This blog will attempt to put all Modern Era (basically post-Crisis on Infinite Earths/Zero Hour/Infinite Crisis/Final Crisis) Batman stories in chronological order. There are other sites that have tried to do this and here are some nice examples:
The Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe
The most research intensive site I've come across so far is a project by "deaconblackfire76" spun-off of this site:
The Bat Squad/The DCU Net
One of the best resources for answering Batman continuity questions is in the forums of this site:
And here is one of the best articles I've ever come across regarding Batman's canon, despite now being a bit dated:
"The Canon of the Bat" by John Wells, researcher for long-time DC writer Bob Rozakis.
The best book for Batman continuity information, hands down, is:
The Essential Batman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberg.
There are also a ton of sites that record a great deal of Batman information as well:
DC Comics Database
However, I have found that a number of these sources are seriously incomplete or just plain wrong. Therefore, this will be the ultimate resource for all things Batman continuity/chronology related. On a side note, although some don't deal with Batman specifically, some other wonderful websites/blogs to check out are:
The Unauthorized Chronology of the DC Universe
Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics
Michael Kooiman's Cosmic Teams Database.
Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...
Rikdad's Comic Thoughts
David Uzumeri's annotations @ Funnybook Babylon
Secret Files & Origins Blog
Ian's Trade Reading Order
Savage Critics (Brian Hibbs, Douglas Wolk, etc...)
Love dat Joker blog
Aussie Nightwriter's Dick Grayson Blog
Too Dangerous For a Girl
The Official DC Forum
Comic Book Resources
The Wright Opinion
Legions of Gotham
Boosterrific! The Unofficial Annotated Adventures of Booster Gold
We Believe in Harvey Dent Blog
Absolute Knave by Stephen Ryan
Atop the Fourth Wall
Sequart Research & Literacy Organization
Too Busy Thinking About My Comics
I also want to give a big shout-out to Ivan, who aided and abetted me in the early stages of this venture. Also, a big shout-out to Valheru, who aided me significantly once the basic framework was set in place. This is a "diver's hands" process and Valheru was quite handy. Many thanks to Renaud Battail who was extremely helpful as well. And last but not least, Ashley Jean, for encouraging me to start this project in the first place.
Okay now, legal mumbo jumbo... Any images contained within the site are obviously copyright of DC Comics. Any information that I gather for the site is taken straight from the original source material (Batman comics or DC comics in general). So, to re-iterate; all characters, logos, and images are owned and © by DC Comics. They are used here for educational purposes within the "fair use" provision of US Code: Title 17, Sec. 107. All the remaining material © 2009-2012 by Collin Colsher. This blog and all text herein is © §111 as "The Real Batman Chronology Project" and "The Real Batman Chonology Project: Dick Grayson." This blog and all herein may not be used by others without the express and written consent of the owner of the site. Okay, having said all that, here's to the future!
First of all, I should preface this blog by saying that there is no right answer. There can never be a right answer. But, what is the question, you ask? The question is: "What is the correct chronological order for reading Batman?" The answer is: there is no correct order because there are too many stories and too many retcons and too many other things going on to even begin to answer properly. In fact, many of the Batman stories, especially Legends of the Dark Knight stories, are indeed canon, but essentially interchangeable on a timeline. So how do we know what the correct reading order is? We don't and we never will. I can't stress that enough. We never will. So, is this blog a complete waste of time? No, this blog is a labor of love and if you examine each panel of as many Batman stories as you can get your hands on, you will see that things do fit into a timeline in the most pleasantly unexpected ways. (Of course, the maddeningly opposite happens almost just as often).
This blog attempts to offer the best and most comprehensive suggested reading order for MODERN AGE Batman. Theoretically, if the perfect suggested chronology is compiled, then we have the closest thing to answering our dreaded question, and the closest thing is the best thing when there technically is no thing. Confused? Just you wait. I've also attempted to apply ages to the characters featured in these comics and also dates and times to the world in which they exist. However, the DC Universe seems to be a place where the concept of time (and consequently the concept of age) are soundly rejected. But I've tried to do it anyway, and if I've failed in that endeavor then I apologize, and you can simply use this timeline as a reference for the correct chronological order of Batman's life. More confused? Just you wait some more!
