Perfect 10: Batman

Perfect 10 is a series of essential recommendations that fully encapsulate a comic character – 10 desert island picks of runs, single issues, arcs, etc – curated by Comfort Food Comics.

  1. The Original League of Assassins, Talia Al Ghul & Ra’s Al Ghul Saga – (Detective Comics #405-406; #411, Batman #232, #235, #240, #242-244, “I Now Pronounce You Batman and Wife!” from DC Special Series #15, Detective Comics #485, #489-490): By Denny O’ Neil, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Don Newton & many more. This story has often been collected or grouped together as “Tales of the Demon” but always cuts out the first Detective Comics stories that introduce the League of Assassins and Dr. Darrk. I prefer to include them. Even though it’s a smattering of random, non consecutive issues over several years, these comics merge to form one of the most foundational and important stories for Batman ever. Denny O’ Neil comes on the book and introduces us to an exotic new group of villains headed by the mysterious international terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul and his beautiful yet deadly daughter Talia. This is the best stuff O’Neil ever writes for Batman. Ra’s is my favorite Batman villain and Talia isn’t far behind as a favorite romantic or villainous supporting character. Ra’s is just the perfect counterpart to Batman, almost a warped dark mirror of our favorite detective. He symbolizes someone as dedicated as Batman in changing the world through their own insane personal quest, only his is portrayed as going too far. I think what makes Ra’s work so well is he presents an impossible foe for the Batman to face with his conventional methods and instead forces Bruce to keep him at bay by forging a deep, intimate personal connection. Think about it. He never ACTUALLY stops Ra’s. The only way he keeps this omnipresent villain at bay is by either inserting himself into the family or forcing Ra’s to engage in a battle of ideals and intelligence. It’s always a game of mental one upmanship for the two of them. I think Batman needs a villain like that, someone he can’t punch until they’re down, someone he has to push his insane life mission on until they yield for the time being. That is Ra’s Al Ghul and that is why this story is perfect and such an integral part of Batman’s mythology.

2. Batman Versus Predator Vol. 1 #1-3: By Dave Gibbons, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert & Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh. Settle down. Chill. Stick with me here. I am not joking with you all when I say this crossover comic is one of the best Batman stories, hell, one of the best stories period in comics. First off, you have the legendary Dave Gibbons writing the hell out of this delightful premise. He does what so many people fail to do in these crossovers, he gives you exactly what you expect and want. But even MORE exciting is you get not one, but TWO Kubert brothers here!! Andy Kubert pencils while Adam inks and letters. The two of them teaming up make honestly, career best work here. Van Valkenburgh puts the cherry on top with some of the moodiest, most complementary coloring I’ve ever laid eyes on. This book is stuffed to the brim with all star comic talent! One thing a lot of people don’t understand about the Predator is that the creature works best as a lens to explore the opponent it ends up hunting. 1987’s Predator is a movie about about Dutch Schaeffer, a peak physical human who has seemingly never met something he couldn’t handle until he’s forced to deal with a Predator and become something more. The same is true of 1990’s Predator 2 – old beat cop Mike Harrigan has to go above and beyond what he thought himself capable of to continue his job of keeping predators, with and without a capital P, off the streets of Los Angeles. That’s why this crossover works so well for the character of Batman. All the heroic characteristics that make him such a great character are amplified to their extremes to battle this alien hunter in a pitch perfect way that really serves and respects both franchises. This is shockingly, a perfect showcase of the makeup of Batman and his world. Also, it has Alfred shooting a Predator point blank with a blunderbuss and Batman walloping the Predator with a baseball bat. It’s so perfectly awesome because there is no reason the creators had to flex so hard, but they did!

