There's something nearly poetic about how many of the books that portray Batman as being a bad guy are, themselves, terrible. I lumped Batman Deadman and Teen Titans Year One together mostly to get them out of the way.
Batman Deadman is by James Robinson, who has done a lot of work for DC, and is best known for Starman. While I highly recommend the Starman series (currently being released in omnibus hardcovers), none of his mainstream character work really stands out to me as good. So, while I read this blind for the first few pages, I quickly flipped to the cover to see who was killing my post-Trinity Batman buzz and was not surprised to see Robinson's name on the cover.
Robinson's writing, like Grant Morrison's, tends to stray from typical stories. And while I applaud him for that initiative, I don't tend to connect with his characters. And if I don't feel something for the characters, no amount of interesting plot concepts is going to win me over.
What did win me over was John Estes's art, which looks like early 90s Vertigo, if it were made using colored pencils and watercolors. The details in the background and props make up for the, at best, mediocre dialog.
The basic premise of the story is that while pursuing The Joker, Batman seems to black out and when he wakes up, he is believed to have killed police officers, and is holding an innocent woman at knife point. The story descends into magic and possession and demons, which are not my favorite aspects of comics.
Most of the focus on this book is on characters involved with Deadman, although we do have some Alfred and Jim Gordon moments.
(a biased against possession) Story: 2/5, Art: 5/5
While the two stories aren't supposed to be intertwined, and have two different demons, possession of Batman, and other members of the JLA is also at the core of Amy Wolfram's Teen: Titans Year One. This time we see Batman's possession through the eyes of Robin. Batman is behaving as though he was in Frank Miller's All Star Batman And Robin, but with less rat eating and cursing.
Batman isn't the only one behaving strangely, though. The entire JLA is possessed by a demon called Antithesis. Robin rounds up a few of his sidekick friends in order to discover why the heroes are behaving strangely. So this collection features the chronological debut of Kid Flash, Aqua Lad, Speedy, and Wonder Girl.
This collection is intended for children, and so the voice of the characters is skewed from how they're written in other books. But The Teen Titans are an important part of the Batman mythos, so I felt their origin story needed to be included. It's cartoony style is a little out of place in the chronology, but as the debut of the sidekicks as heroes, it's brightness in both art and storytelling can be seen as metaphorical. And it makes what happens to the team down the line seem all the darker.
Story: 3/5, Art: 4/5
I'm going to add Full Circle to this entry, though it doesn't contain a possessed Batman, but it does continue the theme of characters written in an odd voice. Batman Full Circle features a very silver-agey Dick Grayson as Robin. Lots of cheesy one liners, and the classic Batman benches Robin storyline. Much like the book that this is a direct sequel to, Fear The Reaper, this book has a lot of tropes, and suffers because the tropes are not used as well as they are in other collections.
The concept behind this story is the next generation of the families from Fear The Reaper. Joe Chill's son and grandson, Rachel Caspian's relationship to The Reaper, and, of course, Batman and Robin. We also have another appearance by Leslie Thompkins, and your requisite hookers and nuns.
Todd Mcfarlane drew this book, and it's not his best work. He seems not to know quite how to draw The Reaper. His proportions linger somewhere on the border of inconsistent and awful. And Batman and Robin look too golden agey when presented against the designs of the other characters.
Story: 2/5, Art: 2/5
The Full Circle Story is also included in the Year Two: Fear The Reaper Trade. I would say "I wouldn't waste my money buying this collection on its own." but clearly I not only would, but did.
For six months, my graphic novels sat lonely in a basement in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while my cats and I wandered around New England doing very non-comic booky things. I let my websites lapse, stopped reading comics every week, and yet, somehow, still did not end up being a productive member of society. So I now have a new apartment, with many places to store my immense graphic novel collection. Arranging my graphic novels always proves difficult, but I thought it would be fun to turn one of my closets into a Batcave filled with only the graphic novels for this Batchronology, plus the Elseworld books.
