkham to try and figure out what’s going on and how he’s getting out. A super simple conceit that gives way to a brilliant story dripping in atmosphere. To me this is the definitive Arkham story. It’s a building that feels gothic and larger than life, a sickening hole where the superstitious and cowardly are thrown away and forgotten. Grant and Breyfgole are the kinds of nailing the mood of Batman. They really build up the world of Gotham in a way that lets us understand Batman even more. It’s a perfect Batman comic and one that I will cherish forever.
My Bat-Love began when I was eleven years old. It was December, between Christmas and my birthday, and my parents presented a double-whammy Birthmas present that would set me on a path to creativity and superhero fandom.
The gift — Lego Batman: The Videogame
As children, my brother and I adored Legos, always building the sets, playing with them and inevitably breaking them because we were never the delicate type of boys. The idea of playing a video game version with Batman, who we knew from a collection of cool cartoons, was a dream come true, and I’m sure welcome salvation for my poor parents’ feet.
That game introduced me to the meaning of “atmosphere” with the eerie music from the Burton films, dark urban environments and the Stud sound effects that will haunt me forever. It was also a really great relationship-builder with my little brother. It helped so much, we even got to a point where I would let him play Batman, a true mark of respect in our household.
That’s what Batman means to me. A dark and strange city filled with wonder, and me with my family, trying to make our way through it all.
So in comics, my Batman recommendation is Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Not only did the trade paperback reignite my love for Batman in high school, but it also brought back those childhood feelings of dark discovery.
The Caped Crusader, after years of experience with his villains and his city, is faced with a threat even older than him and completely unfamiliar to me. What helps him persevere are the thoughts of his family, who stay with him through the end.
This is a Batman comic that anyone can read.
I was born after Batman: The Animated Series but before the era of streaming so I had to find my own connections to Batman. We’re now in an era full of kid friendly comics coming from DC and Marvel but those used to be far and few between. Cartoon Network came to my rescue in the form of Young Justice. I was three years old when Teen Titans came out and had forever wanted to fill that void after seeing heroes my age going on the adventures I could only dream of. Young Justice was the solution I needed. My connection to Batman is through his family. I never felt a strong connection to Bruce’s dark quest for vengeance but the light his family brings is what made me believe in Batman. My favorite Gothamite is Tim Drake, the third Robin, who represents what I saw in myself as a kid. He’s the one who wasn’t chosen but had to prove himself worthy of his place. It may be that constant imposter syndrome but I feel the same way. I wanted to, and still do, be seen as worthy in what I do. Tim’s my fictional brother and I wouldn’t choose another.
Young Justice is a perfect introduction to Batman and the greater DC Universe for new fans. Balancing new and established characters it gives fans their own young heroes that they can see themselves in. From energetic Kid Flash to brash Superboy or mysterious Artemis and optimistic Miss Martian there’s a hero for everyone. It explores the depths of DC with some great deep cuts that will make old fans happy while giving new fans a great look at everything DC has to offer.
I think the first cartoon I ever saw was Batman: The Animated Series. I was two, so I was a little young for it — something I proved almost immediately, when I saw Batman bleed and I started crying. I don’t think I had ever seen an adult or authority brought low like that before, so it was a visceral shock.
But images of that night, the deep red skies and hostile silhouettes of Gotham City, lived in my mind from that point forward. There was always an allure to it, like a nightmare that’s so exciting you almost remember it fondly. As I grew older, some of the sharp edges became less threatening, and I enjoyed the occasional Batman comic or episode of Justice League. But I didn’t really feel like I “got” Batman on a personal level until I was eight.
My parents didn’t get shot in an alley or anything, but I’ve had post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. And Batman, for all of his stylish visual presentation and plethora of incredible skills, is first and foremost the character built around trauma. His triumphs, his defeats, his villains and his family all reflect the singular moment that destroyed his life, and his steadfast refusal to give in to the cruelty of the world and the ragged wound at the center of his psyche means a lot to me.
