My Life as an Irish Fanboy- Part 10:

BATMAN in COMICS

by Glenn Matchett

So Batman The Animated series had made me a fan for life of the caped crusader but what was next?  Like I said last week I had read some of the UK reprints of ‘Batman Adventures’ which featured reprints of the American title of the same name.  The title featured new stories set in the same universe as the cartoon and I found them quite enjoyable.  The first three issues where actually one long story involving The Joker stealing an item which I can’t recall (a jewelled egg maybe?) and had the final confrontation in a mini golf course as far as I recall.  If I’m wrong I totally call copyright on that idea here and now!

I knew that Batman existed in comic form but didn’t really know there was a whole version with a long 60 plus history to discover.  My first inkling into the wider world of Batman in what is known as the ‘DC Universe’ or ‘DCU’ was in Florida in 1995.  During that trip I saw a selection of comics in a spinner rack like wall mart or something similar and it was there that I bought the Sonic the Comic issue I discussed a few articles ago and Detective comics annual 1995.  Those with a keen memory for film will know that this year featured the release of Batman: Forever to the big screen and one of the villains in that picture was The Riddler.  Of course the film had a very different version of the Riddler than I knew from the cartoon and would come to know from the comic but it seemed even back then comic companies were using movies to their advantage.  On the front of this comic was an image of the Riddler alongside two female henchmen an image of Batman suffering the effects of an explosion and I admit mostly because of the film I wanted this comic.  To this day it remains my favourite non Spider-Man (we’ll get to him next week don’t you worry) stand alone issue of any comic I’ve ever read.  The annual features an absolutely brilliant Riddler origin story that tells you all you need to know about the character in those pages.  It was written by regular bat scribe at the time Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Kieron Dwyer.  It really is a brilliant comic and well worth your time tracking it down if you’ve never read it.  The comic gave me a darker yet familiar world featuring Batman and several small glimpses on his earlier career.  Sadly I lost my original copy of this book but thanks to the wonderful world of online managed to procure it elsewhere many years later.

I wanted more but didn’t know where to look or how to start.  A few years later a friend of my brothers knew I was a fan of Batman and also knew I hadn’t read many ‘actual’ comics featuring the characters so leant me one of his graphic novels.  This as a book titled ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ (you may have heard of it somewhere).  Imagine giving a somewhat casual Batman fan what is considered not only one of the best Batman stories ever but one of the best comics ever done and you can imagine the results.  I read the book a couple of times before returning it to my brothers friend (I would get my own copy a few years later) but I now knew the name of another comic creator in Frank Miller.  I was starting to know that these comics didn’t simply appear out of nothing there were certain people behind different stories.  The book remains one of my all time favourites and I wanted more but again found it difficult to source comics.

Another few years passed and by this point I was reading various Spider-Man titles (wait until next week damn you!) but it wasn’t until 2005 when I would read the ‘alpha’ to DKR’s ‘Omega’ in Batman: Year One.  Movie fans will know that year was the release of Batman Begins and I’d heard this story was a major inspiration for the film.  I read it on a plane while travelling to a trip to America expecting high things from the same writer of DKR and the book more than delivered.

In America I took advantage of the noticeably more comic shops available and purchased the two trade paperbacks that collected the entirety of the ‘Batman: Hush’ story line.  I’m not sure why it was this story that got my attention but I think it was the cover of those trades.  They really grabbed me and I always loved Batman in a mystery style element (he is the world’s greatest detective after all) and that’s what the book promised.  The book delivered a sweeping epic tale of betrayal and mystery featuring some drop dead gorgeous art and fantastic story telling.  I read it in a little under two days and took notice of the names of creators Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee for the first time.

 

