Suggested Reading: The Dark Knight - From Batman to Joker
by Roman Chavez
July 10, 2008
"I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Batman!" As a kid, those words sent chills up and down my spine. They are from Batman: The Animated Series, and so began my love for Batman. There is literally no hero that can compare to Batman. He is respected, but feared. Loved and hated. More than that, he is truly what goes bump in the night - a modern day boogieman for mobsters, thieves and murderers. It may be a little cheesy, but I'd like to walk you through some of my favorite Batman moments growing up before we look at some of the best Batman comics. From the cartoon to comics, to the much anticipated film The Dark Knight, I want to share with you why it is that I love Batman so much.
At an early age, I was fascinated with our caped crusader. He was dark and kind of scary, but I always knew he was doing what was right. Batman: The Animated Series was my first exposure to the Dark Knight. It was the perfect way for Warner Brothers and DC Comics to get kids interested in the character and hope that they would buy the comic books later on. I know it worked with me. Kevin Conroy was the voice actor for Batman and to this day when I read the comic books, his voice is what I hear in my head. I had amazing 30 minute adventures everyday after school. It was never a dull moment. I couldn't wait to see what villain that they would show next. I will always remember the episode that first showcased the Joker - Season 1, Episode #2 - "Christmas with the Joker". He instantly became my favorite comic book villain of all time. He was wacky, obviously crazy, and had the best laugh that I had ever heard. I didn't know this at the time, but Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker) voiced the Joker. His first appearance in the show was a bit weird, but at the time I had no point of reference so it was fine in my book. Later on in the series he got more interesting and surprisingly sadistic for a cartoon. The cartoon had so much to offer, but few villains came even close to the Joker's prowess. That is... except maybe Two-Face.
Two-Face is definitely high up on the ladder with the Joker. Here was a character that could very much be a real-life person. Suffering from multiple personality disorder, which manifested from years of repressed anger and abuse, Harvey Dent tried to overcome his haunting childhood and rose to the role of Gotham City District Attorney. Not willing to budge on the law and never afraid to prosecute any thief or mob boss, Harvey made a lot of enemies. I am a big fan of the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic. It's so unique with this villain, where both personalities are on the surface at the same time. I know that the cartoon may seem a bit of a weird road to travel to get you even more excited for The Dark Knight, but I am a huge Batman fan and the animated series is what started it all.
With The Dark Knight quickly approaching, I am filled with the most excitement and anticipation for a film since the first X-Men movie in 2000. Batman Begins laid a beautiful groundwork for the franchise and I just can't see it going wrong. If you're reading this, you obviously know what made that film so amazing. The first series of Batman films were enjoyable and entertaining. Some may disagree with me, but I even liked Batman Forever, which had Batman creator Bob Kane's favorite Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer), as well as Batman & Robin. Don't hate me for that statement, think about it - both of them were fun movies. They should have just cut the pointy ears off and called the character something else, but the first appearance of Robin in a Batman movie was thrilling to the boy in me at the time.
I don't need to hype up, potentially, this summer's biggest film, however I will try to do what I always set out to do and recommend some good comic books to either read for the first time or refresh your love for a classic. On top of that, I am going to suggest a few things to watch, because they are fun as well. There are some obvious Batman, Joker, and Two Face tales that I must advise. For first time readers wanting some good background info on these characters, this is a good place to start. There are also a few off-the-wall stories that I think many will like. Enjoy!
Batman: Year One
Written by Frank Miller, Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli
I know that this pertains more to Batman Begins, but I didn't get to write about that, so here you go. This is one of Frank Miller's classic tales. Miller is often classified as one of the definitive Batman writers. This is the story of Bruce Wayne trying to become the Batman, and also Jim Gordon trying to clean up the Gotham City Police Department. After returning from several years of training his mind and body in various styles of self-defense and deducing, Bruce Wayne comes home to Gotham to make a difference. This story is cool because we get to see a fresh young Bruce Wayne trying to get out there and stop crime. He doesn't even have the Batman character disguise his first time out and gets his ass kicked. It was nice of Frank Miller to make the character fallible and more human. Buy from Amazon.com.
