Click to viewWith The Dark Knight less than two weeks away from opening, now is the time to start pretending that you know all there is to know about Batman in order to impress family and friends alike. To help you do that, we've come up with a list of 10 Essential Batman Books You Must Read, and it's not just the ones that you'd expect. Your Beginner's Guide to Gotham City's Favorite Son awaits you under the jump.
The Dark Knight Returns: Frank Miller's 1986 reinvention of Batman is still one of his best-known and most well-regarded stories. Sure, a lot of it may not have aged well - all of the Ronald Reagan scenes, for example - but no-one can deny how good it is to see Bruce Wayne come out of retirement to kick some mutant ass and save the world.
Batman: Year One: Going from Batman's retirement to his origins, Miller's follow-up to Dark Knight (illustrated beautifully by David Mazucchelli and Richmond Lewis) provides not only the tone for Batman Begins but also for most Batman comics for about the next two decades. Don't hold that against it, though; melding noir to superheroics with skill and restraint, this may be the best Batman comic ever.
The Killing Joke: The potential secret origin of the Joker, courtesy of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, both at the height of their powers. For the first time since his creation, Batman's most famous nemesis comes over and scary and dangerous, and a million miles away from Cesar Romero... sadly enough for poor Batgirl.
Batman: Year One Hundred: Paul Pope takes a jump to 2039 (100 years after Bob Kane invented Batman, hence the title) and shows us how a totalitarian police state deals with a vigilante Pope describes as "someone with the body of David Beckham, the brain of Nikola Tesla, and the wealth of Howard Hughes, who is pretending to be Nosferatu." Like Blade Runner, but with costumes and punching.
Gotham Central: Unresolved Targets: What happens when the Joker discovers the internet? Why, he starts killing people live on webcam and holds the city hostage to the idea that they might be next, of course. This collection from the sadly short-lived Gotham Central series by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark (all currently to found on Marvel's Daredevil series) shows us the terror from the point of view of Gotham's cops... who aren't exactly Batman's biggest fans.
JLA: New World Order: Anyone who's read Grant Morrison's take on the Justice League of America knows that Batman can do anything if he puts his mind to it. That's a fact demonstrated best in this first collection, where the Dark Knight single-handedly defeats an alien invasion and saves all the super-powered heroes with only his wits and a box of matches. Garishly-colored superheroics the way you need it.
Batman: Dangerous Dames and Demons: An anthology of comics based on the old animated series from the '90s, all written by that show's executive producer Paul Dini and drawn by various artists from the show, including Bruce Timm. Worth it to see Harley Quinn cut loose in Mad Love alone.
The Admittedly Goofy
A Death In The Family: Post-Killing Joke, the regular Batbooks decided to try out this new murderous Joker for themselves, letting fans decide via phone vote whether or not he'd succeed in killing Robin the Boy Wonder. Fans voted in their thousands, and poor Robin was toast... Well, until they brought him back from the dead a few years ago.
Showcase Presents: The Brave And The Bold - The Batman Team-Ups Volume 2: While both Brave and Bold collections are full of enjoyably stupid Batman stories from the late '60s and early '70s, the second volume is by far the greatest, if only for the stories where Batman meets the ghosts of his dead parents and fights the devil. Here's a clue how that one ends up: The devil wins.
All-Star Batman Volume One: It seemed like a no-lose proposition for DC Comics: Pair up your hottest artist, Jim Lee, with Frank Miller returning to the character that made his name. The problem was that the result was a dark-natured parody of the character who's given to saying things like "Are you dense? Are you retarded? I'm the goddamn Batman" to people who ask why he'd dressed in that ridiculous outfit. Completely over-the-top fun.