Suggested Reading: The Dark Knight - From Batman to Joker
by Roman Chavez
July 10, 2008
Suggested Reading is a column written by our comic book expert Roman Chavez that provides suggestions for comics to read in relation to upcoming comic book based movies.
"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."
I think 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' by Grant Morrison (Author), Dave McKean (Illustrator) needs to be added. It adds a layer of complexity to the character - what I like most about Batman is the blurred lines between 'good' and 'bad'. It's worth buying for the artwork alone.
Chris on Jul 10, 2008
Batman: the animated series was the best batman cartoon!
Frankenweenie on Jul 10, 2008
Ok. Two VERY important works left out: 1. The Dark Knight Returns. This is THE Batman graphic novel that is a must. Bruce dusts off the cape and comes back after about 15 years of retirement. All the other heroes are gone, dead, retired or outlawed. Superman works covertly for the President. And Gotham's reborn hero isn't welcomed back so warmly. Frank Miller dropped this in the mid-80's like a bomb on an unsuspecting comics populace. The Dark Knight wasn't all that dark before this. http://www.amazon.com/Batman-Knight-Returns-Frank-Miller/dp/1563893428/ref=pd_sim_b_3/104-0412638-8317529 2. Arkham Asylum On April Fool's day the Joker, along with a good helping of criminal loonies, take over the asylum holding the staff hostage. Their demands? Batman join them inside for a little "therapy." Beautifully written by Grant Morrison, and even more brilliantly painted by Dave McKean. It has my all time favorite quote from Batman ever: "Sometimes it's madness that makes us what we are." http://www.amazon.com/Batman-Arkham-Asylum-15th-Anniversary/dp/1401204252
jason_md2020 on Jul 10, 2008
whats on overture... nothing has happened?
sean on Jul 10, 2008
i like what you're doing firstshowing but i think you are over hyping the dark knight a bit. From what comic book to read or what animated flicks to watch. dont worry every one is going to see it. P.S. Batman: gotham Knight was wicked and i loved the series.
Drake on Jul 10, 2008
The Dark Knight Returns isn't a must read. It does absolutely nothing for the batman universe because it never actually happens. I have a problem with books that aren't canon, I'm sorry. It also gets just too weird and different for me. Not true batman at all.
Aldonn on Jul 10, 2008
Detective Comics#826 Buy it.
Coyotegrey on Jul 10, 2008
Your right jason_md2020, The Dark Knight Returns needs to be on any Batman reading list. Its an amazing story in a very dark DC world. Any story that culminates with Batman choking out Superman is epic.
babykicker on Jul 10, 2008
@ 6 Aldonn: The Dark Knight Returns is somewhat canon though because that reality is from Earth-31. If you wiki Batman: The Dark Knight returns, you'll get the following. "In Countdown: Arena, the Superman from The Dark Knight Returns appears as one of the combatants. His Earth is designated Earth-31." So in a way, the Dark Knight Returns' Batman does exist. Regardless though, the Dark Knight Returns is definitely a must read as Frank Miller revolutionized the way we see Batman now today.
Matt Suhu on Jul 10, 2008
Really enjoyed reading this, there aren't enough people who I know who enjoyed the batman animated series as much as I did. It really had a lot of depth for a cartoon and treated the villians as if they were real people, it had a few of the best origin stories for batman's rogue gallery such as Clay face, Mr. Freeze, and of course Two-Face. It still is my favorite incarnation of batman to this day. Great article.
Zach on Jul 10, 2008
Weird. I just had the second boxset of the animated series arrive in the post today. I'd also add Dark Knight Returns to that list. Regardless of whether it is in canon or not it shaped the way Batman was written and seen for the next 5-10 years. Arkham Asylum is also good. Get hold of the special hardback edition if you can. It has Morrisons script in the back and it makes for interesting reading. One other recommendation is the Gotham Central trades. Essentially the premise is a cop show like NYPD Blue or Homicide but set in Gotham. It's some of the best stuff DC has put out in recent years. It might be worth holding off getting them as DC are releasing hardcovers of them soon. If you only had to get one of the trades from the series though make it "Unresolved Targets" where The Joker goes on a Washington sniper like rampage through Gotham City. The perspective of the story makes the Joker seem very real and very scary. There's also a brilliant scene where he's in the squads interrorgation room. "Half a Life" from the same series is also good and it features Two Face and his obsession with one of the cops on the squad Renee Montoya which leads to some devastating personal upheaval for her.