3. Batman – No Man’s Land – (Reading order here): By so many talented creators. Gotham City suffers a devastating earthquake and the federal government turns it’s back on the city as the bridges into town are destroyed and the whole area is cordoned off. No one in, no one out. All that remain are the poor, the stubborn, the villains, and the few people brave enough to help. If that wasn’t bad enough, Batman has been missing for 93 days. What an amazing idea to creatively shake up the entire line of Batman books. To this day, I’m still astounded they approved this storyline and let it play out for an entire year real time. This is revolutionary, unprecedented stuff!! The best part about this era is that it functions like it’s own little “Superman Triangle Era”. Every book leads into the next in one colossal story. For the most part, they make this ludicrous idea work well and the quality of the books ranges from solid to spectacular. It’s a miracle, honestly. Another thing that makes this era so awesome is maps! Almost every issue had a cool new map of Gotham City showing parts of the city that were carved up and controlled by the various villain factions. As the Batfamily fought back against all the chaos and destruction, they’d give us new updated maps reflecting the territorial changes. There’s just something spectacular about taking Gotham, turning it into a post apocalyptic wasteland that villains end up ruling over sections of like medieval kingdoms, AND that it’s in continuity, AND that it’s good! This is a wild ride that introduces Harley Quinn into the regular comic continuity as well as a new Batgirl in Cassandra Cain, one of the greatest characters ever in comics. It’s a story about destruction that does the opposite and stealthily adds so so much to Batman lore while systematically rebuilding Gotham for all the stories that come afterwards. Everything just WORKS, and for a year long event, I cannot stress enough how unbelievable that is. (Greg Rucka writes a novelization of this story that somehow may be even better than the comic story. I HIGHLY recommend it as REQUIRED reading when you finish the actual comics.)

4. Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s Detective Comics – (Detective Comics #583-#597, #601-#603, Secret Origins #44, Detective Comics #604-#614, Batman #448, Detective Comics #615, Batman #449, Detective Comics #616-#621) By Alan Grant, John Wagner, Norm Breyfogle, Steve Mitchell, Adrienne Roy, Todd Klein and more. During a period in the late 80’s, the Batman books were underperforming and Editor Denny O’Neil got John Wagner and Alan Grant, the longtime writers of 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd comic, to come on to Detective Comics. This writing pair signed on to get some sweet American comic royalties money, but it didn’t come in that fast and Wagner left after 5 issues. Thankfully, Alan Grant stayed on and ended up giving us one of the greatest periods for Batman ever done. Grant brought a new wave of creativity to the book creating all types of new characters instantly like the Batfamily ally Harold and new villains The Ventriloquist (originally planned as a Judge Dredd villain), Ratcatcher, Anarky, Mortimer Kadaver, Cornelius Stirk and many more. We also get fresh new takes on Catwoman, Joker, Penguin and Clayface as all four Clayfaces at that point form the team The Mudpack. Alongside Grant’s fresh new writing is the unique art of Breyfogle, who is an unparalleled master of expressionist art and fluid, kinetic motion. No one is able to convey such a range of emotions for Bruce like Breyfogle did. You see him as an otherworldy creature of the night, cape wrapped around him as he glides from rooftop to rooftop, you see him as a kind friend to children complete with a beaming smile and approachable posture, you see him as a bulging muscled master of martial arts. Batman’s rarely looked better than he does under Breyfogle’s pencils. The best part of this run is how truly WEIRD it can get. Grant described this Detective run as ” We kind of handled what Batman did on his nights off from Batman monthly.” and I think that’s so perfect. Here is all the creepy, strange, fantastical events that take place in the dingy corners of Gotham City when Batman isn’t being a Justice League member superhero. This is some of the most pure, enjoyable Batman material you’ll ever find.

5. Batman Vol. 3 Annual #4: By Tom King, Jorge Fornes, Mike Norton, Dave Stewart & Clayton Cowles. The best Batman single issue since 2010 and one of the best Batman stories of all time. This is such an enjoyable romp. The genius of this issue is it blends pretty much every moment or story you could think of for Batman into one greatest hits compilation. The premise of this one is that we are reading Alfred’s diary, which is a logbook of all the various adventures Batman faces. We start off with Batman on horseback chasing down another villain on a horse on the rooftops of Gotham. Next we see him slaying a Dragon that’s terrorizing Gotham City. Then Batman faces a UFC champion in the octagon, not because he responds to the fighter’s taunts but because he committed domestic abuse and is going to go unpunished. We see him solve a “Knives Out” murder mystery. We see Bruce reconnect with an old flame. We see him infiltrate a train bombing plot using his mastery of disguise. We see him in a Ditko-esque dimension facing abstract monsters. All of these are given 4-5 pages to breathe. At this point the stories continue but they get one page, then 3 panels to a page, then 4, then 5, then 6, 7, 8, 9 as each panel represents a wildly different day of events Batman lives through. We see what King is going for in that Batman is a character that can be so many things. His mission, his strength, what his character represents is an enduring legacy of being able to work in nearly any plot or genre. This is a pure love letter to comics and to Batman. Page by page, every day, he will be dealing with a vastly different, wild story because he is Batman. The art by Fornes is on another level. Similar to and in many ways superior to the amazing work done by David Mazzuchelli in Batman: Year One, this is THE Batman you picture in your head. Norton pinch hits near the end and delivers us some all time great panels of Batman playing football, on the shoulder of a giant mech, wrangling alligators, hugging Tim Drake, and so on and so on. This is a single issue of Batman that delivers you a lifetime of iconic, charming images for the character.

