Robot 6

What’s in the Batman canon?

I love these alternative designs that Fabio Castro came up with for four Batman graphic novels. Seriously, I want to trade in my current editions of Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns for these. And I’d buy The Killing Joke and Under the Red Hood just to complete the set.

But it got me wondering; especially Under the Red Hood, which doesn’t seem to belong in the same collection as those others. I suspect that Castro included it simply because he wanted something to fit a red cover. I’m not picking on him. Maybe I’m wrong and Under the Red Hood is absolutely a classic, but even if it’s not, I still love Castro’s cover. It just got me thinking about what the truly great Batman stories are. Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are no-brainers, and while I don’t especially care for The Killing Joke, I understand how its writer and the effect it had on Barbara Gordon make it “important.” But what other Batman stories deserve to go next to those? Hush? A Death in the Family? Knightfall?

I’m genuinely asking. What’s the Batman canon? Sound off in the comments.

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First one I think of is Arkham Asylum.

I’d include A Death in the Family, Arkham Asylum, and The Long Halloween.

“The Long Halloween” was the first one that sprung to mind. It could be the orange cover in this Batman rainbow.

I’d include Hush, Death in the Family, and Long Halloween. But I think all four of those above are classics as well. Personally, Hush is my absolute favorite of all time.

I love Death In The Family and A Lonely Place Of Dying is criminally underrated.

I’d also toss in Dark Victory, Robin Year One and Batgirl Year One.

Um, am I the only one who sees something a little weird in a discussion of the Batman “canon” which doesn’t even mention any of the early works which developed the character and his world…?

Maybe it’s just because of when I started reading comics (as it is for most, I presume), but I’m more partial to the 70s/80s/90s adventures. Stuff like Strange Apparitions, The Cult, and Knightfall have yellow oval Batman at his peak for the most part. I love me some Year One inexperienced Batman and DKR Old Batman, but expert adventurer Batman is my favorite.

The Englehart run on Detective. Son of the Demon. The original 1970s R’as arc.

Yes to Lonely Place of Dying; No to Hush, Red Hood, Death in the Family, or Batgirl Year One.

Plenty of possibilities from Legends of the Dark Knight that I’d put way ahead of Red Hood or Hush: Prey, Venom, Gothic, Faces.

The original Ra’s Al Ghul saga by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Batman 242, 243 and 244, I believe. I read the Treasury edition collecting those stories again and again when I was a kid.

The Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers Batman stories certainly serve to be included.

@Wraith, I have a feeling that their omission might have something to do with the fact that a lot of the earlier stories didn’t stretch out long enough to fill a collection, so you’d have a collection of single-issue classics. Going that route, I’d certainly include the first Joker story from Batman No. 1, where he promises to murder prominent citizens of Gotham and pulls it off, despite heavy police (and Batman) protection for the later victims. It’s creeeepy.

Arkham Asylum should be there instead of Under the Red Hood. I find the usual second tier of Batman stories to be really overrated; Long Halloween, The Cult, Dark Victory, Hush, etc. I’ll take Ego, Death and the Maidens, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, and Year 100 over those everyday. And it’s tough to take any one book of Morrison’s run out of context, but it warrants inclusion. Black Glove, R.I.P., Batman Reborn, and Batman and Robin Must Die! were particularly good.

I’m inclined to favor the O’Neil/Adams era material (return to basics and rise of Ra’s) and the Englehart/Simonson/Rogers run (i.e., STRANGE APPARITIONS), along with TDKR, KILLING JOKE, YEAR ONE, and A DEATH IN THE FAMILY/LONELY PLACE OF DYING. I’d include KNIGHTFALL as well even though it’s not as good as the others. The early arcs in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT deserve consideration too. It’s nice to see DC reissuing those in TPB form again.

Definitely not HUSH or LONG HALLOWEEN. I perceive both of them as artist showcases with subpar scripts. I’m inclined to reject UNDER THE RED HOOD too since it’s an unnecessary retcon that undercuts a powerful earlier story.

Hush is my favorite, so I’d put it in.

Long Halloween and Dark Victory are absolutely necessary. The Black Mirror, I think, belongs, despite its relative newness.

No to anything Morrison outside Arkham Asylum, which I haven’t read. Would also include Knightfall (though not Knightsend or Knightquest).

