FROM YEAR ONE TO DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: A BATMAN CHRONOLOGY
FROM YEAR ONE TO DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: A BATMAN CHRONOLOGY
Back in 1986 I picked up a comic off the shelves that changed my perception of sequential storytelling. I was 15 years old at the time and had been reading comics for as long as I could remember. Batman had long been my favorite character. Well, more specifically Robin had been - ever since I was three years old and I encountered re-runs of the 1960's Batman TV series. I was even lucky enough to meet Burt Ward (in his Robin costume) at a car show in 1976. Considering where my career has landed, it is easy to argue that this exposure was impactful.
To clarify: I'm a professional comic book writer, and have been producing stories since around 1992. I managed to write a few Batman related comics in the late 00's. But long before this, dating back to that day in 1986 when I found a copy of Dark Knight Returns on the shelf, I have been trying to formulate in my own head a complete and functional Batman chronology.
In 2014 (give or take) I had built up a good number of my own personal idealized "canon" stories. So many that I decided I wanted to start archiving them and expanding on the silent list, formalizing it in some capacity. Now, this is "canon" a highly personal and subjective interpretation. It is specifically organized around Miller's style of storytelling that was introduced with Dark Knight, and it happily ignores any official or intended chronology in favor of the one I feel serves the overall structure better. It's also important to make clear that this is by no means a "best of" list. There are many very good stories that will not appear on this list simply because they do not mean specific criteria. As example, there are not Batman comics between the characters creation and 1980, even though personally I find that the 1950's gave us some of the very best and most significant issues. This is not an "ultimate" list. Its' simply the most logical assortment of titles that work between Batman Year One and the Dark Knight Returns, assembled in an order that does it's best not to overtly contradict itself, as well as run in manner I personally find pleasing. Also note: There are probably many great stories that would fit this list that I simply haven't read.
With each entry here I am providing little information outside of the title, with exceptions to pointing out the occasional chronological contradiction. I have really tried to limit these to a minimum, but it seems impossible to omit them 100% and still retain any form of a comprehensive history of the character.
Be warned. You will not see Tim Drake in this list (not really). You will not see Damian Wayne. You will not See Cassandra Cain or many other interesting and awesome characters. This takes us from Year One to Dark Knight Returns, and the fact that those characters did not exist at the time of Dark Knight's publication makes the chronology read a bit weird when we reach the finale if they had some previous inclusion.
I have tried to go through this series of books and identify all the continuity errors. I'm certain I have missed some, particularly when we get closer to the end of the list. There's also a ton of typos and spelling errors because that happens and I'm not overly worried about it.
Lastly, I have chosen to create this list using single issues rather than trade paperbacks. Trade paperbacks often include a collection of stories, and while some may be ideal for this continuity, others are not, despite being placed in the same collection. I'm also not a big fan of trades. I began reading comic books because I love comic books. I don't care how they look on the shelf and I'm not interested in "improved" paper stock or a removal of ads. I want my comics as they were originally published.
Batman is age 25 years old in this series. James Gordon is age 40.
It goes without saying that the series starts here, with Miller's Batman origin story. It's a purposefully designed book end that moved comics away from though balloons and tights, towards practical uniforms and narrative captions. It should also go without saying that these "years" in Batman's life just show the most noteworthy moments. We don't need a comic for every mugger Batman stops or every training session he undergoes. I did try to include a "first" appearance (as well as an evolutionary arc) for each major character, be they hero or villain. But that wasn't always feasible given the scope of this project.
Batman Year One (complete). (First James Gordon, Catwoman, Harvey Dent)
These three stories were literally engineered to follow Year One, and do a good job of it.
The Monster Men (complete) (Hugo Strange)
The Mad Monk (complete) (Nocturna, of a sort)
The Man Who Laughs (First Joker)
After failing to balance a "normal" life with his Batman persona, and consequently dedicating himself more fully to Batamn, Wayne struggles to find a balance between working alone or with others. He fails to do so with Superman, then tries team-building in Snow.
Tenses provides the first small challenge to the continuity. It's not a story necessary in any way, and it can easily be cut. but it's a good piece and it helps cement a different direction for Batman's mission - the responsibilities of Bruce Wayne. It's also a good extra shift from the mob to the psychotic criminal element. Anyway, the continuity error comes at the beginning of Tenses one where Wayne is referred to only have been back a year, and not to have gotten back into the socialite party scene, which he is a part of in previous stories with Julie Madison. It's barely mentioned and then gone. So I feel fine overlooking it..
