I find it interesting that the things we were praising Superman (1978) on Monday were things that, it seems to me, would absolutely not work when it comes to Batman. If we were watching Superman fight crime, say, or save an airplane, or merely fly to China to pick up some spicy chicken with noodes and a half dozen dumpling rolls, we could easily expect to see the smallest of smiles (once everybody is safe, of course) because, on one level, being Superman must be pretty awesome. It’s probaby pretty fun to fly. It’s probably pretty sweet to be bulletproof (though, sadly, you still have to dodge the gun when the crook throws it at you after running out of bullets). Flying is so awesome that it’s one of those things that Freud assumed that people who dreamed about flying were actually repressing that they were having dreams about copulation. A good, a really good, Superman story will take the various little joys that being Superman entails into account and give us a glimpse, here and there, into that.

Batman, on the other hand, is kind of a bummer. As much fun as someone might have swinging on a cable or saving a falling person or beating up a criminal, you get the feeling that Batman just sees it as applied physics and is more preoccupied with the million of things that could go wrong (and preparing backup plans, and backup plans for if those fail, and backup plans for those, and so on) thus allowing him to succeed with Plan P when Plan A goes Tango Uniform (which it rarely does because, hey, he’s Batman).

This has the odd result of having Clark Kent being Superman be the best part of any given Superman story while the best Batman stories rarely focus on being Batman as much as on how Gotham pulses and surges in response to Batman being Batman. The cops cleaning up after a villain is foiled, Arkham welcoming someone back, Blackgate prison processing someone’s return, children looking up and seeing the Bat signal and shivering before sleeping easier. All that to say, a good Superman story makes you think about what it’d be like to be Superman. A good Batman story, on the other hand, makes you think about what Batman does.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been chewing on for the last couple of days. I’ve got a handful of favorite Batman stories to dissect, I think… that can wait until another essay, though. In the short term, what are your favorite Batman stories?


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. To answer your question: Knightfall has always been my favorite.

    To ask one of my own: in addition to what you were saying, I think there’s no doubt that ( with the possible exception of Luthor) Superman’s villains are pretty damn lame. I tend to think of them as space aliens with big muscles who like to smash things because they can. Batman’s are far more nuanced and infinitely better. They often have interesting backstories that often have a tragic arc. So my question for you, JB, is is that do to the conscious choice of the two groups of writers, or due to the differing quality of the two groups of writers, or a natural outcome of the heroes and their respective powers?

    • At this point, both heroes have matured to the point where their enemies are pretty much established. New ones pop up from time to time (Doomsday, The Black Glove) or are dug out of the past, given a fresh coat of paint, and updated for our modern “edgier” times (Jax-Ur, Red Hood).

      But, basically, the bad guys they have are the bad guys that they’ve co-evolved.

      Superman’s “best” villain is Lex Luthor, a guy who has evolved from Wile E. Coyote into H. Ross Perot. Joker has evolved from “The Clown Prince of Crime” into the personification of Chaos who takes Batman’s existence *VERY* personally (but I don’t know if he kinda likes Batman or kinda hates him or some weird amalgam… I suppose it depends on the writer).

      Superman’s best stories with his best villain usually result in stalemates or with Superman winning a Pyrrhic victory or in Luthor only winning a minor one (when he would have won a major one otherwise)… mostly due to Superman’s self-imposed limitations. Batman’s best stories with his best villain are actually pretty scary and make you think about yourself and your own place in the world.

      I don’t know how Superman would fight Joker for an extended period. I don’t know that Luthor would necessarily hate Bruce the way he hates Superman if they had to face each other.

      I have to think on this…

  2. Well, this ties into my comment on the Amperes post.

    Batman is the character, Bruce Wayne is the alter ego. Superman is the alter ego, Clark Kent is the character.

    You can picture yourself adopting Superman powers and having it be awesome, because you’re still you (you just take over being Clark Kent), and when you want to play around at being awesome you dash into the nearest phone booth and slap on the cape & tights. Also: Superman’s powers are powers that *are* part of himself.

