The Great Eras of Batman Comics: 1986-1992

When discussing great Batman comics, we often focus on particular storylines or creative teams.  But what about the times in Batman’s history where no matter which title you picked up off the newsstands, you’re almost guaranteed to get some quality Batman content?  The times when different creative teams worked on different books to different ends, but it all resulted in amazing Batman comics across the board, month in and month out? Here is the second entry in a series detailing these great eras in Batman’s publication history.

Post-Crisis: 1986-1992

Ahh yes, Batman comics just after Crisis on Infinite Earths wrapped.  This is the point in time that I consider to be the greatest era of Batman comics to ever be printed, and if you look at the credits for some of the collections linked below, I think you’ll begin to understand why: Jim Starlin, Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo, Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Alan Davis.  How could these comics not be great?

Seriously, this is the era that revamped Jason Todd’s origin, which led to “A Death in the Family,” which then led to “Year Three” and “A Lonely Place of Dying” introducing Tim Drake, the Best Robin Ever™️.  That stretch of stories alone is enough to make this era noteworthy, but then you look at some of the finer details: this is a time when the “one-and-done” story was commonplace, so you could pick up most issues of any Batman title and get a strong, self-contained story.  That’s all too rare these days, and one of the reasons that I love this era so much.

To give you just a taste of the single issue treasures of the era, check out Batman #408, which revamped Jason Todd for the modern era; Batman #416, where Nightwing and Robin team up and teach each other a thing or two about heroism; Batman #424, which is controversial to this day, but was absolutely bold and gutsy in allowing Batman and Robin to come to a head in their reactions to a crime; Batman #465, featuring Tim Drake’s first official night on patrol as the new Robin; Detective Comics #572, an anniversary issue that finds Batman, Robin, Slam Bradley, Elongated Man, and a surprise guest investigating the same mystery; ‘Tec #590, most notable for its incredible cover (an edited version of which serves as this article’s header image), but still a worthwhile tale with Batman in London; and ‘Tec #647, which isn’t a single issue story, but it is the first appearance of Stephanie Brown, so it’s well worth mentioning.

 

Even the extended arcs are strong, though, from “Ten Nights of the Beast” (which is dated, sure, but still a great Batman-centric political thriller), the aforementioned “A Death in the Family” (made stronger by its spiritual successor, “A Lonely Place of Dying”), and the supremely awesome and weird “The Mud Pack.”

And then there was a little story titled “Year One” from Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Richmond Lewis, and Todd Klein that came out smack dab in the middle of Max Allan Collins’ tenure (which is generally seen as a low point in the era, and while it doesn’t rise as high as some of the other work from this time, it’s still not that bad), and another little miniseries written by Miller that came to be known as The Dark Knight Returns. It’s a beginning and an ending for Batman, as told by the same writer, but are they supposed to represent the same Batman? TDKR pre-dates “Year One” by a full year, so it’s easy to see the former as the “final Batman story” for pre-Crisis Batman much like “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was the final pre-Crisis Superman tale.

House ads are just the coolest, aren’t they?

There’s plenty of discourse on these books out there already, and I’ve heard it posited from other, better writers than myself that Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, and John Costanza’s Batman: The Dark Knight (the original publishing title of The Dark Knight Returns) works much better as an ending for the old to allow “Year One” to usher in something new. No matter how you view the individual stories, and where they “fit” with Batman’s history, there’s no denying the massive impact they both made, with characterizations, story beats, and individual images from each book being formative to and referenced in Batman stories almost forty years later.

It was an era rife with classics, almost embarrassingly so, as evidenced by the presence of stories like “The Penguin Affair”, “Dark Knight, Dark City”, “The Many Deaths of the Batman”, “Shadow Box”, “The Destroyer”, The Cult, the bonkers insanity of “Year Two”, “Blind Justice”– a bit of a “dry run” precursor to “Knightfall”, in some respects– and so many more that I’m going to kick myself later for forgetting.

I know that there are two separate paragraphs talking about the various story arcs in this era, but that just goes to show you how strong the main Batman titles were around this time. Reach out and grab any random issue and I can practically guarantee that it will rock and roll.

Throw in the publication of The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, the launches of Legends of the Dark Knight (the first two years alone saw the publication of “Shaman”, “Gothic”, “Prey”, and “Venom”, as well as the awesome “Blades” toward the end of the era) and Shadow of the Bat (“The Last Arkham” is about the only full arc to edge it’s way onto this specific list, but it’s a killer way to kick off the series, and ’92 also saw a few notable and bizarre single issue stories from the title), and all three Robin miniseries, and this was truly an amazing time read Batman comics.

The timeline also briefly lines up with Batman and the Outsiders, which ran from 1983-1987. Batman peaced out and left the team in April 1986’s issue #32, but that means four months of BatO comics that released that year, and at least one that came out after Crisis ended, so I’m counting it. It’s what my dude Metamorpho would want.

ESSENTIAL READING:


NEXT: The radical Nineties! And check out the first installment in the series!

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