My work-in-progress 'Batman' comics reading order

My work-in-progress 'Batman' comics reading order

I started reading Batman comic books two years ago now. This post from 2016 outlines my thought process when I began reading, including my first attempt to figure out a Batman reading order by referencing guides from multiple websites, and my thoughts on that olde great debate of whether you should read physical or digital comics.

Since that post, I've read a good amount of comic books, though perhaps not as many as I expected from myself. The reason behind that is largely due to my keeping up with reading non-comic books and listening to lots of podcasts, but that's neither here nor there.

I'm making this post to serve as a permalink to my work-in-progress Batman reading order, as I’d like to stop linking to my previously mentioned post when I need to link to something. A surprising number of people have been interested in the order I’m following and the reasoning behind it. As I make changes, additions, or feel the need to tweak the order represented here, I'll just update this singular location. The list has already been tweaked quite a bit as I’ve made my way through about 20 books so far; the more I read, the more I get intrigued by certain pieces in these books and the more I want to explore where I can find more along those lines.

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Just read: 'Batman: Arkham Asylum'

Just read: 'Batman: Arkham Asylum'

Following up The Cult, which is a weird book filled with weird art, with Arkham Asylum is not a good recipe for enjoying Arkham Asylum. I find myself now two books deep into a bunch of "weird art" here, so I'll return to Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth in the future, when my palette is a bit more "cleansed" or whatever. Just a note to get us started.

Anyway, Arkham Asylum is considered one of the greatest Batman books of all time. It's the best-selling graphic novel that DC Comics has ever released, apparently. This is surprising is because you'd think DC's best-selling book would be something that feels a little more representative of Batman as a whole, while this book is decidedly abstract in its presentation of Batman as a being and standalone character, and filled with nuance that requires deep digging to fully understand -- to me, it doesn't seem like a casual "walk into the store and pick this bad boy up for a quick read" type of book. Let's dig into the plot of Arkham Asylum a bit first.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Cult'

Just read: 'Batman: The Cult'

Since I've started reading more, I've quickly come to realize that I am a slow as heck reader. Even books that are engrossing me seem to take forever to get through. This is often due to the fact that I only read during my commute, and I sometimes interrupt several days in a row of reading in favor of listening to podcasts or digesting something else (perhaps my Instapaper backlog or pieces of an audiobook) in favor of sticking with the book on which I'm currently working my way through. 

That was the case with Kavalier & Clay, which I heavily enjoyed, but after finishing that I made my way back to my Batman list. (Side note: I've started a more colorful index of my Batman reading here, mainly for my own enjoyment -- I like seeing all the books I've read laid out this way.) It's much easier for me to keep focus when I'm reading a trade paperback, where I don't let the process drag on for days. The size of these books, which usually chime in under 200 pages, is the primary reason for that ... along with the fact that I simply love reading comics more than I do books right now. My list picked up again (kinda) with The Cult, after most recently making my way through A Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying.

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Just read: 'Batman: Blind Justice'

Just read: 'Batman: Blind Justice'

This one was a bit of a wacky left turn. Blind Justice came about as DC was looking for a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Batman -- the three issues that comprise this arc originally appeared in Detective Comics Nos. 598-600 in 1989. They turned to Sam Hamm, who wasn't a comic book writer at the time, but the man who had written the screenplay for the 1989 Batman film that was directed by Tim Burton and starred Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

That choice proved to be an interesting one, because while Hamm was a fan of Batman's, he wasn't a bonafide geek about the hero when he sat down to write the arc. He wrote in his intro to the story, which is featured in the trade paperback release, that he was intimidated by the size of the task -- a standard single issue bookended by two 80-page giant issues. He claimed it was about double the wordage of a standard screenplay, and that he had a much more difficult time writing the comic than he did the movie. 

