So You Want to Get Back Into Batman Comics...
By Rich Barrett
So, you want to start reading Batman comics again but it's been a good 20 years since you got into the series. If you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of everything you might have missed, fear not: Here's all you need to know to get caught up.
There's Been A Reboot
In the summer of 2011, DC Comics relaunched all of their titles with new #1 issues, discarding the numbering system many of the books had used since the 1940s. The company also rebooted the continuity of their entire comic book universe to allow new readers to start fresh without feeling lost in characters' histories. So, in theory, someone looking to start reading Batman again is really only about 2 years behind and could do no worse than starting with Batman #1 without feeling like they're missing anything.
Except It Wasn't a Total Reboot
The thing is, DC was reluctant to just throw out a lot of good stories with all that continuity. To sidestep that problem, the company set the start of the relaunch five years in so that most of the recent, pre-reboot stories can still have "happened" within that five-year timeframe. Yes, that sounds counter-productive, but comic book continuity is best painted with broad strokes. The important thing to know is that the fundamentals of Batman are still the same.
Bruce Wayne has now only been Batman for about six years.
The reboot means the comics feature a younger Batman who is not quite the been-there, done-it, know-it-all he had been written as in the early 2000s.
He’s still got the same old villains (with a few updates)
The Joker had his own face removed and stitched back on, giving him a new look remarkably similar to Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight.
Catwoman and Batman still have a complicated relationship, and they've been shown to get quite intimate (especially in a pretty explicit scene in Catwoman #1).
The newer additions to Batman's rogues gallery have been very organized. He unearths a hidden group called the Court of Owls that has been operating on behalf of a secret cabal of wealthy Gothamite families for centuries.
There have been at least four Robins
It’s a little hard to see how Batman could have had so many Robins in just a few years, but there's been
- Dick Grayson, still the first Robin and still currently Nightwing.
- Jason Todd, who was killed by the Joker in a storyline back in the '80s but has been resurrected as the vigilante anti-hero Red Hood.
- Tim Drake, who is now Red Robin and the leader of the Teen Titans.
- And the fourth and most recent Robin is Damian Wayne, Batman's son, who is now deceased.
There was also briefly a female Robin, a young woman named Stephanie Brown who then took on the name the "Spoiler." Also, Carrie Kelly, the Robin from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, has been introduced into continuity in recent issues of Batman & Robin, but we don't know what Robin-related plans DC has for her just yet.
Yes, I said "Batman's son"
Damian was the 10-year-old offspring of Batman and Talia Al Ghul and was an awesome, precocious monster -- until he was killed by his own clone. This being comics, it's perfectly reasonable to think he might be back at some point.
Where should you start?
It's a great time to be getting back into Batman because Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are not only in the midst of what may end up being a classic run on the character, but they are also in the middle of an 11 part origin story called "Zero Year" that began with issue 21 of Batman.
A surprising piece of collateral damage from DC's reboot is that Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, the seminal comic that influenced the entire aesthetic of the Christopher Nolan films, no longer fits the continuity. Snyder and Capullo are repositioning the early years of Batman for a new era, and that's as good a place as any to start reading.
There are a LOT of Batman books out there, but not all of them are worth bothering with. Stick with the simply titled Batman, the highlight of the Bat-comics right now.
After that, here’s how you can catch up on more Batman.
Since you're not completely new to Batman, I'm going to bypass all the usual recommendations. Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: The Long Halloween are classics whether they're in-continuity or not. If you haven't read them, start with those.
Batman & Son
Not only does this story introduce Batman's son Damian, but it is also the beginning of writer Grant Morrison's long run on the book. This is not exactly a stand-alone story and will be more enjoyable if you continue with the followup volumes Batman: The Black Glove and Batman: RIP. It's the perfect entry point to sample Morrison's fast-paced but weird, history-heavy take on the character. From there move on to the first volume of Batman & Robin, featuring art by the great Frank Quitely.
Batman: Court of Owls
Scott Snyder took charge of the main Batman book during the New 52 relaunch. His run begins with issue #1 and the Court of Owls storyline. Snyder is joined by artist Greg Capullo and the two of them are crafting a new post-Christopher Nolan, post-Grant Morrison Batman.
Batman Inc. Vol 1
It's hard to keep recommending recent Batman comics without picking parts of Grant Morrison's 6-year run. It's also hard to pick individual pieces since they all play off each other. However, one of his most interesting contributions to the Batman lore has been the idea of a Bruce Wayne-run corporation of global Batmen who fight crime beyond the confines of Gotham City. Confusingly, because of the reboot, there are two Batman Inc. Vol. 1s out there. You can't go wrong with either one, although the one with the "Demon Star" subtitle does pick up on some threads that began in the previous Volume 1.