While the character of Bruce Wayne the Batman is one of the most revered, and interesting in all of comics, my favorite Batman stories are the ones where we see how others react to The Dark Knight.
Batman And The Monster Men, originally a mini-series written and drawn by Matt Wagner, introduces us to modern age versions of Batman characters, and shows how they are changed by their first encounters with him.
In a roundabout way the center of this story is Sal Maroni, one of the top men in the Falcone Crime family. He joins together the two subplots of the story by 1.) bankrolling and extorting a scientist named Hugo Strange, and 2.) bankrolling and extorting prominent businessman, Norman Madison, whose daughter happens to be dating Bruce Wayne.
Hugo Strange is your typical mad scientist bent on changing the world. He uses Falcone money to create a series of mutants (the eponymous Monster Men). When Maroni sends musclemen to pressure Strange into paying his debt, Strange unleashes his Monster Men on one of Maroni's underground card games, thus stealing Maroni's money, and using it to pay Maroni back. When Batman gets involved, Strange fixates on what a perfect specimen he is, and vows to either capture or kill him. When things don't go according to plan, he decides, rather than hiding from Batman underground, to become a public expert on Batman, going on television and tlaking about how disturbed he is.
Norman Madison's tale is a little different. As a prominent businessman from the Gotham elite, he believes himself superior to Maroni and his thugs, and refuses to see them as a threat until they threaten his daughter, Julie. To protect her, he asks her to find a place to hide, and not tell him where it is. He demands the Falcone thugs take him to Maroni directly. While there, the Falcone compound is attacked by Strange's Monster Men. He is ultimately rescued by Batman who addresses him by name, and tells him to leave. The issue ends with Norman sitting in front of the TV, watching Hugo Strange tell a reporter that Batman is a relentless, insane vigilante. He is visibly sweating, thinking to himself "He knows my name." There's also a neat panel about halfway through the trade, where we Norman Madison's face shrouded by the Gotham skyline, suggesting that Wagner is using Norman as a metaphor for Gotham City's troubled relationship with both crime and Batman.
When her father asks her to go into hiding, Julie Madison rushes to Wayne Manor to tell Bruce, who responds by drugging her (Wayne is easily one of the worst superhero boyfriends in comics. I once saw Hank Pym shaking his head at Wayne, muttering "At least when I hit Janet, she knew that I loved her."). When she wakes up, a day and a half later with a Roofie hangover, Bruce tells her that her father's debts are taken care of, and she continues to be all starry-eyed over her mysterious playboy lover. She doesn't know that (dun dun dun) her life is soon to be completely altered by her involvement with Batman.
We also get to see Lieutenant James Gordon come into conflict with the new police commissioner, Grogan, over Gordon's alleged connection with Batman.
Even Alfred gets some face time in this book, when he lays his eyes on Bruce's new crimefighting car and quips "I'm actually surprised that you didn't add winged fins to the rear fenders and make it a true 'Batmobile!' Oh good lord! You're actually considering it!"
DC has placed a #1 on the spine of this book, and a #2 on Wagner's follow-up story "Batman And The Mad Monk". While the two stories are related, there are definitely a number of Batman stories that take place between the two collections. It's actually odd that DC has numbered them at all, as they rarely put any sort of label on any trade paperback that isn't part of some giant crossover.
I've seen other reading lists that place The Joker: The Man Who Laughs as the book that immediately follows Year One, as it features The Joker who LT. Gordon mentions on the final page of Year One. While I do think that Miller intended the next story to feature the joker, and Brubaker certainly intends for The Man Who Laughs as the first Joker story, I think the chronology works better if we get to know Batman better before introducing his greatest villain. There's also the issue that Gordon has grown comfortable enough in Gotham to call it "my city" early on in The Man Who Laughs, and he has not arrived at that point in his life at the end of Year One.
Story: 5/5, Art 5/5
In 1993, DC comics asked Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale to create a Halloween special issue for their Legend Of The Dark Knight series. The pairing of this creative team would go on to create The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, two of my favorite Batman stories. Haunted Knight is a precursor to those storylines. While it's not as tight a narrative as the other two collections, it does feature some plot points that will come up later.
The major problem I have about this collection is that it's set up in the order that the specials were released, which doesn't appear to be the order that the stories take place. So, while I don't suggest reading the collection manga style, I do recommend reading the third chapter in this collection, Ghosts, first. My reason being that I believe this collection should be read as 48 hours in the life of Batman, not three different years on Halloween.
Ghosts starts the night before at a banquet where The Penguin makes his first appearance, interrupting one of Bruce Wayne's shindigs. Batman captures the villain, retrieving a medallion Penguin stole from Lucius Fox. The medallion features either an exact mock up of the Wayne family door knockers, or else Bruce's father's face. Either way, the charm induces a sort of hypnosis on Bruce, and the story turns into a Halloween retelling of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, with Thomas Wayne as Jacob Marley, Poison Ivy as The Ghost Of Christmas Past, The Joker as The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and a grim reaper as The Ghost Of Christmas Future. Among the memories is a primer as to how Lucius Fox got into Wayne's life, as well as unintentional foreshadowing to Final Crisis and Blackest Night.
Next up is chapter two: Madness. In it, The Mad Hatter kidnaps Jim Gordon's niece, Barbara, who he's just adopted. Adoption is a bit of a theme in this book, as we are also introduced to Leslie Thompkins, a doctor who helped Alfred raise Bruce after (brace yourselves, new info here) his parents were killed. (Note: If you want to turn this website into a drinking game, sip a beer every time I make a joke at the expense of Grant Morrison, and a shot every time I have to mention that (spoiler alert) Bruce's parents were killed.) This story also injects Alice In Wonderland into the Batman mythos. I grew up loving the book, but I find its saturation in comics, particularly Batman, a bit overwrought. This story is not one of the finest examples of working the book in subtly. The "through the looking glass" line hurt to read, but the rest of the story is pretty solid.
The first chapter, Fears, takes us back to another Wayne Halloween party. While Ghosts and Madness could happen in the same timeframe, this party and the party from Ghosts can't really be the same party, so let's say, for argument's sake, Wayne scheduled a second party due to his guilt over the first one being crashed by The Penguin. This party is slightly more successful, as none of the rogues gallery interrupts, but a woman named Jillian Maxwell attempts to seduce Bruce, much to the disdain of Alfred. Alfred does his own detective work while Batman is off dealing with The Scarecrow, and discovers Jillian is a black widow who serially marries and then murders rich husbands under a variety of names.
While all three of these stories are very good, the highlight of this collection is Tim Sale and Gregory Wright's art. The panel layouts are effortlessly complex. Despite their nontraditional placement, there's never any doubt where the eye should go next. And Wright's colors are an integral part of the story. I especially love his greyscaled pages with the lightly colored narrative boxes.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5