    Picturing yourself as Batman is a lot harder, because you’re not trading out Bruce Wayne for yourself. You’re trading out *Batman* for yourself. Also: Batman’s powers are powers that require a dog-ass amount of work. Who wants to do 250 situps, 250 pullups, get their bench press up to 350, run 20 miles with a 50 lb pack, and do it all before 6 am? Besides Jerry Rice, not very many people.

    Being Superman is Fun! Being Batman is WORK.

    I’m very fond of the writing of original four-part Dark Knight series, although I was never keen on the art style.

    • Though you raise an interesting point. When we think of being Batman, we think of the training, sweat and fighting. We never really consider living the billionaire lifestyle with all those supermodels.

      • Well, you don’t… because Batman doesn’t. He doesn’t *like* those things, he does them as cover.

        Which is sort of the polar opposite of Marvel’s version of Rich Dude Who Builds Cool Gadgets And Fights Crime (Iron Man), who is all about Millionaire Playboy.

        • Tony Stark never struck me as being particularly interesting until the first Iron Man movie, which lasted about 126 minutes.

        • PVP said it best.

          I particularly like “Hey Jack! What if Bruce Wayne weren’t such a whiny bitch?”

          Frankly, for the last few years, even without All-Star Batman or other sideshots, Batman has struck me as a colossal dick who should have been thrown out of the Justice League two days after he joined. It used to be that Batman was portrayed as an asshole in guest appearances but, these days, it’s like they decided that Batman, apart from the rare redeeming moment such as calling Alfred “dad”, has just left his personality stuck on asshole.

          I’m hoping that the reboot does two things to Batman.

          1) Have someone in DC editorial admit that DC’s previous position on “prep time” was crap. “Prep Time” seemed to be dependent on everyone else being blazingly stupid half the time. (If I was Green Lantern in the infamous Yellow Room story, after opening the door, I would have either sprayed the entire room with mud before stepping in it or just wreck the place from outside. Then ask Batman to stop being such a twat and have a meeting like a normal person.)

          2) Reset his personality back to grim. Hint to DC editorial: Being an asshole to everyone does not make you dark and antagonizing someone who could throw you into the sun is just plain stupid.

          (This is why JMS’ writing of Supreme Power was just so good. He didn’t have to worry about operating within the guidelines of iconic characters while still being able to write alt-Superman/Batman stories.)

          • “Hey Jack! What if Bruce Wayne weren’t such a whiny bitch?”

            Perhaps he’d become an alcoholic who would fight personifications of The Yellow Threat.

          • Then Stan Lee went on to say “Jack, you’re fired, and we’re keeping your original art and your intellectual property and we’re going to only give you pennies for it! PENNIES!!!! AH HA HA HA HA HA!!!! THEN I AM GOING TO HAVE JOE QUESADA GIVE PETER PARKER AND MARY JANE A DIVORCE BY HAVING PETER MAKE A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL!!!! AND LET’S HAVE CYCLOPS AND WOLVERINE FIGHT AGAIN!!!!”

          • Noone said that Tony Stark was perfect and he has certainly had his asshole run the last few years but that was more due to Quesada saying “I encourage political commentary in our comics even to the point of making a character a big strawman for the Bush administration.”

            Just saying that someone who has an even more repugnant personality than Steven Seagal is normally shunned by co-workers to say nothing of seducing Amazon Princesses/Cat Burglars with mental issues/Assassin’s Guild princesses. (Okay, Kelly LeBrock but she eventually came to her senses.)

            As for the intellectual property issue: Siegel and Shuster/Superman/DC. Nuff said.


          • Batman and his cohorts are all volunteers. People can quit whenever they want. If they find that their own feelings are more important to them than the Crime that Batman is fighting, they can always quit and start drinking.

            As amusing as mockery of the Rainbow Lanterns can be, I’d like to point out that at least their response to Bush’s re-election was not the killing of the personification of America.

