I never would have foreseen that 2013 would be the year that plunged me into a [financially destabilizing] love affair with comic books. I had been reading them on and off—they were, in college, a big part of my reading diet, since the room we all hung out in came stocked with the Fine Arts Program secretary’s extensive graphic novel collection; our housemate has a lot of comic books, too, and when we all first moved in together I’d asked for a reading list from him that I could systematically devour the books on his shelves. But there was never any great desire for me to read comic books—I would read them if they were there, and if they looked remotely interesting. This, I think, was mostly because there was never any great compulsion to own comic books—rather telling, since my bookshelves could gripe that mere possession was a good third of the reading experience for me.
But one of my colleagues at work lent me Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns, and it just sent me into a spiral of Bat-craziness and, subsequently, scarily, a whole slew of comic book hoarding. I’ve always liked Batman—having grown up with the animated series, the Justice League series and its specials, the odd movies here and there (culminating in Christopher Nolan’s masterful trilogy)—but I’d hardly seen him on the page. That is: I knew Batman, the mythos, the pop culture icon—but I never had an encounter with him, distilled, as he originally was.
I don’t take lightly the whole “Books That Changed Your Life” tag, y’all—but The Dark Knight Returns changed my fucking life. This book caused the very landscape of my reading to change—the bowing bookshelves that hold my growing collection [!] of comic books can attest to that. TDKR barreled its way through a barricade I had unintentionally built around a whole genre of literature, gave me new great things to fall in love with, and has since ensured that I will spend my last days at the poorhouse. When I finally saw a copy of TDKR at the bookstore–when I was at the cusp of finally owning it, finally having the book for myself—I just stood before it, barely breathing and oh-so-still. And then, of course, I lunged at it with flailing limbs and not-quite-dry eyes. TDKR was mine, mine at last.
The quality of today’s comic books have given me that odd but completely welcome feeling of being a complex and terribly angst-ridden adult—and, at the same time, a child who’s all too ready for wonder. My heartbeat falls too heavily when I’m about to read a comic book, and then there’s this pure joy when I’m in the midst of the reading. Vengeance! Justice! Human decency! Badass machinery! Angst parties! Story lines that do not condescend, that bring everything good about the novel into a glossy book-as-object! The artistry that goes into each page, how threaded with thought these books are! And, as I’ve been saying for months now: Nothing fucking beats an aging Batman in a rearing stallion!
When I love, I research. This principle, applied to human beings, corresponds to stalking—but with loving Batman, it’s hours of crouching over the laptop to read everything that I can about the man. Everything that I’ve missed, everything that I should have known, everything that I can look forward to. And so there were weeks where I was wading deep into the Chris Sims archive over at Comics Alliance, and his articles—funny, insightful, empathically fanatical, dog-with-a-bone-ish—have lent themselves to why I’m as crazy about Batman as I am. One of the first columns of his I’d read was his thoughts on, naturally, The Dark Knight Returns—and then I followed that up with David Brothers’ gleefully comprehensive “The Grand Unified Theory of Frank Miller’s Batman: Will, Hope, and Tenderness,” which pretty much ensured I’d get my hands on every Miller there was. And I kept wading through the Comics Alliance archive, gravitating toward Sims. no matter how widely I’d cast my Batman-glomming net, because he stoked my fangirly feels in a way no one else would. So. For purely selfish reasons—I grow tired of digging through my bookmarks—here are some of Chris Sims’ columns, which were, for me, a primer on my darling Caped Crusader:
- Of course I believe that Bruce Wayne is the mask Batman wears—but Sims sorta kicking that thinking in the butt in “Batman vs. Bruce Wayne” has sent me into paroxysms of glee.
- Paroxyms of glee that Batman won’t have: Batman’s Happy Ending.
- Superman, Batman, and the World’s Finest Friendship, because although the whole Batman vs. Superman debacle has reached Brontë vs. Austen levels in my head, I still get tickled pink at how their friendship makes absolute perfect sense to me. [Bonus material: Batman and Superman hanging out at Superhero Café, because the P. and I spending the wee hours of the morning laughing at this has helped with the Batman-loving.]
- Why Doesn’t Batman Kill?
- Nobody Gets Better at Arkham, an amazing overview of the Bats’ rogues’ gallery; and, on a related note: Batman vs. Psychiatry, on why a good chunk of the Batman’s villains are shrinks. [Last year, I read an anthology of major Scarecrow tales, and apparently Crane turned into the Scarecrow because a) his colleagues teased him about his shabby clothes, and b) he figured a life of crime would bring him money to buy books. I like you, Scarecrow.]
