Teddy Card Game (Ted Knutson) asked me to write about my Top 10 favorite Batman stories. I finally got around to it.
Fifteen years or so ago I was good friends with this short-haired redheaded girl in the Navy. I spent several balmy evenings with her drinking vodka out of plastic bottles (or whatever). Really we had this very long-standing and meaningful friendship, which, apparently, is why I can’t remember her name.
I basically make up nicknames for everyone I hang out with (GreedyM, Teddy Card Game, KFlo) so I used to just call her “Midships” (she held the rank of Midshipman in the Navy). Midships got boned (and not by a man).
During officers’ training, Midships was taught all different qualities of being a good leader (you know, to be a good officer). One of those qualities was to stand up for what you believe in, and tell the truth. Full of inspiration as an up-and-coming Naval officer, Midships went to her commanding officer and declared that she was a lesbian. She had been consistently ribbed in training for her short hair, but it turned out that yeah, she was gay.
Midships was proud of herself for about the next fifteen seconds, at which point her life fell apart.
She got busted out of the Navy and all of a sudden found herself saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Right before coming out, Uncle Sam was paying for her Ivy League education; and afterwards… Not so much.
I couldn’t help but think of Midships for the first time in over a decade reading Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Batwoman. Kate Kane is also a short-haired redhead who is busted out of the US military on account of being gay.Still driven by a desire to do justice and contribute, she eventually transforms herself into the titular superhero. Unlike my old friend Midships, Kane is Bruce Wayne-rich and has massive resources to equip herself as a high-tech hero.
Batwoman has much of the “real-life” military / espionage feel of Rucka’s awesome Queen & Country, plus out-of-this-world visuals from JH Williams III… Just one of the most beautifully illustrated comic books in history. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Grant Morrison loved their work so much he “had” to set up a team-up between Detective Comics fill-in Kate Kane and substitute Batman Dick Grayson in the pages of Batman and Robin (more on that later).
This book is deeply concerned with the conflicts of social justice. Rucka lays family obligation on like smears of butter on too-done toast; it is thick, and greasy, burnt-crunchy, and rich all at once. You probably won’t see very much you recognize in the romantic struggles Kate has with her various partners; but Rucka and Williams III will make you feel. Along with the typical tropes of secret identity-missed-date-hijinks Kate has to deal with overlaid social acceptance in sexual orientation, high society balls, and class. She is Wayne-rich, remember. Her love life was an animal I wasn’t used to wrestling with.
This book would probably be higher up in this list but there isn’t actually much Batman in it. I read it in trade paperback, but my assumption from its timing was that Kate Kane was keeping the seat warm in Detective Comics while Bruce Wayne was off being dead or lost in time or whatever after tussling with Darkseid in Final Crisis.
#9 Superman / Batman: Public Enemies
This story was from the inaugural arc of the comic book Superman / Batman, with the ever-popular Jeph Loeb writing and Ed McGuinness of art chores. The notion of Superman / Batman is kind of goofy — especially if you factor McGuinness’s iconically cartoon-y art into your seriousness assessment — but it ended up having lasting impact on the DC Universe, at least at the time. Public Enemies ousted Lex Luthor from the presidency, set up Talia al Ghul, personally, as a financial powerhouse, and transitioned into the reintroduction of Supergirl to the DCU.
Spoilers! (for a story many many years old at this point)
Public Enemies starts with President Lex Luthor sending the troops (and “the troops” being supervillains and coerced superheroes) after the titular icons; by the last part of the arc he is off the rails, dons his bad guy Iron Man armor from Apokalips and manages to lose the presidency and his fortune.
Superman / Batman: Public Enemies is almost unbelievably over-the-top with super-injections and large scale participation from the extended Super- and Bat-families. It also includes one of my all-time favorite fight scenes in comics… Which is why it is one of my favorite funnybooks (not just Batman funnybooks).
The bigwigs at DC agreed and turned it into one of their direct-to-DVD movie releases.
In the midst of Luthor’s hunt for Bruce and Clark, the pernicious prez sends the usually-heroic duo of Captain Marvel and Hawkman after two of DC’s Big Three. Captain Marvel is basically the “magic” Superman (similar power set but powered by magic instead of being from Krypton)… and Superman is vulnerable to magic. So Batman calls a “castle” so they switch dance partners (as Batman has himself at a disadvantage against Hawkman due to Hawkman’s power of flight).
So they switch???