          • Yes, they can. They can also chuck the guy who, in between making half-ass plans on how to kill all of them that occasionally result in “Oops, robot invasion”, out, treats everyone like crap. (This becomes oddly inexplicable with Wonder Woman. What, is the Amazon ideal for a mate someone who treats you badly?)

            This is, of course, disregarding the notion that they could just chuck him towards the Himalayas.

            Then there’s the fact that the writers for the various Justice League comics have to CONSTANTLY make up stories for Batman’s inclusion in a league whose members can juggle moons. If they really need information, they have Oracle’s phone number….for the next few months.

            Face it. When it comes to dealings with everyone in the DC universe, Batman has more plot armor than Drizzt DoUrden.

            Yeah. That’s right. I went there.

            Yeah but that isn’t the first time they’ve had Cap either die or quit because of a Republican President so that’s kinda old hat. In fact, based on previous Cap deaths/retirements, I both made predictions on when Cap would be back (after the election) and how he would come back (depending on if McCain or Obama won).

          • Part of the problem is that the writers don’t know *HOW* to have anybody but Batman fight, for example, The Joker. How would Superman fight Joker? Remember when Joker became an ambassador to an unnamed Middle Eastern country? That’s right, the UN hired Superman as muscle to protect… The Joker. From Batman.

            Wonder Woman vs. Joker? Read Wonder Woman (volume 2!) #96 to see how that turns out (not even a tie).

            Flash vs. Joker? A couple of well-timed explosions takes care of the Flash. That is, if a well-timed *LIE* doesn’t do it.

            Let’s see… you’d have Spiderman web Joker? Have Cyclops hit him with an eyeblast? Maybe Wolverine hit Joker with his claws? Perhaps have Moon Knight do something Moon Knighty?

          • Yeah and Joker has also knocked out Doomsday with his laughing gas so he probably didn’t even need Superman.


            You’re kinda proving my point about the writers having to inject plot armor into stories to justify Batman’s presence.

          • Just because you consider Mortal Kombat to be canon doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to consider Mortal Kombat to be canon.

          • That was Lex Luthor using Joker as a shield, not Joker doing much of anything.

            Here’s from wikipedia:

            Darkseid attempted to replicate Doomsday, producing an army of Doomsday “clones”. Darkseid was not able to duplicate perfectly the creature in all its raw power and they were defeated by a combination of heat vision and Batman’s explosive batarangs during an attack on Paradise Island while Darkseid kidnapped the newly-arrived Kara Zor-El/Supergirl.




            This is an example of Doomsday suffering from villian decay and not of plot armor for Batman.

            What happened next?

            With his newfound intelligence, Doomsday managed to escape Apokolips and return to Earth. Upon his arrival, Doomsday encountered a series of emotions previously alien to him — love, compassion, and kindness. Exploring the full abilities of these new emotions, Doomsday made his way to Metropolis once more, though not in the destructive manner he had before. Upon his arrival in Metropolis, Doomsday found Superman at the brink of death at the hands of Gog and intervenes to help Superman in an ultimately futile fight against Gog’s army. In a new future, Doomsday was remembered as one of Earth’s greatest heroes, who continued Superman’s legacy by leading an army under his name against the army of Gog.

            We can have a Superman/Doomsday sitcom episode called “Pray” where Superman wants to go to the Methodist Church but Doomsday wants to sleep in because he went to Temple yesterday! Wackiness ensues!

          • While out and about and running errands, I scripted a Spiderman/Joker fight.

            They’re in Peter Parker’s house where Joker was successfully able to put 2 and 2 together and he’s berating “Spidey” for not doing a better job of hiding who his secret identity is while dancing around out of reach. “You should be more like Batman. I have no idea who he is. Then again, I couldn’t care less who he is. You’re just irritating enough to be interesting until I found out how uninteresting you really are.”

            Stuff like that. Spidey comes back with a handful of quips and a web here or there and a punch on occasion but Joker numbly dances around and says something to the effect of “no wonder most of your opponents end up shooting themselves in the head.”

