Posted on December 6, 2007 - by MG
Continuing on the theme of Batman…
I have been thinking of getting out my old Batman comics and re-reading them. And then I thought, no, why not buy some new ones?
Thing is, I don’t think the seminal 1980s/90s Batman graphic novels have been bettered.
Lookit: here’s my list of the top 5.
1. Batman: the Killing Joke by Alan Moore, art by Brian Bolland
The great Alan Moore takes on Bruce Wayne and the Joker. It’s short, violent, disturbing and the best Joker origin story ever. The Joker as a struggling comedian who gets into petty crime for his girl? Woo. It was the first time I’d ever read anything remotely sympathetic about the Joker. The climactic scenes where Joker menaces Commissioner Gordon’s daughter in an abandoned fairground stunned me with their violence and realism.
This was my introduction to graphic novels. Some of the images are still with me now, even though I haven’t read it for over 10 years.
2. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, art by Dave Mazzuchelli
Between them, Frank Miller and Alan Moore just about reinvented the tired superhero genre in the 1990s. Miller tackled Batman and Daredevil; Moore did Swamp Thing, Miracleman and CK himself – Superman.
Miller took Batman back beyond the camp 1960s TV show which gloried in the daftness of costumed vigilantes, and took Batman closer to Bob Kane’s original vision which was more film noir and pulpish. I’m also a big fan of The Shadow and The Spirit, both had their heydays in the 1940s and featured crime fighters who operated in the claustrophic world of the high-rise metropolis.
Batman Year One has been the inspiration for the latest movie visualization of Batman. Bruce Wayne is a difficult character to understand. He’s so multifaceted – playboy, businessman, vigilante, technophile. And as badly as we might want him to pair up with a girl, it’s fitting that he’s single. No man can do all that and also have time for a proper love life.
3. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
The thing you need to know about this book is that strictly it exists outside of the Batman canon; i.e. it takes place long after the Batman most of us know and love. Batman is in his 50s and ostensibly, retired. Something bad has happened to the latest Robin (and this was pre-A Death In The Family) – something that prompted Bruce’s retirement.
But of course, One Last Thing drags him back into the costume. And that is the Joker – of course, Batman’s greatest enemy.
The artwork here begins to depart from the very literalistic interpretations we’ve seen in Batman up to now, becoming more filmic and manga-influenced.
Apart from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, this may be the single most influential comic book in the last 25 years.
4. Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison, art by Dave McKean
A typically multilayered and somewhat crazy narrative conveys the world of Arkham’s most disturbing institution – the asylum where inevitably, most of Batman’s enemies wind up.
After an era in which most Batman books concluded with the unrepentant criminal – the Joker, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Penguin etc heading for the imposing gates of Arkham Asylum, Morrison asks the question that’s on all our lips: how close is Brucie to being in there with these guys?
Cos lets face it – he isn’t normal. Not what you and I would call normal. Think about it for a minute. Brucie’s life is way, way out there on the scale of most caped crusaders. Spiderman and Daredevil for example, are ordinary guys – a photographer, a lawyer – with extraordinary abilities. They live in small apartments; they worry about paying the rent.
Bruce Wayne is an extraordinary guy with nothing but cash and the will to power – power that in his case manifests as his one-man anti-crime spree.
Arkham Asylum explores the whole sanity thing in the context of Batman’s world. And Dave McKean’s artwork is outstanding.
5. Mad Love by Paul Dini, art by Bruce Timm
Now this choice may be controversial, because I’m putting this higher than most Batman fans would, above such (in my opinion) over-rated books as The Cult. I choose it because of the humour – which is always going to score big with me. Dark humour and a crazy love story as psychiatrist-turned-psycho, Harley Quinn takes on Batman in order to win the heart of her former patient, the Joker. Not many Batman books make me laugh out loud, which is why this is a stand-out for me.