Written by Jeph Loeb, Illustrated by Jim Lee
This was the Batman story that got me back into the character. It is a complex mystery stemming all the way from Bruce Wayne's youth. Pretty much every Bat villain is in this story and also, in my opinion, the greatest Superman vs Batman fight ever. New alliances are forged and some are rekindled. The same goes for love. A new villain emerges who seems to know almost too much about our hero and resembles a friend once lost. Nobody writes a cast of heroes and villains the way Loeb writes, and Jim Lee is my favorite artist of all time. If you read any one Batman story - this is it. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: The Killing Joke
Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Brian Bolland
Many people talk about this story, as well they should. It is seemingly our most accurate portrayal of the Joker's origin. I say "seemingly" because the Joker has lied about his past so much that in the story he even states that: "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. If I am going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!" Ahead of it's time (written in 1988) this tale, told mostly in flashbacks, is the tragic origin of how Jack Napier turns from struggling family man to the crazed Clown Prince of Crime: the Joker. This story was so monumental to me because I almost felt bad for the Joker. He really was trying to do some good and just take care of his family. Unfortunately, he had not done that in the correct way and his actions cost him dearly. He had a bad day and everything changed. Later, that feeling leaves when the Joker does unspeakable horrors to Commissioner Gordon's daughter Barbara. The story mirrors Batman and the Joker as possibly the same man at heart who have a similar tragedy and how both men choose to handle it. Writer Alan Moore makes us wonder what we would do if we had a bad day gone wrong. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs
Written by Ed Brubaker, Illustrated by Doug Mahnke
Meant to be a sort of sequel to Batman: Year One, we have the Joker performing his first series of murders and shenanigans. This is supposed to be a re-telling of Batman and the Joker's first encounter. Both have yet to fully reveal themselves to the public at this point, but the Joker plans one hell of an introduction. I may be one of the few that enjoy this, but I love it when they re-tell the Joker and Batman's first fight. They always push the envelope. Buy from TFAW.com.
Batman: A Death in the Family
Written by Jim Starlin, Illustrated by Jim Aparo
What makes the Joker such an archenemy to Batman? Is it his crime waves or his murderous tendencies? Here we have the second Robin named Jason Todd, the first Robin being Dick Grayson (now known as Nightwing), dealing with the revelation that he may not be an orphan and that his biological mother may still be alive. Any chance that a member of the bat-family may have some happiness is usually crushed by the Joker. This story had a genius marketing campaign where readers could call a number vote on whether Jason Todd would live or die. The last issue rolls around and the decision is made. You can probably guess what happens so I won't flat out say it. Just another notch in the Joker's belt and another tragedy for Bruce and company. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: The Long Halloween
Written by Jeph Loeb, Illustrated by Tim Sale
In this story we get to see Batman, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon working together and against the clock to stop a killer who has been offing mobsters on holidays. Once a month, the serial killer only known as "Holiday" murders one or more mobsters. A great mystery that keeps the reader guessing with every issue, this story also re-tells the origin of Two-Face. Look to this story inspiration for The Dark Knight. Sal 'The Boss' Maroni makes a fateful appearance and is supposed to be in the film. It's a long story rich in Batman mythology. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: Dark Victory
Written by Jeph Loeb, Illustrated by Tim Sale
The sequel to The Long Halloween, this story hovers around the murders of several Gotham City Police Officers by a serial killer called 'The Hangman'. With the fallout from TLH, Two-Face is waging a crime boss territory war with the remnants of the Falcone family. The first boy wonder, Dick Grayson, gets thrown into the mix as kind of a ret-con of his early work with Batman. It was real fascinating to see some of the centralized characters from TLH, who had this bond through the hunt for justice, feel very isolated and alone. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: Face the Face
Written by James Robinson, Illustrated by Leonard Kirk
This story involves Batman and Robin's return to Gotham City after a year long absence. At this point, Harvey Dent has been reformed for a few years and undergone plastic surgery to remove the Two-Face persona from his being. Upon Batman's departure a year ago, he asks Dent to watch over Gotham while he is gone. Harvey takes the job and trains with Batman before he leaves and proceeds to protect Gotham. When Batman returns, a new nighttime vigilante has emerged and is starting to kill Batman rouges. A lot of the evidence points to Harvey, which causes him to feel great stress and anxiety. Though he is not responsible, his Two-Face persona uses this as another excuse to manifest itself. He was doing so well, too. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: The Animated Series
Seasons 1 - 4; First Aired 1992
This is the ultimate way to enjoy Batman with your kids. Stories that are complex enough so adults do not get bored, but are not too hard for children to grasp. Watch villain after villain try to take down the Dark Knight in this great collection. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Directed by Eric Radomski & Bruce W. Timm
Arguably the best Batman movie made before Batman Begins. This is a story of lost love and the choices we make. An old flame of Bruce Wayne's comes back to Gotham City. What are her intentions? What is her connection to the mysterious Phantasm? And how does the Joker's origin tie into her past? All are great questions and we get to see a young Bruce Wayne working out the details of becoming the Batman. Buy from Amazon.com.
Batman: Gotham Knight
This straight-to-DVD release depicts six animated stories directed by six different filmmakers to bridge the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. As an added bonus Warner Brothers was able to get back voice actor Kevin Conroy for Batman! Buy from Amazon.com.
I hope you enjoy these Batman suggestions, both animated and printed - they all had such an impact on my own love for Batman and his world. Please share your favorite Batman moments with us and drop few good reading suggestions along the way. Batman may have been born out of tragedy, but it is his villains that really define the character. You better have your tickets for the first showing of The Dark Knight already! I know I do. Today, I leave you with a question. In Batman Begins, Jim Gordon suggests that there may be "escalation" caused by Batman. In the comics, someone once posed the question: Would there be a Joker if there were no Batman? So long from Roman's Land and remember to "turn fear on those who would prey on the fearful."