Getting into superhero comics is tough. With over 80(!) years of material out there, new readers often have a hard time figuring out what they should read first!
That’s why I’m launching the “Where to Start” series. In these posts, I’ll lay out recommendations for where new readers should start with some of Marvel and DC’s most enduring characters.
First up, we’ll talk about the character that got me into comics, the Caped Crusader himself: Batman.
As a result of his many, many multimedia appearances, Batman’s probably created more new comics readers than any other superhero. And yet, it’s still overwhelming to figure out what Bat-comics you should read first. Many readers’ favorite stories rely on past events and a tangled web of continuity that new readers want no part of. They’re looking for just the essential Dark Knight experience.
Well, if you’re one of those aspiring Batman readers who doesn’t know Azrael from Orca, I’ve got you covered. Below, I’ll lay out my entry-point recommendations for both younger and older readers, as well as a few follow-up recommendations.
Where to Start for Younger Readers
If your kid wants to get into Batman comics (or you’re just looking for some all-ages yarns yourself), there’s no better starting point than Batman Adventures.
Batman Adventures is the comic that got ME into comics, and I’d recommend it to anybody looking for classic, accessible Batman tales. Set within the world of the 1990s Batman animated series, Batman Adventures features some of the very best Bat-stories I’ve ever read, without all the grimdark nonsense and complicated continuity that sometimes pollutes DC’s main Bat-books.
No matter what version of Batman you or your child is familiar with, you’ll recognize the characters populating Batman Adventures. The Joker is recognizably the Joker, the Riddler is recognizably the Riddler, and Batman is recognizably Batman, while still playing well within all-ages stories you could hand to anyone between the ages of 6 and 66. Batman Adventures asks nothing of you, the reader, beyond loving good action-adventure comics.
My personal favorite Batman Adventures story, entitled “The Last Riddler Story,” is collected at the end of Batman Adventures Vol. 1. And because none of these stories depend on reading the others, you could just go ahead and start there.
What to Read Next
There are A LOT of volumes of Batman Adventures, and the series goes on to become Batman & Robin Adventures, Batman: Gotham Adventures, and then Batman Adventures again. Somehow, all of these series are good, and I’d recommend them all.
Where to Start for Older Readers
Many potential Batman readers don’t fall in love with the Dark Knight until they’re older. These people might’ve found a version of Batman they love in video games (both the Arkham Asylum and Telltale Games series are particularly compelling) or movies (hopefully not Batman Vs. Superman, though).
These readers are likely looking for something a little more “sophisticated” than Batman Adventures, and they also might be looking to get into mainline Batman comics. If you’re one of those readers, I’ve got two potential recommendations for you, depending on your taste.
If you’re into the more “realistic” Gotham City showcased in The Dark Knight or the Telltale Games series, I’d recommend starting with Batman: Year One (pictured above). Written by Frank Miller and spectacularly illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, Year One tells the story of Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham and eventual transformation into Batman.
However, Year One‘s as much a Jim Gordon story as a Batman story, and it features some of Gordon’s very best comic moments. You’ll cheer for Gordon, specifically, as he contends with both the gangsters and corrupt police force that he and Batman have chosen to take down. Batman Begins-era movie viewers will recognize a number of scenes throughout Year One and hopefully find some new favorites.
But gritty, gangland drama isn’t for everyone. If you’re more excited by the actual superheroics on display in Arkham City or Justice League, I’d recommend you start with my current favorite Batman origin story: the electric reinvention that is Zero Year.
Zero Year is an origin re-telling that’s not content to simply re-tell Batman’s origin. Instead, writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, and colorist FCO Plascencia (who greatly deserves this individual shout out, because his colors make Zero Year pop) put their own decidedly modern spin on Bruce Wayne’s decision to don the cape and cowl. This Batman origin plays into society’s current fears, anxieties, and hopes, while remaining a kick-ass, rock ‘n roll adventure story.
Zero Year starts at the beginning of Batman’s story but goes for broke at the same time. It culminates in a near-apocalyptic game of chicken between Batman and the Riddler (complete with lions, dirtbikes, mazes, and F-15s), but Zero Year also never loses sight of Batman’s heart. It contains some of the very best Bruce and Alfred scenes in recent memory, and it also positions Batman as a true symbol of hope for Gotham City.
If I was going to blindly hand someone Year One or Zero Year, I’d currently hand them Zero Year. And that’s saying something.
What to Read Next
After reading these origins (especially Year One), there are a number of stories you could jump into. If you wanted to continue “chronologically” through Batman’s career, I’d recommend:
- Batman: The Man Who Laughs.
- Batman and the Monster Men.
- Batman: The Long Halloween (which I wrote a spoilerific bit about here).
However, if you just really enjoyed Zero Year and want to continue on with the same creative team, you could do worse than jump over to Snyder and co.’s Court of Owls.
These recommendations should serve as a good on-ramp into Caped Crusader comics, no matter what flavor of Batman you’re looking for! If you devour these books and need further recommendations, or you’re looking for starter books for other characters, feel free to leave a comment below. Part of this blog’s purpose is to share comics with as many readers as possible, and I’m hoping to continue developing the “Where to Start” series throughout 2019.