Batman is not just one of pop culture’s most popular characters, he’s the star of one of the longest running on-going titles in the history of comics. We’re celebrating Batman’s upcoming landmark 700th issue by bringing everyone up to speed on the Dark Knight’s adventures throughout the last 100 issues, leading up to Batman #700. We’ll be breaking down and reviewing each story arc and run from Batman #600 to #699 to catch up readers who might be looking to jump on the “Bat-wagon” starting with issue #700! We’re taking a closer look at how Batman has evolved over the last eight years.
If you’ve been living in your own Bat-cave for the last 8 years and haven’t read any of these story lines, there are a few spoilers sprinkled throughout!
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Scott McDaniel
Released: April 2002-November 2002
Batman is no stranger to running from Gotham’s finest, but this time it’s Bruce Wayne who’s on the run. After discovering his girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild, dead on the floor at Wayne Manor, the GCPD just happen to arrive. Wayne is charged with the murder and sent to Blackgate Prison where he escapes, but not so he can clear his name…
Batman #600 was a colossal issue and a huge turning point in Batman’s character. The Dark Knight has made up his mind that the facade of Bruce Wayne is better off left as a fugitive from the law, and dedicates his life to being the Batman full time. After a Pay-Per-View caliber fight with former protege Nightwing, Batman abandons his former life and partners and sets out to find the killer of Vesper Fairchild.
The Fugitive story line was another of many giant crossovers among the Batman titles, and one hell of a mystery story. Ed Brubaker and Scott McDaniel are a perfect Batman creative team. Brubaker has a special talent for screwing up super heroes’ lives, and Fugitive gets pretty heavy. Batman is put in a place we all feared he might end up, and McDaniel’s art is as dark and intense as the narrative.
Batman encounters a hot new villain named Nicodemus, rediscovers his roots and what the Batman really stands for, discovers the identity of his framer, and even keeps him out of Deadshot’s crosshairs.
While massive crossovers between many titles can be annoying, Brubaker keeps things very interesting on his end. A great story for the Batman of the new Millennium. Bruce Wayne: Fugitive gets an A-.
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Jim Lee
Released: December 2002-November 2003
It’s arguably the greatest Batman epic of the last decade. Superstars Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee take Batman on a mystery the likes of which have not been seen since Jeph Loeb’s last Batman adventure, Batman: The Long Halloween. A new villain, Hush, has appeared in Gotham, and he knows Batman and Bruce Wayne in a way no one else can. Hush puts together a gauntlet designed to crush both Batman’s body and psyche with confrontations against the worst of his rogues gallery and his closest friends; and the true mastermind behind this scheme may not be who you expect!
If you’re one of the few who haven’t read Hush, go do so immediately. Batman vs. the Joker, Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman vs. Superman, Batman vs. his past, and Batman vs. himself. And honestly, I’m not sure who’s stealing the show in this arc; Loeb with the amazing story or Lee with the brilliant art. Hush is an absolute must read. A+
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Russo
Released: December 2003-May 2004
Hush is a hard act to follow, and I wish I could say the 100 Bullets team, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, could top it, but I can’t. That’s not to say Broken City is a poor Batman story though, because it’s pretty damn good.
Batman is thrown back into a dark place when he fails to stop the murder of a young boy’s parents (something he takes very personally), making the low-life thug responsible Batman’s top priority. The Caped Crusader becomes more obsessed than ever in finding his perp, running through the city’s foulest citizens like the Penguin and Killer Croc, while developing his relationship with Gotham’s new commissioner.
Azzarello and Risso are two guys who belong on Gotham’s streets. Azzarello brings Batman back to his pulp roots with a noir flair. Risso’s art is provocative and beautiful, and it’s a crime that we haven’t seen these two back on a long run with the character. My only problem with this story is that Hush has been completely forgotten here. This is particularly noticeable with Killer Croc, who in Hush was seen as a massive lizard beast, but here he has been turned into a pimp with a bad skin condition. Regardless, Broken City is a Batman story I think has been looked over for too long. It scores a B+.
