How do you choose a favorite Batman story?
Of the myriad tales that have been spun like folklore into our midst since Bob Kane created the character in the 1930s, how can you possibly narrow them down to just one?
Chuck Dixon, a writer best known for his work on various Batman titles in the 1990s said:
Each decade seems to bring us a new Batman; never changing, but adapted for the times. He was born of the Great Depression and his early tales are dark and brooding. In the 1940s he became more upbeat, more patriotic with an emphasis on detective work with his new sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder. The 1950s saw him traveling to outer space or dealing with strange scientific anomalies created by the Atomic Age. In the tragically hip 1960s his adventures bordered on parody. The 1970s saw a return to his darker side with a more hardboiled approach to crime. In the 1980s we saw his darkest transformation into a haunted loner obsessed with the vow to his long dead parents. The 1990s saw more emphasis on a grander, apocalyptic scale.”
He’s right. Batman is a character for the ages; one etched into our very mythos. As The Dark Knight Rises comes and goes in theaters tonight, we will witness yet another milestone in the figure’s rich history. Alright, so we can’t narrow the stuff down to just one. But by God, we’re gonna give it our best. Here they are, our favorite Bat-moments ever:
I wasn’t interested in Batman comic books growing up. Batman the Animated Series was great, but I wasn’t so sure about the comics. It wasn’t until The Long Halloween did I realize the potential the character has when written well.
Never had a Batman story involved the entire rogues’ gallery with such a powerful and focused look at the detective work of Batman. Instead of punching his way to the answers he was trying to solve the holiday murders by analyzing clues. One might say this series was focused more on the rogues than Batman himself, but the moments for each villain help define the mood and tone that make Batman so great. What is Batman without his supporting cast?
Catwoman and Batman for instance, always work best when there’s sexual tension and conflicting interests. Not to mention Catwoman was perfectly done in this series.
My favorite moment comes in issue 13 when Falcone finds his office infested with evil.
And the subsequent fighting is done with a certain poetic resonance.
My favorite moment when it comes to Batman himself though has to be Batman versus the shark in The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Batman seems to find himself fighting sharks quite a bit, probably due to everyones favorite Bat-gadget, “shark repellent” from the TV show. If he’s going to have the repellent might as well bring in the sharks. He sure has a tumultuous relationship with them.
One of my favorite moments in Batman the Animated Series needs no explanation:
Detective Comics #826, “Slayride” by Paul Dini and Don Kramer
Around the mid-2000s, the Batman family of titles weren’t doing so hot. War Games, quite possibly the most tedious and insipid “event” in Batman’s history had just wasted what felt like a year of our time. Judd Winnick had just brought Jason Todd back from the dead by having Superboy-Prime punch the walls of reality while inside his interdimensional prison and if that sounds like bullshit to you then congrats: You’re right on the money. Leslie Thompkins, an unshakable cornerstone of ethics within the Bat-Mythos had been revealed to have let former Robin Stephanie Brown die from her wounds in order to “teach Batman a lesson”. And the One Year Later stuff, namely Face the Face which returned Harvey Dent to his status as Two-Face, played out as predictably and drearily as possible… Because who gives a s--t that they killed off Orca the Whale-Woman!?
Again, it was not a great time to be reading any comic with Batman in it.
Then riding a beam of light from the ivory shores of Paradise came Paul Dini, writer of many of the best episodes of Batman the Animated Series and easily one of the finest creators to ever pen the character. Suddenly, Detective Comics was reborn as a harder edged Batman the Animated Series; taking the same approach to one-off storytelling but with deadlier consequences. Dini brought with him the sharp sense of humor, tight-pacing and flawless character work that made his cartoon the definitive interpretation of the Dark Knight and translated it effortlessly to the comics.
But best among his stories was the Christmas issue, Slayride, which isn’t just the diamond of Dini’s whole run, but quite possibly the best Joker story ever written. And maybe the best Robin one, too.
As the story begins, Robin (Tim Drake) is hightailing it away from a gun-running bust gone bad. He takes some slugs to his body armor, trashes his cycle and is left hobbling toward his only chance for survival: a nearby car with an open door. Unfortunately, its occupant is the Joker.
The Joker gasses him, trusses him up and then takes him on an insane joyride through Gotham on Christmas Eve. It is the ideal sort of Joker story, matching horrific menace with dark comedy; Joker mows down innocent pedestrians while making all manner of hilarious quips and even takes time to hit the drive-thru:
But it’s more than just a lot of funny jokes and brutal deaths. We get inside the heads of both the Joker and Robin, as the captive Boy Wonder dissects the routine of the Clown Prince of Crime in order to figure a way out of the mess he’s in. The way he perceives a weakness in the Joker and uses it to escape is truly clever and should, if nothing else, give you a much greater appreciation for Tim Drake. Don Kramer rocks the art on this story, giving us a Joker that isn’t cartoonishly overboard in his design, but unnerving in his appearance nevertheless.
