Top Ten Batman Trade Paperbacks

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's time for another top ten essential trade paperbacks list from Collected Editions! If you haven't read our list of Top Ten Superman trade paperbacks, click the link to see it. And now on to the Batman trades ...

* Batman: Knightfall
This Bat-saga created in the wake of The Death of Superman never gets the credit that it deserves. In total, the trilogy was probably a too-long telling of the fall and rise of Batman; in parts, however, Knightfall is a thrilling tale of Batman pushed by his enemies to the brink of exhaustion ... and beyond. Part one is great for fans of Batman's colorful villains, nearly all of whom appear here.

* Batman: Death and the Maidens
I literally stayed up all night to finish this gripping Batman/Ra's al Ghul story, written by Greg Rucka in the spirit of the original Dennis O'Neil Ra's tales. Rucka has an addictive, pulse-pounding story that weaves in and out of history and ultimately makes a major change to Batman continuity. This is a classic Batman story, and comes with one of my highest recommendations.

* Batman: Evolution
Then-new writer Greg Rucka's beginning Detective Comics after the mega-No Man's Land crossover. In an attempt to distinguish the title, the colorist worked with a limited pallet, creating comics that were often only shades of reds, blues, and greens. The result is a gorgeously moody Batman comic featuring yet another Ra's al Ghul tale by Rucka. I feel the art here is something every fan should experience.

* Batman: No Man's Land
No Man's Land is a gigantic six-trade collection of a year-long Batman crossover, unique in it's authorial structure such that the story read far more like a novel than most comics crossovers. The story drags, undoubtedly, at times, but the stories of Batman's return to the city in the beginning, and the bittersweet end, are both worth reading.

* Batman: Sword of Azrael
By the time Knightfall was over, no one really liked the Azrael character, but I always thought there was a lot of potential in this initial mini-series. The writing is by comics legend Dennis O'Neil, and art is by current Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. The story pits Batman against a Knights Templar-type organization, with one Jean-Paul Valley caught in the middle; Valley has no idea he's next in line to become the order's avenging Azrael.

* Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying
Not as well known as A Death in the Family, the story that killed off the second Robin, Lonely is the first appearance of the third and current Robin, Tim Drake. It's also, however, a Batman/New Titans crossover, which should thrill any 1980s comics fan, and is written by New Titans creator Marv Wolfman. For Batman, Robin, or Nightwing fans, this is a good one.

* Batman: Year Two
Also not as well known as Batman: Year One, Year Two is a great mystery with tragic romance that works so well with the Batman character. The story deals with the man who murdered Batman's parents and the reasons Batman doesn't carry a gun; art is by Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame.

* Batman: Broken City
Sandwiched between the vaunted Batman: Hush and the start of some new creative teams, Broken City didn't get much notice, but deserved it. This is moody, hard-boiled crime fiction with plenty of snapped arms and broken teeth--it's also an excellent Batman whodunit. If you like Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets, you should have this in your collection.

* Batman: Bruce Wayne — Fugitive Vol. 3
The Batman Murderer/Fugitive story wasn't a bad crossover, only perhaps went on a little too long. This final trade, though, is a gift from DC Comics -- after volumes one and two, they realized there were enough good follow-up stories out there to warrant a third trade. What you find here are smaller stories featuring Batman and his sidekicks; Rucka's the three-part about Batman's hunt for, and failed romance with, Checkmate's Sasha Bordeaux is worth the price of admission.

* Batman Adventures: The Lost Years
Lost Years is a trade collecting a mini-series that bridged the gap between two different Batman cartoon series and, essentially, it's the animated universe's take on the origin of Nightwing and the rise of the new Robin. If you're a Nightwing or Bat-verse fan, this is some fun revisionist history done in the animated style.

