Batman at 75: Jim Lee and Bruce Timm talk most memorable comic stories

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On July 23, comic book stores everywhere will celebrate Batman Day as part of DC Comics’ yearlong celebration of the Caped Crusader’s 75th anniversary. In anticipation of the big day, EW conducted separate interviews with DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee and Batman the Animated Series creator and producer Bruce Timm, asking each to pick the most memorable and significant Batman stories of the past 75 years.

Both Lee and Timm have be heavily involved with Batman throughout their careers. Apart from being co-publisher of DC (alongside Dan Didio), Lee has illustrated several Batman comics including Batman: Hush with writer Jeph Loeb and All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder with legendary writer Frank Miller. In addition to his work on Batman the Animated Series and the rest of the DC Animated Universe, Timm has produced  several animated feature film adaptations of Batman classic Batman stories including Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: Under the Red Hood.

When asked to pinpoint Batman’s greatest arcs, both men cited a few usual suspects— Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. But each list also contained a few surprises, revealing each one’s knowledge and love of the character’s history. Here’s what they had to say:

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Year One, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by  David Mazzucchelli (1987)

“[Batman: Year One], I think, was a lot more restrained in its storyline and its tone than The Dark Knight Returns, but it really showed the origin in a fresh new way. [It] gave a raw grittiness that [was] really rooted in reality, and I think it’s a testament to the strength of the storyline that Batman doesn’t appear in costume until later on in the storyline. Typically you want to open with it, [to] make sure people know that they’re reading a Batman comic book. But they just took their time and really let it develop. And yet at the same time, they didn’t contradict anything that came before. They really built on the existing mythology and just brought a whole new fresh and modern spin to it. ” —Jim Lee

“To me, that’s one of my absolute, all-time favorite Batman stories. Just in terms of the complete package of the story and the arc, and the approach to Batman: the way it’s really down to Earth, without science fiction elements. Batman himself was pretty much the weirdest thing in it, which I think is really cool. It had a big impact on how I treated the character moving forward, once I started doing the Batman the Animated Series…the fact that Batman wasn’t running around cracking jokes, or even really talking to people a whole lot. He was really silent. He was very much the mysterious figure in the shadows. He basically spoke with his fists more than anything else.” —Bruce Timm

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Image Credit: DC Comics

The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller (1986)
“That hit me just as I was graduating from college, and The Dark Knight Returns was the book that really inspired me to want to become a comic book professional…It had not only a whole different look, from hand colored pages, to better quality paper, to different binding, and a new format, but [also] the whole storyline. The narrative took on a whole new level of sophistication and tone that really showed what the medium could be capable of, and that just blew me away.” —JL

“I think there were certain interesting things that Miller did in that book. The way he treated the villains especially, the Joker and Two Face…[When it came out] it was all just like, ‘Wow, you’d never seen Batman treated that way in the comics before.’ You know, they kind of toyed with it during the Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil era, but even that stuff wasn’t nearly as…I don’t want to say realistic because it’s not particularly realistic, but it’s grounded in a kind of serious drama. ” —BT

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil’s run on the Batman comic (1970-1974)
“I think it really established and changed the whole direction of the mythos. It went from being more campy and science fiction-y, and Batman became more [like] the original incarnation of the character to this dark, kind of brooding crusader for justice. And they introduced a lot of new villains and love interests, and it took Batman in a fresh new direction.” —JL

“‘The Joker’s Five Way Revenge,’ which is a very classic Joker story [by Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil] and was a big influence on all of us here in terms of how we treated the Joker [on Batman the Animated Series]. At that point in the comics, that was like the first at least semi-serious treatment of the Joker—that he wasn’t just the silly guy with the silly crimes, [but] that he was actually kind of deadly. I think that was like the first time the Joker ever actually killed anybody in the comics in like 30 years.” —BT

