Starting Points #1 – Batman

Welcome to Starting Points.  The idea behind this series is to make it as easy as possible for anyone new to comics, to find somewhere to start.  There are literally thousands of single issues and hundreds of graphic novels for any one character.  And if you are just starting out, it can be very daunting.

We are going to look at individual characters in turn and tell you where to start.  Just to be clear, these are not necessarily our favourite stories showcasing these characters, merely the best introductions for people to their world.

With that in mind, here are our picks for getting into the world of the Dark Knight.

Batman: Year One

(Writer) Frank Miller

(Artist) David Mazzucchelli

(Colours) Richmond Lewis

(Letters) Todd Klein

Year One is, in our humble opinion, THE definitive Batman origin story.  It originally appeared in issues 404 – 407 of Batman Vol. 1.  Not only does it follow an adult Bruce Wayne upon his return to Gotham City after 12 years away, it also introduces us to Lieutenant James Gordon, recently transferred in from Chicago.

Bruce has come back to Gotham with a mission.  During his time away, he has been training in numerous disciplines including martial arts, hand to hand combat, man hunting and science.  He is determined to make a difference in the city his family helped build.  Upon his return, he doesn’t rush into being a vigilante.  He takes his time.  A great hook that Frank Miller utilizes from the start is stating the date either every few panels, or after ever set piece or scene change.  He’s purposefully showing that Bruce didn’t just walk into his life as Batman, he had to take his time.  He had to be methodical, utilize his skills in reconnaissance, and see just how Gotham City operates.

Parallel to that, we have James Gordon, who is teamed up on arrival with Detective Flass, a corrupt cop in the GCPD.  Gordon is a good man, through and through.  A man of integrity.  In the beginning, he doesn’t try to change things, but merely steps back, taking in the details, and listening to how the corrupt cops work, how they move, how they fight.

He will also have to be patient.

Bruce’s first foray into the wrong side of Gotham is riddled with mistakes and inexperience.  He goes in cocky, at one point he even thinks –

‘I’m provoking him.  I really shouldn’t.’

He can’t help himself.  He’s been back in Gotham for 2 months at this point, and is determined to get started. He is even shot by a cop in this sequence, a shoulder wound, and hauled into the back of a police car.  And even though he must force them to crash the car so he can escape, with it on fire, he manages to drag the cops away from danger.  Already, his moral compass is resolute and he is calm in the face of danger.  He may have made mistakes, but he’s also learning.

Meanwhile, Gordon, on the same night as Bruce’s trip into the East End, is jumped by Flass and his goons.  They give him a solid beating, and is told this is a warning, and that he may fall into line if he wants to survive being a cop in Gotham.  Gordon wastes no time in his response, fighting Flass after he leaves a poker game.  He beats him up just enough to keep him out of hospital.  He even thinks –

‘Thanks Flass, you’ve shown me what it takes to be a cop in Gotham City’

The first issue of four comes to an end with Bruce, sitting in his study, bleeding, confused, not sure what to do next.  He thinks back to that fateful night, when his parents were gunned down in front of him.  What would prove to be the defining night of his young life.  The night when –

‘all sense left my life.’

Then suddenly, a Bat crashes in through his window.  This stirs a traumatic childhood memory, when a Bat frightened him half to death.  He wants his enemies to share that fear –

‘Yes Father, I shall become a Bat.’

 And that’s just issue 1.

This is the pinnacle of Batman, in any medium.  This is simply a well-trained, intelligent man of resources, who is trying to bring reason and peace to his city.  It’s dark, it’s pulpy and it’s violent.  Bruce is a flawed figure all the way through, but is determined to better himself in every way possible.

It’s about the transformation from man to myth.  How Batman will become a creature of the night who will strike fear into the Gotham Underworld.  It explores in depth what makes both Batman and Gordon tick and how that friendship came to be.  How they are both fighting for that same peace, in their own ways.

Miller’s writing has never been better.  Mazzucchelli’s art is superlative.

Quite simply put, a Masterpiece.

Available in single issues and collected editions – Trade Paperback, Hardcover and Absolute Edition.

Batman – The Court of Owls

(writer) Scott Snyder

(artist) Greg Capullo

(inker) Jonathan Glapion

(colours) FCO Plascencia

And so, to the New 52. 

The New 52 was a 2011 revamp and relaunch by DC Comics of its entire line of ongoing monthly superhero comic books.  Following the conclusion of the ‘Flashpoint’ storyline, DC cancelled all of its existing titles and debuted 52 new series in September of that year with brand new #1’s.  This even extended to Action Comics and Detective Comics, which had retained their original numbering since their introduction in the 1930s.

The goal of the New 52 was simple.  Bring all their long-established characters back to basics.  Essentially ignore decades of established continuity and wipe the slate clean.  It was designed to attract new readers who would have been put off by going into a comic store and told that issue #712 was the start of a new storyline.  To say it was controversial would be an understatement, but it was a sales success in the beginning.  Though over time, readers yearned for that continuity from before the New 52 launched, something DC would address when the New 52 ended and Rebirth began.  But that’s a story for later….

Without a doubt, the crown jewel of the New 52 lineup was Batman.  Scott Snyder had just come off a critically acclaimed run on Detective Comics, with his ‘The Black Mirror’ storyline and was given the keys to the main title.  He would be joined by industry veteran Greg Capullo, best known for runs on indie titles such as Spawn and Haunt.