Agree? Hate my choices? Got something to add? Leave a comment!
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16 comments:

  1. Hmm, interesting list. I like how you avoided obvious choices like Frank Miller's and Jeph Loeb's stories and the awful Death in the Family. Lonely Place of Dying, Broken City (though I hate the ending), and Death and the Maidens are all excellent choices. My list would be:

    *Denny O'Neil's Tales of the Demon
    *Steve Englehart's Strange Apparitions
    *O'Neil's Shaman
    *Grant Morrison's Gothic
    *Collected Legends of the Dark Knight (for James Robinson's & Tim Sale's amazing "Blades" story)
    *Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
    *David Lapham's City of Crime
    *any of the Batman: Black & White trades
    *either Paul Dini's Detective or Death in the City
    *Batman Chronicles vol. 1 (it may be primitive, but it's awesome)

    Cheers,
    Bob

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  2. Bob -- The idea here is just as you said, to avoid some of the obvious choices and highlight the lesser-known collections. Good call on Tales of the Demon and Strange Apparitions, and some of the Legends of the Dark Knight stuff. I never read City of Crime, mainly because it came out at the same time as some other contiunity-heavy Batman trades, and City of Crime was out of the mainstream. Is it really that good?

    And I loved Dini's Detective; look for a review here soon.

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  3. I thought City of Crime was the highpoint for Batman between the Rucka/Brubaker and the Morrison/Dini eras. However, it's one of the bleakest and weirdest Batman stories I've ever read, so its relative obscurity is not surprising. But since you like Broken City, I think there is a good chance you might appreciate it.

    Here's a spoiler heavy review if you're curious:
    http://delendaestcarthago.blogspot.com/2002/01/comics-you-should-own-detective-5.html

    Are there any other trades you wanted to add, but that didn't make the cut?

    Cheers,
    Bob

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Here's the rest of that link:

    2002/01/comics-you-should-own-detective-5.html

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  6. So glad you put Death and the Maidens up there. Amazingly overlooked series. Rucka's writing was great, as it often is, but I think Klaus Janson usually doesn't get the credit he deserves for his visual storytelling skills - he really came through for that story. He also did a good job in Batman: Gothic. I remember A Lonely Place of Dying being really good back in the day, too, and generally forgotten.

    No Man's Land is a pretty good story, but I'm not sure it's totally worth the expense. Six trades and there are still missing crossover stories from the saga! (Mostly insignificant, I know, but I remember scratching my head over Batgirl-Cassie's introduction) I do appreciate the sheer epic level of it all, though.

    I'm surprised at the praise for Broken City, but I could be alone in this. I didn't see it as much more than a Sin City "homage". It was competent, yes, but I didn't think it was spectacular.

    I totally agree with Bob on City on Crime. Quite disturbing and weird, from the author of Stray Bullets! (I shouldn't have expected less) Despite being officially in-continuity, it gives off a creepy, alienating vibe that some of the best Elseworlds/LotDK stories do. Definitely among the best Batman I've read in years. Read it!

    (Aw, you turned off anonymous comments :/)

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  7. Great picks, including yet another recommendation for Death and the Maidens! I used to dislike Klaus Janson's art but I hear nothing but praise for Maidens so I must pick it up soon.

    The only addition I would make is Batman: As the Crow Flies collecting the issues immediately following Broken City. At only five issues' worth it's a short book, but I love Dustin Nguyen's art and it would be a great companion piece to his recent arc in Superman/Batman.

    By the way, has any of Scott McDaniel's run on Batman, which began concurrent with Rucka's Evolution arc in 'Tec, been collected?

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  8. Bob and Nhexima, you've convinced me -- I'll have to give City of Crime a try. I didn't know Klaus Janson did Batman: Gothic, but I'll have to take a look at that as well.

    I agree with Nhexima that No Man's Land is pretty sprawling, and for that reason (can't just pick it up easily), I hesitated to put it on the list. Of them, I think the first trade and the last are the best, with the most linear storytelling.

    Nobody, I'm curious to hear more about what you liked about As the Crow Flies. Was it the story, too, or just the art? The story struck me as good, though not necessarily spectacular, but I did like the art very much.

