Finally, everyone’s favorite superhero. Though I was never the greatest Batman fan in the world, what with all those more interesting escapist science fiction characters out there, I have read a lot of Batman over the years and it would behoove me to not elaborate.
He is central to the DC Universe, the resident hypercompetent genius who always has a plan to save the day. It’s not really ironic anymore that he’s beats everyone else with super powers, we get it already, and Batman is super smart and super cool. He does, obviously, have the best villains in all comics.
Bob Kane created Batman in 1939, though really Bill Foster contributed much of the mythos, and he was quite dark at first. Soon however, came the whimsical wiles of the Golden Age to the Silver Age and he got pretty ridiculous. He’s bounced around from camp to serious over the years, with various incarnations acted by Adam West and directed by Tim Burton.
My favorite incarnation ever is still the brilliant Animated Series, produced by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini and expertly voiced by Kevin Conroy. Mr. Conroy remains the absolute best Batman actor of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.
Back in the world of comics, Batman had a resurgence in the 1970s as writer Dennis O’Neil and and classic artist Neal Adams took Batman to his darker roots. They also had a James Bond sort of vibe, has he traveled the world fighting Ra’s al Ghul.
It wasn’t until 1986 when Frank Miller — of pre-Sin City fame — came along that things went real ‘grim n gritty’ dark. The Dark Knight Returns, still considered one of the greatest graphic novels ever, was about a futuristic Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement and fighting a corrupt Gotham City. Then he fought a corrupt United States government, as Superman was an asshole stooge of Ronald Reagan. It almost comes across as satire today (indeed, Miller’s later work cannot be taken seriously at all) but it was just so amazing and has aged wonderfully. Reread it today, I dare ya, it’s epic.
Frank Miller returned for a reboot after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1987, with Batman: Year One. Miller only wrote, and David Mazzucchelli drew. It was a fine story, a bit short for my tastes without a proper ending. Yet, modern Batman wouldn’t be Batman without that tale.
1988 the mainstay Batman titles were still normal superhero comics, but they needed more tension. DC decided to hold a vote to kill the unpopular second Robin, Jason Todd. The original Dick Grayson had become Nightwing over in New Teen Titans. It was a gimmick that added real tragedy to the DC Universe, as the Joker beat him to death and Batman could forever remain guilty. Joker being a middle-eastern official with diplomatic immunity at the time, a surprising twist. Yet, it wasn’t the grim gritty kind of thing, as the story was firmly set in the science fictional universe with Superman coming to help. Death in the Family, written by Jim Starlin.
Don’t worry, Robin II came back to life eventually.
The followup crossover with New Teen Titans was also firmly set in the greater DC Universe, and then introduced the third Robin Tim Drake. More on Batman’s various partners shortly.
There were many a-Batman crossover throughout theyears. Like Marvel’s X-Men, the most popular property gets to milk the readers as much as possible.
That and 90s excess, and you have the worst of it: Knightfall. In 1993 Bane was introduced, yes like the movie, and the prison-raised South American (not Germanic) hatched a devious plan to BREAK the BAT. He let loose Arkham Asylum and then when the caped crusader was at his worst he broke his friggin back. All this just as Superman was dying mind you, it was the thing back then. With Bruce Wayne crippled, the antihero Azrael armored up and took charge of the cape and cowl. Sooner than later things were back to the status quo.
In 1999, standards were higher and the crossover No Man’s Land fared much better. Gotham City had been destroyed by an earthquake and the government had given up, which led to total anarchy. Fun times. Later, Lex Luthor would rebuild it all and it set him up for his presidential bid.
I always liked when Batman faced wits with Lex Luthor and Superman battled the Joker.