I nurse a (debatably) healthy addiction to comic books and superheroes. Superheroes are our modern day morality tales: on one hand human, but on the other hand empowered to do what we as humans are scared or unable to do. They make a difference while we fear we cannot.
Unfortunately, while the heroes have moments of brilliance in the past and present, they have become too big to be followed. Gone are the days of monthly issues and crime dramas: comics are instead the land of crossovers and events and cataclysms. Instead of one crime to solve, our heroes are often tasked with saving all of humanity. It has become cumbersome to follow, and I refused to. But then, I talked to Helen Cothrel about writing about comics and I joined the madness again. I’m going to start with what I know: Batman. My love for Batman, the most human and vulnerable of all heroes and thus the most real, is going to dominate a lot of space. I will try to get my friends to keep me up on Marvel comics, too. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ll start by going with the best Batman graphic novels or collected issues of all time. The main criteria for the best Batman books of all time are pretty simple: historical significance, literary value, characterization of the hero, accessibility to non-comics readers, and how much I love them! Feel free to send e-mails, find me on Facebook, and harass me on what I missed. Reverse order countdown, initiated!
10. Hush (2002-3)
I did not want to put this one on the list, but a few factors made me. The first is the startlingly nuanced portrayal of the typically contrived Catwoman, who forces Batman to examine the realities of love in costume. The second is writer Jeph Loeb’s ability to get inside Batman’s head to great success. The last is the new bad guy, Hush, working with an intimate knowledge of Batman to ruin him. Points taken away for an unsatisfactory ending and somewhat convoluted plot.
9. Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader? (2009)
Following the Death of Batman arc (which will not be featured on this list because it is overrated), the comics reset back to issue 1 as D.C. tried to compress and pull in its titles. Envoking an Alan Moore story, Neil Gaiman, creator of the excellent Sandman series, crafts a funeral for Batman with all of his friends and enemies from all different periods attending. Every era and event in Batman, from conception to the TV show to the movies to the cartoons, is represented and all are invited to say a few words. It’s a surreal masterpiece.
8. Paul Dini’s Run on Detective Comics (2006)
Let’s be clear: Dini is on this list for more than just his comics. Paul Dini was a key writer, producer, and editor of the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. There, he created Joker’s lover Harley Quinn and told the darker Batman to children in an accessible way. He also created and wrote the smash hit video game adaptations of Batman, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Specifically in this run, Dini re-animates the character of Scarface, hilariously reforms the Riddler, terrifies readers with a brilliant Joker, and lets Batman solve the smaller crimes that Batman purists love. With both episodic plots and an overarching plot, it is one of the best runs I have seen directly out of issues.
7. Long Halloween (1996-7)
This is my first choice that I feel will make someone complain, if anyone reads or cares enough. Long Halloween is the biggest influence on the Christopher Nolan films outside of Batman: Year One. It follows an obsessed Batman on the trail of the mob, working with Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon. Touches like a Godfather homage to begin the book and the re-creation of The Calendar Man as Hannibal Lecter plugged the character into organized crime and sadistic serial killers. Poor dialogue and a frankly unsatisfactory deliberately ambiguous end hold the book back, though. On most lists, it is top five. It gets seven with me.
6. Arkham Asylum (1989)
I may have slighted you before for your recent run, Grant Morrison, but you absolutely knocked it out of the park, here. The book establishes the Arkham Asylum as a character in itself, plays with Batman’s fear of being as insane as those he fights, and examines the true nature of madness. If you have time, read the script with the book. You won’t be disappointed.
Check back soon for my top five Batman graphic novels while I scramble desperately to catch up on comics.