Batman sends Captain Marvel into the side of the mountain despite the fact that the entire superhero community has cowered in fear of him in other arcs (e.g. Kingdom Come). He’s basically the more powerful version of Superman, essentially combining the power of six different mythical gods and heroes of legend! But we are so used to seeing Batman beat Superman with cleverness and kryptonite rings that it seems perfectly natural that Batman best a stand-in Superman… Yet a minute ago Bruce was having problems with basically Indiana Jones wearing a jetpack and swinging an iron sheleighleigh.
This fight exemplifies the sheer ludicrous-ness of Superman / Batman: Public Enemies. It’s exactly the feel that Loeb and McGuinness (in contrast to a story like Hush) are going for in this one.
Here’s a clip of the fight from the video version:
#8 Batgirl: Year One
I love Love LOVE Marcos Martin!
Pretty cool “rookie learning the ropes” story by Chuck Dixon (who was considered the best action writer in comics at this point) and the then-relatively unknown (and still criminally not-famous) Marcos Martin.
Some comics you love for being unbelievably put together and executed (Watchmen), others for a peerless evel of innovation (Supreme), and still others for the absolute perfection of their writing (tons, let’s be honest). Batgirl: Year One makes this list because of Martin.
At this point I buy basically everything Marcos Martin touches. He’s done work on The Runaways and Doctor Strange with my old high school buddy Brian Vaughan, and most recently has been kicking butt on one of the best books bar-none, Mark Waid’s reboot of Daredevil.
I would recommend you do the same and buy everything he draws on account of it is all so purdy. His Batgirl: Year One looks effortless on the page.
Amazon prices are all a kick to the unmentionables (I guess this is out of print). With an iPad you can get single [digital] issues on ComiXology for $1.99 apiece, though.
#7 Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!
I suspect Grant Morrison did all kinds of jumping through hoops for several years running — inventing Damien Wayne as the natural child of Bruce + Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, “killing” Bruce in an epic showdown with Darkseid (who else can match Apokalips’s God of Evil? Superman?), setting up Dick Grayson as the new Batman (but with a slightly different costume), elevating the Club of Heroes (goofy Batman wannabes from earlier decades of four-color pulp) — just so he could make Batman Incorporated.
Batman Incorporated is the idea that Bruce Wayne comes back from the dead and comes out of the closet as Batman’s backer. Not as Batman per se, but as the guy who supplies his Batmobiles and Batarangs and so on. How could Batman only be one dude, right?
In Batman Incorporated, Bruce sets up Batmen all over the place. Damien was working well with Dick in Batman and Robin anyway, so he lets Dick stay the Batman of Gotham City. Bruce sets up Bat-wing, Rightrunner, Black Bat (formerly Batgirl), and actual other dudes also named “Batman” as his operatives around the globe.
Amazing high concept and great fun.
Over the course of Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated, Morrison hooks [back] up with some of the best artists in the business (most notably Cameron Stewart IMO) and elevates Chris Burnham to one of the best in the business. Burnham’s Batman Incorporated has the energy and layout of a Cameron Stewart… but with the finish of a Frank Quitely. I mean this in all the best ways.
But to get onto this Top 10 list that includes some of my favorite comics of all time?
It was this one panel in The Leviathan Strikes!:
OMG Holy Fan-boy Bat-dream (Batman)!
Bruce and all his adopted and flesh-and-blood sons; two Batmans, two Robins, all fighting back-to-back???
I know it is just one panel but I think one of the things that makes a fan like me love comics so much is the opportunity to see the heroes really strut their stuff and cut loose, look really cool while serving mad justice: To give us a reason to cheer.
Boy, does this comic do that.
#6 Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds
I consider all of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey as one long run; Of Like Minds is just the first trade she wrote of a run that is comparable in both length and proficiency to Gaiman on Sandman, Ennis on Preacher, or Robinson on Starman. I don’t state that lightly. Gail Simone on Birds of Prey — especially in the early trades and at her best — is the equal to any of those iconic writers on one of their signature books.
As a high concept, the crippled Barbara Gordon, once Batgirl but now the hacker-hero Oracle, employs with Black Canary and Huntress as her strike team. Who are Black Canary and Huntess? Who gives a hang?
These are two heroines who you might have literally zero investment in right now, but whom Simone will make some of your all-time favorites.
Birds of Prey is one of the all-time best action / martial arts comics. Under the skilled pencil of Ed Benes, it comes to life beautifully. Via Simone’s typewriter, Birds is consistently both heartwarming and hilarious. Butt-kicking, butt-kissing, exposed abs (with good reason), unbridled violence, and even more laughter.
That would be telling!
* I completely forgot I previously reviewed this comic book previously; for a more immediate review (i.e. right after I read it the first time), check it here.