A few months ago, I picked up a free item at B & N called DC Essential Graphic Novels 2017.  Essentially it’s a checklist of things currently available from DC and that’s what I’m using it as.  In the back, where it gives the lists, it lists, first Batman Backlist and Suggested Reading Order, then Batman Compilation Graphic Novels, Batman: From Page to Screen (although the reverse would be more accurate) then Batman Graphic Novels.  The number of books on the list, in order are 152, 19, 37 and 41 and they don’t even include all the Batman books that I actually own.  So this will not, I emphasize not be a completely guide to all of Batman on the page.  This is a guide to the books I do have (though the links are to the current available editions and may not be what I own), why I have them and which ones are on my “to-get” list and why.  I will also mention some others I have that also have Batman in them but aren’t considered “Batman” books, per se (at least for the DC published list, because they’re on other lists in the book).  To keep it consistent with how it’s organized in the DC guide, I’ll follow their printed list until I reach things that aren’t on their list.

As my reader F.T. and I debated over our divergent opinions on Batman Forever, he pointed out something that I agreed with, which is that our relative ages when we saw the film helped explain our different opinions.  But it wasn’t just a question that he was twelve when the film came out and I was twenty.  It isn’t even that I was fourteen when the first Tim Burton Batman came out or that it was released just at the time that I was become seriously interested in film as an art form.  It was that I came of age at a very specific time.  Between the time that I first started watching the old campy 60’s Batman show in Albany at age six and the time that Burton’s film blew up the box office, I became seriously interested in Batman.  That meant I started reading Batman books and not just current stories but the whole history.  So I was reading the original noir style Bob Kane work.  I was discovering the brilliant work of Neal Adams that had rescued Batman from camp.  In those same years, Frank Miller re-envisioned Batman with The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, Alan Moore had given us The Killing Joke and I had been one of the people who actually voted to kill off Jason Todd in 1988.  My Batman was dark and mysterious and that came as a direct result of what I had read and what I have loved best.  Yes, there is more silly stuff in Batman’s history as well (much of what was published in the 50’s especially), but this is a guide to what Batman is to me.

Batman Backlist and Suggested Reading Order

Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 1

This is the collection of where it all started.  The original Bob Kane artwork and Bill Finger writing is noir at its best before noir has even been properly defined (or even coined as a term).  There have been four volumes released in these omnibus collections (with a fifth on the way) which have carried the stories all the way up to the late 40’s but to me, the closer you stay to 1939 the better the stories are.  This first volume covers the first 30 issues of Detective Comics after Batman’s debut and the first seven issues of his own book and covers the introduction of not only Batman and Robin, but also Joker, Catwoman and Hugo Strange.  These are also available in smaller editions that are obviously less expensive but also less extensive.  One of the best things about the Golden and Silver Age omnibi that DC have been putting out are the covers by the now-deceased Darwyn Cooke.
Bob Kane, Bill Finger, 1939-41  (col. 2015)

Batman: Year One

Published in 1987, DC lists this towards the top of the reading order because it was designed to encompass the beginnings of Batman.  This was one of the three different storylines by major comic artists that redefined the DC Trinity in the first couple of years after Crisis on Infinite Earths reset DC’s continuity (the other two were John Byrne’s Man of Steel and George Perez’s Wonder Woman).  Published in four issues of Batman, DC brought back Frank Miller after his triumphant vision of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns but got art from David Mazzucchelli.  It took me a while to get used to the art.  I used to read this a lot in college because it was one of the few graphic novels that the Forest Grove Library had and eventually I began to realize that I was getting used to the art and the writing was so good that I needed to just own it.  This is one of those books that has also been released in an “Absolute” edition, very high price fantastic DC slipcover books that contain not only seminal stories but also their entire creative process.  This one you can find here.
Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, 1987 (col, 1988)

Batman: Haunted Knight

After teaming up for the first time in 1991 for a Challengers of the Unknown story, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale teamed together for three Batman Halloween specials in 1993, 1994 and 1995 that were then collected together in Batman: Haunted Knight.  The highly stylized art from Sale worked perfectly together with Loeb’s noir take on Batman and the setting made it even more popular.  After the three were combined in a trade in 1996, Loeb and Sale joined together again for two of the most successful stories in Batman history, immediately below.  This story is also available in an absolute edition.
Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, 1993-95 (col. 1996)

Batman: The Long Halloween

The greatest Batman story ever told?  I have certainly come around to that viewpoint since when I submitted my list to CBR’s recent Top 100 Storylines I listed this at #2 behind only X-Men’s The Dark Phoenix Saga.  It gives us a year in the life of Batman, one month per issue and gives us pretty much every classic villain.  It is the story of the downfall of Harvey Dent, from crusading district attorney to scarred villain and was the basis for some of The Dark Knight.  It follows on from Year One, making use of the same characters that had either been created for those issues or developed there.  It is available as well in a “noir edition” which gives you the entire story in black and white.
Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, 1996-97 (col. 1997)