Snow is referenced as a year and a half after Batman's first appearance. One line. That year is already too crowded with stories that run seamlessly.
Batman and Superman - World's Finest: #1 (First Superman)
Legends of the Dark Knight: Snow (complete) (First Mr. Freeze)
Catwoman: (complete) Trail of the Gun
Wayne age 28. Dick Grayson age 9. Barbara Gordon age 14
This is the hardest year to organize.
Batman fans will likely note the clear absence of Long Halloween and Dark Victory from this list (save one issue placed chronologically below). This is due to a few reason, and is conspicuous enough that an explanation is required. 1: Long Halloween has many admirable traits, unfortunately the fact that all the villains included (save Two-Face) are already established cause many continuity conflicts with this list. 2: I personally prefer the origin from Batman annual 14, and I feel many aspects of Two-Face's origins attributed to Long Halloween actually have their beginning in the very well executed and often over looked annual. 3: I don't like the "villain of the month" flavor to the series. Your mileage may vary though.
With the Mad Hatter appearance, there are indications to suggest this sin't Hatter's first encounter with Batman. Unfortunately a "first" meeting between the pair that fits both my preferred continuity and aesthetic has eluded me to date, so the pair's first meeting happens "off camera").
On that note: This year has a few continuity errors. Like most of them, they're single line sort of things. Each issue of Dark Victory starts off with a date, as does Batman Madness. These all work fine except Dark Victory 10, that one you have to ignore the mention of Fourth of July. In Madness, you have to ignore the single off-hand mention of Scarecrow and largely Two-Face as well. Scarecrow hasn't been introduced yet and it just seems a little early for Batman to recall about Two-Face. Again though, these are single word mentions. Easy to ignore.
Dark Victory, #9 (First Dick Grayson - DV issue 10 is an optional addition)
Batman Annual #14 - 1990. (Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face)
Batman Madness - Legends of the Dark Knight Special #2 (First Mad Hatter, Barbara Gordon)
Dark Victory, #10 (First Dick Grayson - DV issue 10 is an optional addition)
Wayne age 29, Dick Grayson age 10.
Finding an Oliver Queen/Batman story that fit the tone I was an important task as Queen has a significant supporting role in Dark Knight Returns. Setting the character up early was pivotal, but difficult. There are few options out there that fit the right tone, with artwork that felt appropriate, that had no major continuity problems. I was pretty happy to discover this New52 option. gave me exactly what I needed.
There's a reference to Barabara as a high school student in penguin: Pain and Prejudice. This fits the timeline nicely.
Some people have tried to place the Riddler Year One story as if it were a flashback. technically it is, but it's arguably a flashback to events that only just happened, so it fits the timeline as a first appearance fine.
Green Arrow Volume 5 #25 (New52) (First Green Arrow)
Penguin: Pain and Prejudice (complete) (First Penguin, Joker cameo)
Detective Comics annual #8 - 1995 (First Riddler)
Hothouse is one of the earliest books I added to my mental list here. It's beautifully rendered by P. Craig Russel and gives my preferable version of the character which is less super powerful mutant plant goddess and more a woman with psychological issues and deep pharmaceutical knowledge. Much like the problem I had with the Mad Hatter, in the story, there are specific references to this being Ivy's second encounter with Batman. There is no first encounter I have found that fits the chronology and aesthetic I prefer. So Ivy's actual first encounter goes undocumented in this list).
It's also necessary to ignore the "Seven Years Ago" caption at the start of World's Finest. That's generally true anytime you see a caption like that.
Hothouse (complete) (First Poison Ivy - see above note)
Batman and Superman - World's Finest #4
Wayne age 31, Grayson age 12
At this point, I thought it made sense to let the choice of stores slowly steer away from the darker tone of Miller's Year One, and into the brighter world of super-heroes. We're moving away from Batman's crusade as a vigilante and into his role as a superhero. This is what the original Robin brings to Batman's world, and so the stores start getting more "fun" and colorful for a bit.
Small note about Faces, it starts off with a flashback to two years prior to the telling of this story, which places that flashback roughly in line after the last time we saw Two-Face. It's a flashback so that bit works, just bear in mind that opening starts sometime shortly after Dark Victory 10 at the end of Year Five, and the rest is current with Year Seven.