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Released: June 2004-September 2004
The Penguin is using fear to tighten his grip on Gotham and his own organization, and has hired the talents of one Mr. Johnathan Crane to help. When a 14-foot Scarecrow starts offing mob bosses, both Penguin and Batman point the finger at the obvious suspect, but Crane denies any involvement. Batman scuffles with the straw-filled beast and is set on a roller coaster ride of his worst nightmares.
The first stint of Judd Winick’s long tenure on Batman wasn’t bad. It wasn’t the epic that Hush was and it didn’t take the risks that Broken City had, but it was a solid, if simple, Batman story.
Dustin Nguyen’s art took a little getting used to, for me personally, but I grew to appreciate it and how it matched the tone of the story. The designs for his characters are like extreme dark characters, and are just cool to look at. B
Writers: Bill Willingham, Judd Winick
Artists: Kinsun, Dustin Nguyen
Released: October 2004-January 2005
Though its effects on the Batman “universe” were brief at best, War Games is a huge story. Consuming all the Bat-books, War Games centers around a massive gang war going on in Gotham City with Black Mask, the Penguin, and others in the mix. This story takes place after Identity Crisis, when Tim Drake has retired as Robin after the murder of his father, and his girlfriend Stephanie Brown (a.k.a. the vigilante Spoiler) takes over as Batman’s sidekick as the Girl Wonder. The War Games came about when Brown, looking to gain Batman’s respect, enacted one of many contingency plans Batman has in the bat-computer for use if crime in Gotham gets out of control. The plan would unite all of Gotham’s crime bosses, and later they would implode, but when a key part of the plan goes haywire, all hell breaks lose, and the gang war ensues.
Bill Willingham and Kinsun pick up the creative duties for the first three issues, and do a pretty remarkable job. Issue #631 tells an intense story about a high school shooting that Tim Drake is trapped in the middle of, and Batman and Nightwing make a few rare daylight appearances. Kinsun’s art is consistently solid and doesn’t take many risks. Even though War Games is meant to be enjoyed while reading all the Bat-titles, the three parts in Batman are still fun. Issue #634, by Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke, is a great emotional War Games epilogue that brings a fitting end to the tale. B+
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Released: February 2005-May 2005
It’s the return of the Red Hood! Even after the events in War Games, Black Mask is expanding his empire, but a new red masked psycho is interfering. Batman and Nightwing team up to take care of both Black Mask and this new Red Hood, but run into a foe that even the Justice League would think twice about engaging. When the Red Hood reveals himself to be Jason Todd, the once deceased Robin, he pays a visit to the former Red Hood, the Joker, for some revenge.
Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke knock it out of the park again with arguably the best Batman run since Hush. The story is filled with so many twists and surprises with universal implications reaching beyond Batman and Gotham City. It’s also the best use of Mr. Freeze I’ve seen since Batman: The Animated Series.
Mahnke’s pencils have a nice hard edge to them and the colors are bright when necessary, but retain the dark tone of Gotham’s night covered streets. It’s no surprise DC is releasing a direct-to-DVD film based on this storyline. A
Writer: Judd Winick
Artists: Doug Mahnke, Paul Lee
Released: June 2005-August 2005
Judd Winick continues the feud between Batman and the Red Hood with Doug Mahnke and Paul Lee trading artistic duties. In Batman’s world of science and logic, magic and mysticism don’t make sense. Batman visits some old, formally dead friends trying to piece together the puzzle of Jason Todd’s resurrection, culminating in a fight between Bruce and his old partner that’s been boiling since the 1980s when Jason Todd first mouthed off to the Dark Knight.
Issue #640 was particularly good in this story, when Batman takes a trip to Metropolis to visit Superman and hopefully find some answers about death and rebirth. All the while, Red Hood and a new vigilante, Onyx, team up to take out some top tier mobsters under Black Mask’s thumb.
