A Batman Trade Paperback Reading Chronology (Years Two, Three and Beyond)
Welcome back! If you haven’t yet, you may want to read my trade paperback reading chronology for Batman’s Year One. In that first year of caped crusading, we saw Batman don the cowl, vex the Falcone crime family, have a fling with Catwoman, befriend Lieutenant-turned-Captain Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent and battle for the first time many of his greatest rogues, such as the Joker, Hugo Strange, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, the Penguin, Clayface, the Scarecrow and more.
Truly, Batman’s first year of exploits was epic in scope. And also a bit nonsense when taken altogether, thanks to all the stories being written by different creators, out of narrative sequence and over the span of multiple decades. Thus, as we move into the much slimmer (though no less eventful) Years Two, Three and “beyond”, where we will be encountering the same annoying contradictions and continuity errors that plagued the first 365 days. Hopefully, as with Year One, you’ll be able to ignore those discrepancies and enjoy the arc of Batman’s earliest exploits for the history lesson that it is.
The Long Halloween
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s miniseries The Long Halloween is to Year Two as Year One was to, well, Year One. Spanning from one Halloween to the next, the story sees Batman forming a pact with Harvey Dent and Captain Gordon to bring down the Falcone crime family and the Holiday killer that’s constantly escaping their grasp. Along the way, Batman encounters many of his vilest rogues (the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Solomon Grundy, Calendar Man and Catwoman) as the landscape of Gotham’s criminal underworld changes from the traditional mob-rule to one ruled by costumed lunatics. In the end, Sal Maroni transforms Dent into Two-Face and Gordon is promoted to Police Commissioner.
The Long Halloween may not be as brilliant a mystery as some reviewers at the time claimed it was, and yeah, modern post-Hush opinions of Jeph Loeb have really begun to sour anything he’s ever touched, but I still never tire of returning to this story. While the mystery of Holiday’s identity ain’t all that, the character work is very strong and the gradual build-up to Harvey Dent’s tragic fall is heart-breaking. Beyond Year One and a few appearances here and there, Dent didn’t make many appearances in the first year of Batman stories, so the real meat to his character is in here. Even if most of the rogues aren’t used to their full potential and seem included just for the sake of being included (not as flippantly as in Hush but still), it’s a story I find myself rereading a lot. And I wouldn’t keep going back to it if it weren’t any good. Plus, Tim Sale’s art is fantastic as usual.
Contradiction-wise, it was written to be a sequel to Year One and doesn’t pay much mind to any other stories written between the two. It spans an entire year, meaning that any other Year Two stories have to take place during this one, in-between the holidays that each chapter of this book center around. As with trying to cram extra stories between the lines of Year One, that can make for some awkward fits.
As it also happens, this isn’t the only modern retelling of Two-Face’s origin. Before this came around, Batman Annual #14 (1990) was the canon version of the events (and it’s still a good story, though obviously very compressed as compared to The Long Halloween). More recently, the tale was retold again in the form of a 2008 miniseries titled Two-Face: Year One. While you have options as to which version of Two-Face’s origin you prefer, The Long Halloween is the best of them, in my opinion.
Batman: Year Two
Year Two by Mike W. Barr (and illustrated by Alan Davis, Todd McFarlane, Paul Neary and Alfredo Alcala) was the original sequel to Year One before any other stories were written. In this adventure Bruce Wayne falls in love yet again, this time with a woman named Rachel Caspian. Her father, Judson Caspian, happens to have been Gotham’s previous vigilante, the Reaper; a villain that used lethal force against criminals. As Judson takes back the role of the Reaper, Batman finds himself allied with Joe Chill, the criminal that murdered his parents, to bring him down. Batman with a gun, people. Batman with a gun.
Year Two is a bit troubled. The DC Comics event Zero Hour: Crisis in Time retroactively purged it from continuity, making the claim that the killer of Batman’s parents was never identified (later stories would try to change the killer’s identity, such as Batman/Superman: Public Enemies, which hinted that the cyborg Metallo was the murderer). A later DC Comics event, Infinite Crisis, returned Joe Chill to continuity, though there were no specifics as to whether that restored Year Two as well. In all honesty, it’s up to you, because this story doesn’t really matter all that much beyond addressing Joe Chill.
Gordon is identified as having just started his career as Police Commissioner, meaning it has to take place right after The Long Halloween. Leslie Thompkins also returns for a larger role, and we met her in the previous year’s stories. Beyond that, it’s pretty inessential; even the Reaper running around in Grant Morrison’s current Bat-books is the Silver Age incarnation, not this guy. Mike W. Barr wrote a lot of great Batman stories in his time, but I wouldn’t call this one of them. I’d sooner recommend watching Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a loose adaptation of both Year One and Year Two that runs circles around this story.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s sequel to The Long Halloween, Dark Victory covers the third year of Batman’s career. It follows a new serial killer called the Hangman and deals with the fallout of Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face and the end of the Flacone crime family. All of Batman’s rogues from The Long Halloween appear (plus Mr. Freeze) and the story ends with Bruce Wayne taking Dick Grayson under his wing after Tony Zucco kills his family.