On that note, the Batman story that I’m going to recommend is I Am Suicide from Tom King, Mikel Janin, June Chung, and Clayton Cowles. This is a little bit of a cheat, because it’s following up on the end of the first Batman arc of Tom King’s run, I Am Gotham — but I’m picking it anyway, because I think this story is essential. The main thrust of the story is a Suicide Squad mission to Bane’s island nation stronghold to recover a power that can heal someone’s severe psychological damage. At its core, the arc is anchored by narration from Bane, Catwoman, and Batman. It cuts right to the heart of their parallel traumas, and how both defying and accepting their pain fuels them.
Batman has always been a part of my life, having two older brothers, it was an inevitable escape. I used to watch Batman The Animated Series clips on YouTube with them most evenings. One character in particular caught my attention.
To be honest with you, a few months back, I was asked to write something similar about what a certain comic book character means to me, and I couldn’t type out the right words without my vision getting blurred from my own tears. I ended up backspacing everything thinking it was “too deep” for a comic book character. But now I realize it’s important to voice how you feel; especially about particular escapes such as comics and how they transport you to another world for a few blissful moments. They make you forget about the harsh, horrible reality we all share.
Harley Quinn does exactly that for me, each time, without failure. I don’t relate to wanting to maim humans who look at me funny, trust me (well only sometimes, I’ve got a pet peeve about people staring but anyway). I relate to her highly on how she can be so conflicted with her own demons yet make someone smile. That someone being me.
She intrigues me with how persistent she is despite the trauma she’s been through, she remains motivational but in no way glosses over the ugly. Harley never denies that; sometimes life is shitty and most definitely doesn’t always work in your favour but it’s important to make do with what you have and chase better things for yourself. I’ve said before; she’s messy and unsure, but will figure out the answers with you along the way and it’s makes you feel less dumb for not knowing the answer to every situation life.
Harley’s individuality certainly has rubbed off of me in the best of ways. I’ve learned life is waaaaay too short to not have colourful hair and to not impulsively do the things you’ve always wanted to do. You have your entire old age to be boring! Spice up your life, manically dye your hair every month, just please use a conditioner mask!
Her charismatic, bubbly, unpredictable nature breathes life into my soul each new release. I should probably find a new source of serotonin, or maybe it’s about time I finally book in for that therapist but until then, I’m going to continue soaking up every last little frame of this joyful jester.
Harley Quinn Vol.6 Angry Bird by Frank Tieri, Inaki Miranda, Mirka Andolfo
I think there are very few people in the world who aren’t in some way aware of Batman. They might not know much but Batman, Robin, Joker; these are some of the most recognizable brands in the world. And that was the level of recognition I had. I knew some names but who the characters really were? No clue. All that changed after the most on-brand Batman introduction I could possibly have, the LEGO Batman – The Videogame. But unfortunately LEGO Batman gives a very skewed perception of what Gotham really is. Apparently Killer Moth ISN’T a major player in Gotham? There are very few Mad Hatter stories? Disgraceful.
Years later when I began dipping my toe into comics, Batman seemed like one of the logical places to start. And I followed a lot of the New 52 and Rebirth titles for Batman and the larger Bat-family, and liked most of what I read but it was never my favourite thing. I was never a Batman or Nightwing FAN. Just someone who occasionally reads them. All that changed when I first read a book with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. I can’t even remember which book it was, but now these two were my favourites who I’d follow anywhere (except War Games/Geoff Johns Titans).
Batgirl Volume 3
The third volume of Batgirl was part of the Batman Reborn relaunch, as Dick Grayson takes on the mantle of Batman, Damian Wayne becomes Robin and Stephanie Brown, once Spoiler, then Robin, then back to Spoiler, takes on the mantle of Batgirl. And it’s fantastic. Written by Bryan Q. Miller, the art team is PACKED full of future talent like Lee Garbett (Loki: Agent of Asgard), Pere Perez (Rogue & Gambit) and Dustin Nguyen (Batman: Lil’ Gotham) and stunning covers from artists like Phil Noto, Dustin Nguyen and even early Artgerm covers (which makes tracking down the single issues a nightmare).