6. Shadow of the Batman #1-5 – (Reprinting Detective Comics #469-476, #478-479): By Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, Walt Simonson and more. Now I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this just Strange Apparitions, Dave? Well, it is and it isnt. See, to me, this is still the best format we’ve ever gotten for this famous little run. This stuff has been reprinted piecemeal in the various Strange Apparitions tpb’s, to the Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers hardcover, to the Tales of the Batman: Steve Englehart hardcover and each one either cuts issues or provides new worse coloring restoration. This Shadow of the Batman title was a 1985 reprint that has all the material done by Englehart, including the first couple Simonson drawn issues, continues into the Marshall Rogers issues, and then goes past Englehart’s departure to the two last Rogers drawn issues written by Len Wein. Marshall Rogers recolors the issues solely for this edition and provides new gorgeous wraparound covers all on the thicker Baxter paper stock. This is the only way to experience this run, and what a run it is! Englehart comes on and boils the character down to his essence, introduces new characters like love interest Silver St. Cloud, and revives old forgotten villains like Hugo Strange and Deadshot, making them integral characters for the franchise AND gives us one of the best Joker stories ever created. Rogers does career best work here with Austin on inks and provides us some of the most unique, captivating, moody art to ever grace the page. It’s short, it’s sweet and it’s still essential reading to this day.

7. New Gotham: Detective Comics – (Detective Comics #742-753, #755-765): By Greg Rucka, Shawn Martinbrough, Rick Burchett, Steve Mitchell, Wildstorm FX Coloring, Todd Klein and more. Ahhh New Gotham! Spinning out of No Man’s Land, Gotham City is reborn and so is the entire Batman line. Everything is rebranded and fresh and new and each book started to have it’s own unique purpose for existing. Rucka writes Detective and says emphatically this was to be the crime book. And boy, do we get a lot of crime. For anyone that’s read Gotham Central, one of comics’ best series ever, this is proto Gotham Central. Gotham Central #0. It’s Gotham Central except with Batman in it and it just rules. Nearly every issue is colored in only one or two specific hues instead of traditional coloring. It’s incredibly unique and really emphasizes the noir crime mood. You immediately feel like this comic is different. I really appreciate that they experimented that way and DC let them stick to it. Rucka writes a damn good Batman actually being a detective. This book is smart and full of great characterization. We get some fascinating stories about a gang war between new crime families. We get some of the best Ra’s Al Ghul and Two Face material ever. And we get the main supporting character of the run, Sasha Bordeaux. Sasha is a bodyguard hired by the Board of Directors of Wayne Enterprises to never leave Bruce’s side. She’s an extremely strong and well developed character and it’s such a clever problem to throw at Batman which also allows us a fantastic self insert point of view. If you just want extremely solid Batman material with a robust supporting cast of new GCPD characters, enemies and allies that is also stylistically one of the most unique, coolest looking books ever, than look no further. (Side note: Rucka’s Detective run continues after #765 but gets mired in the Bruce Wayne: Murderer? and Bruce Wayne: Fugitive crossovers until it finally wraps up in Detective # 775. I HIGHLY recommend reading these stories too but it gets a bit muddled, less focused and less special after #765. Rucka has admitted in interviews behind the scenes things happened during this period and he’s not proud of this work or revisited it since. The New Gotham magic and uniqueness however doesnt carry into these stories as much but they’re still well worth it.)