Anyway, onto the subject at hand. I loved Blind Justice way more than I expected. I didn't really have much anticipation for this book, and pretty much viewed it as a side-step from my main Batman chronology, but I'm very happy I read it. Hamm's story focuses on Bruce Wayne more than it does Batman, and features the most Wayne action of any story I've read so far. I'm finding that multiple of my favorite Batman stories dig into the psychological relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman, and that proves to be the bedrock of Blind Justice

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Just read: ' Batman: A Death In the Family' & 'A Lonely Place of Dying'

Just read: ' Batman: A Death In the Family' & 'A Lonely Place of Dying'

I'm really working my way through the classic Batman titles here! Not long after The Killing Joke, I read through a large trade paperback that collects A Death In the Family along with the follow-up-ish story A Lonely Place of Dying. The former is the more famous work, a four-issue run considered a classic for many reasons, so we'll start there.

A Death In the Family is best known for featuring the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. He took over the mantle of Robin after Batman caught him trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile -- an origin story which I read a version of in Nightwing: Year One -- filling the role after the first Robin, Dick Grayson, left Batman's side to lead the Teen Titans and eventually take on his new persona as Nightwing.

The storyline was met with a fair amount of criticism due to an interactive aspect in its release. DC Comics allowed fans to vote on whether Robin would live or die by dialing a 900 number (this storyline was published in late 1988 and early 1989 ... so taking a vote via Twitter hashtags wasn't really an option). A total of 10,614 votes were cast, with fans voting for Todd to die by the slim margin of 5,343 to 5,271. This close margin was heavily impacted by one fan who rigged votes for Todd to die, with DC saying (over a decade later) that this one person voted enough times that he swung the vote.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Killing Joke' by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Just read: 'Batman: The Killing Joke' by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

The Killing Joke is one of the biggest names on the Batman reading list that I'm working my way through. It's a story that I read when I was younger, one whose details I've been familiar with for years. The one-off book has grown into a role of maximal importance and controversy within the Batman universe (especially this year, with the release of a DC animated film based on the story), all of which I plan to touch on in this blog.

Author Alan Moore and illustrator Brian Bolland teamed up on the short story (it's only 48 pages long -- truly a one-shot that you can read in a single sitting) with the goal of providing an origin story for the Joker. The creative team implies, even in the actual dialogue of this book, that this is only one possible origin story for this character: The Joker says to Batman near the end of the book, "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another ... If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"). Moore and Bolland succeed in the origin story aspect -- presented via flashbacks -- in the sense that their work gives the Joker's character more depth and makes him more sympathetic. While the Joker is often considered Batman's greatest nemesis, he's often painted as a lunatic with no goal in mind other than destruction or devastation; giving him a backbone serves a real purpose in the Batman continuity.

The flashbacks in the version of the book that I read (a deluxe 2008 hardcover reissue) are black and white, which differs from the original publication of The Killing Joke. I chose to purchase the hardcover rather than a used copy of an out-of-print paperback after reading Bolland's thoughts on it: The deluxe hardcover is colored by Bolland himself, who regrets not being able to color the original release due to time constraints. He's said that he wasn't pleased with the original release, so I figured it made sense to purchase the version more heralded by the illustrator.

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Just read: Lee Bermejo's 'Batman: Noël'

Just read: Lee Bermejo's 'Batman: Noël'

This is a holiday-themed edition of "Just read," where I dove into an unplanned Batman tale that doesn't appear on my original Batman reading order. Batman: Noël is a one-off story featuring an older-aged Caped Crusader; while its place in the overall Batman continuity probably can't be fully hammered down, it's certainly toward the later years and definitely, at the very least, takes place after Death in the Family as it features a reference to a past Robin.

Noël is written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, who is best known for his celebrated illustration of the graphic novel The Joker. Bermejo's style is gritty and ultra-realistic, to the point where shadows are super accentuated and play a large role in the overall aesthetic, and to the point where you can count the facial wrinkles on characters' faces. This story is based fully on Charles Dickons' A Christmas Carol, as we see a fever-ridden Batman receive visits from three "spirits" as he's out in Gotham on Christmas Eve.

