So you've decided to read about Batman! I would definitely applaud this decision, as I have spent the majority of the past thirty years doing exactly that, but I also know that it can be pretty daunting to figure out where to get started. There have, after all, been thousands of Batman stories published since he first debuted from Bill Finger and Bob Kane in 1939, and despite a few missteps along the way, he probably has more classic and definitive stories in print than any other superhero.
But don't worry, ComicsAlliance is here to help with a list of ten essential Batman stories. Read these, and you'll (hopefully) come away with a solid foundation for understanding the Dark Knight and how he works.
I'm a sucker for stories that explore what life in a superhero universe is like for the regular people who live there, so I've been pretty interested in the DC superhero sitcom Powerless, debuting February 2 on NBC, ever since it was announced. The thing is, while I knew it was set in a superhero-adjacent business in the DC Universe, and that relatively obscure characters like Crimson Fox were going to show up, there was one connection to the larger DC that I was extremely surprised to hear about; Vanderveer "Van" Wayne, Bruce Wayne's terrible, terrible cousin, played in the show by Alan Tudyk.
That dude is an extremely deep cut, showing up in one issue back in 1962, but really? If you're looking for a grandstanding and somewhat oblivious boss for a piece of the Wayne family's corporate empire, he's pretty much perfect.
Q: How essential is The Mark of Zorro to Batman's origin story? -- @TheKize
A: Strictly speaking, I don't think it's necessary. For one thing, while I'm actually not sure where it was introduced, the idea that young Bruce Wayne was watching The Mark of Zorro on the night his parents were murdered was at least canonized in stone in the opening pages of The Dark Knight Returns, which means that there were almost 50 years where Batman got along just fine without that element. On top of that, there have been plenty of Batman stories that go in a different direction, and it doesn't really hurt the mythology behind the character to make it something else.
But that said, The Mark of Zorro being the last thing Bruce Wayne sees before his world ends and he makes the choice to become Batman certainly makes it a whole lot better.
On this day in 1940, DC Comics published Batman #1, which, as well as being the first appearance of The Joker, also featured the first appearance of the character we would come to know as Catwoman. Selina Kyle has been one of the most versatile characters in not only Batman’s canon, but the whole DC Universe. She’s been a hero, a villain, an ally, a lover, and for over twenty years she has been a leading lady in her own right.
With the Deadpool movie arriving in cinemas this week, media attention has turned to the character's co-creator Rob Liefeld, and it’s already caused a fair share of controversy. As part of an interview with the New York Times, Liefeld stated that he did “all the heavy lifting” in the creation of Deadpool, and even more bluntly, “I chose Fabian [Nicieza], and he got the benefit of the Rob Liefeld lottery ticket. Those are good coattails to ride.” Liefeld has called the article a "hit piece," but has made similar assertions on Twitter.
Liefeld’s words raise interesting questions about who gets to call themself the true creator of a character. Is it just the initial concept, idea, or design that warrants a creator credit, and does time spent defining a character count for anything?
In 1939, Superman kicked open the doors of a brand new genre, and an entire generation of young creators did their level best to shape the future of superheroes. In that spirit, in an office in New York, a 24-year-old artist brought his creative partner an idea --- a name, really: "Bat-Man." Beyond that, there wasn't much to it. The artist was toying with the idea of a blonde, lantern-jawed hero in a domino mask who could fly, but his partner saw a little more to it.
Instead of the artist's bright red costume, the writer suggested a darker color scheme, something reminiscent of The Shadow, but with a cowl designed to mimic the ears of a bat, and give him a more fearsome appearance; and instead of super-powers, he could be a man who fought crime through his own strength and wits, driven by the tragic murder of his parents to spend his life in an endless war on crime. That writer was Bill Finger, born this day in 1914, and while his name rarely appeared on the comics he created, he remains one of the most influential creators in comic book history.
The Penguin has always been one of the hardest Batman villains to get a handle on. While the Dark Knight's other foes are usually built around these simple, evocative traits that mirror Batman's own obsessions, the Penguin suffers from an embarrassment of gimmicks. He's got the birds, the umbrellas, the pretensions of high society, the veneer of legitimacy and the nightclub with the giant iceberg in it --- he's even had a gimmicked monocle on more than one occasion. It all creates a complicated set of motivations and themes, and any other character who was saddled with all of that would've fallen into obscurity within a few years.
But for the Penguin, who made his first appearance on this day back in 1941, it only made him a much more complicated and interesting character.
This week's Batman comics mark a major change for the character, but unless you're a sharp-eyed reader who pays close attention to the credits pages, you might have missed it. As the Red Hood and Cassandra Cain threw down on the opening spread of Batman and Robin Eternal #3, Bill Finger finally received a credit as the co-creator of Batman after 76 years without proper recognition.
Last weekend marked the official Batman Day, and while I hope I've made it clear over my years of writing about comics that I strive to keep Batman in my heart the whole year 'round, I think we can all agree that it's nice to take some time and talk about the many wonderful things that he's done in his 76 years of crime-fighting. The thing is, you always hear about the same stuff. It's always "Dark Knight" this, and "Year One" that, and "that time he fought Bane and got knocked out of comics for like two years because of an actual professional wrestling move."
Don't get me wrong, those are important events, sure, but they're a tiny, tiny fraction of what Batman has done, and I think it's time that we honor some of the more unloved --- but just as deserving --- examples of heroism from his considerable career. Like, say, that time that he saved Gotham City from having all of its metal stolen by a giant green hand from another dimension by proving that aliens should be able to speak foreign languages.
For the past 75 years, every Batman story across all media has carried one --- and only one --- credit with regards to the character's origin: "Batman created by Bob Kane." Now, that's going to change.
Today, DC Entertainment announced that when Gotham returns to television next week, and when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters next year, they'll both feature a credit for Bill Finger, who co-created Batman with Kane in 1939 and was responsible for some of the most enduring elements of the character.
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