The Batman character has been around so long and gone through so much under the hands of so many writers, artists, colorists, and letterers that even reading one era, or one writer’s tenure, or all of one particular villain’s appearances is a chore. If you want the straight dope, the Ur-Batman, the original recipe, you want “Detective Comics” #27 v1 reprinted conveniently in “Batman Chronicles” volume 1 along with “Detective Comics” #33 v1, the first telling of his emotional and poignant origins. “The Legend of Batman– Who He Is and How He Came To Be” is a mere two pages long. For many years, that was all the world had for you to start Batman and you could do worse!
DC Comics (yes, the D.C. is an acronym for “Detective Comics”) has published many overview and best-of collections over the years that can certainly function as a start to your Batman reading. “Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years” is probably the ideal of those for a primer on the character.
The first time Batman’s origins and added mythos were streamlined into one story was in the 1980 mini-series “The Untold Legend of the Batman” written by Len Wein and drawn by John Bryne and Jim Aparo. Very much still aimed at children and framed with a very simple story, all the salient details about Batman and his allies are told in flashbacks.
If you’re looking for a fully fleshed-out, more dramatic, more contemporary take, please scroll down to the “Just the Facts” section!
Where to Start Reading? For a character like Batman, the question is where to STOP?
As of this writing, there have been 1,028 issues of “Detective Comics” since his first appearance in 1939 and 885 issues of the eponymous “Batman” series that followed it in 1940. Many of these are collected and in-print but many are not.
Several series of omnibi have been produced to get you started in a big way:
Again, that’s still not even close to everything. An endless well of Bat-entertainment!
For a quick, simple, and dramatic place to quickly jump in clean, you have three main choices: “Year One”, “Earth One”, and “Zero Year”.
The usual, long-standing recommendation to get a start on Batman’s story is to read the seminal 1987 storyline “Year One”, which ran in “Batman” #404 v1 to “Batman” #407 v1 and is always available as one collection. Written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli, it really summed up the basics but kept it dramatic and became the standard to which all such superhero origin retellings have been held to since. It’s the most streamlined remake, focusing almost entirely on Bruce Wayne and James Gordon. There are other, more contemporary, options in this vein to choose from as well. Like…
“Batman: Earth One” volume 1 is a graphic novel from 2012 (followed by sequels “Batman: Earth One” volume 2 and “Batman: Earth One” volume 3) and majorly tweaked things so choosing to read this option will leave you slightly confused as a result. Writer Geoff Johns with artist Gary Frank reinvented things but kept the core story of Batman becoming Batman intact. A bit longer than “Year One”, a lot of time is spent on the father/son relationship between Bruce and faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth but James Gordon’s development doesn’t get skimped on either.
Less than a year later, in 2013, the team then-currently writing and drawing the character, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, took a stab at it with “Zero Year” which ran in “Batman” #0 v2 then #21 v2 to #27 v2 and #29 v2 to #33 v2 and is collected as: “Batman” New52 volume 4 “Zero Year- Secret City” and “Batman” New52 volume 5 “Zero Year- Dark City”. The latest of the remakes of the classic two-page origin from “Detective Comics” #33 v1 is also, by far, the longest. Truthfully, you can just read the first of those two collections and get the Batman origin story. The full storyline fleshes-out James Gordon and develops a whole origin for The Riddler.
Batman is a character so huge, retelling his origin story spun into an entire cottage industry. Most of the supporting characters and several villains from the franchise got their own mini-series, graphic novel, or one-shot in the 1990s and 2000s. As more writers referenced the details of “Year One” these titles slowly gelled into their own unofficial series to create a reader-friendly primer on the world of Gotham City in their own separate bubble. Writers established further details and added simple, grounded, streamlined stories to ‘the Year One era’. So “Year One”, “The Long Halloween”, and “Dark Victory” accidentally formed a core trilogy. “Shaman” added an explanation for the Batcave and Batman’s mask; “Prey” gave an origin for the Batmobile and the Bat-Signal. And so on.
The rough order of those are thus:
These are modular in the sense that, while there is an unofficial chronology here, you can skip several pieces without collapsing the whole. If you're not intrigued by the villains, skip some like “Four of a Kind” (The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, & Scarecrow), “Monsters” (Clayface), “Snow” (Mr. Freeze), and “The Man Who Laughs” (The Joker). If you could care less about the cars and gadgets and gizmos, skip “Prey” and “Rules of Engagement”. If you are turned off by young sidekicks, you could skip the three Robin, Batgirl, & Nightwing series and “The Gauntlet” graphic novel at the end. You can always come back to any of these later.
Keep in mind, you really could JUST read “Year One” OR “Earth One” OR “Zero Year- Secret City” and get a running start!
Long, deep, and brooding might as well be Bruce Wayne’s middle name and the archive of his stories is, again, extremely long, deep, and varied. If you’ve already read the material listed above under “The Foundation” or “Just the Facts” or you’ve seen all the movies and the shows and played the video games so you’ve seen Bruce Wayne become Batman over and over and over? Or maybe you’re just feeling adventurous?
A popular starting point is the moment Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil came together in the 1970s to bring Bats back to his dark Golden Age roots. Just snap up “Batman by Neal Adams” volume 1. Be prepared as this collection does not tell one cohesive story.
Also, don’t overlook the collection “Batman: Strange Apparitions” by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers as it was a strong direct influence on both the 1989 “Batman” film as well as the Emmy Award-winning “Batman: The Animated Series” of the 90s. It has the feel of an interconnected short story collection.
A common favorite that includes many of the most popular villains and supporting characters is “Batman: Hush” by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, first published in 2002 and 2003. Giving you a taste of Batman’s world in the 21st Century, this is a great companion piece to Loeb’s “Batman: The Long Halloween”.
Another is the start of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s take on the character in 2011, the first collection of which is “Batman” New52 volume 1 “Court of Owls”. Their run made the nature of Gotham City itself a main theme and this first story turned everything on its head.
Many people sing the praises of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 futuristic take on an aging Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement collected as “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and, despite being an alternate take on Batman, is about as exciting as comic-books get.
Grant Morrison wrote an insane and ambitious graphic novel titled “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” in the 1980s. It was painted by Dave McKean. You could do far worse than to start there.