A solid sequel that’s, unfortunately, too derivative of the inspiration, Dark Victory nevertheless gets the job done and gives us a satisfying introduction to Robin. I’m always good with more Tim Sale art, anyway.
Dark Victory isn’t the first attempt at retelling the origin of Robin in the modern DC Comics continuity, though. A storyline called Year Three by Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick ran in 1989, covering the death of the Flying Graysons and Dick’s becoming Robin. It’s never been collected in trade and I’ve never read it. Unlike Dark Victory, though, Boss Zucco survives in Year Three which will create a contradiction down the line in stories written with Year Three as the canon version of events.
Batman Chronicles: The Gauntlet
The Gauntlet by Bruce Canwell and Lee Weeks was a graphic novel published in 1997. This story covers the final exam of Dick Grayson’s training to become Robin. Essentially, he has to hide from Batman for a full twenty-four hours. During the game of hide-n-seek, however, Robin gets entangled in a murder plot by mobster Joe Minette and has to undergo a trial by fire in his hero exam.
This one’s short (46 pages) and has one major contradiction in that Gordon is a Captain and not a Commissioner (one that’s gonna persist for a bit). Still, it’s a great story that shows that Dick wasn’t allowed to become Robin overnight; he really had to fight to earn his place at Batman’s side and prove he wasn’t going to get shot in the first ten minutes. It’s the perfect bridge between his introduction in Dark Victory and his fully formed crime-fighter persona in the next story.
Robin: Year One
Robin: Year One by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin covers Robin’s first “real” adventures as a costumed hero. In this collection of stories, Robin takes on the Mad Hatter, Killer Moth, Two-Face, Blockbuster, Mr. Freeze and Shrike. Barbara Gordon also makes a long overdue reappearance.
Like The Gauntlet, this story has Gordon addressed as a Captain, which is completely incongruous with what we’ve already seen. There’s also the fact that Tony Zucco is referred to as alive and in jail, despite having died of a heart attack in Dark Victory. Then there’s the flashback to Two-Face’s origin, showing Batman present in the courtroom (a holdover from the original version of the origin, but not in The Long Halloween retelling).
Robin: Year One is full of contradictions, sure, but it is still a really, really good story. Occurring immediately after The Gauntlet (Minette makes several appearances), it has a strong overarching narrative (primarily Two-Face centric) dotted with lots of great encounters with Batman’s various rogues (the Mad Hatter plot was one of the best). I didn’t think Shrike was all that great of an original villain, but he mostly plays second fiddle to Two-Face so it’s no biggie.
King Tut’s Tomb
Following Year Three, Batman’s establishing milestone adventures spread out a bit more. The overall timeline of Batman’s career has never really made sense (No Man’s Land is established as Year Ten, meaning Batman went through three Robins in seven years and that’s just awful) so you can be a bit more liberal as to where and when these stories take place. Much of my placement is guesswork and you can, of course, adjust them to your content when putting your own reading order together.
King Tut’s Tomb by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez introduces, for the first time in the comics, Batman’s old foe King Tut. After a knock on the head makes a man named Victor Goodman believe he’s the reincarnation of King Tut, he begins a masked killing spree of his enemies. Batman is reluctantly forced to team up with the Riddler to stop the carnage.
King Tut was created for the 1960s Batman TV series and never appeared in the comics until this storyline (published in Batman Confidential) retroactively made him one of Batman’s earliest villains. I don’t think he’s made any reappearances since this origin story, though, and may not exist post Flashpoint. If anything, it’s more of a Riddler tale and a good one at that. Gordon is once again identified as a Commissioner, meaning it can’t really take place any earlier, though it could be later down the line.
Batgirl: Year One
Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon and Marcos Martin shows us Barbara Gordon’s permanent move to Gotham City to be with her… uncle-turned-adoptive-father? The relationship between Gordon and Barbara got kind of confused, post Crisis. Anyway, this story covers Barbara’s ascension to the Batgirl identity as she battles Killer Moth, Firefly and Blockbuster, gets pointers from the Justice Society of America and proves her worth to Batman and a smitten Robin.
Not to get too deep into reviews, but I thought this one was a bit of a step down for the team after Robin: Year One. They ramp Barbara’s cattiness up to an eleven and her constant abuse of Robin can get a little irritating (by about the fifth or sixth time she overreacts and beats Robin up, it begins to take a toll on her likeability). Also, Killer Moth and Firefly cannot carry a storyline. Sorry.
Regardless, it’s still pretty good. Gordon starts out as Captain and becomes Commissioner during the tale, which already happened way back in The Long Halloween, so you’ll just have to put your fingers in your ears on that one.