Batman: Dark Victory
Dark Victory isn’t so much a sequel as the second half of a story.  In the year following the events of The Long Halloween, we again dive into the story of what’s happening with these characters and specifically the story of Harvey Dent after his fall from grace.  This also brings in the young Dick Grayson.  While a Year Two had been done (not bad) and a Year Three had also been done (quite good – see below), these two have seemed to supplant them in everybody’s minds, including DC, since that’s where they list them in the reading order.  I actually came to Dark Victory first, finding it years after I had stopped reading and buying new comics when I was working at Powells and being stunned by the artwork and the writing and deciding that I had to have it and then working backwards from there to Long Halloween.  In the years after these two stories, Loeb and Sale would team up for a number of “color” stories depicting key moments for many of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, all of which are fantastic.  Like Long Halloween, this is available in a noir edition.
Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, 1999-2000 (col. 2001)

Batman: The Killing Joke

I discussed this book already in the post on the film adaptation.  Written by Alan Moore, it was instantly embraced as one of the greatest Batman stories and the single greatest Joker story ever written.  It has fantastic art from Brian Bolland, that includes one of the most iconic Joker panels ever, the one where he has realized what has happened to him and really goes insane (an image of the film version of that panel is in the review).  This story is an available in a noir edition.
Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, John Higgins, 1988.

Batman by Neal Adams Omnibus

What is contained in this omnibus was originally published in three separate volumes in hardcover called Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams.  I have the second volume in that out-of-print series which I bought at Boston Comic-con and got Neal Adams to sign it.  That volume contains some of the key stories illustrated by Adams including the two original Man-Bat stories.  The work of Adams on Batman is one of the key moments that took a character that had been goofy for a long time and made him dark and serious again.  Adams was known for this – his work on X-Men was by far the best before John Byrne came onto the title and his work with Dennis O’Neill (who he also worked with on Batman) on Green Lantern and Green Arrow is still seen as one of the key runs on any title by any writer and artist combinations.
Neal Adams, various writers, 1969-74  (col. 2016)

Batman: The Brave & the Bold Bronze Age Omnibus
Team-up books have been around for a long time.  For years, starting in the 50’s, World Finest was a team-up book for Batman and Superman, fighting super villains together every month.  Eventually both Marvel (with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up and the Thing in Marvel-Two-In-One) and DC would realize the financial benefits of taking a popular character and using them to bring in other, perhaps less popular characters (sometimes giving them a try out for their own book).  Starting in 1962 with issue #50, The Brave and the Bold (the comic where the Justice League of America debuted in issue #28) became a team-up book.  The first time Batman was included was issue #59 and by #67 in 1966 it had basically became a Batman team-up book (proving his popularity since the Superman team-up book DC Comics Presents wouldn’t start until 1978).  This collection starts with issue #87 (the first issue with a 1970 cover date) and runs through 122 covering almost six years of Batman team-up stories.
various writers and artists, 1970-75  (col. 2017)

Batman: A Death in the Family

This is the new edition of two collections that were originally published separately (and I used to own the separate ones).  The first is A Death in the Family, the four comics that cover the story where Jason Todd, the replacement for Dick Grayson as Robin died at the hands of the Joker.  That story was notable for actually making it into the news at the time and because of the phone number you could call to vote on Todd’s fate (which I did – see what I wrote here).  The second part is A Lonely Place of Dying (a brilliant name), the five part story that ran through Batman and New Titans that introduced Tim Drake, the new Robin.  Drake would go on to become a much more popular Robin than Todd had ever been and would be the first Robin to get his own ongoing series.  Part of that is because they did such a good job of establishing him here in his first appearance.
Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, Marv Wolfman, George Perez, 1988-89  (col. 2009)

Batman: Hush

There is a trope at the heart of this story that annoys me and which I discussed in my review of Mask of the Phantasm: the introduction of a character from someone’s past that they supposedly have known for years but that we’ve never met before.  But that’s just about the only flaw in one of the best Batman stories ever told.  Like Strange Apparitions in the late 70’s (see below), this story mixes some of the best artwork in the history of Batman with a story that continually brings in almost all of the best Batman villains (and there is actually very little duplication of the villains from the earlier story so that’s even nicer).  In the middle of it all, is a one issue battle between Batman and Superman when Superman is mind controlled by Poison Ivy that is one of my all-time favorite Batman issues, from the artwork, to the interplay with Catwoman to even, yes, the use of Krypto (“Sometimes all the detective work in the world can’t beat a super-dog with a keen sense of smell.”).  This is also available in a noir edition and though the catalog doesn’t list it, an absolute edition.
Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, 2002-03 (col. 2009 in one volume)

Batman: What Ever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Back in 1986, when DC was winding down the original run of Superman and Action before transitioning them to the Superman reboot, they gave Alan Moore a chance to kill off whatever he wanted since everything was being wiped and he wrote a two-piece brilliant story called “What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”  When DC was doing the same thing in 2008, they asked another British writer, this time Nail Gaiman, to do the same thing to Batman.  The result was a brilliant two-part story that was reminiscent of what Moore had done but also very different.  It hinged on the entire history of Batman and some interesting theories about why he does what he does and how he does it.  It showcased not only a wide array of characters from his history but Andy Kubert, the son of legendary comic artist Joe Kubert, managed to draw these characters in ways that deliberately hearkened back to how earlier artists had drawn them.  What we end up with is one of the single best Batman stories.
Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Scott Williams, 2008 (col. 2009)