Maybe No Man’s Land? Gotham Central?

The only title matching with TDKR, YO and TKJ is ARKHAM ASYLUM…no questioning on it…if we’d want to enrich the lineup we could talk about it…:-)

Yes, I would readily admit that the early stories were often rough, but the first Joker story… that one knocked it out of the park. It belongs in any list of the Batman canon.

for me, everything is aloud to count due to alternate realities, multiple Earths, and reboot / rewrite history storylines such as COIE, Zero Hour, IC, FC, Flashpoint, etc.

“for me, everything is aloud to count due to alternate realities, multiple Earths, and reboot / rewrite history storylines such as COIE, Zero Hour, IC, FC, Flashpoint, etc.”

But the question isn’t what “counts” or is in continuity, it’s what stories are part of the Batman canon. What stories establish the core and rules of the character from which all creators must work?

Answering that question gets you away from “everything” pretty quickly.

“The Long Halloween” in black & orange.

“Hush” in black & purple.

“The Complete Black Glove” in black & red or black & white.

As far as graphic novels go, if you ask me, Azzarello & Bermejo’s recent “Joker” graphic novel should be canon. Beautifully written, illustrated and just a treat to read.

The canon in any designed-to-never-end superhero book is whatever backstory fits whatever story a writer is currently telling. I mean, it pretty much has to be that way or every hero is schizophrenic thanks to characterization not matching up under different writers.

Rich already touched on this above, but it’s important, so I’ll restate it: “Canon” doesn’t refer to continuity, but to which stories are the best and most definitive of what a Batman story should be.

I appreciate Wraith’s point about including some of the early stuff. I wish those comics were easier to identify by a central title, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Maybe something like “Batman: The Monk,” referring to the first (I think) multi-part Batman story and one that’s still awesome and creepy today. It would be challenging to curate a collection of the best from that era, but I agree that it’s important and some of those comics are excellent.

The Grant/Breyfogle run.

Seriously, Under the Red Hood doesn’t belong in there.

First, let’s define what qualifies. For me, it needs to be a single story that runs between 80 and 264 pages. That is the point at which there is enough plot for it to feel like a “graphic novel” to me. Under 80 pages is more like a short story and has to be padded out for a collection. Over 264 and the narrative tends to be split across multiple collections. Having a collection of shorter stories is fine as long as they are united by author and/or antagonist and/or theme. Both “The Killing Joke” and “Arkham Asylum” are a bit light on their own to be canon.

For me, the list is:
1. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
2. ARKHAM ASYLUM & Other Tales of Arkham: SOTB #1-4 “Last Arkham” by Grant & Breyfogle, Batman #258
3. THE LONG HALLOWEEN
4. The Talia saga: Detective Comics #411, Batman #232, Batman #235, Batman #242-244, DC Special Series #15, Son of the Demon, Batman #655-658
5. THE KILLING JOKE & Other Tales of the Joker: TKJ, Detective 475-476 (“The Laughing Fish”), Batman #251 (“Joker’s Five Way Revenge”), Batman #1
6. THE DARK KNIGHT

Guys, echoing what Michael wrote above: “canon” is an old word meaning “measuring rod.” It was originally applied to the Bible when the Catholic Church officially determined what books belonged in there. Believe it or not, there’s LOTS of books out there that deal with Judeo-Christian history that didn’t make the final cut of the Bible–the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, the Protoevangelium of St. James. For whatever reason, a specific set of books was chosen as what they believed told the essential message. There’s still disagreement about it centuries later–the King James Bible has 63 books in the O.T.; Catholic Bibles have 70; Eastern Orthodox books have more.

Anyway, what we need is a criteria for what makes the canon–why should any specific Batman story make the list? You personally may think that Paul Pope’s “Berlin Batman” is the greatest Batman story ever, bar none, but someone else may think it’s Detective Comics #473. There’s got to be something more than just “I think it’s the best.” Try to think purely in terms of what’s *important,* rather than what’s “good.” It’s hard.