If you want to sit down and have a damn good time reading some Batman comics, pick up Batman: Detective, Batman: Death and the City, Batman: Private Casebook and Batman: Heart of Hush. Dini would go on to get his own books after leaving Detective Comics (Gotham City Sirens and Streets of Gotham), but the run he left behind is one of the best in the title’s history. Slayride, though, sits at the very top.
“You don’t miss a good thing until it’s gone.” Well, ain’t that the sad truth. And probably why I’ll always find “final” Batman stories so fascinating. One predictable element of Batman tales is that you know — even if the writers have to drag him through a world of s--t beforehand — that the Dark Knight is going to prevail. That’s what he does, after all. He’s the goddamn Batman.
But in the last Batman story? We don’t know if the guy we love is going to finally relinquish his inner demons and live out a normal life; go literally Bat-s--t insane and holed up in the Bat Cave after caving in the Riddler’s aorta with a roundhouse kick; or go down in one final blaze of glory against insurmountable odds. Even if he is the world’s greatest detective, fighter, strategist, preparatory genius and can trash guys that fly through suns or punch holes through reality – he is mortal. He can’t be Batman forever. (Until he invents a Bat-Time repellent.)
A good look at this motif is the episode “Over The Edge,” from the fourth season of Batman: The Animated series. As far as final Batman stories go, it stands as one of the best.
The episode boils down to this: Batman has finally done something so grievous that it causes Commissioner Gordon to launch an all-out campaign towards his apprehension. Storming the Bat-Cave/Wayne Manor with SWAT teams, the arrests of major characters in the Bat-family, and various costumed villains going on talk shows to divulge the atrocities committed against them by Batman are just a few of the highlights.
The story analyzes and accentuates many long standing characters’ relationships to Batman, and their standing in his mythos: Although Gordon has become obsessed with bringing Batman to justice, it is ironically through this about-face of partnerships that we see just how invaluable an ally he is. Without Gordon, and therefore the legitimate side of the law approbating his methods, Batman is no longer the city’s guardian nor do his means any longer seem justified — he is just another common vigilante.
And what of Batman’s surrogate family? With everything unraveling, you see that it’s not just Batman’s life that is irrevocably changed. What would Tim Drake do when told by Batman, “It’s over, Tim. Gordon feels betrayed, and maybe he was. He won’t give up until he gets me. You have to leave me now. Give yourself up. No one will blame you for what happened”?
Seeing Batman on the run, letting loose with his back to the wall as he does in this episode is just plain fun. Gordon is surprisingly a consummate adversary for Batman because what sort of victory can Batman achieve by fighting back? What options does he truly have? Beating Gordon up and leaving him in jail? Destroying the Gotham Police Department with an all out assault from his Bat-vehicles? It’s an interesting parallel to Batman: Year One which shows what would have happened had Batman stayed on the wrong side of the law with Gordon at the helm.
A big stink gets made regarding Superman’s holding back on account of his powers being so unreasonably strong — but one thing that tends to get overlooked is that Batman is doing the same. Yes, he’s craftier – and more willing to fight dirty to win — but there are lines he won’t cross. Like use guns. (Except against Darkseid.) Or kill. Episodes like this where Batman abrogates his previous limitations make you wonder just how dangerous he could be if he decided to go rogue. (As the JLA: Tower of Babel storyline hinted at.)
The final battle between Batman and Bane is also impressive and takes on serious gravitas when its revealed that both sides, Batman included, are no longer worried about fighting to the death. Which brings me to some of the lines in this episode; with everything on the line, we are gifted with some truly memorable quotes:
Commissioner Gordon: Ten minutes on Barbara’s computer told me everything. Like a fool I allowed you to run wild on your private crusade. A psychotic misfit playing masked hero.
Bane: I’m pleased you remembered me, Mr. Wayne. You can’t believe how I’ve look forward to this. Though I was hoping for more of a fight. But what could I expect from a killer of children?
Bane: You would fight to the death?
Batman: It makes no difference now.
Bane: Good… I wanted to finish him slowly.
Commissioner Gordon: I want him alive! Alive to rot away in Arkham, surrounded by the monsters he’s created.
Bane: Poetic, but no!
If you haven’t already seen this episode and consider yourself a Batman enthusiast in any way, shape or form, then you need to. Right the f--k now. You can buy Batman: The Animated Series, Vol. 4 (From the New Batman Adventures) on DVD, with plenty of other great episodes (for a discounted price if you click through us) – or download “Over the Edge” and any of the other episodes from that season for only $1.99 each.
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