Robin: The Gauntlet (First Grayson as Robin)
Trinity(complete) (First Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Ra's al Ghul, Bizarro, Artemis)
Also worth mentioning, with Robin now appearing properly, we start to see stories that orbit Batman's existence, that don't always include or feature Batman. The story of Dick Grayson's growth is an important one for a variety of reason. Especially since through the lens of Grayson we can measure Batman's own ageing process and through that, the rest of the supporting characters.
Robin: Year One (complete) (First Blockbuster, Killer Moth)
Legends of the DC Universe #6 (Superman Robin team-up)
This chronology assumes that the JLA formed sometime during the previous year. I haven't found a version of the origin that clicks with this timeline, but the seeds are planted with Trinity so the rest isn't a huge leap.
Catwoman: When in Rome - since I didn't include Long Halloween or Dark Victory, there's some flexibility to place this where ever serves best. Selina's been out of Bruce's life for over five years at this point.
Scarecrow Year One (complete) (First Scarecrow)
Teen Titans: Year One, issues 1-3. (First Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Speedy, Flash)
Catwoman: (complete) When in Rome (Riddler, Scarecrow appearances)
Wayne age 34, Barbara age 20, Grayson age 15
No continuity conflicts to call out here. In case anyone reading is wondering at the split on Teen Titans, the first 3 issues of Titans is an origin, while 4 and 5 clearly take place some time after their formation. Furthermore, the Titans are referenced in Batgirl a couple of times. So they have to be established before Batgirl enters the picture. Yet Robin is still a young-ish teen during these stories, while Batgirl is out of college. The age gap also helps explain why Batgirl didn't join the Teen Titans - same reason she didn't join in the 60's - she's an adult!
Catwoman 1-4 has a few placement problems. One: There is a reference to Batman working with someone named "Oracle". This is pretty much the only reference to Oracle in this timeline, as Barbara Gordon never becomes that character here. So I let this one pass as a one-off remark to someone Batman uses for info. He's bound to have characters like that. So it's not a big deal.
Teen Titans: Year One issues 4 - 5.
Catwoman issues 1-4 (First Clayface)
Legends of the Dark Knight #38 - Dark Mite (First Bat-Mite)
Legends of the Dark Knight Special #1 - The Scarecrow
Batgirl: Year One (complete) (First Batgirl, First Firefly, return of Killer Moth, Blockbuster)
Wayne age 35, Barbara age 21, Grayson age 16
Apparently, this is the year of the Riddler. He had an origin back in Year 5 and a few cameos after. Then almost all of his appearances in this continuity occur right around now, with only one afterwards - and that's 7 years after this when the eccentric criminal returns a murderer. This mirrors the actual publishing history of the Riddler fairly well, actually. I like the idea that some of Batman's villains have shorter and more intense runs. they shouldn't all plague Batman for life.
At this point, Robin has drifted a bit away from Batman, as indicated during the Teen Titans issues previously. He's a teenager, go figure. Batman: Grendel is certainly one whose inclusion will trouble canon purists. Since I am not a canon purist I have included it because it is excellent and it doesn't actually have any notable (by my measure) continuity conflicts with this timeline.
Confidential 17-21 is kind of a spiritual retelling of a Batman/Riddler team-up from the Brave in the Bold in the early 80's. Great then, great now. Riddler is often at his best when used as a somewhat reasonable criminal compared to other rogues.
I really wanted to place Batman Confidential 17-21 later in this timeline, but the pseudo-Robin appearance at the end killed that option a bit. Too large a continuity wrinkle to ignore.
Batman: Confidential 17-21 (Batgirl meets Catwoman)
Batman: Grendel (complete)
Scarface: Psychodrama (First Scarface)
Batman Confidential 26-28 (Riddler Appearance))
Wayne age 35, Barbara age 22, Grayson age 17
You might notice that Batgirl doesn't have the strongest presence in this timeline. In part, that's because there are few stories I have found of her time as Batgirl that fit in terms of tone and continuity. Most of Batgirl's more modern stories were told post-Killing Joke, and rely heavily on things that do not mesh with this timeline. Hence her presence is never as cemented as Robin.
Of more consequence is the inclusion of The Misfits, one of the biggest continuity issues I have with my own timeline. Robin appears in this story, and it's technically not Grayson but instead is Tim Drake. That said, Drake is only referred to by "Tim" in one throwaway line in the story (he's just "Robin" otherwise), and in terms of the changes in his costume and hairstyle, I felt this was a logical step Grayson might make now that he's 17 rather than 12. It's not 100% perfect, but it's a timeline cobbled together by diverse creators told over decades with stories never meant to connect. It's close enough for me.
