Gateway Comics is a recommendation thing I do where I list works in a franchise that are good for new readers, that hopefully make them want to check out more of the franchise or character. It features franchises/characters that I am personally familiar with, although I will be using others’ opinions at times. The key point is that these are recommendations for new readers.
With Detective Comics #1000 only a few weeks away, I decided work on this ahead of Superman (sorry, Big Blue) for the people who will inevitably buy Detective Comics #1000 but not actually be Batman readers, but who do want to read comics. Along with the X-Men, who I covered here, the Batman franchise helped get me into comics. Unlike many, who came into comics from The Dark Knight, I got into the franchise through a combination of Batman: Arkham Asylum (the video game) and Batman: Under the Red Hood (which came bundled with Arkham Asylum) before watching The Dark Knight. I started with a few titles here and there, got big into Scott Snyder’s Batman run, then jumped around a lot. I have a lot of experience with the franchise, so this is something that I’m comfortable talking about.
Anyway, without further delay, here are the comics I recommend to those who want an introduction to the world of the Bat.
“Hush” by Jeph Loeb
A storyline seemingly built to draw in new readers, the “Hush” story arc ran from Batman (1943) #608-619. Besides introducing a villain that would go on to last much longer than expected, Jeph Loeb’s “Hush” does an excellent job of introducing readers to Batman, his allies and his enemies. In fact, I’d say that’s the primary reason to read it.
The story itself almost doesn’t matter: Bruce Wayne has to run through a gauntlet of his villains in a plan orchestrated by some unseen enemy, and needs his allies to help him, one of whom is Catwoman who Batman’s feelings for have grown stronger. The plot largely serves as an excuse plot to have Batman interact with his supporting characters and catch readers up on who they are, while giving them some fun things to do. But it’s weirdly engaging, if only because it just keeps throwing different characters at you. In the end, this story will catch you up on the characters of Gotham.
While it’s nothing amazing, “Hush” feels like it was designed from the ground up to be inviting to new readers. It give readers quick introduction to a wide assortment of characters, with some nice art by Jim Lee. Where you go from here depends on what character you like (some of the works will be covered on the rest of this page).
Good for: People who want an introduction to Batman framed within a story.
If you like it: For a continuation of Hush’s story, “Hush Returns” is a sequel that can be ignored — rather, “Heart of Hush” is where Paul Dini takes the reins of the character and really does something with him. Batman: Streets of Gotham is a series starring Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin, and Hush is a featured antagonist. I’ve heard good things about this series, but haven’t read it myself.
Batman and Robin (2011) by Peter J. Tomasi
The idea of “Batman and Robin” may sound a bit dated for the uninitiated, but it’s a concept that’s proven timeless. The idea of the hero and their sidekick has changed over the years, but when it comes to superheroes, it started with Batman and Robin. While Batman acting as a surrogate father for a boy who softens his character is still something that works, Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman and Robin changes things up a bit; this time, Batman is actually being a father to Robin — his biological son, Damian Wayne. Tomasi’s Batman and Robin has a fundamental understanding of the Bat-family, while still focusing on the relationship between Bruce and Damian, as well as their development. I’d say it’s the essential comic for those looking for a more character-driven take on Batman.
The stories themselves are fine, but the real meat of this series comes from the development of Damian as a character. Previously depicted as rather snobbish and aristocratic, Tomasi moves Damian more into the role of an entitled brat (who still acts snobbish and aristocratic), focusing not on his development as the superhero Robin, but his development as the boy and son Damian Wayne. Along for the ride are the Bat-family, who make occasional appearances and are written extremely well for what limited time they get — helped by Tomasi’s former position as Batman editor. After the series’ third arc, it does eventually have to deal with the fallout from something that happens in Batman, Incorporated (2013), but if anything, I think this makes the comic stronger.
Batman and Robin (2011) is a good sentimental, character-driven story, and is an excellent intro to Damian Wayne. The plot can be a bit unfocused, but the core of the series is, as you could guess, Batman and Robin. There is also some amazing art by Patrick Gleason, a frequent collaborator of Tomasi’s.
