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What Are "The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told?"
Tuesday, April, 2007
Mark S. Reinhart

Copyright © 2007 by Mark S. Reinhart

This op-ed is not an installment of my infrequent “Overlooked Bat Treasures” column -- in fact, it could be said that the subject of this piece is just the opposite of the subject of “Overlooked Bat Treasures.”

As the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Batman character approaches, I’ve been thinking about what a collection of the most celebrated Batman stories ever created would look like. Some of you might be thinking, “Why are you bothering thinking about this subject? With all of the Batman anthologies DC Comics has released over the years, haven’t all of the most celebrated Batman stories been celebrated ENOUGH?”

Simply put, NO. In my opinion, DC COMICS has yet to release any sort of anthology that even comes close to deserving a title like The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. Of course, DC has released any number of books with titles similar to this one. We’ve had The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (1989), The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, Volume 2 (1992), Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told (2005), and Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told Volume 2 (2005). Plus, we’ve had The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told (1989), a collection solely devoted to Batman’s battles with the Clown Prince of Crime. We’ve also had the “decade” anthologies, Batman in the 1940’s, Batman in the 1950’s, Batman in the 1960’s, Batman in the 1970’s, and Batman in the 1980’s.

Now, that is a LOT of Batman anthology books – unfortunately, more often than not these books don’t deliver on their promise to collect the truly “great” Batman comic stories. I realize that greatness is a subjective term – maybe stories that I think are great are stories that some of you might think of as undeserving of such high praise. But I think most of us would agree that there are a number of Batman comic works which inarguably deserve the distinction of “greatness.” What follows is what I think a list of “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” should look like – in other words, this is my “dream anthology.” Take a look at it, and see if you agree with my choices.

 “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” Detective Comics # 27, 1939. The very first Batman story of all time, in which “The Bat-Man” (as he was initially billed) thwarts a crooked businessman’s scheme to gain control of a chemical corporation.

 “Legend – The Batman and How He Came to Be,” (preface to “Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom”), Detective Comics #33, 1939. For the first time, it is revealed that Batman was born from a horrific event -- Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered by a thief right in front of Bruce’s eyes when he was just a boy.

 “Robin – The Boy Wonder,” Detective Comics #38, 1940. The introduction and origin of Batman’s longtime sidekick.

 “The Joker,” Batman #1, 1940. The introduction of Batman’s greatest foe.

 “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters,” Batman #1, 1940. In one of his final solo adventures before teaming with Robin, Batman battles Hugo Strange and his genetically mutated “monsters.”

 “The Origin of Batman,” Batman #47, 1948. Batman’s origin is re-examined in greater detail.

 “Two Face Strikes Again,” Batman #81, 1954. A reformed Harvey Dent has an accident that destroys the plastic surgery masking the scarred side of his face, turning him into Two-Face for the SECOND time.

 “Bat-Mite Meets Bat-Girl,” Batman #144, 1961. Most everything that was wrong with the mid-1950’s-early 1960’s incarnation of Batman is squeezed into this absurd nine-page story – it’s got Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite, awkward romance, and a moral lesson that is about as subtle as a two-by-four to the head. The only thing it is missing is Ace the Bat Hound! Seriously, though, the story brings home the point of how far the Batman character had strayed from his dark roots.

 “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl,” Detective Comics #359, 1967. The debut of Batgirl, whose secret identity is mild-mannered librarian Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon.

 “The Man Who Radiated Fear!,” Batman #200, 1968. A special anniversary tale featuring the Dynamic Duo squaring off against the Scarecrow, as well as a retelling of the Dynamic Duo’s origins.

 “One Bullet Too Many,” Batman #217, 1969. Dick Grayson leaves Wayne Manor to go to college, which leads Batman to again become a “lone vigilante/creature of the night.”

 “Daughter of the Demon,” Batman #232, 1971. The introduction of the classic Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul.

 “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!,” Batman #251, 1973. Writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams return the Joker from the silly prankster of 1950’s and 60’s Batman comics to the leering, homicidal madman found in Bob Kane’s and Bill Finger’s original work.

 “Death has the Last Laugh,” The Brave & The Bold #111, 1974. In order to solve a murder, Batman has to team up with the unlikeliest of allies – The Joker.

 “No Hope in Crime Alley,” Detective Comics #457, 1976. Batman revisits the exact spot that spawned his existence, as well as an important person from his past.

 “The Laughing Fish,” Detective Comics #475, 1978, and “The Sign of the Joker,” Detective Comics #476, 1978. The climax of writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers’s legendary Detective Comics run.

 “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three,” DC Special Series #15, 1978. Unique “prose with images” story created by writer Denny O’Neil and artist Marshall Rogers.

 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Frank Miller’s groundbreaking 1985-86 4-part graphic novel series which explores what might happen to Bruce Wayne/Batman as he grows older.

 Batman: Year One, originally published in Batman #404 through #407, 1987. Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, this series focuses on Bruce Wayne’s decision to adopt the guise of Batman.

 Batman: The Killing Joke. A 1988 graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland which tells the chilling tale of the Joker gunning down Barbara Gordon as part of an elaborate plan to drive Commissioner Gordon insane.

 Gotham by Gaslight. This 1989 graphic novel was the first of DC’s many Elseworlds titles, works which placed DC characters in times and places far removed from their regular continuity. In the tale, Batman hunts down the Jack the Ripper in the 19th century Gotham City.

 Mad Love. A 1994 stand-alone comic written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Bruce Timm, two of the major creative forces behind the very successful TV programs Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. Mad Love provided their Harley Quinn character, originally created for Batman: The Animated Series, with a detailed origin.

 Batman: The Long Halloween. A 1999 multi-part graphic novel whodunit written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale in which Batman struggles to bring a mystery killer known only as “Holiday” to justice.

 Batman: War on Crime. A 1999 oversized graphic novel by writer Paul Dini and artist Alex Ross that examines Batman’s motivation for fighting crime, as well as the tremendous physical and mental toll that the fight has taken on him over the years.

There you have it – my “Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” list. Now, a word about my selection process. Obviously, I tried to pick the most famous and historically important Batman stories ever created. I also tried to pick stories that represented every phase of Batman’s long history. (That said, however, I decided to end my selections at the end of the 20th century – I just don’t feel confident trying to guess what Batman stories published since the year 2000 will truly stand the test of time) Furthermore, I tried to pick stories that were exclusively “Batman tales” – in other words, I stayed away from stories found in titles like World’s Finest and Justice League where Batman shared the spotlight with other DC heroes.

At any rate, the above list represents an anthology I would really look forward to! I realize such a collection could never realistically be compiled – after all, I’ve included quite a few multi-volume graphic novel works that simply would not fit in an anthology. However, the first part of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns actually works quite well as a stand-alone story. Perhaps just that one story, or a few “one shot” graphic novels like Batman: The Killing Joke or Batman: War on Crime could eventually be compiled in a “greatest Batman stories” package.

Well, even leaving out all of the graphic novels I’ve included on this list, the comic stories alone I’ve listed would make for a great collection, wouldn’t you agree? Actually, I’m sure there are those of you who would NOT agree. (In fact, I’ll probably end up questioning some of these choices myself after I live with this list for a while!) What stories are missing from this list that you think that I should have included? What stories are on this list that you feel simply do not deserve the distinction of being “great?”

Let the debate begin!

Mark S. Reinhart is the author of THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY.
Mark's "Overlooked Bat-Treasures" column can be found
"infrequently" -- as he says -- on BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM.

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