And together, they made absolute magic – The Court of Owls, which ran from #1 – #7.

It’s no surprise that this title should show up here, as it’s primary goal was to attract new readers.  Snyder was very clever here as he constructed a brand new cabal of villains, The Court of Owls.  A secret society who had been secretly pulling the strings in Gotham for over a Century.  They existed only in stories designed to scare children, and no-one, not even Batman, believed they were real. 

Suffice to say, he gets his wake up call.

This was such a clever move as it didn’t matter whether you were a seasoned reader, or this was your first comic book, you knew the same amount about these characters.  In fact, because Batman does not initially believe in their existence, you as the reader are learning about them at the same time he is.

The Court of Owls introduces a confident Batman.  He has the Bat Family around him, he knows every inch of his city (or so he thinks), and he has a grand plan for rebuilding Gotham, using his vast resources.  So this is as much a Bruce Wayne story, as it is a Batman one.

This is also a Batman who is a Master Detective.  Some Batman stories get wrapped up in the idea of Batman as a Superhero who hangs out with the Justice League and can assist in staving off interplanetary threats.  This Batman is simply concerned with Gotham, and trying to keep the peace in the streets.  This is very much street level Batman, and for us, this is when the character is at his best.  That’s not to say that Batman can’t thrive in those other stories, not at all.  It’s just this reviewers opinion that he’s at his best when he’s solving crimes that have the GCPD stumped, and is fighting off threats from his varied Rogues Gallery.

I can’t recommend Court of Owls highly enough.  It is intelligent, thrilling and very suspenseful.  Capullo and Snyder pull off inventive action sequences, and interesting tech to aid Batman that only someone with his knowledge and resources could both think of, and fund.

This is the kickoff to a wonderful run by writer and artist, which lasts 52 issues, or 10 trade paperbacks.  Court of Owls is their masterpiece, but the rest of their run is consistently excellent also.

Available in single issues and collected editions – Trade Paperback, Hardcover and Absolute Edition.

Batman – I Am Gotham

(writer) Tom King

(artist) David Finch

(colours) Jordie Bellaire

And so to Rebirth.

DC Rebirth was a 2016 relaunch from DC Comics of its entire line of ongoing monthly superhero comic book titles. Using the end of The New 52 initiative in May 2016 as its launching point, DC Rebirth restored the DC Universe to a form much like that prior to the ‘Flashpoint’ storyline while still incorporating numerous elements of The New 52, including its continuity. 

This was music to the ears of long time collectors.  They no longer had to ignore decades of continuity, but were able to welcome back many facets of the characters they enjoyed so much.  And it also gave readers who had jumped on at the New 52 initiative a chance to learn more about each character’s past.

For Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo stepped aside, and in came Tom King and Dvid Finch.  Tom King was mostly known for co-writing Grayson with Tim Seeley, The Omega Men and The Sheriff of Babylon.  David Finch was an industry veteran who’s drawn every character under the sun for both Marvel and DC.  This was not his first time drawing Batman.

I always say that comparing Snyder to King is like comparing Blockbuster Cinema to Independent Cinema.  Snyder’s style is more immediate, he establishes clear stakes, writes great set pieces and has big ideas.  King is a little more methodical, slow burning, and likes giving the readers pieces of the puzzle at his own pace, asking them to assemble the puzzle as they go.  And this style continued with Batman.

If I had to answer very simply what King’s Batman run is about (and it runs for 85 issues, or more than 12 trade paperbacks at this point), it’s all about Bruce’s life beyond the Cowl.  What if other people were around to take over from Batman?  Could he have a happy life just as Bruce Wayne?  Or is Batman so ingrained into his psyche that he’ll never be able to leave it behind?

King’s run begins with I Am Gotham.  Batman is Gotham City’s greatest protector but there are two new heroes in town – a pair of masked metahumans with the powers of Superman. Calling themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl, they’ve saved Batman’s life, and see him as their inspiration.  They want to fight alongside him and clean up Gotham together.

But what happens if Gotham’s new guardians go bad? What if they blame the Dark Knight for the darkness that threatens to drown their city?

I Am Gotham is a great starting point for Batman if you are a fan of long form storytelling.  There are moments in the early issues that get paid off much further down the line.  It really is one large run, and it is told with skill, heart and intrigue.  Although not a massive part of the first story arc, I Am Gotham, at the centre of King’s run is the romance between Batman and Catwoman.  Can they still be their alter egos and live a happy life as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle?   

In King’s run, Batman is tested physically, emotionally, mentally, and the run incorporates every villain from his Rogues Gallery.  However, the driving force behind it all may surprise you, and King utilises a villain who was ripe for re-invention as Batman’s greatest foe.

Finch’s art is exceptionally easy on the eye.  He specializes in larger than life characters, but is equally comfortable with 9 panel pages as he is with splash pages.  Beautifully brought to life by Jordie Bellaire’s colours also.

Settle in for a long ride with this run on Batman, but having read it issue to issue, and since in collected editions, I am of the opinion that it is one the great Batman runs, and will be dissected and discussed for years to come.

Available in single issues and collected editions – Trade Paperback and Deluxe Hardcovers.

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