Flashpoint

I have referenced The New 52 in a few of the Batman reviews.  The New 52 is what came about when DC decided to do a soft reboot of their entire continuity.  Things had gotten so confusing and fans weren’t sure what had happened and what happened and people were hesitant to start in buying comics with numbers well over 800 on them and so DC began it all again, with every issue a #1.  To reach that point and the new world they were going with, they needed something to kickstart it.  That’s the story behind Flashpoint, in which Barry Allen accidentally resets the entire universe.  That would seem like a crass commercial move if the story itself weren’t so good.  Most especially poignant is the final issue and that, perhaps more than anything, is why the catalog lists this book under Batman.  Because Barry discovers a very different Batman in the world he accidentally creates, a Batman who becomes his key ally and his final letter leads to a conclusion as moving as almost anything DC has ever produced.
Geoff Johns, Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope, 2011 (col. 2012)

Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years

DC began this concept with Superman in 2013, a new hardcover collection covering a character’s entire history.  They have published almost 20 of them in the last four years and an astounding seven of them focus on Batman and his supporting cast.  They are similar to what DC did over 40 years ago with the “30’s to the 70’s” books (see below).  They break the character’s history into different sections with introductions and have several full stories, all in glorious color.  Some of the stories in this book have already appeared in other Batman collections but it’s still a great collection and since it’s in hardcover, it will hold up really well.  The front cover has great artwork by Jim Lee while the actual cloth cover of the book features the original Bob Kane art.  I’m not going to do separate pieces on all of the Batman character collections, but I’ll link to them here.  They are Robin, Joker, Catwoman, Batgirl, Two-Face and Harley Quinn.  The last is surprising for a couple of reasons, the first being that they would cover her before doing say, the JLA or Hawkman or Atom or even a longer Batman villain like Scarecrow or Penguin and secondly because, at 25 Years, hers is the only collection that’s less than 50 years, but I suppose the popularity of Suicide Squad made it inevitable.  Harley will also test the mettle of my OCD because I’d love to have all of them but I just don’t care about her.  So far, I have Batman, Flash, Catwoman and Batgirl.
various writers and artists, 1939-2014  (col. 2014)

Batman Compilation Graphic Novels

Batman Arkham: Scarecrow

Like the Celebration books, just above, this happens to be the one example that I am using from the series but I recommend the entire series (though I have none of them as of yet).  This is just a smaller version of the “Greatest Stories Ever Told” collections that DC has been putting out for close to 30 years now.  The villains available in this series are ClayfaceKiller Croc (important because it contains the first appearances of Jason Todd, issues I used to own in comic form), Man-Bat, Mister Freeze, Poison Ivy, Riddler and Two-Face, the latter of which is unnecessary now that he has his own Celebration book.  I went with Scarecrow as the main one here because he has always been one of my favorite villains and with Joker and Two-Face both having their own Celebration books, his will be the first book in this series I will be getting.  There is no Penguin book (the catalog lists one, but that’s actually the ISBN for the Clayface book) so I wonder if he will get his own Celebration book at some point.
various writers and artists, 1941-2015  (col. 2016)

Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino

If Neil Adams had to rescue Batman from camp, Carmine Infantino was trying to do it before it even happened and while it was happening and had rescued him from the schlocky, silly adventures that he had been enduring since the establishment of the Comics Code.  Infantino was the dynamic artist who started doing Batman adventures in 1964.  He would end up doing a lot more covers than actual stories because in the late 60’s he became the go-to artist at DC for all of their covers.  I have written much more about Infantino here and you can read some more down below where you will see that same cover on the right, one of the classic illustrations of Batman and Robin, used as the cover for a different book.  This is one of a series of books that DC has put out to highlight some of the artists who did significant work on Batman, almost all of which are worth reading at least once.
Carmine Infantino, various writers, 1964-1983  (col. 2014)

Tales of the Batman: Len Wein

Len Wein, the great comic book writer who recently died (and is best known for co-creating the second generation of X-Men: Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus) wrote a stretch of Batman in both Detective Comics and in Batman in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  This is part of a series of books that DC has put out focusing on specific writers working on Batman.  It’s nice that the writers, with different kinds of art, get the same kind of dedicated volumes that the artists do.  The Wein volume is over 500 pages long and has work with a wide range of artists including Marshall Rogers, Walt Simonson and John Byrne.
Len Wein, 1971-1982  (col. 2014)

Batman: From Page to Screen

There aren’t actually anything in this checklist that is on my to-get list.  That’s because, as I said, this description is actually backwards.  These aren’t stories that were adapted for the screen (big or small, though, mostly small).  These are stories that come directly inspired from the various Batman television shows, like the Batman ’66 series or Batman Beyond.  Since I tend not to prefer stories that come from another medium, none of them are of interest to me.