    There's no dedicated collection of Scott McDaniel's run on Batman, but I think some of the issues appear in the Batman: Bruce Wayne - Murderer and Fugitive trade paperbacks.

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  9. To nobody I would say that even if you don't like Janson's art, it's worth looking past to enjoy Death & the Maidens and Gothic, both of which are tremendous stories.
    You and our gracious host would likely enjoy Gothic; it is the best supernatural Batman story I've ever read (though some of Monech's and Jones's stuff is excellent). I think DC put out a new edition recently.

    As for the sprawling No Man's Land, I seem to recall Rucka's novelization doing a fair job of condensing a year of comics into a few hundred pages. Though the novelization isn't a comic or even a trade paperback just a little mass market paperback so I guess it can't qualify for the list.

    To nhexima I'd say that I enjoyed Broken City mainly for the darkly humorous, Chandler-esque voice Azzarello gave Batman and Risso's art. The story while far from perfect was a welcome change right after Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's wretched excess on Hush. As an example take Risso's toothless Pimp Croc, far cooler and funner than Lee's roid raging Monster Croc.

    Cheers,
    Bob

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  10. To be honest, C.E., I don't remember much about the story of As the Crow Flies except that Batman sees Jason Todd in what might be a hallucination, but turned out to be Judd Winnick teasing his upcoming Red Hood storyline. And IIRC the Scarecrow turned into a "Scarebeast"? Hokey perhaps but he struck me as rather frightening.

    So I can't say it was the writing that stuck with me, and I haven't read it a second time since it first came out either. But mostly I just loved Nguyen's work (moreso even than his recent style in Supes/Bats), and with Risso's Broken City arc it formed the best 11 consecutive issues of Batman art until J.H. Williams Detective #821 (though I liked Andy Kubert's seven issues and prefer them to Don Kramer's recent work in 'Tec).

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  11. Are there any good Batman TPBs that have Jason Todd in the Robin role? Not including Death in the Family...

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  12. Batman: The Cult is actually a great Batman trade that uses Jason Todd heavily; it's by Jim Starlin, who later wrote Death in the Family. Jason is also in Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast, the first appearance of KGBeast. Hope that helps!

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  13. I second Batman: The Cult as being a fairly decent read.

    Outside of that and Nights of the Beast, however, you're not going to find much collected material of Jason Todd as Robin. The lions share of Jason Todd's run as Robin took place pre-Crisis and as we know his backstory was completely retooled afterwords. What's left between his post-Crisis origin and his death is uncollected; a shame, as they could probably make a decent trade of the Batman arc that showed Todd going over the edge. Besides that, you can't go wrong with Jim Aparo artwork.

    Oh, also, I recall Jason Todd having a role in Nightwing: Year One. Though he's not a principal character. It's more a cameo, I guess. But worth noting.

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  14. I recall Jason Todd having a decent enough role in SUPERMAN: FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING from DC UNIVERSE: THE STORIES OF ALAN MOORE & also in SUPERMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW?

    He also might appear in miscellaneous collections like maybe the villain focus trades like BATMAN VS TWO FACE, JOKER: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD, SCARECROW TALES etc or maybe BATMAN IN THE EIGHTIES. I know for sure he appears in DETECTIVE COMICS 526 (500TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1ST APPEARANCE OF BATMAN) in a story titled ALL MY ENEMIES AGAINST ME by GERRY CONWAY & GENE COLAN reprinted in BATMAN: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD VOL 2.

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  15. Nightwing: Year One usurped Jason Todd's post-crisis origin story. They used the same concept as the original post-crisis origin (told in Batman #40...something), but changed the events surrounding Dick's firing, etc.

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  16. Personally, I've always loved Long Shadows. It tells a better story of Dick Greyson donning the cowl than Battle for the Cowl ever did. One that I really recommend if you're interested in Greyson as Batman.

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