6 Nov 2008

Past Panels: Top Ten Greatest Batman Moments

Ian U: The original idea for this article was going to be the ‘Top Ten Greatest Comics Panels Ever’, but after nearly two weeks it was obviously becoming a list of best moments from Dark Knight Returns with a few random 2000AD panels thrown in! So I had a bit of a re-think and came up with (hopefully) the first of a new ongoing series of Top Ten Comics Moments (!), each one themed around a different character or creator. And who better to kick things off than the Dark Knight himself…….

My criteria for choosing were that the panels could be from any comic Batman appeared in, not just his own, but that Batman himself had to be present and taking an active part in the storyline (so no Bruce Wayne, Joker or Robin moments). And obviously it had to be a comic I had read (so no obscure 40s or 50s stuff I’m afraid!) All clear? OK, here we go…

10. One Punch Pt 1 (Justice League International #6)

A classic moment from the Giffen/McGuire Justice League run as well as a classic Batman moment. From the very start of the first issue Guy Gardner had been pushing for leadership of the newly formed JLI and resented Batman for the way everyone else looked up to him. Finally he snapped and threw a punch at the Caped Crusader, which any five year-old could tell you is a big mistake! Batman lays him out cold with one punch and walks away. It’s obviously a moment that struck a chord with many people as Geoff Johns referenced it 20 years later in Green Lantern:Rebirth when Hal Jordan lays Batman out with a single punch, much to Guy’s amusement…..
9. Batman Doesn’t Always Win.... (‘A Death In The Family Pt 4’, Batman #426)

Whatever your thoughts on the rights and wrongs of a) killing Jason Todd and b) doing it by phone vote, there is little doubt that this particular moment has influenced a huge number of Batman stories over the last 20 years. We had been almost conditioned to believe that Batman always wins, regardless of the odds, that he always arrives in the nick of time - but here he was just too late. A headstrong and emotional Jason Todd had come off worse against the Joker and his crowbar, and a bomb finished the job. Had Batman arrived just minutes earlier Jason would have been badly hurt but still alive. As it turned out, it was not to be. Cue two decades of stories about a brooding Batman and we finally found out why Robin’s costume was in a memorial case in Dark Knight Returns. “Jason was a good soldier……”
8. …But If He Does Lose He Comes Back Fighting! (Batman: The Cult #4)
Broken and beaten - both physically and psychologically - by mysterious sewer-dwelling shaman Deacon Blackfire, the Batman had fled Gotham, vowing never to return. But this is comics, right? When does never actually mean never?! After a visit to a hospital bound Commissioner Gordon, Batman decides to return and reclaim his city. Obviously he wants to even the odds a bit so he does what any self-respecting vigilante would do: he turns the Batmobile into a monster truck and gets tooled up (although being Batman it’s only with tranq darts)!! And then, knowing what a superstitious and cowardly lot criminals are, he picks one of the Deacon’s followers to put the fear of God into and take a message to his master….
7. One Punch Pt 2 (Batman: The Killing Joke)

You can never go far wrong by picking something by Alan Moore for a top ten list! Over the course of The Killing Joke, The Joker has escaped from Arkham, crippled Barbara Gordon and tried to drive the Commissioner insane, and now Batman has finally caught up with him in the Hall of Mirrors. But Batman doesn’t waste time running through mazes like a college rat he gets straight to the point. We don’t even see the punch but thanks to Moore’s superb writing and Bolland’s powerful art we can feel the power and the rage.
6. The Best There Is At What He Does (‘Hush Pt 5’, Batman #612)

Batman is following a lead to Metropolis and because he knows Superman lives there he packs his Kryptonite ring, the one thing that could actually kill the Man of Steel! That’s right - he has no reason to believe that there is anything wrong with Superman, nor any reason to believe that he will have to fight him, but he packs the ring anyway. Just in case. Of course, he’s Batman, so as it turns out he’s right and Superman does need a beating. Talk about forward thinking, eh? Must be hard, being friends with Batman. He’s probably got a spare Green Lantern ring kicking about in case Hal Jordan ever needs taking down again….
5. “Tonight I Am The Law” (The Dark Knight Returns #4)

