This July marked the celebration of 75 years of Batman. Seventy-five years since The Bat-Man’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (1939). With 75 years of publication history, it’s almost impossible to read everything Batman related. Some issues are not compiled in trade paperbacks and some trades are no longer in print, which means that some Batman stories must be found as they were originally printed – as single issue comic books.
To celebrate the 75 years of Batman publication history I visited my local comic book store, Earth 2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, where they had the most incredible display of Batman comics this collector has ever seen. Everything on the wall was Batman related, including Batman and Detective Comics dating back to the 1940’s. It was like a museum and homage to the world’s greatest detective. I spent hours in the store and I picked up some real gems, some hard-to-find back issues of The Bat-Man.
Here is a list of five of my favorite Batman one-shots. This list does not include Batman story arcs like Year One or Hush, but rather single issues that were slipped between two or three-part story arcs to give writers and artists a break from the monthly routine, and to give readers a chance to enjoy Batman in a run-and-gun, over-and-done single issue adventure.
The Scarecrow has developed a new fear elixir and its results are terrifying. He’s using the elixir to extort information from wealthy Gothamites and gain access to their valuables. But The Bat-Man uses his skill as a detective to uncover Jonathon Crane’s scheme and defeats The Scarecrow and his henchmen in a fist-flying confrontation. Despite that this issue was published in the late 1970’s, after the darker Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams run, The Sinister Straws of The Scarecrow is a little 1960’s campy Batman, yet it has the redeeming qualities of a complex pulp-detective story that I enjoy.
Bruce Wayne returns to Wayne manor after a romantic night out with Vicki Vale, but the manor is not what it seems. Bruce is having hallucinations. Alfred and Dick are trying to kill him. It’s the diabolical work of the mad psychologist, Dr. Hugo Strange. Strange has returned from the dead and has a score to settle with Batman. He’s the only villain to know Batman’s secret identity and he died at the hands of mob boss Rupert Thorne keeping it a secret. But now, he’s come back to life and Strange feels entitled to the Batman identity. He’s completely insane and in The Double Life of Hugo Strange by Gerry Conway and Don Newton, his insanity shows in spades as he becomes a better Batman than the original.
Brothers in making, not by birth: The Ogre and the Ape. These two outcasts seek vengeance on the doctors that turned them into monstrosities, and Batman cannot allow a pair of serial killers to run loose in Gotham City. He hunts them down by identifying a graffiti mark left at their crime scenes, one that signifies a wicked scientific experiment from many years ago. This issue is brought to you by my favorite team of Batman writer, artist, and inker; Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, and John Beatty. Their stories and art were unique, portraying Batman as a terrifying creature that prowls for criminals in the dark, shadowy streets of Gotham.
In this deluxe edition one-shot by Alan Grant, the creator of The Ventriloquist and Scarface, Arnold Wesker is released from Arkham Asylum after being rehabilitated. He reluctantly sets Scarface on fire and finds himself a new ventriloquist’s dummy. But a dummy like Scarface, who was carved from the wood of the Blackgate Gallows Tree, is hard to kill and he comes back, looking for his owner. It proves that Wesker and Scarface share a bond, one in which there is no escaping from. That ugly little, foul-mouthed, wooden dummy just won’t allow it and he’s got something to say about it too: “Shaddup! You’ll do what I tell ya, or ya’ll suffer.”
Tony Daniel launched the New 52’s Detective Comics in 2011 and I enjoyed his short, yet complex detective tales starring some of Batman’s most fearsome foes. Scare Tactics teams Batman with The Scarecrow as they race to track down a group of criminals responsible for stealing Scarecrow’s fear toxin recipe. The Scarecrow is not so much afraid of the toxin being used on Gotham City, as much as he is angry that someone else will take credit for his creation. You’re a sick, sociopathic man, Mr. Scarecrow, and I love it when you show us your true colors.
There’s a whole lotta Batman out there and trying to figure out where to begin can be difficult. I recommend scouring the back issues at your local comic book shop, or researching the individual issues on ComiXology, or asking questions from veteran comic book collectors. In time, you’ll find your favorite issues. It may take a while, there’s 75 years worth of titles, but it’ll be fun discovering which issues of The Bat-Man you love and cherish the most.