Action, drama, emotion, MORE ACTION! What else could you ask for in a comic book? A-
Writers: Anderson Gabrych, Bill Willingham
Artists: Chris Marrinan, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Released: September 2005-October 2005
It’s another giant crossover as War Crimes stretches across all the Batman titles. Stemming from the War Games storylines, things get pretty weird when Black Mask tries his hand at actually becoming the Batman. And who else but the Joker wants to get involved in the party when multiple Batmen are running around the city?
Anderson Gabrych and Chris Marrinan head the creative duties for issue #642 with a Mad Hatter and Killer Croc story that isn’t exactly the most compelling that either villain has been a part of, and it’s a pretty low point for the book as far as art.
Bill Willingham returns for #643 and #644 for the 2 parts of War Crimes that consumes the Batman, with Giuseppe Camuncoli drawing. The book hasn’t seen art with this many risks since Scott McDaniel some 40 something issues ago, only McDaniel’s art looks a lot cooler. Camuncoli’s characters can flow between overly cartoony to angsty anime wannabe, but it’s not the worst art Batman has ever seen.
The narrative has its highs and lows, but the Joker steals the show in these issues, as he typically does. Other than that and an interesting revelation about long time Wayne family friend, Leslie Thompkins, War Crimes just isn’t very interesting, and can be easily skipped over. D
Writer: Judd Winick
Artisst: Doug Mahnke, Shane Davis
Released: November 2005-January 2006
Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke once again return to Batman! The Batman/ Red Hood/ Black Mask war escalates and the action is about to pop! Alfred and Bruce examine the coffin Jason Todd was buried in while taking a trip down memory lane to the first time Batman met Todd, and when their relationship got rocky. Black Mask is getting sick of having two freaks in masks to deal with, so he hires a few of his own to get an advantage. Slade Wilson, the Terminator, and a few other rogues are tasked with eliminating Red Hood and Batman, forcing the former dynamic duo to pair up once again.
The ungodly amount of ass kicking and explosions in this storyline is just absurd and I loved every page of it. This is a big budget action movie quality adventure. The only thing better than epic fights between super villains and super heroes are super heroes and super villains teaming up to fight more super villains! A
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Released: February 2006-April 2006
It all culminates here! For months Batman has been in a blood feud with Black Mask and Red Hood and the stakes have never been higher for the Caped Crusader. In a shocking brawl between Black Mask and Red Hood, Mask sticks a knife through Red Hood’s heart, only to discover shortly after that corpse on the floor is a phony. The real Red Hood, Jason Todd, is in a far away location spending some quality time with the previous Red Hood, and the man responsible for the murder of Todd’s mother and Todd himself, the Joker. After the massive destruction of Gotham’s sister city, Bludhaven, and a tense stand off between Batman, Jason and the Joker, our last image is of Batmen from different universes all crying out in pain over the death of Jason Todd.
Aside from the strange Infinite Crisis tie-in ending, All they Do is Watch Us Kill is an awesome and fitting ending to the struggle between Bruce Wayne and Jason Todd. Everything from the dialogue to the jaw dropping surprises is top notch, and Eric Battle’s pages are gigantic with panels that shatter and explode from the titanic action. Judd Winick has dominated the Batman title over the last 50 issues with expert story telling, drama and action on par or better than anything Hollywood has to offer, and this story, as well as his entire run thus far, proves just that. A
From Batman #600 to #650, Batman has run an emotional gauntlet unlike anything since the early 90s with the Knight Fall series. From fighting to clear Bruce Wayne’s name, to facing his child hood, to keeping Gotham from dropping completely to hell, to battling his past, Batman has been through more than one man should be able to handle. And the best part: This is nothing compared to what’s next!
Here’s a look at how Batman has evolved in these stories through the eyes of his many different artists!
Who’s your favorite Batman artist?
Come back next Sunday when we recap and review Batman #651-699!