Grant Morrison’s work on Batman

“I think he’s one of the few writers that reads everything that came before and figures out a creative way to incorporate everything and say, ‘You know what? This all actually existed. There’s no such thing as out-of-canon. Everything’s in canon, and I’m going to figure out a way to tell this mythology of this character so that it is beholden and true to everything that came before it.’ So if that’s your cup of tea, then he’s the writer for you. He’s the very best at doing that kind of thing, and I marvel at his skills and abilities as a creator.” —JL

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Batman and Son, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Andy Kubert (2006)

“I think Grant took that notion of what if Batman had a kid—what would that relationship be like?—and he breathed new life into that classic, decade-long dualism. The dynamic duo is something that everyone knows of and is familiar with from the comics and the TV show, and he did his own take on it and really made that notion of a sidekick an interesting and cool one. Because [sidekicks are] often done in fictional universes to make characters more attractive to younger readers and viewers, and it doesn’t always come off right. He did it in just the way that really struck the right note and made it really cool.” —JL

“I think Grant is always really interesting. I thought what he did with Damian was awesome. He was a really fun character.” —BT

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Batman and Robin, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely (2009)

“I think the whole storyline…where you saw Dick Grayson assume the role of Batman…was really interesting, because I think the tendency among fans is to think, ‘Well, these characters are all interchangeable. Once they put on the mask, he’s Batman.’ It really shows that no, these characters are very different—Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson—and it’s really fun because the stories that featured him were about Dick Grayson being Batman, but also went a long way to show how unique and different Bruce Wayne was as Batman.” —JL

“I thought one of the absolute best Robins was Damian. Specifically, there was that whole arc when Batman was supposedly dead, and Dick Grayson took over Batman, and Damian just wasn’t having it. He’s just like, ‘Who are you? You’re a fake Batman. I should be Batman.’ Even though he’s only like, 11 years old and four feet tall or whatever. I thought his relationhip with Dick Grayson was genius. It was just hilarious.” —BT

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Court of Owls, written by Scott Snyder, illustrated by Greg Capullo (2011)

“[Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo] came onto the book and added all these cool elements to the mythology. One of the hardest things to do as a comic-book creator is working on a character that’s been around for 75 years. How do you add something new that hasn’t been done before, yet make it feel like it’s been there since day one? And just the whole notion of owls being natural predators of the bat, and the sort of totems or images or talismans of owls that permeated the city—whether it was in gargoyles or in just little reliefs in the actual edifices of the skyscrapers—it really showed that there’s this secret history to Gotham City and the Wayne family that hadn’t been explored before, and it felt like something that had been around for decades. Although, it was brand new additions to the mythology. It was really cool, and that sparked some of the incredible sales gains that we’ve got post launch of the new 52.” —JT

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Detective Comics: The Laughing Fish!, written by Steve Englehart, illustrated by Marshall Rogers (1978)

“The whole Steve Englehart and Marshal Rogers run was a really super-huge influence on us too. It was probably more about the villains than anything else, because it was interesting the way, in that comic, they brought the Joker back again…The Joker story in the arc ‘The Laughing Fish’ was a great story. It was really creepy. He was murdering these guys that were seemingly nobodies, [and] basically daring Batman to stop him. It was sort of a classic Joker setup, but it was done superbly. That whole arc was a pretty big influence on us.” —BT

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America:  Tower of Babel by Mark Waid (2001)

“[It’s] revealed that Batman was basically in the Justice League to help the league fight evil, but he’s also there to keep tabs on all of these very super powerful beings…He had to have a way to stop every single one of these heroes if they ever decided to go bad. He would be the lone defender of humanity at that point, and that just really elevated the character to a whole different level. You realize that you respected him that much more because he’s there, next to all these almost godlike beings, and he’s tasked with this almost impossible mission, yet here he is accomplishing [it]. I thought that really gave some great insight into Batman’s role within the DC Universe. I would include that storyline as one of the best.” —JL


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