Step two was getting back into reading comics. I first punished myself by reading the complete run of Jim Valentino's Shadowhawk. I then washed the taste out of my brain with the complete run of Warren Ellis's Transmetroplitan. You should read that, if you're into non superhero comics that are amazing. (Please note, I did not link to Amazon for Shadowhawk. No sin you've committed can possibly warrant you having to read that terrible, terrible series. Stay away. Stay far...far...far away.) Starman came next. And then, I decided I was ready to immerse myself in some comic book themed cartoons.
A friend of mine just got me into Young Justice, a DC Universe cartoon that doesn't involve Bruce Timm, yet manages to be equally amazing as his work. It's a reimagining of a Teen Titans-esque team of super sidekicks set in a universe different from the Teen Titans cartoon. It's fun, filled with running gags, and excellent character design and artwork. And it got me feeling all nostalgic for the Teen Titans. So, imagine my joy at realizing that the next two books for the Chronology project were the two most famous Teen Titan collections of all time.
I am not including every issue/collection of Teen Titans as part of The Batman Chronology. Teen Titans Year One was in the last entry, and you'll just have to imagine that in the time that you read that the team lineup has changed to include Dick Grayson Robin, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Changeling (a.k.a Beast Boy from the cartoon).
I've never read the first 25 issues of the series, so I can't tell you of their quality, but for an early 80s comic (this run starts in 1982) the storytelling is excellent, and the art is damned fine. Marv Wolfman does an excellent job of introducing the Titans as they enter the story. Unlike the happy-go-lucky (sort of) child glee of the animated series, these Titans are in their mid teens and bristling with hormones. Changeling/Beast Boy uses all the swagger he can muster to win over the villainess Terra and convert her to the Titans team. Hormonewhile, Robin and Starfire have lots of feeling for each other that they converse about between make out sessions. And Raven tells Kid Flash that she would love him but that being in love will release the Trigon portion of her (man, the back story sounds so intriguing that I may go out and buy the Teen Titans Omnibus).
While this collection is a complete and insular story, it's clear that it's also part of a larger story arc involving the villains Brother Blood, and a separate, and opposing, set of villains called The Brotherhood of Evil (no relation to Magneto. Wolfman (no relation to Jack) is a master of making each issue feel complete in and of itself, while making it a small piece of an overarching story. This collection is so dense with plot and interpersonal drama, to try and recount all of it would be a disservice.
The major themes of the collection are the struggle of the Titans to control their powers and to master their interpersonal relationships. Each of them have a major love life issue that has them thinking whether or not they should remain on the team. And Wolfman makes very salient points about the eighties that you wouldn't think would have been noticed as the 80s unfolded. It almost reads like a really well written mocking love note to the 80s, complete with snappy patter, faux commercials, preppy humor, and lots of references to the lawsuit happy culture that was beginning to unfold.
As an important Batman note, we learn in this volume that Bruce Wayne has taken on a new ward, Jason Todd. There aren't many Jason Todd era Batman comics collected in graphic novel, so it's a shame we have to learn about it in such an offhand fashion, but, get out your hankies, Dick Grayson ceases to be Robin in this volume, and his replacement isn't nearly as cool as Sarah Chalke.
There are also a different set of villains in nearly every issue. While the large drama unfolds, the Titans are distracted by Thunder and Lightning, the death of Trident, a mobster named Scarapelli, and Deathstroke The Terminator (who appears to be part of a new unfolding drama). We also witness the debut (and not just in this chronology, but in the entire DC Universe) of The Vigilante.
I'm tempted to say that this collection is right up there with Year One and The Long Halloween, but really this is an entirely different creature. This is not just a solid run of a few issues but part of dense continuity that is above and beyond what most people are doing now, certainly above and beyond the other comics of 1982/3.
Story: Perhaps a 6, but we'll call it 5, Art: 5