Good for: People who like character-driven stories and sentimental sides of superheroes, especially in Batman. If you want a story with a more human Batman and a more flawed Robin, this is the story for you. If you’re looking for Damian Wayne stories, this is a good place to start.
If you like it: The series has a pseudo-sequel in the form of Robin: Son of Batman, written by Patrick Gleason that is okay for its first half. Tomasi would write Bruce and Damian again in his and Gleason’s Superman (2016) run, where he has Damian meet Jonathan Kent, the son of Superman. It’s a great friendship and eventually spins off into Super Sons (2017), a fun adventure comic starring Damian and Jon, written by Tomasi that lasted 18 issues (and also took part in the Super Sons of Tomorrow crossover) before it was relaunched as Adventures of the Super Sons, which from what I can tell as an even lighter tone to it.
“Year One” by Frank Miller
Taking place in Batman (1941) #404-407, “Year One” is, to me, the definitive Batman origin. It has a darker tone while maintaining some silliness, is not just about Batman but also a supporting character, and it stays true to the core of the character without over-complicating things. It is one of the best ways to start reading Batman because it gives you more than one side of the mythos — although it’s firmly planted in a noir presentation of Batman — while also being a great story in its own right, having aged remarkably well.
The true strength of this story comes from its simplicity; Bruce Wayne has returned to Gotham after years abroad, James Gordon is a new cop in Gotham, and the year that follows is one that will come to define both men. The noir narration adds a real grit to both stories, but the stories themselves have a humanity that Miller’s stories have lacked for a long time. While there’s a way the story is required to end, Miller keeps you hooked the entire time and throws some great twists and turns into things.
“Year One” is just the best origin for Batman and is a timeless classic. The art is phenomenal, the dialogue is impeccable and the story honours the spirit of Batman’s basic origin while adding just enough to make it its own story. It works for new readers and longtime fans alike, but never feels like it talks down or panders to you. Of all the works Frank Miller has had, I think “Year One” is easily the best.
Good for: People who like well-told stories with a bit of noir to them. But really, it’s good for anyone who wants to read Batman, because it’s just that good.
If you like it: Sadly, Miller doesn’t have that many Batman works in the grand scheme of things, never mind any good stuff. However, a good work that inspired parts of “Year One” and that reads well with it is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, an alternate future tale of an old Batman.
Nightwing (1996) by Chuck Dixon
While Batman comics are considered to be dark by the general public, the franchise is versatile enough that it allows for many different types of stories. Perhaps the best character to exemplify this is Dick Grayson, the first Robin, first Nightwing and third Batman. But why people love the character is best summed up in this title, the first Nightwing ongoing series as written by esteemed Batman writer Chuck Dixon. If you’re looking for a superhero comic with a relatable hero, interesting setting and fun supporting cast, this is pretty high on that list.
Nightwing (1996) really sets up everything people would know Dick Grayson for: Bludhaven, his fun personality, his brotherly relationship with Tim Drake, etc. But even beyond that, it’s just a really fun comic, with a Bat-character more in touch with the people, possessing more romance and havjng an interesting and diverse supporting cast. Unlike a lot of comics that are fun in a relatively simple way, Nightwing stars a fun character with some depth, as Dick finds his own little piece of the world to call his own, but close enough to his family that he can show up should they need him. While it’s not an overt theme, I think this series really is about Dick growing up and becoming a man, from Nightwing the rebellious Teen Titan to Nightwing the responsible adult, the big brother of the Bat-Family. Just like the character, the Nightwing series is tied enough to the bat-books to be affected by them and take part in crossovers — and this is actually a good thing in this case — but largely do its own thing.
Nightwing (1996) was a great series that was better than it had any right to be. Chuck Dixon established Dick as a lighter Batman in an interesting world, who stays closer to the people he’s saving and who knows how to cut loose every now and then, both physically and romantically. If you want a grounded Batman comic but find Bruce Wayne’s overt cynicism and edginess to be a bit of a turnoff, then Nightwing is the series for you.