- I’ve never really been a fan of the Riddler, I’m simply ambivalent about him since I have nothing to go on. But here’s Sims on why the Riddler’s the perfect foil to Batman as the World’s Greatest Detective—an insight so simple and tidy that never, ever occurred to me.
- And while we’re at it, here’s how the Batman became the World’s Greatest Detective.
- And I didn’t know I needed this: Batman vs. Harry Potter.
- And here’s the brand of Batman: Everything I had to know about the Batmobile, and for some reason—okay, I remember those horrid engraved nipples on the Batman Forever costume—a rundown of the Batman’s Worst Costumes.
- A crash course on The Boy Wonder, and his different incarnations—or, basically, the boys and girls who put on the tights. This is, admittedly, the part of the Batman mythos that’s been hazy to me for the longest time. Also, Batman’s Robin in The Dark Knight Returns had me yelping. [Erm. While we're at it: The Gayness of Batman: A Brief History. Okay.]
- So The Dark Knight Returns was just the beginning, and my magpie heart pretty much made sure that I would get the best Batman stories that were out there. But here’s Sims on the Next Best Batman Stories, which really didn’t help my wallet much.
Yes, it’s a Chris Sims party up there. I have been branching out, though—rather memorably, I read Grant Morrison’s Supergods, part history of the superhero comic and part memoir, and I just got a kick out of knowing stuff that I’d have no one to talk to about. I also bought The Batman Vault for myself last Christmas [that's the big chunk of book at the far-left of the topmost picture], so: Excite.
But I’ve found Batman in a rather unexpected place last year—an amazing, this-was-meant-for-me place. Elizabeth Hoyt, one of the historical romance novelists I’ve mostly enjoyed in the past, came out with Duke of Midnight—which was basically a Georgian-era Batman. Guys. There’s a historical novel whose hero is pretty much Batman. Guys, why have I not imploded with this truth? And: The heroine is pretty much Wonder Woman—our hero’s pet name for her is Diana, of all things—and all those hours of me watching Justice League has made sure that I ship these two hard.
[I am sure you've long detected a tinge of hysteria to my ramblings. I apologize: Long day on three hours of sleep, and currently guzzling a concoction with four shots of espresso straight from the Devil's pantry.] So. Quickly now—because I feel a collapse on the horizon—Duke of Midnight is about a masked vigilante—the Ghost of St. Giles!—who patrols a grimy alley at night hoping to rid it out of crime and crime-producing evil gin, and who happens to be an aloof and overbearing but sought-after Duke in the daytime. He has a dungeon with all sorts of fancy-shmancy fighting stuff, also an Alfred. His parents died when he was really young, at that very alley—he’s been mired in guilt and driven by vengeance ever since. BATMAN.
Despite my madness—I was pretty much mumbling Batman, Batman, Batman under my breath for most of the reading—the romance between our vigilante-Duke and one Artemis still had me swooning. This, kids, is no mean feat. Artemis is formidable, decent, impassioned, and in possession of a stillness that made her seem almost otherworldly to both Mr. Vigilante Duke and I. And Maximus (how’s that for an overbearing vigilante-Duke name?) keeps referring to her as this untouchable goddess—and, later, he, with much affection, calls her his Diana. I FAINT. Ahem. If anyone was working out target demographics for this book, my name was all over it. (Jesus fuck, I cannot wait to reread this book.)
With the last of my energy, sanity, even consciousness: Here, now, why do I love Batman? Why do I love a man so traumatized by grief and marked by unholy anger, whose life’s course runs along those paths alone? Why do I like the cowl, and the scowl that’s almost always beneath it? Why do I love his widdle pointy ears and his cape and those thingies on his gloves that idk where those even ever used as a weapon doesn’t he just snag on shit oh my god what the Batmobile upholstery must look like! Why do I love a man who, at the bottom of it all, stands there overlooking his darling flawed Gotham, alone and lonely, vicious and estranging and terrifying? Why does the image of an aging Batman atop a rearing stallion remain the motherfucking shit, and will remain so in years to come? Why did the barista put four espresso shots in my drink who orders this thing and how can they function afterward! Why am I in love with his moral gray areas but so attuned to his streak of decency? Why did my housemate give me a Batman doll, one of my best friends a Batman tote bag, my boyfriend Batman earrings? Why do I want to go home right now and throw myself upon my shelf, all the while yelling, “I am Vengeance, I am the Night, I—am—Batman!” And why have I embarrassed myself before the Internet this way!