6 essential DC Comics you should read before seeing 'The Batman'

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6 essential DC Comics you should read before seeing 'The Batman'

Here's your reading list for Matt Reeves' new cinematic Dark Knight.

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This spring, we're getting not just another Batman movie, but an entirely new cinematic incarnation of The Dark Knight, when The Batman swoops into theaters. Directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson as the title character, the film promises a dark, Seven-esque take on a version of DC's Batman who's still trying to find his way, along with new big-screen versions of Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), Penguin (Colin Farrell), and The Riddler (Paul Dano), not to mention Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis). 

Any time is a good time to read Batman comics, of course, but any time a new movie starring the Caped Crusader emerges, it feels like a great time to hit the books and brush up on where the character has been. But which comics should you really be reading to prepare for The Batman? We obviously won't know for sure until we see the film unfold, but you probably want to get a little bit of post-Year One Batman in there, a little Catwoman, a little Riddler, a little Penguin, and so on. You also, if you're setting out on this mission, might want to avoid a few of the more obvious choices. At this point, you don't need to be told to read Batman: Year One or Batman: The Long Halloween again, right?

With all that in mind, here's a half-dozen comics we think could make great preparatory reading for The Batman. And hey, even if you don't feel prepared, you'll at least feel entertained.

1. Zero Year (Batman Vol. 2 #21-27 & #29-33)

Batman #32 Comic Cover CX

Everyone remembers Batman: Year One as a seminal origin story for the character, but if you're looking for both an alternate take and an epic story that heavily features The Riddler, look no further than Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's modern classic.

An alternate take on Batman's origin conceived for the New 52 era, Zero Year both honors the origin stories that came before and takes things to a considerably grander scale. Batman wrestles in a pit of lions at one point, battles the Red Hood gang at another, and eventually engages The Riddler in a citywide showdown with the fate of all of Gotham hanging in the balance. It's probably a far cry from The Batman's grounded approach, but it's a great Riddler showcase, and an ambitious Batman take very much worth the ride.

2. Prey (Legends of the Dark Knight #11-15)

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #11 Comic Cover CX

Legends of the Dark Knight launched in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity reorganization, with the goal of telling relatively self-contained stories from Batman's early years. That ambitious plan eventually gave us us plenty of post-Year One tales of a Dark Knight still finding his way. Among those, Prey is a very compelling early success story.

Created by Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy, and Terry Austin, the story features Batman at the center of controversy as Gotham's government labels him a public menace and assembles a task force to bring him down. Of course, the head of this task force, Jim Gordon, isn't so sure he should be hunting Batman. Then there's Hugo Strange, who's brought in as a consultant to get inside Batman's head, and becomes predictably obsessed with the Caped Crusader in a very dark, very interesting way. Throw in Catwoman moving through the background of the story, and Bruce Wayne's attempts to finish his first Batmobile, and you've got a great tale from Batman's second year. (And a solid unofficial companion to The Batman.)

3. The Court of Owls (Batman Vol. 2 #1-11)

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The story that kicked off the New 52 reboot of Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's introduction to their incarnation of Gotham City eventually unveiled a vast conspiracy involved a secret society of Gotham's elite, with direct ties to Bruce Wayne's family and his own father's past.

We don't necessarily expect the Court of Owls themselves to turn up in The Batman, but given how much The Riddler in the film seems to be focused on a conspiracy involving Gotham's elite citizens, including Bruce Wayne, it feels like a worthy inclusion on this list. Plus, it's worth it to go back to the Snyder-Capullo run just to see how influential it's been on all Batman media in the decade since it launched. 

4. Joker's Asylum: Penguin

Joker's Asylum #1 Penguin Comic Cover CX

The Joker's Asylum event was basically just a series of one-shots, each focused on a different villain, with stories introduced by the Joker from his cell in Akrham. Penguin's installment features a rare DC Comics scripting appearance from Marvel icon Jason Aaron, and centers with laser focus on a story of Oswald Cobblepot's insecurities and vindictive nature. Batman's barely in it, but it's a compelling, emotional, and chilling look at why Penguin is the way he is, and a reminder that he's capable of some pretty savage stuff when he's pushed. 

5. Catwoman: Anodyne (Catwoman Vol. 3 #1-4)

Catwoman #1 Comic Cover CX

In 2002, Catwoman got a reinvention and a new lease on life in Gotham under the comics dream team of Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, and Mike Allred. The results were some of the most spectacular Selina Kyle storytelling in DC Comics history, and it all starts right here with the very first arc.

Anodyne finds Selina returning to Gotham to find that a serial killer is stalking her old haunts. In the process, she reconnects with Batman, gets a new costume, and puts herself into some very unique and thrilling situations. It's an arc that leans heavily into the antihero nature of Selina's story, and because it's the launch of a long-running volume, it points the way to numerous other stories beyond it. 

6. Batman: The Imposter

Batman: The Imposter #1 Comic Cover CX

Filmmaker Mattson Tomlin spent time working on The Batman in its scripting stage, helping Matt Reeves craft the story, and he ended up with so many fresh Dark Knight ideas that he took some of them over to DC Comics.

Written by Tomlin with art by Andrea Sorrentino and Jordie Bellaire, The Imposter features a Batman who's a little more than a year into his career (much like the Batman of the film), contending with exactly that the title suggests: An imposter. As two Batmen move through Gotham, Bruce Wayne's own conception of the crimefighter he wants to be is brought into even sharper focus in this tight, action-packed three-issue miniseres.

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