Good for: People who want a lighter superhero comic, but one that is still a little bit more grounded than most, that stars a fun character with some depth, as well as a good supporting cast, a fair bit of romance and an interesting location with its own set of villains and problems.
If you like it: Skip what happens once Dixon leave as writer (after issue 70); by all accounts it goes downhill, to the point that the run becomes outright offensive — and I don’t just mean that it got bad, I mean it got offensive. However, Dixon returns for the great “Nightwing: Year One” story that starts at issue #101. The series is unremarkable at best outside of Dixon’s work.
Nightwing eventually ends when Dick becomes the new Batman following Bruce Wayne’s death, with Damian Wayne as his Robin — Batman and Robin (2009) can be enjoyed for his and Damian’s relationship, if you’re okay being a little lost on the plot, since Morrison requires you to have read his previous Batman work and The Return of Bruce Wayne to fully grasp it all. Batman: Streets of Gotham also stars Dick and Damian and is much more new reader-friendly. Dick also appears from issue 701 of Batman as the lead character, and the stories are okay, if a bit average. With the New 52 reboot, Dick went back to being Nightwing in the Nightwing (2011) ongoing, which is fun, but doesn’t really go anywhere due to editorial interference; however, the last 12 or so issues are great and really capture both the Dixon era vibe as well as the spirit of the character.
Batman (2011) by Scott Snyder
Scott Snyder’s Batman served as the main Batman book for five years and the entirety of the New 52 era. It has its ups and downs, and I firmly think it’s more than a bit overrated, but it is definitely one of the most welcoming Batman runs of all time, in huge part due to its lack of references to previous material. This is a run you can read from the start with next to no prior knowledge of Batman and his history and still understand everything that’s happening. That is its greatest strength.
Scott Snyder’s Batman run takes place almost exclusively within Gotham City, as Gotham itself serves as its own character for a lot of the run. Snyder spends a lot of time building up the symbolic meaning of Gotham and various buildings within it, and that is the central focus of his run. Beyond that, Batman fights a cool conspiracy called the Court of Owls (who got less cool the more they were used), a returned Joker a few times, and even gets a new origin that in no way is at the same quality of “Year One” — in fact, I’d say you should skip Snyder’s “Zero Year” altogether. But the run is engaging, and Snyder mostly understands the characters he writes, and this is a great introductory run to Batman for just how inviting it is.
Batman (2011) is a good, self-contained Batman run that has some interesting ideas, a lot of world-building and a lot of crowd-pleasing moments. It’s
a bit a lot on the wordy side, so keep that in mind, and also keep in mind that, in my opinion, the run definitely peaks a fair while before it ends.
Good for: People who like a grittier Batman with a hint of silliness, with a lot of emphasis on world-building and Batman’s relationship with Gotham.
If you like it: “The Black Mirror” is the last story of Detective Comics (1937), which focuses on Dick Grayson as Batman working alongside Barbara Gordon and Jim Gordon. It’s considered one of Scott Snyder’s best works, especially due to its relative low stakes in comparison to other Batman stories. I personally find it mostly enjoyable, if a bit bland. Batman: Gates of Gotham is another self-contained story from Snyder (co-written by Kyle Higgins) that focuses more on building up of the world of Gotham, in particular the meaning of some buildings and the history of the city. It uses some under-appreciated Batman characters and stars Dick Grayson as Batman, Damian Wayne as Robin, Tim Drake as Red Robin, and Cassandra Cain as Black Bat.
Batman Eternal is a 52-issue maxiseries also written by Scott Snyder; it’s a bit unfocused and too concerned with spinning off various bat-books, but it’s a fairly epic story involving I think most of the Bat-characters, even if they don’t have much to do. It’s more of a traditional superhero blockbuster comic, but it’s probably one of the better from Snyder in that regard.
There you have it. There are my recommendations for those of you looking to get more into the world of everybody’s favourite family of leather-clad weirdos. Some stuff was left off, either because I don’t consider it quality reading or because it’s not new reader-friendly (looking at you, Grant Morrison), and this stuff is filtered through my own preferences. However, I think these are good for getting people started and I hope you enjoy what you pick up.