September 15 is the annual Batman Day. It is a “holiday” DC began in 2014 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Dark Knight’s first appearance. It has continued every year since, with DC partnering with thousands of comic book shops, libraries, bookstores, and more to celebrate everything having to do with Bruce Wayne’s alter ego.
We at Comics Price Guide are not ones to miss out on a party, so we want in on this action! Here is our list of the comics featuring the biggest moments in the Dark Knight’s life.
There would BE no Batman to celebrate without Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). At the dawn of the masked vigilante trend, writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane created a playboy who ventures out at night to deliver his own brand of justice. However, he still had a lot of growing up to do to become the Batman we know and love today. In his first story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” Bats is wearing purple gloves and has no issues knocking a man into a vat of acid to his death.
The other obvious one is his origin. The first time we see Thomas and Martha Wayne killed by Joe Chill in Crime Alley in front of a young Bruce is in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939), again by Kane and Finger. Oddly enough, Martha was only called Thomas’s wife in that issue, Chill was just an unknown mugger, and the locale of the murder wasn’t even mentioned. They wouldn’t each get their names until years later.
This certainly could have gone into the obvious category, but it is the first appearance of Robin, the Boy Wonder. Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) saw a carnival performer name Dick Grayson become an orphan when his parents are killed by gangsters. He is then taken under the wing of Batman to solve their murder. Robin was only supposed to be tried out for one issue, but when the book’s sales doubled that month, he became a regular. The Dynamic Duo was born once again thanks to Finger and Kane.
We jump from the first Robin to the latest in the line – Damian Wayne. He is the product of Bruce Wayne’s coerced marriage to Talia al Ghul and was raised by the League of Assassins. His existence was revealed and he met his father for the first time in Batman #656 (October 2006) in a memorable storyline from writer Grant Morrison and artist Andy Kubert.
In Frank Miller’s landmark miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4 (April 1986), a much older Batman knocks the living tar out of Superman with some help from Green Arrow and future Robin Carrie Kelley. Well, right up to the part where Bruce has what appears to be a fatal heart attack. But he planned it, so we still count it as a win!
As if beating Superman wasn’t enough, how about the time Batman killed a god? In Final Crisis #6 (January 2009), another Grant Morrison story, Batman puts his “no guns rule” aside to kill the ruler of Apokolips, Darkseid. He does it to save the earth, using the same specially-designed bullet Darkseid used at the start of the miniseries to kill his son Orion of the New Gods. Batman pays with his life. Odd that a couple of his “wins” end up with him dead!
Batman’s easiest win came in Justice League #5 (September 1987) but it is still one of his most memorable. Guy Gardner was the Green Lantern in the Justice League that was born out of the Legends miniseries. Gardner is a total jerk and believes he should be leading the League. He challenges the Dark Knight to a fight for the role and says he will beat him without his power ring. The fight lasted exactly one punch. The story was written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Kevin Maguire.
The Losses: It does not always end well for the Dark Knight.
Batman was literally broken in Batman #497 (July 1993) from writer Doug Moench and artist Jim Aparo. Batman is exhausted after fighting a gauntlet of foes when he meets up with Bane, the mastermind of the plot. Batman just doesn’t have the juice left to beat him. In an iconic scene, Bane lifts the Caped Crusader above his head and breaks his back across his knee.
Batman wasn’t even present for his next loss. It happened in Batman #428 (December 1988), written by Jim Starling and once again drawn by Aparo. The Joker beats Robin – the suit now worn by Grayson’s successor Jason Todd – to within an inch of his life with a crowbar. He then leaves Robin and his mother to die in a building with a big bomb. Jason manages to free his mother but cannot escape before the explosion. The readers got to decide his fate thanks to a phone-in gimmick, and they surprisingly voted to let him die. After that, Batman went years without a Robin.
This loss was caused by Batman’s own paranoia. In the “Tower of Babel” storyline that begins is JLA #43 (July 2000), Ra’s al Ghul has seemingly designed a perfect plan to defeat every member of the Justice League. As it turns out, though, every single thing he did was actually designed by Batman. It is revealed that al Ghul stole Bruce’s files on every super-human on the planet, including his teammates, that included plans to defeat each of them.
Not every loss comes from a battle of life and death. The one that may have hurt Bruce Wayne the most came in Batman #50 (September 2018) when Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, did not show up for their wedding. With some help from a devious plot by the aforementioned Bane, Catwoman got it in her head that Batman would cease to exist if Bruce was happy, and she couldn’t do that to Gotham City. It was a controversial end to the story by Tom King.
The Joker: Batman’s arch nemesis is so entangled in his life that he deserves his own category.
We start where Joker started, but it is not where you think. Yes, his first appearance was in Batman #1 (June 1940), but his origin was not told until Detective Comics 168 (February 1951) in the story “The Man Behind the Red Hood” by Bill Finger, Lew Sayre Schwartz, and Win Mortimer. Batman is a guest lecturer in a college course in criminology, and he presents the students with his only unsolved case – a thief behind a blank red helmet that stole exactly one million dollars and disappeared into a vat of chemicals 10 years earlier. It turns out the chemicals are what turned the mysterious Red Hood into the Joker, and he has been pestering Batman ever since.
OK, pestering is not nearly a strong enough word. Terrorizing is better, and that is what the Joker did in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s amazing graphic novel The Killing Joke (March 1988). He shoots and cripples Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Police Commissioner James Gordon and secretly the retired crime-fighter Batgirl. Joker takes Commissioner Gordon to an abandoned amusement park and tortures him with photos of his injured daughter in various stages of undress. Batman of course eventually finds and captures the Clown Prince of Crime and begs him to stop this war between the two of them because it will only end in one of them killing the other. Joker refuses but he does tell Batman a joke that makes them both laugh hysterically. As the images move away from the pair, and the police sirens get close, the laughing ends abruptly. The belief among many is that Batman killed the Joker. It was, after all, a killing joke.
There you have it. This list is, of course, nowhere near exhaustive. Batman has nearly 80 years of material to pull from after all! So take some time on Batman Day to think of the important moments the Dark Knight has been part of in your life.
By Rob Otto