Batman Graphic Novels

All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder Vol. 1

There are a lot of people who really hate this series and I completely understand that.  But I find this fascinating for a couple of reasons.  The first, of course, is the art.  The Jim Lee art on this book was widely praised as the biggest reason to read it.  It’s not jus what he does with Batman, but the vivid way he brings to life other characters like Green Lantern, Black Canary and even long-ignored Vicki Vale.  But the other reason is that I find this to be a valid take on Batman.  Miller portrays him as a hard man, really kind of a dick.  And given Batman’s various neuroses, I think that’s valid.  It might not be the Batman you know and love but it’s still a very valid reading of the character.  Some of the dialogue might be painful but that doesn’t mean it should be passed over.  Just be forewarned.  This is another one that available in an absolute edition.
Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, 2005-08  (col. 2009)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

One of the most important and highly acclaimed comics ever published and with good reason.  While Frank Miller didn’t rescue Batman from the world of camp and silliness (Neal Adams and Denny O’Neill had already done that starting in the early 70’s) this book helped set the tone for the dark noir feel that could (and would) give birth to a Batman film.  Indeed, it would cast a long shadow that the Batman movies will feel free to fall into, with a considerable portion of the final issue (and a few key moments in earlier issues) adapted into Batman v Superman.  This was also one of the first times that DC had taken a single storyline and published it in graphic novel form and its success in that format lead to more and more of “writing for the trade”, with storylines that could be printed in one book and sold in bookstores.  I’ve had my copy so long that it’s got a cover price of $12.95.  There is also a noir version.
Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, 1986

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

This sequel to the seminal story has a mixed reputation and I have mixed feelings about it.  Parts of it are fantastic, especially the way that Miller returns to the core Justice League members and checks in with them.  The original story had focused on Batman and Superman with a nice little cameo for Green Arrow but this time, we have a full league showing.  The story is fascinating and the art is original and interesting in some cases (it does get a bit sloppy in places as well).  The ending is a bit of a dud mainly because I don’t like what he does a primary character that I have always loved but overall, I still think it’s worth having.  I don’t have the third volume, The Master Race, and having read it, I don’t know that I will ever get it, but it was definitely worth reading at least once, again, for the way it makes use of the full league.  I actually have this in the original three volumes because I bought it as it was released instead of collected in one volume.
Frank Miller, 2002

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Ah, Elseworlds.  Elseworlds is the DC moniker for any story that takes place outside its regular continuity.  It began with this tale in 1989.  This story takes Batman and takes him out of the present day (or at least out of the 20th Century) and puts him in the 19th Century facing off against Jack the Ripper.  Later tales would feature such ideas as Batman facing off against Dracula or him being a Green Lantern.  But it all began with this fascinating tale.  It has artwork from Mike Mignola a few years before he would become famous for creating Hellboy.
Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola, 1989

Other Books in the Catalog under Different Headings

Batgirl / Robin: Year One

This book combines two different stories written by the same writers (with some art by the same penciller).  It tells the story of both Robin and Batgirl when they first start their careers.  The Robin story is good and I like the art but it’s the second half of the book that’s the real reason I own it.  The stories are partially together because it’s the appearance of Barbara Gordon in the last couple of pages of Robin that propels the second story.  The Batgirl story has great writing and I love the art from Marcos Martin.  It’s good enough that when DC printed Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years, they used Martin’s art for the front cover, something that is usually reserved for the likes of Jim Lee.  It builds off the original debut of Batgirl and does it with humor and wit.  Batman, of course, is a supporting character in all of this, but he has some great moments as he mentors both characters.
Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido, 2000-01, 2003 (col. 2013)

Justice League of America: The Tornado’s Path Vol. 1

In the aftermath of the break-up of the Justice League leading into Infinite Crisis (a break-up in large part due to several League members erasing Batman’s memory), DC began a new Justice League.  Like they had done before, they began it with the core membership, what had become the Trinity, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  For the new League, they brought in several classic members (Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Vixen) and four new members, all of whom had ties to previous League members and two of whom had been in The Outsiders, the group that Batman formed when he originally left the League.  This was a brilliant start.  The writing was very good, hinging on old League history but the art was absolutely brilliant.  Batman acts as one of the elder statesman and the man in charge, the tactical leader.
Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes, Sandra Hope, 2006-07 (col. 2007)

Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga Vol. 2

The second volume of the new Justice League really ties into the history of the League and classic DC comics.  First of all, it connects to the Legion of Super-Heroes and not only them, but to their classic incarnation before their continuity started getting messed around in the late 80’s.  Not only that, but it connects to the Justice Society, the original hero group from the 1940’s.  Batman is one of only one of a large group of characters in it, but in just the first issue alone, he has a couple of brilliant moments, one where he is able to face off against Karate Kid in spite of being out-fought and one where he shows up at the headquarters and instantly makes a couple of amusing observations.  Those two things serve as a reminder of how great a fighter and a detective Batman is.  As an extra bonus, it includes issue #0, the brilliant precursor to the new series which focuses entirely on the Trinity and their decision to reform the League.  When I ditched the vast bulk of my comic collection, #0 was one of the few single issues I kept.
Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, numerous artists, 2006-07 (col. 2008)

