The world loves Batman. It's a plain and simple fact. The Dark Knight had a worldwide box-office total of over $1 billion, and its highly-anticipated sequel The Dark Knight Rises may even surpass that. Batman: The Animated Series is widely (and rightly) regarded as one of the finest animated adaptations on television. Tomorrow's Batman: Arkham City video game is already being hailed as Game of the Year by critics.
We already took a look at Batman: Year One, the animated feature hitting Blu-Ray and DVD on Tuesday, so we continue our three-part Batman extravaganza with a look back at Batman, his characters, his history, and what comics of his you truly shouldn't miss in preparation for Batman: Arkham City.
Birth of a Legend
In May of 1939, gritty crime anthology Detective Comics premiered a new character, "The Bat-Man," a grim costumed hero created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Early on, this character was pretty different from the Batman we know today, mercilessly killing criminals who crossed the line. While artist Bob Kane is often given the credit for the creation of Batman, it was writer Bill Finger who so thoroughly fleshed out Batman as a character with his memorable supporting cast, including Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, and The Joker.
Batman was a hit, and over the years the character has evolved, taking on a strict no-killing policy that defines the character to this day, with stories often using that stance to discuss morality and vigilantism. Sidekick Robin, who was initially added to be a "Watson to Batman's Holmes," has become an irreplaceable part of Batman's lore despite the character going through several revisions. Robin even kick-started the trend of giving adult superheroes young sidekicks, a trope that's fleshed out even more in today's Young Justice animated series.
Gotham City- An urban hellhole located on the Jersey coast, Gotham City has suffered crushing economic depression, crime, and corruption from its political leaders and police force. This is the city where young Bruce Wayne saw the senseless murder of his parents, where in a dark, bloodstained alley he vowed to cure the city's criminal cancer.
The Plan- Bruce Wayne left Gotham City at 14 to travel the world and study abroad. What he learned was more than just book knowledge--he mastered countless forms of martial arts to develop a unique hybrid fighting style capable of maiming multiple opponents with little effort. He studied criminology, forensics, hunting, tracking, stealth and reconaissance. When he returned, Bruce Wayne was a living weapon capable of outfighting opponents with superior technique or outsmarting them by planning countless moves ahead and having backup plans for days. Combined with a fearsome costume designed to strike terror into the hearts of criminals, the Batman was born, and Gotham gained a new hope--albeit a terrifying one.
Allies in the Never-Ending War
Alfred Pennyworth- Equal parts gentleman's gentleman, field surgeon, and surrogate father, Alfred publicly serves as the butler, valet, and assistant for Bruce Wayne, and serves Batman as an emergency medical operator and occasional communication relay. He guards Wayne Manor with a shotgun and dry British wit.
Dick Grayson- The original Robin, Dick Grayson has grown into what Catwoman calls a "Man Wonder," continuing the war on crime as Nightwing. Other than Alfred, Dick is the closest person to Bruce, speaking freely and treating him like family. He has taken the mantle of Batman twice when Bruce was unable to.
Tim Drake- Often considered a better detective than Bruce, Tim Drake deduced that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Robin, and convinced Bruce to give him a place on the team as the new Robin. While not as gifted a fighter as Bruce or Dick, Tim makes up for it with a keen analytical mind and brilliant detective skills.
Barbara Gordon- The original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon is the adopted daughter of Commissioner James Gordon and a talented martial artist. After an encounter with the Joker left her paralyzed from the waist down, Barbara used her vast technological knowledge to be reborn as Oracle, constantly online and keeping Gotham's crimefighters up-to-date and in communication.
Commissioner James Gordon- Having faced down Gotham's corrupt police department by himself and slowly turning it around, Jim Gordon is proof that nice guys finish first, and that the good guys do win in the end. However, it hasn't been easy--his first wife left him, his adoptive daughter Barbara was crippled by the Joker, and his second wife was killed by that very same Clown Prince of Crime. Through it all, Gordon remains steadfast in his belief of doing things "by the book," and making sure even someone outside the law like Batman follows it.
Selina Kyle- Expert thief and former villainess Catwoman has undergone something of a reformation. Her on-again, off-again relationship with Batman leads her to become something of a hero, even seeking to help other former troublemakers like Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and The Riddler go legit to varying degrees. She is one of the few "outsiders" who Batman has revealed his identity to.