Since we are dealing with the Modern Age (the era of comics ushered in after The Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986), the chronology begins with Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. This is a great place to start because The Crisis on Infinite Earths had recently been published and this was DC's big attempt to reboot all of its characters, including the Dark Knight. Unsurprisingly, here's where it first gets muddled. But to fully comprehend the perplexity, we must go way back to the beginning. Batman's history began with Detective Comics #27 by Bob Kane in 1939. He had countless adventures for a long, long time before The Crisis on Infinite Earths occurred in 1986. The original Crisis not only rebooted Batman as a character, but functioned as an epic, earth-altering, time-shattering, crossover event that essentially erased Batman's storied 46 year history and replaced it with a group of stories that were relatively continuity error-free. The original Crisis also folded several character universes into one single universe with one single collective history, most notably Earth-One (the home of Silver Age Batman), Earth-Two (the home of Golden Age Batman), Earth-Four (the home of Charlton heroes), Earth-S (the home of Fawcett heroes), and Earth-X (the home of Quality heroes).
Hold on. What the hell is the deal with the Silver Age Earth-One Batman versus Golden Age Earth-Two Batman, you ask? Well, the Crisis on Infinite Earths was not the first time DC publishers tried to reboot their universe. By 1961 DC editors already were fearing that Batman, with a now 22 year history might be in need of a reboot. Thus, the concept of the multiverse was introduced: the current (at the time) early 1960s incarnations the superheroes (including Batman) were retconned so that they became separate characters from the versions that had their origins in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The heroes that had had adventures in the 30s, 40s, and 50s (fighting in World War II, fighting in the Korean War, etc...) now became the Golden Age heroes of Earth-Two, while the current 60s versions became the main DCU versions of the Silver Age Earth-One.
Jump to 1986. The collection of replacement stories spawned by the original Crisis fell under the label "Year One," and most of them had yet to even be written around the time of Crisis. In fact, because there was a blank-slate where Batman's history used to be, there are still some gaps which writers continued to fill even into 2011. But why did this Crisis event take place? Well, because it was a compelling and crazy story at the time. And also because Batman's history was previously riddled with bizarre plot holes and plagued by campy, unrealistic, and extremely dated stories that editors wanted to do away with or repair. So, along comes the ultimate super-being known as the Anti-Monitor and he alters everything and combines the infinite Earths into one single Earth, with one collective, shared history. Bear in mind, while the Anti-Monitor combines hundreds of thousands of Earths into one "New Earth" that becomes the main DCU's Earth, an unspecified number of alternate universes remain unscathed and out of his vast reach (i.e. the Marvel Universe, Wildstorm Universe, Elseworlds Universes, and more). In this way, the multiverse continues to exist. I should also mention that the term "New Earth" is not used until much later (not until after the events of Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis when the Earth and its history are remolded once again). To re-iterate, the new Earth created during the original Crisis is originally simply referred to as "Earth-1" (not to be confused with "Earth-One"). "Earth-1" then becomes renamed "New Earth," which is also known as "Earth-0" at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's not forget Zero Hour.
Zero Hour was published in 1994. In this storyline, Green Lantern Hal Jordan goes insane and becomes symbiotically linked to the cosmically-powered being known as Parallax. Wielding immense power and a equal amount of rage to match, he alters time (eventually compacting the entire 20+ year DC Universe timeline into fewer "in-story years" and then restructuring history so that those first years lead up to the year 1994, but then later 1998, then 2000, then 2002). Another way of explaining it is to say that a sliding timeline was created which used Zero Hour as a place-marker. To keep stories contemporary, DC editors kept sliding the debuts of the major heroes to a more current date. Technically, the year 2000 was the last time they officially slid the timeline (in Guide to the DC Universe 2000 Secret Files), but it is apparent that the Zero Hour place-marker was shifted once more to 2002 based upon character ages and current specific story-arcs references in the late 2000s. DC editors stopped shifting the timeline after the the unofficial move in 2002, but would have likely continued the trend if not for the reboot/relaunch in 2011 (but we'll get to that later). Because of these intense time-alterations associated with Zero Hour, some parts of Batman's past obviously changed yet again. (See the "Intro the Modern Age" post to read about Zero Hour's effect in much more detail). I should also mention that the editors of DC wanted Zero Hour to function the exact same way as the original Crisis, meaning they wanted there to be a blank historical slate leading up to 1994 (and then 1998, then 2000, then 2002, following the time-sliding). While my Modern Age Batman chronology gives a quasi-blank slate to the historical timeline of the DCU for everything prior to 1986, I'm hesitant to do the same regarding Zero Hour's sliding timeline. I mean, really, were DC editors trying to tell us that only stories published from 2002 to 2011 were officially canon and the rest were just retroactive reference materials? I don't buy that for a second. Moving on.
