In celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary, I asked Michael Uslan to provide a list of the most important Batman comic book stories ever by decade. I decided to exclude the 90s, 2000s and 2010s because I didn’t think enough time has passed to legitimately declare any comics from those decades as “classics”. In other words, there needs to be a few more ticks off the clock — or pages turned in the calendar — before determining which stories from those decades are the most important. – Bill “Jett” Ramey
The character called “The Bat-Man” made its debut in May of 1939 in DETECTIVE COMICS #27 in a story titled, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” Since the character’s first appearance occurred in the final year of that decade – and halfway through the year at that – it’s a no-brainer that the most important Batman comic of the 1930s is this one.
For the decade of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, and Roswell, Mr. Uslan picked BATMAN #1 and BATMAN #47.
In BATMAN #1, he singled out three stories from that issue: “The Joker”, “The Cat” and “The Joker Returns” and it’s quite obvious why: The Joker and the character that would go on to become Catwoman debuted in this issue.
In BATMAN #47, Mr. Uslan pointed to the story, “The Origin of Batman!” as the reason for this issue’s historical significance.
For the decade that gave the world Rock and Roll and Elvis, Mr. Uslan picked the following two stories: “The Batmobile of 1950” from DETECTIVE COMICS #156 and “The First Batman” from DETECTIVE COMICS #235 (September, 1956).
“The Batmobile of 1950” tells the story of Batman and Robin building a new and technologically advanced set of wheels for themselves. “The First Batman” is the story of how Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, once dressed up as a “Bat-Man” for a costume party and actually thwarted a crime.
For the decade of Camelot, Woodstock and men first walking on the Moon, Mr. Uslan chose the following comics/stories: “Robin Dies at Dawn” from BATMAN #156 (June, 1963); “The Mystery of the Menacing Mask” from DETECTIVE COMICS #327 (May, 1964); and, “One Bullet Too Many” from BATMAN #217 (December, 1969).
In “Robin Dies at Dawn,” Batman volunteers to participate in a special military experiment to test the long term effects of isolation on the human psyche. During this experience, Batman has a hallucination in which he witnesses Robin being killed on an alien planet.
In “The Mystery of the Menacing Mask”, Batman’s “New Look” debuted as did a entirely new direction for Batman comics via new editor Julius Schwartz.
In “One Bullet Too Many”, Dick Grayson leaves Wayne Manor to go to college, which leads Batman to again become a “lone vigilante/creature of the night.”
For the decade that gave us Watergate, disco, two Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl victories and, sadly, the death of the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Mr. Uslan says that the following are the most significant Batman comic book stories of that ten year span…
“The Demon of Gothos Mansion!” (BATMAN #227/December 1970), “The Ra’s Al Ghul Story Arc (starting with BATMAN #232/June 1971), “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” (BATMAN #251/September 1973), and “Night of the Stalker” (DETECTIVE COMICS #439/March 1974).
In “The Demon of Gothos Mansion” – which features a cover and storyline based on DETECTIVE COMICS #31 (September 1939) – The Batman goes looking for the kidnapped niece of Alfred, Daphne Pennyworth. Batman hopes to reach her before she is sacrificed by a bunch of idiots hoping to raise the spirit of a demon named “Balik”.
The great Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul – perhaps the best and most iconic Batman villain created during the second half of Batman’s 75 year history – makes his first appearance in the June 1971 issue of BATMAN #232. Of course, Ra’s – created by Deny O’Neil and Neal Adams – would eventually be brought to cinematic life in 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS via the terrific thespian skills of Liam Neeson.
“The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” is one of the greatest Batman stories ever, regardless of decade.
If this bit of internal dialogue isn’t “The Joker”, then I don’t know what is…
“His life is mine…I can crush the breath out of him…effortlessly! I can, at last, triumph! But such a hollow victory! It was mere luck that caused my attack on him to succeed. I’d always envisioned my winning as a result of cunning…at the end of a bitter struggle between The Batman and myself – him using his detective skills and me employing the divine gift men call madness! No! Without the game that The Batman and I have played for so many years, winning is nothing! He shall live…until I can destroy him properly!”
Thank you Denny O’Neil!
Mr. Uslan’s final entry for the 1970s is “Night of the Stalker” from DETECTIVE COMICS #439, March of 1974. In this dialogue-less story, The Batman witnesses a couple being shot dead in front of their young child.
This causes The Batman to flashback to a very similar event years ago that inspired him to dress up like a giant black bat and kick criminal ass.
For the decade provided the world the end of the Cold War, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, Madonna, and tremendously bad clothing choices, MU says that only Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (1986) and THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #200 (July 1983) make the cut.
What can I say about THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS other than it’s one of the greatest comic book stories ever regardless of comic book company or character. It was a game changer; not only for Batman – as it purged the “Pow, Zap and Wham!” from the conscious of the mainstream audience – but for comic book genre as well.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #200 was the final issue of this long-running Batman team-up title. The comic ended by pairing Batman with…Batman. Written by Mike W. Barr and featuring art by Dave Gibbons, The Batman of Earth 1 teamed up (sort of) with the older version of himself from Earth 2. Gibbons’ artwork continually changed as a nod to the different eras of Batman’s history. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #200 also featured a four-panel comic strip featuring Bat-Mite as well as a 16 page preview of Batman’s new superhero team, The Outsiders.