If I may propose some objective criteria: a canonical Batman story is:
1) A sales classic. I don’t mean that sales alone is a driving factor; if so, the first issue of “Hush” would probably be on there. What I *do* mean is that it’s a book that DC has *always* been selling and has consistently remained in print. An easy cue for this would be to check graphic novel sales charts for the last three decades and see what books are always showing up, or else to run a search on Amazon for “Batman” and see what your top sellers are. (Yep, I just checked Amazon, and the first three hits were TDKR, Killing Joke, and Year One.)
2) A major influence: Here, I mean a book that substantially influenced how Batman was portrayed from that point forward. Maybe it shifted his personality, or changed the tone of the book, or had a major influence on the films or tv series, or whatever. Again, this would qualify TDKR and Year One (really “darkened” Batman) and The Killing Joke (solidified Batman and the Joker as having a twisted relationship, rather than just a hero/villain rivalry). I think The Long Halloween probably gets put here as well.
3) A major turning point: This one’s a little harder, and different from #2. Here, what I’m thinking is some story that really *added* something to the Batman mythos. Trends and characters come and go, but there’s always a “core” to a comic character’s mythology that never changes. Occasionally, something gets added to the mythology. (Think of Franklin Richards to the Fantastic Four–he wasn’t part of the original FF concept, but can you picture the FF without him? How about Venom with respect to Spider-Man?)

So here’s my list, trying to be as objective in terms of the above criteria:

- Detective Comics #27 (I can’t believe it hasn’t been on here yet)– the original story
- Whichever issue of Detective introduced Robin (#40?)–this has always been Robin’s canonical origin and has never had significant deviations
- Birth of the Demon: adding Ra’s al Ghul added this sort of international flair to Batman that I’m not sure had ever been seen before
- Year One: major influence; sales leader
- The Dark Knight Returns: see above
- A Death in the Family: the readers killed Robin–you can’t ignore that major turning point
- The Killing Joke: always a top seller; major influence; very controversial
- A Lonely Place of Dying: introduced Tim Drake; maybe not a great story, but an important one nonetheless.
- Knightfall: not a particularly great story, but Batman was crippled, Bane was added to the canon, first time Batman had a major replacement
- Gotham by Gaslight: I don’t consider this a “great” story by any means, but it really launched the Elseworlds concept–the idea that Batman could be dropped into any time or setting and still work effectively as a character. Given how many Elseworlds books permeated DC after this, it can’t be ignored.

I can’t personally speak to Grant Morrison’s run, as I really haven’t read it. Maybe somebody else here could identify *the* definitive Morrison story. The fact that he added Damian Wayne to the mythos–as far as I can tell, Damian is here to stay–is significant. I just don’t know if there’s a particular issue or collected edition that belongs here.

“I can’t personally speak to Grant Morrison’s run, as I really haven’t read it. Maybe somebody else here could identify *the* definitive Morrison story.”

I think Morrison’s not getting much play here because there really isn’t one (beyond ARKHAM ASYLUM twenty years earlier). Maybe in a decade or two we’ll see the introduction of Damien in that light. We might say the same for the introduction of BATMAN, INCORPORATED if that concept has staying power. I’m not counting on either, though.

BATMAN RIP is probably the key part of the Morrison run, but I don’t think it’s strong or consequential enough to be canonical without a lot of the stories before and after it (which, unfortunately, includes the interruption of FINAL CRISIS). It’s only significant result in the end was a stint with Dick as Batman before Bruce returned via a bunch of hand-waving timey-wimey stuff.

Adam, those are excellent thoughts. Thanks especially for thinking of Gotham by Gaslight. Not that I get to decide the final list, but I think it absolutely deserves to be there.

Every story that The Dark Knight Rises tried to cram into 180 minutes that made it such a mess.

Having worked retail, the half dozen I always displayed and recommend to new or returning readers were always:

Year One
The Long Halloween
The Killing Joke
Faces
Arkham Asylum
The Dark Knight Returns

They cover all the bases: the origin, the transition from gangsters to super villains, spotlights on major baddies, and an ending.

Following Adam’s thoughts above about single issues– which slightly shifts the focus from “what could get published in the fancy trade dress, but that’s fine– I’d say Batman #47 (the original confrontation with Joe Chill) belongs among the Golden Age greats.

(Hm– no one else seems to agree with me about Son of the Demon.)

Canon? Or “preferred” continuity?

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