Thanks to Superman and those pesky Commies an EMP has knocked out all the power in America and Gotham is in chaos. Batman needs to re-impose order but the GCPD has an arrest warrant out on him and so he needs manpower from elsewhere, and he finds it by commandeering the Mutants street gang. Of course, with the Batmobile out of commission he needs to find another mode of transport……

In interviews Frank Miller has said that the scenes with Batman on horseback are supposed to invoke an image of him as a hero from an earlier, simpler time, like the Lone Ranger or Zorro. And you certainly can’t argue with fantastic iconography like this and it was a tough choice between this scene and the later one with Batman charging towards the reader with lasso in hand.
4. The Ultimate Gatecrasher ('Year One Pt 2', Batman #405)

Working his way up from the streets to the people in power, Batman declares war on the corrupt fat cats who have allowed crime to prosper in Gotham. He waits for them to gather together at a party then takes out their bodyguards, blows a whole in the wall, and plunges them into darkness, into his element. Once again Frank Miller shows that, in the days before Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman, he had a real handle on the character as he develops the concept of criminals being a “superstitious, cowardly lot” by having Batman intimidate Gotham’s movers and shakers. He doesn’t hit any of them, none of them get thrown out of a window or dangled off a fire escape, he just speaks to them - but they are just as terrified of him as any two-bit street thug would be.
3. “The Most Dangerous Man On Earth” (JLA #3)

The JLA, including Superman, have all been taken down by the mysterious Hyperclan. Only Batman remains free and they believe he is no threat as he is “only a man”, but as Superman replies, “he is the most dangerous man on Earth!” What the Hyperclan don’t know is that the World’s Greatest Detective has worked out their secret – they’re actually Martians. And as such that means they’re vulnerable to fire. In just a few pages Grant Morrison nails Batman as a character much more completely than he has managed over the last couple of years in the main title. You don’t even see the fight, you don’t need to…… who needs the Justice League, Batman can save the world on his own any day!
2. A Fiendish Death Trap (‘Gothic Pt 5’, Legends Of The Dark Knight #10)

A second showing for Grant Morrison in the Top 5, this time from the very late 80s and the early days of Legends Of The Dark Knight. The evil Mr Whisper has Batman captured and incapacitated and, in true supervillain style, he sets up an elaborate death trap. Over the course of three tightly drawn pages Morrison details the kind of death trap that was a staple of Batman comics in the 60s…. and then subverts the whole thing by having Batman escape with ease – no tense dialogue, no elaborate explanation, he’s just free. Of course he is, he’s Batman! The dialogue is just the icing on the cake.
1.Born Again (The Dark Knight Returns #1)

I always knew a DKR moment would be Number One, but which moment? Well, what else could it be? We see an old, angry Bruce enraged at what Gotham City has once again become; we see a furious assault on the criminals of Gotham and then finally we see the panel above. Batman back in costume, the Dark Knight returning and, in my mind, the greatest Batman moment ever!

So that’s my favourite Top Ten, and believe me, it could easily have been a Top Fifty! So feel free to jump in and let us know your top moments.


Matt Clark said...

An impressive list, particularly since I can't begin to imagine how you whittled it down to 10. Off the top of my head I'd probably add a panel or two from Batman: War On Crime by Alex Ross, somthing from The Killing Joke, maybe a panel from Gotham Central and without question someting by Darwyn Cooke, but when I think of how many comic panels I've seen during my lifetime......

Good work Ian!

Ian said...

Thanks Matt. No, it wasn't easy, whittling it down to 10! Just for interest the original shortlist also included, alongside Gotham Central and War On Crime as you suggested, The Long Halloween, Kingdom Come, Year 100, Action Comics Annual 1 (the full page Art Adams spread with the vampire and the stake), more JLA, Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run and the some of the 70's Neal Adams stuff etc etc......