Thursday, July 31, 2014

Batman - Top 10 Writers

Yeah I know, you've probably read 75 other lists by now of the best Batman writers, artists, stories, heroes, villains, gadgets (Bat Shark Repellant Spray better be #1), etc. by now. Well then here's list number 76. In recognition of Batman's 75th, I got inspired to rank my own personal favorite Bat writers. I've read a lot of Batman over the years so I like to think of myself as qualified to compile such a list. Need credentials? 

Behold my Bat-Shelf:

Now that we've got that out of the way, on to the list!

10) Marv Wolfman

Wolfman's greatest contributions to the Batman mythos revolve around the most famous sidekick in comic book history; Robin. After the shocking death of Jason Todd, it was decided that Batman needed a Robin to bring out his lighter side. Enter Tim Drake, the third Robin, who was introduced in A Lonely Place of Dying. Dick Grayson had long since graduated to the roll of Nightwing and in welcoming Tim to the family, DC comics had its most popular Robin in decades. As impactful as this storyline was, I think Wolfman's greatest achievement in the world of Batman is Year 3. The story splits time between the present day, featuring a grown Nightwing, and flashbacks which fill in some gaps concerning Sal Maroni, the murderer of Dick’s parents. These stories pack an emotional punch and prove why Wolfman was the man for the job when it came to creating a new super team around Dick in the Teen Titans. Not to mention, he’s a real nice guy!

 Notable Works: Year 3, A Lonely Place of Dying

9) Doug Moench

Moench's Terror and Prey may be one of the best one two punches in Batman's 75 years, zeroing in on one of his earliest villains, Professor Hugo Strange. In addition, Moench successfully took Batman to a place he'd never been before in Red Rain, turning the Dark Knight into a creature of the night in this vampire saga, one of the more memorable Elseworlds tales. Moench is beginning to receive his due with the recent collection of his, and frequent collaborator, Kelly Jones' classic run. Like fellow lister, Alan Grant, Moench also lent his talents to the Knightfall saga, which, let’s face it, is a classic Batman series.

Notable Works: Red Rain, Terror, Prey

8) Jeph Loeb

The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Two of the greatest Batman stories ever told. These alone would earn any writer a place on this list. Just when you thought that Loeb was finished making his mark on Gotham, he delivers an all-star collaboration with Jim Lee on Hush, the icing on the cake. He even collaborated with Darwyn Cooke on a delightful Batman/The Spirit crossover, which, as with the previously mentioned story arcs, made great use of Loeb’s penchant for working in so many Bat villains for his artist to draw. Of everything Loeb has ever written, he has yet to top his work on Batman, so it’s a shame that as an exec at Marvel we won’t be seeing any more Bat stories from him anytime soon. Even if he never drops by Gotham again, his contributions will continue to pave the way for future generations of Bat writers to come.

Notable Works: The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Hush

7) Alan Grant

Batman’s stories in the ‘90s would not be the same if it weren’t for Alan Grant. Along with artist Norm Breyfogle, Grant delivered a solid run during this decade and contributed to many essential crossovers as well as co-creating a handful of standout characters along the way including Anarky, Jeremiah Arkham, Mr. Zsasz, and most notably Scarface and the Ventriloquist, one of the most undervalued villains in Batman’s rogues gallery. Under Dennis O’Neil’s guiding hand, Grant helped make the Knightfall saga one of the most memorable events in Batman’s history. Chuck Dixon was also part of that writing team, and while his contributions are worth noting, I have to give Grant the edge for the criminal mastermind dummy wielding a tommy gun.

Notable Works: Detective Comics #583-594 , Knightfall, No Man’s Land

6) Grant Morrison

Morrison’s epic run on Batman was highly anticipated and threw readers many curveballs from the very start with the introduction of Damian, Bruce Wayne’s lovechild with Talia Al Ghul. Things only got weirder from here. Batman died (sorta), traveled through time, and formed the international Batman Inc. upon his return. The story that Morrison was weaving was grandiose in scope and had a mission statement to make every Batman story that ever was be officially apart of his continuity. The Crisis on Infinite Earths that had previously wiped decades of Batman’s history from existence was now reverse retconed. That is, until the New 52 wiped it from existence again. But many of Morrison’s ingredients made the cut and have crossed over into this all new DC universe. In effect, Morrison redefined Batman for the 21st century and his contributions will no doubt be felt another 75 years from now.

Notable Works: Batman and Son, The Black Glove, Batman Inc.