Small continuity wrinkle: Killer Croc is casually name dropped by Batman. Just one line of dialog, no actual appearance. In this timeline, he hasn't been introduced yet.
Shadow of the Bat 7-9: The Misfits (Killer Moth, First Cat-Man, Calendar-Man)
Gotham Knights #59 (Mr. Freeze appearance)
Scarecrow: New Years Evil
I'm still on the fence of the inclusion of the Question #1. I like the idea of showing a vigilante that has popped up in the wake of a world where Batman has been operating for thirteen years, who's story goes much closer to what would happen if you tried to be a vigilante. Same with the Black Spider issue. Basically, two - would be vigilante's that pop -up in Batman's wake that live short lives. I'd love to place Blades here as well, to complete the trilogy of failed vigilante's, but that story screams early days of Batman too hard for me to comfortably ignore.
The Question #1 (No Batman appearance, First appearance, and death, of the Question)
Shadow of the Bat #5 - The Black Spider (Death of Black Spider)
Wayne age 38, Barbara age 24, Grayson age 19, Jason Todd age 12
With two years having passed without much Robin interaction, Batman and Robin's growing dissatisfaction with their partnership makes sense. That's a heavy point in this year of continuity as Grayson is back into the fold heavily. This timeline also allows very little training time for Jason Todd compared to Grayson, a fact that I think also serves the timeline well given Jason Todd's fate. Batman is making a mistake with Todd, and the seeds of that mistake are planted from the very start.
Continuity problems: Worlds' Finest mentions that this is the 6th anniversary of Well's death. In this continuity it would be the 11th. The emphasis that Batman and Superman only recently discovered each others identities is a bit odd. These are easily overlooked though.
Detective Comics #841 - The Wonderland Gang (Mad Hatter appearance)
Batman and Superman - World's Finest #6 (Second Bat-Mite appearence)
Nightwing: Year One (complete) (First Grayson as Nightwing, First Jason Todd, first Killer Croc)
Given that Hal Jordan is referenced briefly in Dark Knight, I really wanted a Batman Hal Jordan encounter somewhere to inform that, and given Hal wasn't GL during the time a lot of the stories in this timeline were created, it's been a hard one to find. In fact, it's the Kyle Raynor and Wally West presence in the JLA stories of the 90's that absolutely kills a solid JLA inclusion in this timeline.
Cosmic Odyssey (complete)
Batman Confidential 13-16 - The Wrath
Catwoman is slowly filtering back into Batman's world now. Also, the inclusion of the earliest Loeb/Sale Legends story near the end of the timeline has a couple small continuity wrinkles but otherwise serves well. Through it, we see Batman's increasing loneliness leaving him vulnerable to a different kind of attack. Gordan is referred to as Captain in one panel and his hair makes him look younger. But his hair changes between red and white back and forth all the time, depending on artist interpretation. So just like minor costume details lie the yellow oval on Batman, it is what it is.
Green Lantern Volume 4 #9 (Batman teams up with Hal Jordan)
The Hiketeia (Batman vs Wonder Woman)
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell (complete)
Wayne age 41, Barbara age 27, Grayson age 22, Todd age 15
The Killing Joke is a controversial story, and it's inclusion was one I waffled on. Outside f Miller's Year One and Dark Knight stories, it was the first I ever conceived of appearing in this timeline, way back to the date when it was first published. I have chosen to include it now for a few reasons, most important of which is that it helps highlight the increasing end of the colorful and "fun" world that Batman enjoyed at his peak, shortly after the original Robin joined him. Much like the history of comics, which this timeline is meant to echo, Batman's world has gone from grim and dark to pop-colored fun, and back to grim and dark.
Selina's Big Score
Gotham Knights #14
Legends of the Dark Knight issue 190 - 191 - Death of Mr. Freeze
Killing Joke (Barbara Gordon shot)
Batman 620 - 625 - Broken City (Killer Croc, Penguin, Joker appearances)
Going with the "increasing darkness" I've included the Riddler story of Dark Knight, Dark City. A long favorite of mine, I always intended it to be included. It calls back to Ego from Year 9 a bit, and takes a character that has mostly been a goofy villain and makes him murderous to an extreme. That's really been the Riddler's arc in the full history of comics, a character that was never an Arkham inmate until Grant Morrison got a hold of him in 1989.