            Spidey gets ticked at that, understandably, and throws a haymaker at Joker and, once again, misses? “Why, Spidey… aren’t you supposed to have better reflexes than that? Which brings me back to the folks who’d rather shoot themselves in the head than have to listen to your jokes… I stopped by one of Mysterio’s old hideouts and thought about mixing his hallucinogen gas with a little bit of the old Joker stuff. Like it?”

            Spiderman throws a punch at the air and falls down. Joker laughs uproariously. Aunt Mae, at this point, hits Joker with…oh… a frying pan. Joker turns around and says “Ouch! A joke right out of Bringing Up Father! Looks like you were there for the originals, eh, sweetie?” and reaches out for Aunt Mae and Spiderman futilely says “NO!” and then Mephisto shows up and says “I’ll send Joker back to the DCU if you get a divorce” and Peter Parker agreed. Within 3 issues, Spiderman and Black Cat were dating.

            The End.

    • Every other superhero has that moment where they decide to use their powers for good. Batman did it in the other order — first he decided that he wanted to fight crime, then he developed the power he’d need for it.

      • That’s an excellent point.

        I remember reading Alfred talking about the young Master Wayne who, when being read a detective story (_The Purloined Letter_, I think it was), explained to Alfred that, no, it didn’t end that way. The bad guy was caught. He was punished.


  3. My favorite batman story ever might be “Fear Itself”. It was the last issue of the second Batman Adventures run (from 2003-2004). That entire series was full of some great stories.

    In-continuity, it might be “Legacy”. Part of that is probably nostalgia (it was one of the major bat-stories that happened while I was collecting comics as a boy), but it really hits the right notes for me: competence porn with strong inclusion of the bat family, featuring compelling villains with a plot that’s epic but still believable.

    • My original essay here had an opening paragraph talking about how, until Nolan started doing his thing, the best Batman movie was Mask of the Phantasm.

      • I think it’s a tough competition between the first three animated bat-films. Sub-Zero is slightly weaker as a straight bat-story, but we get the chance to see Robin and Batgirl, and Michael Ansara is amazing as Mr. Freeze. But I think Return of the Joker might be my overall favorite.

        • I’m going to have to watch Return of the Joker again because all I remember is that I saw Mask of the Phantasm in the theater and it blew me away for years… while Return of the Joker was a Beyond (ain’t nothing wrong with Beyond) title.

        • Return of the Joker was okay. I thought Sub-Zero was pretty awful, though. Mask of the Phantasm was close to being everything a Batman movie should be. Of course, it got extra points by way of comparison to what Schumacher was doing at the time.

  4. Batman post while I’m on vacation? Uncool. Keeping it short because I’m on my celly.

    The “imagine how cool it would be” in Batman is Robin. We picture ourselves in his shoes (he’s even young like us – when we start out). Also notably, Beyond had the “imagine yourself” dynamic.

    Knightfall was good, though a little sprawling. The novelization was good, though. One unsung classic is Run, Riddler, Run. You can also pick from a whole lot of the early stories of Legends of the Dark Knight.

    • Oh, this is far from the last Batman post we’ll have.

      I think that Legends of the Dark Knight is probably one of the best books DC has ever put out there. It covers the detective part of Batman, it covers the Bat-in-training part, it allowed for origin stories every so often… while goofy stuff may have been happening in the “real” DC universe, LotDK was a bastion of sanity.

      • LotDK was delightfully essentialist. I think that DC as a whole needs to turn in this general direction (at the least, they need an essentialist line to bring in new fans who don’t want to be fish-slapped with eons of continuity and megastorylines), but Batman in particular thrives when stripped down to the essential components. That was what made The Animated Series so special, and why the New Batman Adventures never measured up (despite the increasing Bat-family).

  5. When I was a 5-year-old kid in 1947, I read all my older brother’s huge stash of comics, and I remember like it was yesterday the story in which a villain transplanted Batman’s brain into a giant gorilla. Then the giant gorilla died similarly to the way King Kong died, but it turned out Batman’s brain had been re-transplanted back into Bruce Wayne. After that, everything seems possible nowdays!

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