Dan on Jul 11, 2008
I'm amazed at some people writing against The Dark Knight Returns - I just wonder how old the posters are - maybe it's because that masterpiece by Frank Miller [Sin City/Ronin] is just too deep and cerebral, or maybe the fact that the glowing introduction by Alan Moore [one of the greatest writers alive at the moment [V for Vendetta/Watchmen] was beneath them, or maybe because the story opitimises the nature of the relationship between Batman & Joker and looks deep into the Psyche. of who Bruce Wayne is in relation to Batman... Pah! what's the point. Year One The Dark Knight Returns Arkham Asylum The Killing Joke The Cult
personx on Jul 11, 2008
'Mad Love' was also a good Batman graphic novel for any Animated Series fans out there
RP on Jul 11, 2008
Im shocked to see the lack of appreciation for Dark Knight returns as well!!! DKR put batman right back on track as the original darkness of the character and closer to the lineage established with the 1940's sunday serials than the cheezy 60's/70 psychadelic batman that most people base him on. DKR is a classic book that allowed me to return to comics after years of feeling like the comics were just not GROWING UP like myself and the rest of the world!!! not to mention what it did to the comic world at the time (business, creators, stories, etc). Unless you were around at the time and saw the state of comics at the time, you probably dont get it, and that is understandable I guess...but I think hands down, that is one of the best batman story treatments. Not to mention that you see some aspect of its influence IN EVERY bat treatment since, INCLUDING the animated series. One batman story I think deserves being here is Paul Pope's "Batman Year 100" it is a great read both story and visualy!
omar on Jul 11, 2008
I will say that Dark Knight Returns is less essential to understanding the upcoming Dark Knight film, as it's essential to understanding the tectonic shift in the Comics Industry at that time, which has given us the Batman of today. All I have to say is - I don't hear ANYONE complaining about the 'canon' of Tony Stark! "I miss the Hasselhoff haircut, and the impossibly bendable, metal suit!" Hah! That right there is the reason Marvel's riding high & DC's riding on only 1 character - they're not afraid to break "canon" to improve their characters & make them more interesting! (w/ the exception of Batman) All told: the Dark Knight Returns was absolutely essential to opening Batman's mythos up to Freudian scrutiny and beyond, which has allowed immense growth from where it was PRE-Dark Knight. Canon or no - if you don't mind having your preconceptions shaken up, rattled, and spat back onto your plate, Dark Knight is for you! If you find that experience "unpleasant and unsavory to the spotless mythology that is the Bat-Man", then yeah. DK's not gonna grab ya! Currently reading Batman: Jekyll & Hyde, which is beautifully rendered and well written. About Two Face escaping & mind-f@cking Batman. Pretty damn good so far!
Django on Jul 13, 2008
Great point! Marvel really takes its liberties with its movie adaptations (the least being SPiderman#1) All arguements of what bat books should be read aside, I think these new batman movies are great! Even with the liberties taken. They are worlds better than the burton/shumacker bats any day!
omar on Jul 14, 2008
How you can have a list like this and not have "Dark Knight Returns" and "Arkhum Asylum" yet have animated Batman stuff is beyond me. DKR is one of the best graphic novels ever, not just Batman or even superhero related. It stands up to and still trounces books written 20 years on. It's brilliant. Clearly the best Batman story ever. If I was going to tell someone to read just one comic book, it would likely be DKR as it's easily accessible due to the fact everyone knows Batman. Hush is great though, and it's drawn by the master.
Matt on Jul 14, 2008
I don't know what this fascination is that everyone has with Hush. I liked all the other books here but any graphic novel that features a flying dog as Supermans sidekick cannot be seen as a serious Batman graphic novel in my eyes...
P on Jul 16, 2008
The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination.
employee clockin clockout on Jul 13, 2009
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