Justice League Volume 1: Origin

The kick-off to The New 52, the reboot of DC continuity that followed Flashpoint, this is the story of how the Justice League comes together and is the closest thing to a basis for the Justice League film.  It’s Batman who keeps them on point, who keeps them organized (“I don’t see a leader” says Aquaman when he shows up with Batman replying “Then you’re not looking at me.”) and in spite of being an annoyance to Green Lantern (“Batman’s real?”  “Yeah, and he’s a total tool,”) he can even provide some moments of levity, like when Green Lantern starts going on about how he likes to act like a hero to impress people because he’s touching Wonder Woman’s lasso and is compelled to tell the truth.  “Are you laughing Batman?  At a time like this?” Green Lantern asks.  What’s great is we don’t see him laughing, but just get the reaction.  It’s just about the only thing we don’t see because the art from Jim Lee is simply amazing.  The combination of Geoff Johns on writing and Jim Lee on pencils makes it simply too good to ever pass up.
Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, 2011  (col. 2012)

JLA: The Nail / Another Nail

What if Superman hadn’t been raised as Superman because a nail in the road lead to a flat tire and the Kents not reaching the rocket?  That’s the premise behind this fascinating story, another in the Elseworlds series.  What happens is a Justice League that is lacking in both the moral compass that Superman always seemed to provide but also in sheer power.  The writing and artwork is by British superstar Alan Davis (who had been a Batman artist in the mid-80’s).  It had a sequel book called Another Nail and the current collection has both of them between one set of covers.
Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, 1998-2004  (col. 2017)

Kingdom Come

One of the best of the Elseworlds series, this one depicts a bitter vision of the future for the DC Universe.  In this one, Superman has retired and the world’s new metahumans have taken a bad turn.  The return of Superman into the fray causes the super-hero community to fracture with Batman taking an opposing side.  It contains the classic scene where Superman leaves while Batman is still talking and he mutters “So that’s what that feels like” (used brilliantly in The Dark Knight Rises).  It also contains a brilliant epilogue where Bruce uses his deductive skills in a manner that I absolutely modeled my character Kyle on in one particular story.  This book was famous for a long time just for its magnificent painted art by Alex Ross.  There is also a 20th anniversary edition.
Mark Waid, Alex Ross, 1996 (col. 1997)

Not in the Catalog (single issues / out-of-print books)

Batman: From the 30s to the 70s

One of my most treasured possessions and not just because my copy is signed by Carmine Infantino, the man who was publisher of DC when it was first printed and whose classic illustration of Batman and Robin is on the front cover.  When I was a kid, the library had a copy of Superman: From the 30’s to the 70’s and I would read it all the time.  At some point I became aware that there was a Batman book as well and since I was much more of a Batman fan than a Superman fan, I desperately wanted it.  At one point, my brother came home around my birthday (1988) and told me he had gotten me what I had been asking for and I said “Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s?” which is why you should never say such things (he had gotten me a Mexican blanket like my sister’s and to be fair, I had been asking for that ever since he had bought the one for Stacy and I still have not only that blanket, but Stacy’s as well because she left it in the Mustang when my dad and I drove it up to Oregon in the summer of 92, so score!) but he found it for me for Christmas and I have been reading and re-reading it for the last three decades.  This was the second of three books that were published like this (the Superman had been published first and later they published a Shazam book, which is odd, since you’d think Wonder Woman would have been the third one).  This is a fantastic book that includes a lot of key stories, gives us a lot of stories that introduce characters (Joker, Riddler, Batwoman, Bat-girl, Batgirl) with a long essay that explains the character and even a bibliography in the back of books that Batman has appeared in.  This is the precursor to the great “Celebration” books that DC has been putting out for the last few years.
E. Nelson Bridwell, ed., numerous writers and artists, 1939-70 (col. 1971)

Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes

While DC might have started putting out books first, it was Marvel who, in 1974, started the idea of packing origin stories together.  By collecting together stories that were becoming hard to find and expensive in Origins of Marvel Comics in 1974, they really began what would eventually be the graphic novel trade industry.  It was would be two years later that DC would follow suit with a book that I have been avidly reading since long before I owned it.  The Taft Branch of the Orange Public Library had a copy of this book when I was a kid and I would read it over and over again.  It was published in 1976 and like Marvel had done in their trades, it would gather the origins of the most popular characters (all the characters on the wonderful Neal Adams cover).  Instead of simply including a more recent adventure as well, it was able to rely on the long DC history and use the Golden Age origin and the Silver Age origin (sometimes completely different in the cases of characters like Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern and Atom) as well as including little introductory pieces about each character.  Best of all, it was all in color, unlike the 30’s to the 70’s books.  Eventually, in the era of ebay, I was able to track down a copy of the book for myself and I continue to love it.  The link goes to addall, but you’re actually better off trying on ebay (there’s little point in linking to it there, since it would rot) because copies on addall start at well over $150.
numerous artists and writers, 1938-73  (col. 1976)