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Just read: A few Robin / Teen Titans / Nightwing things

Just read: A few Robin / Teen Titans / Nightwing things

Back to the Batman front! The last time I checked in along my Batman reading order was following the Birth of the Demon trilogy, which introduced Ra's al Ghul but kinda left me hanging with nowhere to go. That book was immediately preceded by the combined Batgirl/Robin Year One volume, so I was left without a particular storyline to follow; I had just learned about several new characters, but the ends of these stories were nicely tied up in a bow in terms of not having immediate follow-ups. I wound up taking a short break from Batman, and instead of coming back and diving right into stuff like The Killing Joke and Death In The Family, I decided to get into something with a fair amount of continuity first. 

Turns out, this mini-tangent had a somewhat complicated continuity to it. I decided I wanted to read more about Robin (Dick Grayson) and his arc as Batman's sidekick before joining the Teen Titans and becoming Nightwing. I mistakenly started this with Nightwing: Blüdhaven (the first full graphic novel from the Nightwing run that began in 1995/96), without realizing that I skipped a bunch of stuff in the Robin chronology by doing so. In that book, Dick Grayson -- the Robin I read about in Dark Victory and The Gauntlet -- is already somewhat established in his role as Nightwing, taking up a Batman-esque-but-not-Batman mantle in a neighboring town called Blüdhaven, while Tim Drake is in the role of Robin. That means I managed to miss out on an entire extra Robin -- Jason Todd -- but obviously I wasn't the most concerned about spoilers.

So from there, I worked my way back and read Teen Titans: Year OneTeen Titans: Judas Contract and Nightwing: Year One. These arcs clash against each other at times, with two different "first appearances" of Nightwing.  The proper one comes in "Tales of the Teen Titans #44," which is part of the Judas Contract series; meanwhile, Nightwing: Year One serves as a bit of a reimagining of that character's origin story.

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Just read: 'Batman: Birth of the Demon' Trilogy

Just read: 'Batman: Birth of the Demon' Trilogy

This portion of the trusty Batman reading list is extremely hard to place when it comes to the chronology of the Dark Knight's career. It's arguable that I read it too early, and I probably did -- but of all the mistakes I could make, this one doesn't seem to be damaging in any way. Birth of the Demon is a collection of the Demon trilogy: Son of the DemonBride of the Demon and Birth of the Demon. To put it as simply as possible, these stories provide an introduction to Ra's al Ghul and his daughter, Talia al Ghul; not only to we get to know them as characters, but we get Ra's' proper origin story as well.

That quick explanation is hardly enough to describe these stories, though. While far from my favorite Batman tales so far, this trilogy is exceptionally written and drawn, and the three stories told within this trade paperback each function as well on their own as they do together. Son of the Demon sees Batman / Bruce Wayne already extremely familiar with Talia; you're going to have to read this one with the mindset that these two characters are very friendly, although you may not have seen Talia at all yet.

Batman and Talia are in enough of a relationship for her to know his true identity, and for Ra's al Ghul, described even here as a dangerous enemy of Batman's, to know it as well. During this story, Talia and Batman get "married" and Talia becomes pregnant with a child. Meanwhile, Batman and Ra's al Ghul team up to destroy a common enemy. There are a couple of weird plot points in this one, but the action sequences are great and, most importantly, you get a strong feeling for the time/place/era/feel of these stories. It's pretty important to read this before Birth of the Demon for purposes of getting into the mindset that book is told in, though I would argue that Birth is the only part of this trilogy to be truly essential in the Batman chronology. You're introduced to the Lazarus Pit, a gaping hole in the ground filled with bad-smelling chemicals, which is the mechanism by which Ra's keeps himself youngish and effectively immortal.

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Just read: 'Robin Year One' & 'Batgirl Year One'

Just read: 'Robin Year One' & 'Batgirl Year One'

We're not getting too far off the beaten path here, by any means -- I may have just read a few Star Wars books, but I'm super excited to continue on the Batman path I've laid out. The most recent trade paperback I picked up was a combined volume of Robin: Year One & Batgirl: Year One; the two stories together made for the longest trade I've read so far (though it's still not going to compare to the Knightfall trilogy when I get there!).

