Recently, a friend of mine approached me with an impossible question for a column he was writing for the comics website, Bleeding Cool.
“What,” he asked, “are the eight essential Batman stories?”
First of all, I hate this kind of question. Listicles drive me up the wall. The best this, the best that. Says who? Let me look at your credentials!
And what are the criteria? Does an essential Batman story have to be about Batman, or could it focus instead on one of his supporting cast like Robin or Gordon, or a villain like the Joker or Two-Face? What if it’s an amazing issue of Batman where the title character doesn’t even appear? Does “Batman” have to be Bruce Wayne, or could it be Terry McGuinness, Jean Paul Valley, or Dick Grayson? What counts as a story? Does it have to be a single issue, or could it be a multi-part epic that crosses over into five different books and runs for three years? Must it be historically significant in the life of the character, or can it just be a rousing yarn?
I warned him. I asked him to walk away, to drop it. He was setting himself up for a fall of Icarus-ian proportions, only instead of burning feathers, his downfall would involve singed batwings.
It sounds so easy, sure. Just pick eight GREAT Batman stories that are absolutely essential reading for any potential disciple of the Bat. But then those questions, those criteria start nagging at you. At best, you only piss off half the Internet for not including their favorite Batman story EVAR; at worst, they’ll commit you to Arkham Asylum for attempting to narrow down seventy-five years of history into a 2000-word column.
My friend, Erik, nodded his head, acknowledging–to an extent–his agreement. But that didn’t change his question.
And then there was a loud moment of awkward silence.
Which I promptly broke with, “Well, okay, so I would pick…” and then it’s like the insanity had caught me too, grabbing me around the heart with its chiropteric talons. I started to rattle off some stories. And that got me thinking of other stories, and then I hastened to add, “well, what about that issue where it’s revealed that Joe Chill was actually hired by Lew Moxon to kill the Wayne family because Dr. Wayne had dressed up in an early version of the Batman outfit for a costume party and proceeded to take down the mafia boss after an armed robbery went sour!?” A mad gleam started to develop in my right eye as my cheek muscles twitched and sweat poured down my face.
Somehow we managed to wrestle the conversation onto another track eventually, and I thought maybe I’d gotten out unscathed. Maybe the sickness hadn’t dug too deeply into my temporal lobe. I should have known better. Days later, I was skimming through my Batman comics collection, pulling out random issues and screaming “This one! No, wait, THIS one!” while my wife yelled at me to shut up and go to bed already.
The next day, I wrote an e-mail to Erik, claiming I had a few more suggestions “just off the top of my head.” I then proceeded to give him story names, writer and artist credits, issue numbers, and collected editions where each story was reprinted. I stopped myself just short of writing essays about each issue, explaining in minute detail why each panel was objectively, scientifically superior to the one prior and how he would be mad–MAD I tell you–not to include it in his list.
A few days later, he thanked me for my suggestions and politely asked that I stop prank calling him in the middle of the night with random Batman quotes delivered in my best Christian Bale voice. I said I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said, “Caller ID.”
A few days later, I woke up in a cold sweat, bloodshot eyes snapping open as I screamed into the night, “How did I forget to include the Mike W. Barr/Alan Davis run from Detective #569-574!?!?”
I rushed to my computer and sent him a list of four other arcs he positively, must absolutely consider for inclusion in his column or I would stalk him in Kelley Jones’ Red Rain Vampire Batman cosplay on his way home from work every night for the next year.
He said, he swore to God he would consider them.
I screamed, “SWEAR TO ME!!!”
Fortunately, he’s written me back and told me that he has made his decisions now. He’s read a lot of Batman and will publish his column later tonight. There’s nothing more to do, no more guidance I can provide. The nightmare, as Kirk Langstrom would say, is over.
That is, until he publishes that damn column and completely forgets about “There is No Hope In Crime Alley,” at which point, I rev up the Batmobile (my Pontiac Bonneville), suit up in my armored Batsuit (A plastic Batman mask and pajamas with bat-shapes) and assault his home with batarangs (black water balloons) while screaming at the top of my lungs, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I. AM. BATMAN!!!!”
Thanks to Erik Grove for being a good sport and bringing up the topic of Batman around me, knowing all too well how dangerous it is to get me started. Check out Erik’s Essential Eight Batman Stories at Bleeding Cool, visit his personal website, and follow him on Twitter.