Holy Graphic Novels Batman

by Alan Rapp on June 15, 2005

in Comics, Theme Week

With Batman Begins hitting theaters, I thought this would be a good opportunity to post some reviews of Batman graphic novels.  Since Bat’s has more books out there than God, I picked ones that would go with the themes of the new movie: Batman’s origin story, his early career, and the nefarious villains Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow.

In Batman Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham, Batman joins forces with his longtime nemesis Ra’s Al Ghul to stop Qayin, an enemy from Ghul’s past who is hell bent on worldwide terrorism and destruction.  It’s a thrilling ride and heartbreaking tale mixing all the best ingredients of a great Batman story: classic Batman detective work, unexpected twists, revenge, tragic love, and loss.

A great cold war style plot as Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul struggle to stop Qayin from starting an all out war between America and the Soviet Union.  Batman joins with one of his most dangerous foes and gives into his feelings for the Ghul’s daughter Talia, finally consummating a marriage that took place years before (during Dennis O’Neil’s run on Batman and Detective Comics), with some very interesting results (and a final page that Bat-aficionados still talk about today).  This is Batman after the 60’s and early 70’s camp, here presented as the Dark Knight Detective of the 1980’s.  The art tends towards the realism of the time period, rather than the muscle bulging spandex of today.  It is oversized with great wrap around cover art that is something of a cross between Batman artwork on the front and on the back similiar to what you’d expect to find on a Sean Connery James Bond movie poster, very cool.

The novel produced two sequels Bride of the Demon and Birth of the Demon, the last finally describing the early history of Al Ghul.  This is the best of the three.  All are available, though you’ll probably have to hunt online or check out your local comic book store to find them.  Batman Son of the Demon in an oversized paperback runs $9.95.

Frank Miller’s re-interpretation of Batman’s origin story Batman Year One is largely responsible for Batman’s resurgence as DC Comic’s most popular hero.  Miller was tapped in 1986 to revamp Batman which began with a four issue retelling of Batman’s origin story.  The result was a darkly entertaining look at young Bruce Wayne’s quest to find justice and avenge the murder of his parents, finally becoming Batman.  The story is as much about Gordon as Batman.  Lt. James Gordon, an honest cop on a corrupt police force, working for a mayor and police commissioner who are in the pocket of the mob.  Gordon is a man who is lost, just as Bruce Wayne has been; he has even begun cheating on pregnant wife.  The story also reinterprets the character of Selina Kyle making her a prostitute turned thief.  These aren’t your 60’s Batman camp characters.  Miller adds depth and scope to the shadow of corruption the city of Gotham has been trapped under that darkens all who choose to call it home.  The art by David Mazzucchelli harkens back to the comic artists of the 40’s but with a more rich modern tone.

Batman Year One is available online and at local comic shops and bookstores in paperback for $14.95 and in a deluxe hardcover for $19.99.  If you enjoy it be sure to check out Miller’s other two Batman books which examine a post Batman Gotham 10 years after he has retired and feels the need to put the tights on again in Batman The Dark Knight Returns (maybe the best Batman story ever told) and Batman The Dark Knight Strikes Back.

The Scarecrow has never been one of my favorite Bat villains; I’d rate him somewhere behind Cat-Man but probably ahead of Calendar Man.  That said, Batman: Scarecrow Tales reprints eight different Scarecrow stories from the pages of Batman and Detective Comics from some of the best Batman writers and artists over the years including Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway, and Bob Kane.  The stories span Batman’s 60 plus year career so you get a few different interpretations and looks of Batman during the years.  You do get some of the 60’s and 70’s campy Batman here for those of you who enjoy that style.  All your Batman characters are present here, including Robin, and even the Joker pops up in a couple of the stories.  It’s a little too much Scarecrow for me, but fans of the character will really enjoy the different looks and takes on the character over the years.

Batman: Scarecrow Tales is widely available online, in comic shops and bookstores in paperback for $19.99.

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