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
Everyone has that friend. The one who watches a lot of standup comedians and reports the jokes they heard as their own. I can't tell you the amount of times I've heard the whole Scooby Doo stoner theories. The snickering moron who wonders aloud about Smurf sex lives. That person will always give you a little elbow to the ribcage and make some remark about Batman's "inappropriate relationship" with Robin.
Of course, that person doesn't know that there have been several Robins, and that one of them is his son. That person has no idea about Batman at all, apart from possibly having seen the 90's movie franchise and a few scattered episodes of The Animated Series. But most importantly, that person doesn't know how both Batman and Bruce Wayne are defined by the women in their lives.
It's no mistake that, in the modern era retelling of Batman's first few years, Catwoman appears several times before we get our first glimpse of The Joker. While The Joker is often regarded as Batman's nemesis, it's his relationship with Selina Kyle's alter ego that gives us a feeling for who Bruce is under the cowl.
Batman And The Mad Monk opens with Bruce standing up his current girlfriend, Julie Madison, to capture Catwoman. He sends Alfred to send his "sincerest regrets" to her, and to let her know "his scheduling problems won't be changing any time soon."
Another thing not changing anytime soon is Jim Gordon's problems with the hierarchy of the Gotham City Police Department. The new Commisioner, Grogan, appears as corrupt as Loeb was, and has sent some officers to deliver a message to Gordon, just as Gordon is awaiting Batman on the roof (he calls him with a Batpager...still no signal yet)
At the end of the first chapter of the story, we're introduced to the villains: vampires! In particular, a cultish vampire leader named The Monk. While he's not known as one of the front-runners of Batman's rogues, he goes all the way back to Detective Comics #43. In fact, this entire trade is a reimagining of the very early adventures of Batman.
It's not long before The Monk's cult kidnaps Julie Madison. While the Batman is off rescuing her, her father, Norman Madison, mistakenly thinking Batman is stalking him, decides he must permanently erase his connection to organized crime by killing Sal Maroni. It doesn't go well.
Neither does Julie's rescue from The Monk Cult. She manages to survive and, in the process becomes the first non-butler to discover that Bruce Wayne is Batman. But Batman's dangerous life, plus his role in her father's death leaves Julie unable to cope with Bruce's night life, so she takes off for Africa. Also during the course of the action, Jim Gordon decides his interactions with Batman are too risky, so at the end of this story Bruce is left only Alfred as an ally, but as he Spider-Mans his way into the Gotham skyline, he goes directly past a billboard for The Haly Circus featuring The Flying Graysons.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5
I've never been a fan of Superman stories. There's something about the silver age goofiness that no one notices it's just Clark Kent with his glasses off that never sits well with me. He's also too powerful. And, I'm still baffled by how the most powerful superhero in the DC universe was killed in a seven issue fistfight with a villain who, at the time, had no back story. One of the few times Superman interests me is when he's shown in the context of other heroes, particularly Batman.
If there is a modern era retelling of the first meeting of Batman and Superman collected in trades, I haven't read it yet. But Trinity by Matt Wagner (not to be confused with the Kurt Busiek weekly series from 2009) not only gives us a great Superman and Batman interaction, it also serves as an introduction to Wonder Woman, another character who I only enjoy amongst other heroes. Her inclusion in this story gives us an outsider's view to the odd relationship between Batman and Superman.
In the Golden and Silver Ages, DC continuity had established their two main heroes as best buddies who played sports together and never had more than the occasional mild dispute. In 1986, Frank Miller changed all that with The Dark Knight Returns (which, for this chronological project, is considered an Elseworld tale), and John Byrne made it canon with The Man Of Steel.
This story presents us with bumbling Clark Kent missing his train to work. When the conductor of the train he missed is shot by a sharpshooter, Clark goes all Superman and rescues the train, but doesn't have time to go after the men who caused this act of terror. Luckily for him, Bruce Wayne was in town, and Batman hogtied the criminals for the police.
The terrorist group is called Purge, and is run by Ra's Al Ghul. Ra's is an immortal eco-terrorist whose schemes usually involve purging the Earth of humanity. This time he frees Bizarro, a Superman clone with severe mental limitations, and uses him to obtain a cache of nuclear missiles from a Russian Submarine. He also hires an Amazonian assassin named Diana to train members of The Purge.
During Bizarro's mission, he accidentally releases one of the non-nuclear missiles near the island of Themyscira, home to a sect of Amazon warriors. The sect believes Superman to be responsible, and sends Wonder Woman to Metropolis to investigate.
Wagner fills this book with a bunch of plot misdirects. The young Amazon punk named Diana turns out to not be Wonder Woman, and then he sets up an obvious battle between Wonder Woman and Superman over identity confusion, only to have Wonder Woman act very sensibly and work everything out on her own.
It's Batman who causes friction by roughly interrogating a member of The Purge, despite Wonder Woman aiding him with her Lasso Of Truth. The relationships between the three characters for the rest of the book is fantastic. Wagner plays them off each other flawlessly, giving them a depth I haven't seen in any other book. We get to see all three of them exceed the call of duty in their own way. Each of them adheres to their morals, and apart from their first meeting, and after an unfortunate dip in a Lazarus Pit for Wonder Woman, the three do so without bickering.
As with Batman And The Monster Men, and Batman And The Mad Monk, Wagner pulls double duty as writer and artist. And with the exception of one oddly sketch-faced panel of Ra's Al Ghul, the book is gorgeous. Wagner is really up there with Tim Sale as one of my favorite Batman artists.
The story also features a few little cameos, including Dick Grayson as Robin, and this chronology's debut of Aquaman. We really get to see the DC Universe starting to take shape outside of Gotham, without having to go too in-depth to the other characters.
JLA Year One by Mark Waid comes right after this on my bookshelf. There's not a lot of Batman in it, so I won't be including it on this website, but this story is in some ways a precursor to it. And it's a decent read.
As for Wagner's Trinity, it should be no surprise that I give it
Story 5/5, Art 5/5