Faces of Madness
The Joker- Batman plans, trains and prepares for every contingency. The Joker flies by the seat of his pants and does whatever he wants to whoever he wants. The Joker just wants to get a good laugh out of the stoic Batman, and like any good comedian, he uses the things he likes to try and get a rise out of him. The only problem is that the things the Joker likes are torture, mutilation, and cold-blooded murder.
Two-Face- District Attorney Harvey Dent was the shining hope of Gotham City, popular and respected. But his hard stance against corruption and the mob earned him a vial of acid in the face during a trial, scarring his face and breaking his psyche. Disillusioned with justice and the law, and now obsessed with duality, random chance and the number two, all of Dent's decisions are left to the chance flip of his signature coin.
The Must-Read Batman Comics
Batman: Year One- Detailing Batman's first year back in Gotham, this Frank Miller-penned classic shows Bruce Wayne struggling with the demanding new life he's chosen. Just transferred to Gotham, Jim Gordon fights corruption from within the GCPD while tracking down a mysterious bat-costumed vigilante stalking the streets. What will bring these two men together under a common goal?
The Killing Joke- The Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum (again) and wants to prove that even the most moral and righteous man can snap after having "one bad day." His target? Commissioner Gordon. After paralyzing Barbara Gordon, and torturing and humiliating Jim Gordon, will he be proven right?
A Death in the Family- With Dick Grayson having left to pursue his own career as a hero, Batman has taken the fearless, reckless Jason Todd under his wing as the new Robin. Clues in the war-torn Middle East lead Jason to information and closure about his past, but with the Joker also in town, Jason's family reunion is set to become a bloodbath.
Knightfall- His name is Bane, and his goal is simple. By exhausting Batman mentally and physically, and finally confronting him in single combat, Bane eventually accomplishes what so many before him have failed to do: break the Bat. Crippled, Bruce feels that Dick Grayson would not accept the title of Batman, and passes it on to Azrael, a vicious trained assassin. But what happens when you give the title and responsibility of Batman to someone you barely know?
KnightsEnd- As the new Batman, Azrael takes to crimefighting like a fish to water, but his brutal methods leave criminals at death's door and puts the innocent at risk. Azrael doesn't care--who are they to question him? He's Batman, the only hope the city has. But no one can stop the rampaging Batman--with Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman falling to Azrael, can a recovering Bruce stop this madman and reclaim the cowl?
The Long Halloween- Taking place shortly after Year One, The Long Halloween is a murder mystery taking place early in Batman's career featuring a who's-who of famous characters. Gotham's Falcone mob family is being systematically eliminated on days of celebration by the appropriately-named Holiday. With the body count rising, Batman, the newly-appointed Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent must solve the mystery of Holiday before he instigates a gang war that will tear Gotham apart.
Hush- From the writer of The Long Halloween comes another exceptional mystery, this time taking place in Batman's "present day." What starts as a simple kidnapping leads to an almost-successful and expertly-planned attempt on Batman's life, but then expands into a full-blown conspiracy winding through Batman's Rogues' Gallery, even using Superman as a pawn against Batman. Adding to this, Bruce has begun a romantic relationship with Selina Kyle, revealing his identity to her. Is this all a part of the plan from the mysterious Hush? There are many who want to get revenge on Batman, but who would go to these lengths?
Being the Bat: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City
The 2009 release of Batman: Arkham Asylum turned a lot of heads. Not only was it a solid action game with excellently-implemented stealth segments, but it was the first game to truly make you feel like Batman. One minute you're fighting ten goons at once, the next you're following clues to track down a villain, and then the next you're sneaking through a room full of guards and silently taking them out. It covered all bases of the character, and provided a tense, exciting story featuring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series. I saw CRN's Joseph Luster playing it on Live yesterday, and just the thought of the game made me want to replay it as well--it's that fun.
Its sequel, Batman: Arkham City, comes out tomorrow and is touted as the perfect Batman experience, already earning rave reviews and Game of the Year declarations from critics, featuring heroes and villains from all over the Batman mythos. We'll see how it is and tell you all about it in a review later this week.
What about you, Bat-fans--do you have any story arcs from the comics you liked the best? Do you prefer the animated Batman, or maybe the movies? Maybe there's someone out there who liked Batman and Robin, you never know.
Batman is tm and © DC Comics and Time-Warner
Images and info: DC Database