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? Welcome back to our series on this very topic, as we enter the third great era of Batman comics.
This one might seem kind of obvious, and rightfully so: “Knightfall” is perhaps the biggest Batman story of all time, and stands alongside “The Death of Superman” as one of the greatest character-centered events in the history of comics. Even casual comic fans are familiar with the imagery of Bane holding Batman above his head, only to bring the Dark Knight down onto his knee to break his back. From the earliest parts of the story, where Bane is introduced and the table is set to make Batman go through the ringer, this saga is endlessly engaging through and through.
But it’s not just the breaking of the Bat and handing over of the mantle to Jean-Paul Valley that makes this era truly noteworthy. In retrospect, the best thing you can say about the Bat books during Knightfall was they all worked together, yet stood spectacularly on their own. Under the watchful eye of Denny O’Neil as editor, Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, Jim Aparo, Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, and several other creators told a sweeping story full of suspense, action, and intrigue, with a simple mission statement at the center: Bruce Wayne is Batman.
It’s for that very reason that it’s difficult to pick true standout issues from the era, given that everything is so intrinsically linked. There are the obvious examples, like Jean-Paul Valley’s introduction in Batman: Sword of Azrael, the first appearance of and backstory for Bane in Vengeance of Bane, and the ultimate showdown between Batman and Bane in Batman #497. Sure, there are some missteps in there– the way Bruce’s back is healed is… not great, as it’s both narratively contrived and the result of the destruction of an otherwise interesting character– but the journey there is always interesting. If Knightfall is a constant state of escalation before a (literally) shattering climax, Knightquest is a vast, broad exploration of Bruce Wayne’s resilience and Jean-Paul Valley’s steady descent into madness.
On a personal level, I have a great affinity for these comics because KnightsEnd was the first Batman arc I ever read. Specifically, this trade:
Wearing out the pages of that paperback, I had my first encounter with Nightwing, saw Tim Drake hold his own with the early issues of his Robin solo title, and saw Bruce Wayne make his triumphant return as Batman. It was an immensely readable story and conclusion to the years-long arc, even without having read Knightfall or Knightquest beforehand. Everything you needed to know was contained in those pages, and it made a lifelong fan of Batman out of me.
Seriously, pick up any issue from this era, and you’ll find a great Batman story that complements the bigger picture with other titles, while still being accessible enough that you didn’t feel the need to have to read a dozen other comics for things to make sense. Given the strength of the saga, and an expanded role for the Batfamily that included the launch of the Robin ongoing and the Nightwing: Alfred’s Return one-shot, you’re going to want to pick up Prelude to Knightfall and not stop reading until you hit Prodigal. Sure, it’s a lot of comics, but it’s a lot of good comics.
- Batman: Prelude to Knightfall
- Batman: Knightfall Vol. 1
- Batman: Knightfall Vol. 2
- Batman: Knightfall, Vol 3.: KnightsEnd
- Azrael Vol. 1: Fallen Angel
The Animated Series: 1992-2004
This one might be kind of a cheat, seeing as how it’s more representative of a continuous run than a specific era, but then… it kind of is about a particular era in Batman’s comic book history. After all, there’s hardly a more influential take on Batman than Batman: The Animated Series, so the comic that spun off from the show is definitely worth mentioning.
Even more, from the first issue of The Batman Adventures back in 1992 to the final issue of Batman Adventures in 2004, there’s hardly a dud in there. Beginning with The Batman Adventures– which at times felt like reading storyboards for the show in the best possible way– the series was followed by The Batman and Robin Adventures, The Batman Adventures: The Lost Years, Batman: Gotham Adventures, and Batman Adventures. Pound for pound, these books were some of the most consistent showcases of great storytelling by great storytellers as you’ll ever find in comics.
From a creator standpoint, you had Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Kevin Altieri, Dan Riba, and Glen Murakami’s influence, along with extended stints by Kelley Puckett, Rick Burchett, Ty Templeton, and the late, great Mike Parobeck. And that’s just the first two series, which is an embarrassment of riches in itself. Once you get into Gotham Adventures, there’s some stellar work from Templeton and Burchett, along with series newcomers Scott Peterson and Terry Beatty, as well as the late Hilary J. Bader on The Lost Years miniseries. Finally, with Batman Adventures, Templeton and Burchett are joined by the Dan Slott for what may very well be my favorite run of Batman comics.
Which, again, is no mean feat, because every single one of these series is loaded with gems that are perfect for readers of all ages, kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the brilliant three-part opening arc of the first series, the greatest Killer Croc story ever written, the Lost Years to fill in some storytelling gaps from the show, the first appearance of Harley Quinn in a comic book (in addition to Mad Love, which remains the gold standard for Harley/Joker stories, tragic as it is), or the intricately plotted final stretch of issues in Gotham Adventures (with Plastic Man!), the comics based off the Animated Series deserve a specific era for themselves. Plus, it led to the animated Superman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League spin-off comics, which had some of the best stories for those subjects ever printed, and continues today with the solid Batman: The Adventures Continue and Justice League Infinity miniseries.
And also Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, the trade of which I am personally obligated to continue pointing out has my pull quote on the back.
- The Batman Adventures, Vol. 1
- Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories
- Batman: His Greatest Adventures
- Batman Adventures: Nightwing Rising
UP NEXT: The thrilling conclusion!
Be sure to check out our previous entries:
Fun Jug Media, LLC (operating Batman-News.com) has affiliate partnerships with various companies. These do not at any time have any influence on the editorial content of Batman News. Fun Jug Media LLC may earn a commission from these links.