If you read the last post, you know what’s going on. Here are another 5 accessible, self-contained Batman stories that usually don’t make it to the big lists but are nevertheless worth tracking down:
‘Black Masterpiece’ (Batman Annual #18)
When a band of Gotham thieves, headed by a pretentious curator, steals the Mona Lisa and holds the painting for ransom, it’s up to Batman to recover the famous artwork. Intercut with this narrative, we get a saga set in 15th/16th century Florence, where the actual Mona Lisa (the woman who served as model) is kidnapped and a rich orphan goes to her rescue while wearing a Bat-suit and wings designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself! The result is not exactly an Elseworlds tale about an early modern Caped Crusader as much as a taut story that first draws parallels between the two plotlines and ultimately brings them together in a particularly cool ending.
‘Anatomy of a Murder’ (Shadow of the Bat #71)
I had to include at least one mystery tale. The World’s Greatest Detective investigates the stabbing of an ordinary man, piercing through the web of love, hatred, jealousy, and contradictory behaviors that make up any life. My passion for Alan Grant’s twisted creations is no secret, but here we don’t get madcap villains or inventive action set pieces, just a labyrinthic whodunit and grounded human drama.
Penciller Mark Buckingham has the ungrateful task of illustrating a comic which consists mostly of interviews with each of the suspects. He nevertheless takes every opportunity to shine, such as in the image above, which features what has got to be one of the most generous depictions of the size of Batman’s cape.
‘Deathtrap A-Go-Go!’ (Batman Adventures (v2) #9)
In an abandoned warehouse somewhere in Gotham, the Dynamic Duo, surrounded by monsters and caught in a deathtrap with time ticking away until their supposed demise (or as Batman might as well call it, just another night), discuss the very concept of ‘deathtrap.’ What the comic lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in hilarious gags and one-liners. Less a metafictional satire of a ridiculous trope than a celebration of its imaginative potential, there are enough ideas in these 17 pages to fill in a 2-year run by today’s pacing standards. As if that wasn’t enough, the issue’s backup story, in which Bruce Wayne goes to a therapy evaluation, is just as witty.
‘Work That’s Never Done’ (Batman Confidential #49)
Few comics have nailed Batman’s inner voice as captivatingly as this one. Following a 911 distress call, the Dark Knight arrives on a crime scene ahead of the cops and we are shown how the mind of the World’s Greatest Detective operates. Besides figuring out what happened and tracking down the killer, readers are privy to parallel, non-stop deductions delivered with terse precision: ‘When I woke up this afternoon, crumbs were on the stairs and in the kitchen. Either the mansion has mice or Alfred is burned out and stress-eating again. I’ll need to set some traps or buy him a round trip ticket to Bermuda.’
‘The Guardian of 100 Cities!’ (Batman #95, reprinted in Batman #258)
Finally, I wanted an example from Batman’s most innocent era. While this may not be the cleverest or wackiest tale Bill Finger ever scripted, nor one with particularly creative visuals by Sheldon Moldoff, it’s still one that gets me every time. The overall plot is quite simple, involving Batman and Robin chasing a bunch of criminals in a movie set and befriending an aging actor called Roger Stanton in the process. Yet there is so much charm packed into these 8 pages!
The story opens with a well-pulled twist, setting up the reader for a supernatural, globe-trotting adventure, only to quickly scale things down in the transition to the second page. Other twists follow, as Roger Stanton keeps surprising the Dynamic Duo and growing as a character until the very end. As was typical of the time, the action scenes incorporate the setting in fun ways, like when Robin knocks out a crook by swinging from a Dutch windmill. There are also cute details, such as the Caped Crusader holding the fugitives in a movie prop jail. Finally, it’s hard to resist a comic where the Boy Wonder utters the line: ‘Batman, I saw something moving near the Taj Mahal!’
NEXT: Batman goes skiing.