These two collections, which outline the beginnings of their respective characters, are both wonderfully put together and a blast to read through. The characters are tied together by nature, perhaps Batman's two closest allies finding their way into the service of the Dark Knight, and the combined book treats it just right. Robin's story is farther along than Batgirl's by the time these volumes start; we saw him meet Batman and join forces with him for the first time in Dark Victory, then saw him earn his stripes a bit more in The Gauntlet. So Dick Grayson's Year One story is really all about him settling into his role as Batman's crime-fighting partner and balancing that with a normal life -- we see him in school, talking to girls, etc. It's real easy to otherwise forget that he's a teenager.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Long Halloween,' 'Batman: Dark Victory' & related stories

Just read: 'Batman: The Long Halloween,' 'Batman: Dark Victory' & related stories

This is why I wanted to start reading comic books. The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are widely regarded as two of the best Batman collections ever -- the former is considered by some to be the finest story you can buy in trade paperback format, and the latter is generally a consensus top-10-ish choice -- and I knew this going into these stories. But, given that I haven't been reading comics for very long at all, I wasn't sure if I'd grasp the gravity of these titles on first reading. I figured that maybe I'd enjoy them, but come to appreciate them more after reading several more Batman books down the road.

I'm sure this is true; I'm sure I'll love The Long Halloween and Dark Victory even more when I read them over and over in the future. Because I'm already very sure that I'm going to keep these books for an extremely long time. Right after I watched Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I had a relatively recurring itch to start reading Batman comics again; I wasn't sure why that happened, but after reading these two books, I understand it now. I was looking for Batman stories that would satisfy me in the same way Christopher Nolan's trilogy of movies did. Nolan puts you in the world of Batman in a way no other filmmaker ever has; you're not just rooting for the hero, but you're in the shoes of all his supporting characters, too. From Alfred to Lucius Fox to all the enemies Batman faces, to Catwoman, Ra's and Talia Al Ghul and Bane, the Dark Knight films leave everyone from the most casual to the most diehard Batman fans happy in the story they just experienced. 

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Just read: 'Batman: Year One' & 'Batman: The Man Who Laughs'

Just read: 'Batman: Year One' & 'Batman: The Man Who Laughs'

As I wrote recently, I decided to get into comics by reading Batman stories in chronological order at first. I went the way of trade paperbacks, which are the heftier books that collect quite a few issues of one or multiple characters, rather than seeking out individual issues or going the route of a digital subscription and reading individual issues that way. The first trade I read was Frank Miller and David Mazucchelli's Batman: Year One, which is the definitive modern-day telling of Bruce Wayne's origin story; I moved from there to Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's Batman: The Man Who Laughs, which introduces the Joker, who obviously has a rich history as Batman's most compelling and sinister villain. 

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Starting out with comic books: Digital or physical?

Starting out with comic books: Digital or physical?

After seeing Batman vs. Superman, and despite not enjoying it all that much, I had the itch to take a proper dive into comic books. This is a format I'm largely unfamiliar with, but I've had desires to explore it many times since I started college. Starting relatively from scratch with comic books is a difficult proposition, though, for many reasons -- and chief among those reasons, in 2016, is whether to read digital or physical. 

There were other things to consider, too. I received a couple boxes of well-maintained comics from my uncle when I was young, so I was familiar with at least the origin stories of DC's most famous characters. (Included among those was the graphic novel A Death In The Family, which I remember reading and actively disliking; most likely, though, I was just confused about why Robin was getting killed. It seemed a little permanent to my teenage self, and I didn't have the attention span to learn about comic book death, or anything else for that matter.)

In the present, though, I had no idea what those characters had been up to in the time between the origin stories and random issues I read, and today. The New 52 from DC didn't seem like the best way to start this process, and the prospect of starting with seminal crossover events like Flashpoint or Crisis on Infinite Earths was straight-up overwhelming.

Truthfully, it's difficult enough just deciding where to begin with one title. Luckily, I knew for sure which character I wanted to read first. 

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