The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume 1: Batman

The road to this book may even be longer than the previous two.  When I was a kid, my brother John, who was always a big Superman fan, owned a book called The Great Superman Book.  Eventually I either got John’s copy or I got my own (and it was no later than the spring of 1986 because on the inside front cover, written in my mother’s printing is “Eric Beck, Taft School”).  In the introduction to that book, it mentioned that it was the third volume in a planned eight volume set and that Batman and Wonder Woman, the first two volumes, had already been published.  Since I was always more of a Batman fan than a Superman fan, that sent me on a quest which lead to gold in, of all places, the Coronado Public Library (where, I should mention, there is a bench outside dedicated to my grandmother, although there wasn’t in the summer of 1986).  We were in Coronado for two weeks house-sitting for my grandparents while they were in Virginia celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and I somehow discovered that the library had both the Batman and Wonder Woman volumes.  I was already very much the person I am today and so I spent a lot of those two weeks, when I wasn’t at the beach, in the library, copying information out of the book.  After finding a Disney book at a book sale in 2005 it suddenly occurred to me that I could find several books I had loved (and/or always wanted) as a kid and that if they were too expensive on Addall then they might be available on eBay.  That lead to this find and to the book directly above and finally getting my own copy of the Batman and Wonder Woman volumes of this set.  This is really a very fun encyclopedia with very detailed descriptions of characters and precisely when they met Batman.  It is a fantastic guide to every Batman story through the late 60’s with a few caveats.  The first is that, even though this was published in 1976, for the most part, it stops in the late 60’s (for instance, no listing for Poison Ivy who debuted in 1966 and no references for the Scarecrow aside from his first couple of early 40’s appearances in spite of an image of him from 1967).  The second is that it focuses on Batman in his own comics and completely ignores the Justice League and Justice Society to the end that they are not even listed.  But, it was an amazing resource as a kid and I was so glad to own it.  I am still glad I own this old copy of it even though in 2007, DC finally decided to reprint all three books, which is what the link above goes to (without any updating, which must have seemed strange for people buying them).  The biggest regret of looking at this book is that, unlike the Superman book, this one (and the Wonder Woman volume) actually lists what the other (unfinished) volumes would have been: Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and the Spirit (in one volume), Green Lantern, Flash, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch (in one volume) and Doctor Fate, Hawkman, Starman and The Spectre (all in one volume).  I really wish I could have read those.  Two other flaws I should mention (that I don’t know if they were altered in the 2007 editions) are that it wasn’t until the Superman volume that they put headings at the top of the pages, so in this book, you can scroll through a lot of pages trying to figure out where an entry ends and what entry you’re in and that in all three volumes, the art is just listed with a copyright date and there is nothing said about any of the creators of the stories, either writing or art.  But sill, this is a treasured possession and one I desperately wanted for 20 years before I finally was able to get it.  That’s what the internet is for.
Michael L. Fleisher, 1976

Batman: Strange Apparitions

I wrote about this once before in one of my first comic book posts on the site.  It’s the short but brilliant run from Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers that helped reinvigorate a lot of the characters, with classic Penguin and Joker stories, with the stories that helped bring both Hugo Strange and Deadshot into the modern era, that gave us Rupert Thorne and Silver St. Cloud, that has some of the best writing and absolutely some of the best artwork in the history of Batman.  It’s currently out of print, so I’ve linked to a site where you can find it used, but you may have better luck elsewhere as well on the web.  Don’t let it being out of print deter you, because this is an absolute must have.  Marshall Rogers also has his own volume in the Tales series mentioned above and I suspect much of this run can be found there.
Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Marshall Rogers, Walt Simonson, 1977-78  (col. 1999)

Batman: The Complete History

A great one volume book that describes Batman’s whole history interspersed with a lot of images (and a couple of complete stories) that discusses the character’s development all the way through the films of the late 90’s.  The art design of the book was done by Chip Kidd and it looks magnificent.
Les Daniels, Chip Kidd, 1999

Batman Collected

This has some similarities with the previous book because it’s completely written and designed by Kidd but is much less text based and much more visual.  It’s not a strict guide to all of the various Batman memorabilia that has ever been produced but kind of a visual tour through them (at least through 2001).
Chip Kidd, 2001

The 448 Page Super Heroes Big Big Book

I had this book as a kid and loved it.  It’s partially a coloring book (with four adventures to color) and partially an activity book, with the last 100 pages or so being word scrambles, crosswords and other activities.  Some of them any kid can do (like the scrambles) while others, like the crosswords, required knowledge about the DC characters.  In fact, two of the pages in this book were where I first listened some key things about the DC universe before I was buying any actual comics.  On one of the images you can see the image of the Red Hood, someone I had never heard of before this book (and which many would forget until The Killing Joke).  On another, I first learned of the very concept of Earth-2 (and that the Batman of Earth-2 had never appeared in Justice League of America).  Over the years, the cover fell off and so did some of the pages and in the move from California to Oregon it got lost and I never saw it again.  But a few years ago, it kept going through my mind and I was able to google it without knowing the title and was able to get myself a nice clean copy from ebay.  The front cover of the book would seem to indicate Superman as the lead character but it’s Batman who appears in the first and the fourth stories to color and is the only one in two.
1980