8. Batman by Grant Morrison – (Reading Order Here): By Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel, Frank Quitely, Chris Burnham and MANY more. One of the all time best runs in comics. I was going to put JUST Batman R.I.P. on here as it’s such a genuinely special story that may also be the best story ever involving Batman, but the more I sat and thought on it now years removed from when it was coming out, that this is all one big story that never really cares what’s happening around it unless it’s Final Crisis, also written by Grant Morrison. This is arguably THE definitive Batman story as it examines why is Bruce Wayne so special while also examining the legacy of Batman and all he inspires. Morrison’s main goal in this run is to take the character’s entire publishing history, say everything happened, and somehow reconcile that all together and show us what Batman would really be like. Morrison attempts to go beyond the grim and gritty man powered by guilt we’d been stuck with and instead present us with the world’s greatest superhero, an extremely multifaceted man at the top of his game and surrounded by a support net of people inspired by him who he loves. A secondary theme Morrison imbues into this run is the trauma of family. Batman, eternally haunted by not having his mother and father faces off against the personification of evil Dr. Hurt, who claims to be Thomas Wayne(who also claims to be the Devil because this comic is insanely awesome). So it’s Batman vs his literal daddy issues. Batman is also revealed to have a son, Damian and most of the conflicts in this run revolve around a family squabble taken to insane superhero comic extremes with Damian’s mother, Talia Al Ghul. Aiding him in all this is the massive extended Batfamily he surrounds himself with and takes that even further by establishing Batman Inc. Everything in this run is the amalgamation of all the usual Batman tropes filtered through multilayered, relatable, human rationalizations while also being peak superhero insanity to create something fresh and unseen for Batman.

9. Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast – (Batman #417-420): By Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, Adrienne Roy, Augustin Mas & John Costanza. So this one has become more famous through the years in a meme type of way. People always want to share when KGBeast lops his arm off rather than get captured by Batman or the way Batman finally stops the Beast. Those are awesome parts and should be shared but I think the perception of this one is that it’s a silly, zany story when it’s actually so much more and is incredibly great in all it’s facets. A top secret, rogue faction of the KGB sends their ultimate operative, the KGBeast to America to kill nine people involved with Reagan’s “Star Wars” program, including the President himself. Batman, along with a KGB agent and members of the FBI, CIA and GCPD, try to ascertain the Beast’s plot and stop him before he can succeed. You soon see KGBeast is an opponent that matches and may well even surpass all of Batman’s skills. Their match-ups are magnificent. More exciting than Ivan Drago vs Rocky Balboa. The action never stops and is done with some real creativity and smarts while also being one of the most entertaining comics you’ll ever be lucky enough to experience. This is a pitch perfect 1980’s Cold War, Reagan era VHS action movie starring Batman. If that’s not enough to get you fully on board, then I can’t help you.

10. Batman #400: By Doug Moench, Steve Lightle, George Perez, Paris Cullins, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Tom Sutton, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi, Brian Bolland, John Byrne, Bruce Patterson, Larry Mahlstedt, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villagran, Karl Kesel, Adrienne Roy, John Costanza, Tom Orzechowski & Andy Kubert. LOOK AT THAT CREATIVE TEAM!! This is the last issue of Pre-Crisis Batman and it goes out with a bang in this huge anniversary story. Think of all the special comics that are hidden gems where some legendary artist is quietly just doing some inane assignment before they were huge. This issue is like combining 20 of those into one. It’s AMAZING! So many sequential pages from the best people to ever work in the industry. They pull no punches in this issue either. The plot is Ra’s Al Ghul releases every single Batman rogue from jail, waltzes into the Batcave and says “Hey Detective, join me and we can kill all these bastards or don’t and have yourself one hell of a night.” Bats of course, refuses and teams with Robin, Catwoman and Talia Al Ghul to hunt down all the villains, many of whom have taken the rest of Batman’s supporting cast hostage. Eventually they face down Ra’s, who for the first time, hops into a Lazarus Pit while he’s still alive for a huge power-up. It’s so good because we get basically every villain there is along with most of Batman’s civilian allies and it’s all drawn by that crazy roster of creators. This is the definition of what an anniversary comic should be. EVERYONE should own this issue.

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