For the previous stories (stories 10, 9, 8, 7, and 6), check out My Top 10 Favorite Batman Stories (part 1).
Oh, before we get to my favorite Batman [comic book] stories, here is a new DC Nation video I just saw this morning. It is pretty awesome.
5. Batman & Robin: Blackest Knight
I thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin from top to bottom. The conceit of the title was that instead of Batman being this brooding and tortured genius, held aloft emotionally by a carefree and colorful Robin… Former Robin Dick Grayson (now the Batman of Gotham City) is the pretty nice guy, and Damien Wayne (the natural child of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul) is a bit of an asshole; in an early adventure, Damien — trained from birth by Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins — decided that now that his father had a “real” son, the other Robins were unnecessary… He tried to murder Tim Drake.
Batman & Robin is a story about Dick trying to hold Gotham together in Bruce’s absence, and a story about Damien rejecting his al Ghul ancestry to become a worthy Robin.
Characteristically for Morrison, he got to work with awesome artists like Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, and Chris Burnham on Batman & Robin. Blackest Knight is a crossover with Batwoman that I mentioned in the previous part of the review (Morrison — like YT — adored Greg Rucka and JH William III’s Batwoman)… Illustrated by Cameron Stewart. Here are the opening three or so pages:
… If you said “WHAT THE!?!” you and I agree. The opening salvo of Blackest Knight is the comic book equivalent of the White House scene in X2. Yes, yes, yes — Cameron Stewart is very good.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Any of the next three stories… Most longtime Batman fans can probably pick them.
The Dark Knight Returns is the seminal “adult” Batman story. Bruce comes out of retirement to bring back the Bat. Issue after issue he accelerates the stakes of the game, as Batman strives to right Gotham City even as old age creeps up on him. The climax is a battle between Batman and Superman that has ultimately set the tone for every fan’s perception of what might happen if the two clashed.
Miller’s masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns reinvented the campy four-color cartoon hero into essentially the world’s most revered — and feared — iconic character.
Five Stars obviously.
Love The Dark Knight Rises? You can thank The Dark Knight Returns.
3. Batman: The Killing Joke
Almost universally lauded at the greatest Joker story of all time — and the unofficial “origin story” of the Joker — Alan Moore’s masterpiece is everything that you could possibly want in a Batman story, or any comic book really.
Beautifully illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke features many of the same razor sharp storytelling techniques Moore used in Watchmen; personally I prefer Bolland’s illustrations to those of Dave Gibbons (though Watchmen is obviously the pinnacle of the comics medium).
For those of you who don’t know, The Killing Joke was a prestige one-shot. Usually these kinds of comics have minimal impact outside of the story itself… But in this case Moore had the Joker shoot Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) through the spine and then do all kinds of terrible naked stuff to both her and her father, Commissioner Gordon. Joker’s goal is to prove that one bad day can ruin the best of men (here Gordon); in defiance, the noble Gordon demands Batman take down the Joker without compromise.
The story itself is one of the most devastating in the history of mainstream comics. A cherished heroine is brutalized. Moore brings the Joker’s evil — so often over-the-top — low enough that you can touch it, feel Barbara’s sticky blood on your own fingers, or wince at a naked Jim Gordon caged and paraded around like a circus animal.
Moore also challenges us as he challenges the Batman. It is a hard story to read; and to be honest, I have never been 100% comfortable with how Batman dealt with the situation.
But as I said, it is gorgeous throughout.
Love Tim Burton? You can thank Batman: The Killing Joke.
2. Batman: Year One
You know how The Dark Knight Returns is basically the greatest Batman story of all time?
Well… not only is it not better than The Killing Joke, it isn’t even the best Batman story written by Frank Miller!
Batman: Year One, written by Frank Miller and gorgeously illustrated by David Mazzucchelli tells the story of Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman. He is raw and untested, makes mistakes he never would later. Batman: Year One re-imagines the origin of Catwoman, and casts a young Jim Gordon as a heroic maverick redeeming a corrupt police department from within… and with his fists.
Love Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? You can thank Batman: Year One
1. Catwoman: Relentless
Most of you have heard of the middle-three favorite Batman stories. Some of you might be surprised that I didn’t pick Son of the Demon or Death in the Family (honestly, the closest almost-rans were Batgirl Adventures #1 and Mad Love).
Catwoman: Relentles? What the!?!
This is more-or-less the most heart wrenching comic book I have ever read. Know Ed Brubaker from Captain America or Daredevil? Bru’s Catwoman runs circles around his Marvel work (and that is no knock on his Marvel work… just that Catwoman is so good).
The first part involves Brubaker building up Catwoman’s life… and then crushing her life like a bug under some skinny supermodel’s high heel. The first half of Relentless is gorgeously illustrated by Cameron Stewart; and ends on a kiss. Brubaker and Stewart go absolutely Alan Moore, drawing on the fundamental storytelling limitations of the comics medium… and then again turn the story on its head.
The second half, also perfectly illustrated — but wildly different from Stewart’s — comes via Javier Pulido. It is a tale of desperation and misery, self-destructive co-dependence, and wildly imbalanced emotional attachments: the cautionary tale of a “The End” tag applied too soon.
Catwoman: Relentless isn’t just my favorite tale from Gotham City, but one of my Top 10 favorite comic books, ever.