Only 24 issues thanks to the New 52 cutting the run short, Steph’s run as Batgirl is just unashamedly fun. We really get to the core of how she stands out from Barbara and Cass and she gets to show why she deserves to take on the Batgirl mantle perfectly. It’s also very tied into the Batman Reborn line as a whole and Dick!Bats, Robin and Red Robin make frequent appearances. Stephanie’s time as Batgirl may have been much too short, but every issue was perfect and balanced really fun moments with some real heart. I can’t recommend it enough but just be prepared to fall in love with Stephanie Brown and start to hate DC for the years of Steph erasure.
I didn’t get into superheroes until late in life. (Late for superheroes – I was 14). It was a very gradual thing, I watched all the MCU movies, and slowly moved into Marvel comics, where I stayed for a good number of years. And then, two events coincided: my stepbrother gave me his DC Universe log in (remember that?), and on March 10th, 2019, I broke two bones in my ankle. I had to go on medical leave from college, and I spent my days lying in bed with nothing to do. Except, of course, watch everything DCU had for me to consume. I was ravenous, it was like I was a kid again – I watched Young Justice twice, I watched all of Batman: The Animated Series in about a week. At some point, I started reading comics too. I still have the excel sheet with everything on it, I read hundreds and hundreds of issues. I read the entirety of Birds of Prey (127 issues), I read Cassandra Cain’s Batgirl in two days (73 issues), I read over half of the 90s Robin run (117 issues).
I watched the Justice League Unlimited episode “Dead Reckoning” the same day a different, traumatic thing happened to me – and it all kinda clicked there. You might not even remember this episode, it’s the one with Deadman, and Gorilla Grodd tries to turn all humans into gorillas – you probably remember that. In it, Devil Ray almost shoots Wonder Woman, but Deadman stops him, by possessing Batman and shooting Devil Ray – who falls backward into some kind of electric panel, and dies. Obviously, Deadman didn’t mean to do this, but he can’t communicate this to Batman, who comes back to himself holding a gun, and looking straight at a dead body. And it was that, that sense of being trapped, the betrayal of my own body, that clicked with me. The show never follows up on it! It’s never mentioned again, beyond cursing Deadman to more time on earth as a ghost, and Batman storming off near the end of the episode. But – Batman knew how I felt. Batman understood. That’s a big part of Batman, that self identification. And after self identification is caring, because he does care – of course he does. He sees himself in the people around him, just like we see ourselves in him. How can you not care about someone you see yourself in?
I want to recommend “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three” which is an interesting story. Denny O’Neil writes prose, with Marshall Rogers on art and page layouts. It’s a fascinating style, one that never really caught on. The story is pretty good, but the page design by Marshall Rogers was what really caught my eye, because it’s not a standard comic book, it’s much more abstract. The interaction between text and image is fascinating, the balance of prose and art switching easily between pages and propelling the story along. It’s almost like a collage, text pasted over and into the art behind it. The last page of the story made me audibly gasp, it’s incredibly striking, white text boxes standing out on the black of the page. It’s a beautiful comic.
I also want to direct people towards the gem that is Batman: Black & White. It was brought back recently, but I’m talking about the 90s stuff here. The main conceit of a short comic about Batman – written and drawn by people who haven’t necessarily worked on Batman – means it’s full of perfect little stories about all the different things Batman means to people. Brubaker & Sook’s “I’ll Be Watching” is a story about the comfort of having Batman there, always, while McKeever’s “Perpetual Mourning” is a quiet thing about Batman bringing humanity back to the dead, and Claremont, Rude & Buckingham’s “A Matter of Trust” is a heartwarming story about Bruce babysitting for a friend.
Growing up consuming a fair amount of superhero fiction meant I was fully aware of who Batman was, even while I was just a kid in the Philippines. 1995’s Batman Forever may have been critically panned, but as a kid, it didn’t matter to me. I found it enjoyable and a rather entertaining first exposure to the world of Batman. Then came Batman: The Animated Series, the beloved cartoon which pretty much helped define Batman to a new generation of young kids.