The Cat and the Bat
The Cat and the Bat by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire sees the freshly minted Batgirl’s first encounter with Catwoman. A city-long chase erupts, plowing through nudist parties, crime scenes and eventually leading Batgirl to Arkham Asylum, where the Riddler sends her through a rogue gauntlet consisting of the Scarecrow, Clayface, Blockbuster, Two-Face and even morts like Catman, Signalman and the Cavalier.
Unfortunately overlooked, but really good; it makes for a great follow-up to Batgirl: Year One. It’s a little satisfying to see Batgirl taken down a peg by Catwoman during this story and the Riddler’s maze through Arkham is genuinely tense and full of surprises (a truly frightening use of the Joker, too). Maguire’s art can get a little ugly, but if you’re a fan of his style then you won’t have much to complain about.
Tales of the Demon
Alright, so now we get to kind of a weird artifact of the original post Crisis DC Universe. You see, the Crisis on Infinite Earths event was meant to start everything over from scratch, except some of DC’s most loved and highly regarded storylines were left intact as canon. Among them was Batman’s earliest encounters with Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia and the League of Assassins. So as you read these stories, you’ll find lots of weird Silver Age bits and pieces laying around. Whaddayagonnado?
In these classic stories by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Don Newton and others, Batman meets the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter, Talia. After a few battles, Batman learns that Ra’s is master of the League of Assassins as well as a few centuries old; able to revive himself with Lazarus Pits. Many famous events occur, from Robin’s kidnapping to Batman and Ra’s epic sword duel.
Tales of the Demon is an essential collection of Batman stories, though they’re a bit of an awkward fit in the modern universe, as you can surely imagine. You’ve got Batman calling Robin “chum”, for instance, to say nothing of Silver Age characters like the original Batwoman running around. There’s also the fact that while Batman’s first encounter with Ra’s was never retold, the origin of his Matches Malone alter ego was (in Brian K. Vaughn’s False Faces collection). Make of it what you will.
And while we’re on the subject of pre Crisis stories still considered canon in the post Crisis universe…
Man, if you only ever get one collection of 70s era Batman stories, then procure a copy of Strange Apparitions immediately. In this run by authors Steve Englehart and Len Wein with artists Marshall Rogers and Walt Simonson, Batman undergoes threats from new foes like Doctor Phosphorus, mob boss Rupert Thorne and the Preston Payne Clayface, as well as old rogues like the Joker (and his laughing fish), the Penguin, Deadshot and the epic return of Hugo Strange and his Monster Men. During it all, Bruce Wayne is caught in a romance with Silver St. Cloud.
Tales of the Demon and Strange Apparitions are probably the essential collections of 70s era Batman stories, and I’m sure their being so good had a hand in their retention of canonicity following the Crisis reboot. Strange Apparitions is a very solid storyline that was used as a well of inspiration for Batman the Animated Series, so there should be some familiarity for modern readers in these issues.
Hugo Strange makes his big comeback and steals the spotlight. This was actually his first appearance in thirty years, after he died back in the 40s. It actually inadvertently works well in conjunction with Terror, a tale from the Year One era that saw Strange left in a “missing but presumed dead” position.
Nightwing: Year One
Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty return, this time with artist Scott McDaniel to tell the story of Dick Grayson’s transition from Robin to Nightwing. When a fight with Clayface goes wrong, Batman fires Dick from the Robin persona. After getting tips from the likes of Superman, Deadman and Batgirl, Dick takes on the Nightwing identity and becomes his own hero just in time to save Alfred from Killer Croc. But while all that is going on, Batman adopts a new sidekick: Jason Todd.
Previously, Dick’s transition from Robin to Nightwing occurred during the New Teen Titans storyline “The Judas Contract”. Nightwing: Year One doesn’t so much overwrite anything from “The Judas Contract” as it takes place behind the scenes of that story (Dick leaves the team to find a new identity and comes back as Nightwing, so this is basically everything we didn’t see in the New Teen Titans comic).
It also pulls double duty as a “Jason Todd: Year One”, though he naturally doesn’t get as much focus. Todd was originally introduced in 1983 and his origin was revamped and retold in 1987. So far as I know, though, those early Jason Todd stories have never been collected.
From this point forward, you really just enter the modern continuity of the late 80s/early 90s and go from there. Huntress: Year One retroactively slots in a little after Nightwing: Year One, though it isn’t much of a Batman story with the Gotham characters don’t make appearances until the end. Really, you can just grab Death in the Family, move on to A Lonely Place of Dying, then to Robin: A Hero Reborn and you’re on your way to Knightfall and it’s pretty intuitive from there.
Naturally, there are other stories told in titles like Legends of the Dark Knight and Batman Confidential that take place in these early years. The stories I’ve listed, however, are mostly just the milestones and, despite their many contradictions, give a pretty good account of Batman’s first three years and some change. If you’re looking to get started down the road of Batman’s history, hopefully this reading order will act as a good starting point.