In the back of these trades also featured handy recommendations of other Batman stories by Loeb and while in America I sought them out in the form of the Long Halloween.  I didn’t know what it was about really I just knew the guy who had written Hush had done it and I wanted more.  A lot of people reading this will probably think less of me for stating this but Loeb wrote a version of Batman and his world that was the closest in matching the quality of the animated shows than I’ve seen any mainstream writer deliver.  He managed the great characters, compelling mysteries and knew how to show Batman as not only a very clever, tragic figure but also as the big hero he needs to be.  We often forget that in a world of gods Batman is just a man but under Loeb’s pen he stood as tall as any man of steel or any amazon princess to me.  I bought and read and adored Long Halloween and now was a big fan of the art work of creator Tim Sale.  I hadn’t even realised this was the same team that delivered the excellent Spider-Man: Blue which I’d read a few years earlier and soon I owned all their Batman work in the form of Haunted Knight and Long Halloween’s equally excellent sequel Dark Victory.  These stories featured Batman in his early crime fighting career and also continued the stories of many characters featured in Miller’s Year One tale.  To me the three stories ‘Year One’, ‘Long Halloween’ and ‘Dark Victory’ blend together so well and have so many of the same characters that I would refer to them years later as ‘The Year One trilogy’ to the disgust of some and the curiosity of others.  Indeed it seems that Loeb gets a lot of gripe from comic fans but I’d rank his Batman tales as high as I can any day.

Wanting more again and having access to the internet I sought out more Batman classics and recent collections.  I loved the character of Hush and wanted to know what happened to him so I next read the ‘Hush Returns’ collection that covered a story done in a Bat title of yesteryear called ‘Batman: Gotham Knights’ and found myself feeling underwhelmed.  I did however discoverer a more recent mystery themed story in ‘Under The Hood’ and saw some plot elements introduced in Hush carry over there and I greatly enjoyed that story.  Recently the story got an adaption as a direct to TV movie and it is the closest I’ve ever seen an animated Batman near match the quality of the 90’s animated series and is well worth your time tracking down.  From little known brilliant character driven stories like ‘Going Sane’ and ‘Arkham Asylum: Living Hell’ to big arcs like ‘The Killing Joke’ I absorbed as many Batman stories I could and enjoyed the majority of them to a great extent.  They weren’t all home runs as some ‘must read’ Batman stories like ‘Arkham Asylum: A serious house on a serious earth’ gave me a very different interpretation of Batman I found myself not enjoying.  I knew what I wanted from my Batman comics and that wasn’t it.

Still I didn’t have a regular monthly instalment of Batman until Paul Dini who had been one of the major writers of the 90’s animated show came aboard Detective Comics.  I initially trade waited for his first 6 issues and enjoyed them so much I caught up and soon was buying my very first Batman title monthly.  Of course given Dini’s busy schedule he would hop off an on the book so I did the same, only reading the issues he wrote.  I greatly enjoyed his run on Detective that featured again Batman in a more cerebral role and did some great done in one and two part stories featuring both major and minor members of his rogue’s gallery.  That run concluded in the return of Hush to the Batman universe and like Dini had done so many years ago in Mr. Freeze he gave this new member of the Dark Knights rogues gallery a lot of layers and built upon the groundwork laid by Jeph Loeb in an excellent story called ‘Heart Of Hush’.  After that Dini went on to write another Bat title in ‘Streets Of Gotham’ that he would work on infrequently and although wasn’t as enjoyable as his Detective run featured some really good stories.  When that title left I found myself without a Bat title to read and I’d gotten used to it so I sought out a replacement.

Many of my friends were praising a new writer on Detective Comics (which I had not read since Dini left) and I thought I would do what I had done originally and wait for a trade and if I liked it pick it up monthly.  Month after month however I saw sales of this book go up and more and more people say how good it was.  Curiosity got the best of me and after some serious digging I managed to get the books and so I began reading Scott Snyder’s run on Detective.  Again with a blend of cerebral dark storytelling and good old fashioned super hero action I discovered a new take on Batman I loved this time starring former Robin Dick Grayson in the role.  Snyder seemed to take to the world of Batman like a duck to water and delivered a very creepy and real villain in James Gordon Jr in his original run.

That story however was coming to an end and it was announced Snyder would be taking over the reins of the main Batman title when it relaunched with the rest of DC’s line to number one and it would star Bruce Wayne in the title role.  I knew I would be there and wondered if perhaps Snyder could match or perhaps as hard as it was to imagine surpass his run on Detective.  Flash forward to today and Snyder is currently crafting a modern classic in the ‘Court Of Owls’ story.  In years to come this story will be talked about in the same light as ‘Year One’ or ‘DKR’ or ‘Hush’ and it’s great to be on board for that.

It’s been a wild ride being a Batman fan over the years and I’ve enjoyed it more often than not.  My history as a Batfan however is nothing in comparison to another certain hero that has made me not only a comic fan for life but is probably the main reason I’m writing comics today.

Next:  It’s that webslinging menace!

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