This is the end for Nightwing, though I would have preferred including Nightwing 117 as well. I had some problems with it that didn't quite allow it to click for me, and ultimately with some of the newest changes to the end of the continuity, it no longer worked. So it;s an ambiguous ending for Dick Grayson, with the implication that he is either dead or his health is seriously impaired. We find out he lived in Dark Knight Returns, through casual reference only.
Detective Comics 844-855 (First Zatanna, Return of Catwoman)
Batman: 452 - 454: Dark Knight Dark City (Last Riddler)
Detective Comics 832: Triage (The end of the Terrible Trio)
Nightwing #116 (The end of Nightwing)
Okay, I'm biased on this entry. I wrote my Joker's Asylum: Mad Hatter comic specifically to fit this sort of timeline. Having seen so many people glamorize the "insane" villains of the Batman universe, I wanted a more proper examination of a crippling and violent mental disorder. Mad Hatter is a prisoner of his own mind, and it rules every moment of his life. Batman is just a shadow that sweeps in every now and again. Now, on this story I got a tasre of how serious some Batman fans can take their continuity. I wanted this story to be relatively timeless. But in the proper DCU, I guess Grayson was Batman at this time. So the costume shown in this issue reflects that, which lead to a fan getting a hold of my phone number and seeking definite confirmation of which Batman is in this story, Wayne or Grayson. To me it's Batman. That's all that matters. That was not an acceptable answer to this person. Ah well. What can you do?
It's been almost twenty tears of jumping rooftops now. Everyone is getting older. Everyone is getting tired and two of Batman's protege's are now off the map, as are several villains. There's still new faces to be seen as evidenced with the new Ventriloquist, but Catwoman as example is done. The party is coming to an end even if Batman can't see it yet.
The last thing I have added to this blog is Batman 424, as I think it helps set the tone for Jason Todd's inevitable fall. But it has been a while since I read it and I'm missing the other issues in the storyline, so I'm not sure how well it would fit. .
Joker's Asylum: Mad Hatter #1 (Last Mad Hatter)
Gordon of Gotham (I haven't double checked this)
Detective Comics 843 (new Ventriloquist
Catwoman #71 (Catwoman retires)
Batman #424 (Needs review, maybe add others in storyline)
Wayne age 44, Barbara age 31, Grayson age 25, Todd age 18
Batman Chronicles #1 introduces a new type of hero to the city, with the Huntress.I like the idea of using her as a herald for the more brutal future that is coming in the Dark Knight, and seeing her through the lens of Gordon is interesting. Artistically, it also helps feel like a move towards the Miller style of DK. Downside, since I'm not basing this chronology on stories but instead single issues, this is one of a few exceptions where there are other stories between the covers that are NOT part of this timeline. The nice thing about making my own rules for this timeline is being free to break them when most necessary. That's how strongly I feel about the inclusion of this Huntress story. It fits for many reasons.
The Cult was the last addition. It didn't fit with my original chronology, which included the Return of Jason Todd (a story and concept that didn't really click for me). With the release of Last Crusade, a much better "end" to Batman's career presented itself. Given the state of Batman's health in the Last Crusade, the Cult is a good dovetail into this. Batman is weakening. he's tired. He's breaking. And Jason Todd, entering his prime, doesn't really understand this. It also doesn't hurt that this story was clearly created using Miller's Dark Knight as a sequential and stylistic template. Only downside to continuity - Batman briefly contemplates that he's been Batman ten years rather than twenty. But hey, he's also been starved, drugged, and broken. He's allowed to be confused. That's my justification.
There haven't been many Jason Todd as Robin stories in this timeline. Unfortunately, given the publishing history, their aren't that many stories that feel particularly modern that explore the character that lack continuity conflicts. So he's a somewhat absent partner. That actually works a bit with the growing sense of fatalism present, as Todd failed to do what Batman hoped and re-inject his life with the colorful fun Grayson brought, and it also helps that we are left to assume that Batman was holding his partner back because he knew Jason Todd wasn't ever really going to be ready. Which dovetails perfectly into the Last Crusade.
Batman Chronicles #1 (First Huntress)
Batman: The Cult (complete)
Batman: The Last Crusade (Death of Jason Todd, Killer Croc, Posion Ivy, Joker appearances)
YEAR THIRTY ONE:
Notes: Batman age 55. James Gordon age 70.
Wayne hasn't spoken to Grayson is 7 years - our first indication that Grayson survived. Jason Todd is referred to as dead. Wonder Woman went back to her people, Hal Jordan went to the stars.
Dark Knight Returns. (complete) (First Carrie Kelly version of Robin)