Over the years, I came to realize that while Batman himself was cool, his “family” of costumed allies edged him in that regard. Whether it’s old favorites like Dick Grayson (Robin I/Nightwing) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle) or newer characters like Cass Cain (Black Bat/Orphan) or Harper Row (Bluebird), it’s been quite satisfying for a character often characterized as a loner to have this massive support network of Gotham-based heroes helping him out at a moment’s notice.
As such, I feel that the 52-issue Batman Eternal is a good series that helps showcase the Bat Family at their finest. These stories — largely written by Scott Snyder and a rotating group of guest writers, plus various artists, are high-stakes tales that obviously feature Batman, but also gives a good amount of page time to various characters.
Eternal shines a light on characters such as Tim Drake (Red Robin) and Stephanie Brown (who’s introduced into the New 52 continuity here), as well as Red Hood and the aforementioned Harper Row (whose transformation into Bluebird is chronicled over multiple issues). It’s an adventure that manages to maintain steam through 52 weekly issues, with Snyder being helped on writing duties by an all-star stable of writers including Tim Seeley, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, and current Bat-scribe James Tynion IV. The art throughout these issues isn’t too shabby either, with heavy hitters like Dustin Nguyen, Jason Fabok, Guillem March, and Joe Quinones all providing some well-drawn panels.
The main thing, however, that drew me to Eternal was the culmination of Harper Row’s hero’s journey. She’s been a polarizing character for some, but I think what’s made her one of my favorite Bat-Family characters is how she’s defined by resolve and refusing to falter even as the world in Gotham grows more dangerous. Despite not having any actual combat experience and only having her resourcefulness as an engineer on her side, Harper proved herself to be a hero by striving to do the right thing not only for her, but for her younger brother Cullen. That familial bond is why she even decides to be Bluebird, and her first outing in Eternal #42 is a great debut for a Gotham hero that doesn’t nearly get enough of a spotlight.
My Bluebird-based bias aside, you really can’t go wrong with Batman Eternal for an adventure that truly lives up to its title in every way imaginable.
I don’t remember when I first heard about Batman. I just always knew there was a Batman. My dad was a fan of the Adam West/Burt Ward movie and television series that was on from 1966-1968 when he was between the ages of 10-12. I didn’t grow up ironically loving that version of Batman for its camp or corniness, because my dad didn’t. He genuinely loved it and I did too. It didn’t take long for me to learn about a different version of Batman though, which happened through the comics. My dad wasn’t an avid comic book collector, but he would take my brother and I to the local comic book shop. He was always interested in new number 1 issues of anything or issues he thought might be valuable one day. So I wasn’t a regular reader of Batman comics, but you better believe I still have all the issues from Batman: A Death in the Family from 1988 as well as Batman #500 from 1993. My thoughts and feelings about Batman are inextricably linked to my dad.
Since getting back into reading comics around 2008, I’ve read a lot of Batman comics, and truth be told, when I try to look at it objectively, I’m not a huge fan of the character. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly read some great Batman comics, but too many times it feels like different writers giving subtle variations on a theme I don’t find that interesting. I will always love Batman though, because I can’t think of Batman without thinking of my dad, and I love my dad.
When it comes to suggesting Batman comics, I don’t believe it gets any better than Batman: The Black Mirror. This storyline was published in Detective Comics issues #871-#881 written by Scott Snyder and artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla. Dick Grayson is the Batman and must contend with the return of James Gordon, Jr., Commissioner Gordon’s son and a psychopathic killer. This storyline begins Scott Snyder’s run and is the final arc of Detective Comics before DC’s New 52. Snyder writes as though he’s not going to be allowed to write Batman again and the result is, in my opinion, the best Batman story ever written. It’s smart, dark, full of twists and turns, and gorgeously illustrated. If you read one Batman story in your life, this should be the one.