In 2006 Infinite Crisis was published, shaking the roots of the DC Universe to its very foundations once again. In the story's narrative it is revealed that Superman from the original Earth-2, Superboy from the old Earth-Prime, and Alexander Luthor, Jr. from the old Earth-3 (all characters who were erased from existence during the original Crisis) have been watching the DC Universe from within a crystalline limbo to which they have been exiled. Years and years have passed and they aren't too happy with what they've seen. This unhappiness leads them to break out of their prison, which unleashes intense vibrational ripples that distort the fabric of time. So, once again time is altered significantly and "New Earth" (also known as "Earth-0") is re-created. In fact, for Batman, specifically, much of the character-alteration that happened during Zero Hour is reversed or undone, so to speak. Also, 52 brand new parallel Earths are not only added to the mix, they have always existed. Our chronology reflects all of the changes made by Infinite Crisis, thus making it the official detailed historical record of Batman's existence on "New Earth" aka the primary Earth which functions as the epicenter for the canonical continuity and history of the entire Modern Age DCU. Since this is an up-to-date chronology, I shall refer to the primary DCU Earth as "Earth-0" once we get rolling.
I feel it is important to mention all of this in layman's terms because we have the ability as omniscient readers to know the complete history of Batman dating back to 1939. And to really know Batman's full history is to read every single issue of every single comic book Batman has ever appeared in since that time. However, the timeline I'm constructing here is Batman's history as he lived it. And that is how comic book continuity works. Period. It isn't about the whole story from beginning until end. It's about the fictional life the character lives from his own perspective. We know that Batman fought in World War II because we read it in a comic book, but because of certain events that occur later in his life, Batman never fought in World War II, so therefore that isn't a part of the life he would have perceived. Batman, by 2011, looks back and sees the mid 1980s (or even the mid 1990s arguably) as his jumping off point, which makes a hell of a lot more sense than looking back and seeing the 1940s or the 1960s.
You see, while time-altering, character rebooting, massive retcon-laden events like the Infinite Crisis or Crisis on Infinite Earths or Zero Hour are extremely editorial and commercial-based stories that sometimes have more to do with economics and industry politics than story-telling, they needn't only be viewed that way. These huge events, like them or not, can all be read as happening naturally in Batman's life, albeit as natural as a life led in a completely over-the-top science fiction multiverse could ever hope to be. What I'm saying here is that there are two types of retcons (short for "RETroactive CONtinuity"); one where you simply ignore past stories and change continuity (bad), and the other where you have an in-story event which alters the past and therefore alters continuity (better--in fact, some argue that the latter isn't even a retcon at all i.e. DC publishers who call it a relaunch--but for the intent and purposes of this blog we will just say that it is indeed a retcon). These three major DC events that I've mentioned, for Modern Age Batman, function as in-story occurrences which alter his past. Pure retcons, if you like.
To explain this concept even further, you can look at it this way; Bruce Wayne's parents are killed. He becomes Batman. Robin joins him. They fight villains like the Joker and the Penguin. They fight in World War II. Their adventures get progressively sillier as the duo grows into the next few decades. A host of new characters are introduced. Dozens upon dozens of team-ups and huge events occur. By 1961 DC editors already were fearing that Batman, with a now 22 year history might be in need of a reboot. Thus, the concept of the multiverse was introduced: the early 1960s incarnations of Batman and the other heroes are then retconned so that they are separate characters from the versions that have their origins in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The heroes that had adventures in the 30s, 40s, and 50s now become the Golden Age heroes of alternate Earth-Two, while the current 60s versions become the DCU versions of the Silver Age Earth-One (the main DCU Earth at the time). Then the original Crisis occurs in 1986 and everything we have just mentioned up to this point is erased in one foul swoop as both Earth-One and Earth-Two (and a whole bunch more Earths) are merged into a single Earth with a new combined/rebooted history. But there's no need to worry. See, Batman's new history mirrors his old history/histories, but this one is stronger, more cohesive, and more appropriately fits the time. Of course, he never fought in World War II like the Batman of Earth-Two. But nor did he start in the swingin' 60s like the Batman of Earth-One. Instead, he becomes the Batman of one single Earth, a Batman that begins his war on crime in the mid-to-late 1980s (or early 1990s, if you like) and his adventures never get super-campy. Batman stories continue on. Zero Hour happens and the past is altered again. Batman stories continue on. Infinite Crisis happens and the past is altered again. Batman stories continue on. Final Crisis happens and Batman is zapped by an Omega Beam. Batman stories continue on. Bruce returns and forms Batman Incorporated. Batman stories continue on... And then Flashpoint. But we still aren't ready for that.
