The treacherous Riddler incarnation began with Batman: Hush. Written by The Long Halloween‘s Jeph Loeb and illustrated by DC Comics Publisher and Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee, this event mystery behaves like another tour through Batman’s baddies, giving Lee carte blanche to reimagine the Dark Knight landscape. Every page flip is a “Wow!” moment; Gotham has rarely looked this preciously pristine.
Narratively, what’s critical about Hush is how it pulls the sheen off the Wayne family name. Maybe Bruce’s parents weren’t the angels the press made them out to be. Maybe they owe as much to Gotham’s cesspool environment as Joker and Carmine Falcone. A masked bandit named Hush drags Batman through his past, but as the story ratchets toward its conclusion — spoiler alert — The Riddler stands triumphant. While Batman dismissed the schemer as a geek, the geek plotted the crusader’s diabolical downfall.
Batman: Broken City
Batman: Broken City is the most pessimistic entry on this list. Written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, the comic recreates the crime that birthed Batman. It’s not a retelling of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder, but a sequel. While chasing a suspect, Batman runs into an alleyway and discovers a child lying before his dead parents. The crime is eerily similar to the Wayne slayings, and the parallels threaten to plunge Batman into despair.
The Dark Knight has watched over Gotham for years. What impact is he having if another kid can go through what he went through? Is he a cure for the city, or just another symptom? The answers eat at Bruce Wayne, with Azzarello and Risso gleefully torturing their protagonist. The comic is not fun, but it is very Batman.
When asked by Den of Geek magazine what his favorite Batman comics are, Robert Pattinson responded with an eclectic batch. He included some obvious classics like Batman: Ego, Arkham Asylum, Birth of the Demon, and The Man Who Falls. He also namechecked Batman: The Damned and the incredibly strange Batman: Shaman.
Pattinson’s picks are not the usual suspects rattled off by past Bat-performers. No Dark Knight Returns. No Long Halloween. No Year One. They’re deeper cuts indicating a genuine fandom or at least a research that went beyond the surface level. Respect.
Shaman is another Batman story during Bruce Wayne’s earliest escapades. A serial killer kidnaps Alfred, and some shenanigans involve an Alaskan cult. It’s a goofy story and problematic, but it also splays a young Bruce’s psyche on the page. You can understand Pattinson’s attraction to that particular aspect, disclosing a vigilante full of doubt.
Batman: The Imposter
Batman: The Imposter is a Batman comic that approaches the character and the world from a very grounded place. If our plane of reality were cursed with a Dark Knight crusader, this is how it could possibly operate. Written by Mattson Tomlin, the screenwriter behind the superhero-obsessed movie Project Power, and illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino, The Imposter is a gut-bomb noir. It hits hard in a hardboiled way, the plot is exaggerated just enough, but the emotions sting with truth.
Tomlin and Sorrentino also find their Batman early on in his crime-fighting. Unlike in Ego or Year One, here he’s a much more confident figure. He sees that his presence in Gotham is having an effect. Then, in steps a second Batman, and this doppelganger has zero qualms regarding murder. The double is killing people left and right, and he’s doing it on film. It’s up to the real Batman to unmask the phony and clear his name. Revelation leads to more internal examination.
Batman: Black and White
Batman: Black and White is not any one particular story. It’s an anthology series and features dozens of writers and artists doing their own thing with the flying rodent man. That’s the joy, that’s the appeal. In Batman: Black and White, creators experiment apart from continuity. It’s a free-for-all, told rapidly and with immense intensity. You may not like every interpretation of the character, but you may also find joy in interpretations you would previously expect to loathe.
My experience with the Black and White comics is one of discovery, shattering my preconceived notions of what is and is not a Batman comic. These stories get me out of my box. They direct my attention to other non-Batman comics (wait, what, there are non-Batman comics?) told by these creators. So, be warned, Batman: Black and White is deadly on the wallet.