The dark and the light, the yin and the yang. One simply cannot exist without the other. Throughout the 75-year history of the Caped Crusader, the Joker has been the other side to Batman. The flip side of the same coin (sorry, Two-Face), Joker is the lighthearted, murderous worst case scenario of what Batman could become. It all comes down to belief. Batman believes in justice, Joker worships chaos.
As entwined as they are, it only makes sense that DC gives each the deluxe hardcover celebration treatment. Two collections filled with comics ranging from the characters' beginnings in 1939 to the current era and, with Batman in nearly each issue, it would feel odd to review both books separately. Outside of original graphic novels and long story arcs (save issues from "No Man's Land" and "Death in the Family", there are plenty of essential works by some of the finest writers and artists to ever romp in Gotham. So, no "Killing Joke" or "Dark Knight Returns" or "Long Halloween" but, if you haven't read those yet, what are you even doing with your life? This is a chance to feature the stories that people aren't so familiar.
Obviously, the work of Bob Kane and Bill Finger feature prominently in these books as they not just created the characters (Joker, along with Jerry Robinson) but laid out a blueprint for for three quarters of a century. Both Batman's first appearance (in “Detective Comics” #27) and original origin story are included here. The essence of their stories and the motivations of the leads are very much in-line with what we've known of the characters for the last few decades. If one could change the way the comics are laid out and update the dialogue, they can still be riveting stories. This is proven when Brad Meltzer (“Identity Crisis”) and graphic artist genius Chip Kidd team-up to revamp “Detective” 27 with more modern script and amazing layout. It is absolutely chill-inducing.
The fifties introduced the Comics Code Authority and stripped the Dark Knight of his claws. While some might remember the sixties television series as the apex for Batman, ratings and comic sales showed otherwise. Though lighter than ever, these were dark days for the Caped Crusader. In 1970, a duo of the 70's that could rival Finger and Kane bam'd and ka-pow'd that era into submission as they took the hero back to his roots.
Denny O'Neil was the first writer in a long time to truly understand the character of Batman and the tone needed to tell his tales. As far as the art, there was a paradigm shift when Neal Adams began drawing the Dark Knight. You see it in the very first panel of “Detective Comics” #395 and “Batman” #251. O'Neil and Adams added a depth, in both art and narrative, to Batman comics that would reverberate through the decades and today.
The more you read through these stories, the more excited you become as the 1980's and 90's saw even writers play for keeps with darker turns with white hats no longer able to get by unscathed. Here lies proof that there are equally vital stories than those told by the likes of Alan Moore, Frank Miller (whose first Batman art is included), and Grant Morrison. These tomes herald the largely unsung heroes of the Batman like Chuck Dixon, Greg Rucka, and Paul Dini for those that didn't grow up with or grew out of those stories. Fast forward to today with Scott Snyder, who doesn't just write new stories but pays homage and deepens the mythos of the Dark Knight.
Batman doesn't last continuously for 75 years just because he's cool. He endures because of the capable hands he's been placed in, and there have been many. Volumes like these are the types of books that turn casual fans into diehards and diehards in frothing lunatics, in the best possible way. Discover and re-discover the wonder and awe built by generations. These volumes prove that three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and Batman (and the Joker taunting him).