The Batman Movie Script

This item is uncommon but far from unique.  At some point, the first draft written by Sam Hamm in 1986 of what would eventually be the 1989 Tim Burton film started making the rounds of collectors.  It’s a fascinating read (and can easily be found online) because some of the scenes (notably the opening) are just about word for word what ended up on the screen three years later and some of it is very different, like the appearance of Dick Grayson and the death of Allie Knox.  I came across my copy at Powells but we didn’t sell such things, so I was able to keep it.  It’s a cheap copy in a cheap plastic binder that’s disintegrating but it’s fun to have.  Given one of complaints in my review of the film, I will point out this line from the script: “VICKI VALE, her face framed by a shock of bright red hair, flashes a dazzling smile.”
Sam Hamm, 1986

My Favorite Writers and Artists

Top 10 Batman Artists:

note:  The images are deliberately shrunk to make them fit as best as possible.  But clicking on them will reveal much larger versions of all of them.  I wanted to have examples of all my favorite artists.  There have been a lot of Batman artists over the years and a lot of great ones.  The list below is simply the ones whose interpretations are the ones I love the most.  Several artists who have had their own collections of Batman stories published in graphic novel form aren’t on this list.  I could have done a much longer list.

  1. Neal Adams
    Neal Adams began at DC and some of his first work were vital and amazing Batman covers.  From there, he actually started working at Marvel as well, doing a run on X-Men that revitalized it and was the best work ever done on the comic before the mid-70’s.  Then back at DC he did seminal runs on Green Lantern / Green Arrow as well as on Batman, including the invention of Man-Bat and Ra’s Al Ghul.  He is still widely revered as one of the greatest comic artists of all-time.  He did fewer than 20 Batman stories but he drew far far more covers that featured him.
  2. Tim Sale
    In the early 90’s Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb teamed up to do a series on the Challengers of the Unknown.  It was interesting, but as someone who doesn’t much care about them, it’s not my thing.  But then they started teaming up on Batman and Sale’s stylized art was a perfect match for his rogues gallery.  After a few individual stories, they teamed up for two very highly regarded series before eventually doing a Superman story and heading off to Marvel to do similar type stories for several of their major characters.  You will also have seen Sale’s work if you’ve seen the first season of Heroes, as all the paintings in that show were done by Sale.
  3. Marshall Rogers
    The entire short run of Rogers on Detective Comics is collected in Strange Apparitions (above).  One of the things he was best known for (aside from his redesign of Deadshot which would lead to the revival of a character who had only appeared once, decades before) was the way that Rogers would draw Batman with a massive billowing cape.  Rogers would later team again with writer Steve Englehart on the opening run of the ongoing Silver Surfer series that began in the late 80’s.
  4. Jim Lee
    Jim Lee really divides people.  There are those who claim that he can’t really do storytelling in his art and really don’t like it.  There are those, like me, who think he is one of the greatest artists to ever work in the comics medium.  He became a hit young penciller with his stint on X-Men that made him so popular to the higher ups at Marvel that they allowed him to push Chris Claremont off a title he had been writing for 15 years.  After going to Image, Lee eventually came to DC where he has been one of the most popular (and powerful) artists at the company.  He has never done much in the way of sustained runs on any title but his run on Batman, doing the Hush storyline was one of the most popular runs in the history of the title.
  5. Carmine Infantino
    Before Neal Adams, there was Carmine Infantino.  The man who had helped re-invent the super-hero and usher in the Silver Age with the invention of Barry Allen in 1956, Infantino would start working on Batman in 1964.  Almost immediately, he would add the yellow oval behind his bat symbol and later, when DC had to decide a demarkation point between the Golden Age Batman and the Silver Age Batman for Who’s Who, it would be that point that they would use.  Infantino would do a lot of Batman stories (most importantly, the creation of Barbara Gordon in Detective #359) but a lot more covers and his dynamic covers (like the one to the right) would help redefine the character and his look.
  6. Bob Kane
    The co-creator of Batman and for a long time the only credited creator.  Kane created the initial idea and the bat wings (later changed to a cape) while Bill Finger suggested the cowl and the name of Bruce Wayne.  Kane’s early, less defined, more pulpish art helped really to lend a noir feel to the early look of Batman which is part of why the first couple of years are so much better than most of what came in the following two decades.
  7. Jim Aparo
    Jim Aparo began with Aquaman (which is why he drew the Aquaman chapter in Justice League of America #200) but would later become the regular penciller of The Brave and the Bold, the Batman team-up series book.  He would pencil that series for over 10 years and also did the follow-up series Batman and the Outsiders.  His runs on Detective Comics and Batman included such pivotal moments as the death of Jason Todd, the introduction of Tim Drake and the breaking of Batman’s back by Bane.  As such, he has the rare distinction to have been given three volumes in a collection series, Legends of the Dark Knight.
  8. Dick Giordano
    Dick Giordano came to DC in the late 60’s as an editor, originally.  But he became best known not long afterwards for being the regular inker for Neal Adams on his seminal runs on both Batman and Green Lantern / Green Arrow.  Giordano would continue to be an all-star inker for DC for a long time after that including some key issues (like the death of Supergirl which you can see here) and did a lot of issues of both Batman and Detective Comics.  He would also do the full art (pencils and inks) for various issues over the years.
  9. Alan Davis
    The great British writer and artist started working on Batman and the Outsiders then did several key issues of Detective Comics immediately after the conclusion of Crisis.  He started Batman: Year Two but left after an argument with editorial.  But he would return to Batman years later when he would be the artist for The Nail, a JLA story that really puts Batman through the ringer.  Davis’ work on the character was timed just right so that when DC did their first update to their Who’s Who section, he was the artists who actually drew Batman for the book.
  10. Dick Sprang
    Sprang is in an interesting position.  Because of when Sprang was the primary penciller on either Batman or Detective Comics (or both), a lot of the stories that he was drawing were not very well written or cheesy and hokey or even ridiculously fantastical.  During his run, Ferderic Wertham came to the forefront and Batman was forced to do a lot of silly things in accordance with the new Comics Code.  But Sprang’s art kept it from being a complete joke a lot of the time and his work is seminal for someone who grew up reading the collections listed above.