5) Paul Dini

Even if Dini had just stuck to animation he would still be worthy of consideration for his contribution of Harley Quinn to Batman's world. But that's not all folks, as his run on Detective Comics was one of the best in recent years. Not only did he offer us fresh takes on such characters as The Riddler and Scarface and the Ventriloquist, he also put a new face on Hush (literally) and made him infinitely more interesting and dangerous than he had been previously. Unfortunately Dini worked in Morrison's shadow for his entire run but while Morrison’s take was grander in scope, Dini delivered solid Bat stories nonetheless. What’s so great about his run is there is a through line to it where seeds are planted and then pay off later and in doing so he’s crafted a tightly knit serialized superhero drama complete with his signature sense of humor. No writer balances light and dark moments quite as fluidly as Dini, which makes his Joker both a force to be reckoned with yet somehow still lovable (see Mad Love). Between Harley currently starring in her own series and Batman Beyond being integrated into current continuity, Dini’s influence is alive and well.

Notable Works: Mad Love, Detective, Heart of Hush

4) Scott Snyder

The current heir to the Batman throne, Snyder has been helping shape the direction of the Bat family titles since pre-New 52 and managed to rise to the top of the class even while Grant Morrison was dragging Batman through time and back. Between The Black Mirror, Court of Owls and Death in the Family, it seems everything this guy touches turns into an instant classic. Few writers get the Joker the way he does and we’re reminded again why he’s the best (and scariest) villain in comic book history under Snyder’s sick mind (in the best way!). He is currently spearheading the weekly Batman: Eternal series which sees a team of writers utilizing as many extended supporting characters that they can throw in there. It’s safe to say that Snyder’s run will stand the test of time as one of the all-time greatest and it’ll be a sad day when it inevitably comes to a close but for now, we can enjoy it while it lasts.

Notable Works: The Black Mirror, Court of Owls, Death in the Family

3) Frank Miller

Miller left an undeniable stamp on Batman that, to this day, provides inspiration and continues to endure. During the comic book renaissance of the ‘80s, for which his work is partly responsible, his Batman stories bookended the beginning and near end of Batman's career in just two years. Just how influential is Miller’s Batman? Well, if you consider that the Batman v Superman movie was announced with a line reading from The Dark Knight Returns, that should give you a pretty good idea. The minute long preview clip from the movie has Miller’s fingerprints all over it. Not to mention the fact that he penned Batman: Year One, the primary inspiration behind Batman Begins and what was, pre-New 52, considered the starting point for Batman’s canonical tales post-Crisis (yes I realize how esoteric that last sentence was). Batman has never been the same after Miller got his hands on him and I think for that we can all be grateful.

Notable Works: The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Dark Knight Strikes Again

2) Dennis O'Neil

Not only was O’Neil a powerhouse writer in the ‘70s, changing the landscape of Batman as we know it, he continued to be a guiding force throughout the ‘90s with his editorial supervision. His partnership with Neal Adams redefined Batman for a new generation and despite all the credit that Frank Miller gets, they single-handedly brought Batman back to his darker roots. The Venom story line is one of the best Batman stories of all time depicting Batman at his most desperate hour with his extended family powerless to help him. O'Neil also oversaw the Knightfall trilogy which, despite the flack that ‘90s comics often receive, remains an essential storyline in the Bat mythos. A living legend amongst Batman scribes, he may not have created the character, but without him I shudder to think how Batman would have turned out. Bonus points for co-creating Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul who have opened up Batman’s world to endless story possibilities as recently as The Dark Knight Rises and Baman’s son Damian.

Notable Works: Venom, Birth of the Demon, Knightfall

1) Bill Finger

“Bill who?” you might be asking yourself. Without the contributions of Bill Finger, Batman would be unrecognizable today, or worse, have faded away long ago. In addition to the co-creation of Robin, The Joker, Catwoman, the Batmobile, the name of the city Gotham, plus countless other contributions, (not to mention Batman’s origin story), Finger remains the unsung hero of Batman to this day with Bob Kane being credited as Batman’s sole creator. They even named an award after him to help recognize writers whose contributions to the medium should not go unnoticed. Simply put, Finger may not have written the greatest Batman story ever written, but without his creations, the greatest Batman stories written wouldn’t be possible. Bill has been #2 for so long, I thought I’d give him the #1 slot. He’s earned it.

Notable Works: The Joker, Catwoman, Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner Gordon, Robin… BATMAN

Honorable Mentions: Steve Englehart and Alan Moore – If I were making a list of the best Joker writers of all time, Englehart and Moore would be at the top of that list. The Laughing Fish and The Killing Joke are two of the greatest Joker stories ever told and deserve every shred of praise they’ve ever received. Everyone who writes Batman wants a crack at the clown prince of crime, and these two did not disappoint.

So that's my Top 10 Batman Writers as of this posting. Who knows what it will look like in another 75 years from now (yeah, I plan to live that long). Did I miss your favorite writer? Let me know in the comments.

Stay tuned for my Top 10 Batman Artists!

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