Top 5 Batman Artists Who Weren’t Really Batman Artists:

note:  These are all artists who drew Batman in the course of major stories but were never a primary penciller on either Detective Comics or Batman.  The first two are simply two of my absolute favorite artists ever in the comic book medium and it’s nice that they had ample opportunities to draw Batman outside of never being a regular Batman artist.

  1. George Perez
    As the artist for New Teen Titans when Robin (and then Nightwing) was the leader, Perez had some chances to draw both Batman and Bruce Wayne but he got more by pencilling the seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths as well as having done a short run on the original Justice League of America series in the early 80’s.  He also got to do an important Batman story because of doing the Teen Titans issues that are part of A Lonely Place of Dying (see A Death in the Family above).  He had also done the covers for the single issues that made up Batman Year Three.
  2. John Byrne
    Byrne, while he did a series of Batman specials (like the Superman/Batman: Generations that went through the ages or the Batman / Captain America tale set in the 1940’s seen to the right) never was a regular artist on Batman like he was on Superman and later Wonder Woman.  But he did make good use of Batman in the important mini-series Legends, the first major crossover at DC after Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Byrne is one of the great comic book artists of all-time and his run on Fantastic Four is, in my opinion, the best in that book’s history.
  3. Darwyn Cooke
    Cooke was never a regular penciller for any comic.  But, coming from animation, he was the writer and penciller for The New Frontier, a ground-breaking work that’s one of the most critically acclaimed comics of all-time.  His take on the Silver Age DC characters became so emblematic of those characters that DC would use illustrations of his for many of their new Golden Age and Silver Age omnibii.  As a major DC character, Batman was an important character in New Frontier and there’s even a figure available modeled on Cooke’s Batman.
  4. Marcos Martín
    Marcos Martín, a Spanish artist has never done a Batman run, but after drawing the final issue of Robin Year One, he was brought in as the artist on Batgirl Year One.  He has a very specific style to his art and I like his Batman (and Robin) but I absolutely love his Batgirl (and it’s one of his covers that’s used on the cover of Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years).
  5. Ed Benes
    A young protege of Neal Adams, this Brazilian penciller got a chance to draw plenty of Batman as penciller of the fantastic Justice League of America series that began in 2007.

Top 10 Batman Writers:

note:  I don’t feel the need to write as much here because so many of these writers have works up above.  In the artists section, I also needed to kind of pad out some space to keep the illustrations from all bunching up.  Again, there have been a lot of great writers over the years and this list could have been longer.  This is just my Top 10.

  1. Jeph Loeb
    The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Hush
  2. Steve Englehart
    Strange Apparitions
  3. Dennis O’Neill
    long runs on both Detective Comics and Batman
  4. Frank Miller
    The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Dark Knight Strikes Again
  5. Bill Finger
    co-creator of Batman and many supporting characters
  6. Chuck Dixon
    Batgirl Year One, Robin Year One
  7. Jim Starlin
    A Death in the Family
  8. Len Wein
    runs on both Detective Comics and Batman
  9. Gerry Conway
    Detective Comics #497-526, Batman #337-359
  10. Gardner Fox
    Detective Comics #29-34, 331-384 (nonconsecutive)

Note:  This list doesn’t include a man who might be my favorite DC writer ever: Geoff Johns.  A couple of years ago, before Jason Momoa had ever appeared as Aquaman and the idea of a film might have seemed silly to many who view Aquaman as a joke I told Veronica I wanted to buy several Aquaman books and she looked at me as if I was crazy.  But now that I own those books and she’s read them, she understands.  Geoff Johns simply gets Aquaman.  And it’s not the only character he gets, as he returned Hal Jordan to being Green Lantern and has also written Flash.  He has written for all of these characters as well in Justice League.  Between that series and some telling moments with Batman in Green Lantern: The Return and Flashpoint, it’s clear that Batman is yet another character that Johns totally gets.