Every time, we (the reader) witness the effects of a huge time-altering event, the characters are unable to witness those effects because they are inside the story whereas we are outside of it. To re-iterate, the past life that the character perceives becomes his one true past, even if we know the truth, even if that truth doesn't match up.
So, you can see what I mean. Right? Well if not, then, oh well. It was worth a try. My whole point was to explain the core and foundation of this chronology. Without the previous knowledge, this chronology would not be possible or necessary. Basically, what I'm emphasizing here is that while Modern Age Batman's first 46 years are erased, they are still apart of his history. They form the spine of every Batman story ever written after 1986. Without them we wouldn't and couldn't have a Modern Age continuity (which includes the "Year One Era"). The roots of Batman will always lie in the ages of old; Golden, Silver, and Bronze. (For anyone confused already, I will refer to the first ten years of our chronology as the "Year One Era," whereas DC simply calls it "The Silver Age." However, I have always found that a bit confusing, since there is already a publishing era known as "The Silver Age"). Editors at DC could have taken the easy way out and just stopped Batman stories cold in their tracks and started brand new in 1986, but they didn't. Instead, they chose to continue the story and that's really what the original Crisis, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis were all about. If you look at it that way, it wasn't simply all about rebooting or restarting, it was about rebooting and restarting without disregarding or discarding the old stories. The old stories form the skeletal framework of continuity. Check out this wonderful article by Greg Burgas, which ties directly into what I've been rambling about here: "Greg Burgas' CBR Blog".
Sorry, that last part went off on a huge term-paper-like tangent. Let's talk a little about the chronology. Okay, I lied, just bear with me for one more long-winded explanation about my definition of "Year One" and we'll be ready to go. Comic book scholars generally say the Golden Age (for Batman) ended in 1964, which subsequently brought about the Silver Age which lasted until roughly 1969, which in turn brought on the Bronze Age which stuck until around 1986. From this point on we enter the Modern Age which continued until 2011. The precursor to the Modern Age is what we will refer to as the "Year One Age" or "Year One Era" (alternately known as "The Silver Age") which comprises of Miller's original Year One story arc and all subsequent "Year One" stories that have been published, of which there are many, many.
Let me point out that the "Year One Era" is slightly a misnomer for several reasons. One; it's not quite an era, especially due to the fact that it doesn't comprise a length of actual calender time (i.e. 1964 to 1969 or 1969 to 1986). Two; story-wise, it's longer than one year. For example, all stories up until the arrival of Dick Grayson as the original Robin tend to have the "Year One" label attached to them, but in continuity Dick doesn't come around until about five years after Bruce takes to the streets on his crusade against crime (although there is still the heated argument that Modern Age Robin debuts in Year Three). Also, there are many "Year One" tales that include a young Robin kicking alongside of Bruce. Furthermore, "Year One" stories were published randomly and were even published as recently as 2011 whereas Silver Age or Bronze Age comics could technically no longer be written post-original Crisis. Post-original Crisis authors could write in the style of the Silver Age or even write homages to the Silver Age which involved a Silver Age Batman. However, the old "ages" refer to the time periods in which they were actually written, whereas "Year One" refers to a time period in which the stories fit into a certain point in Batman's chronology i.e. his earliest years. Thus, you would have had to been writing literally during the Silver or Bronze Ages in order to have contributed to those epochs.
I've made mention of the Modern Age ending in 2011. What's that about, you ask? Well another huge reboot/relaunch/massive retcon occurred in 2011, the largest since the original Crisis; Flashpoint. Flashpoint functioned similarly to the original Crisis in that, due to a spacetime anomaly (inadvertently created by Barry Allen), all of the DCU's history was erased and several universes were merged into one single new universe with a shared history. Thus, the Modern Age ended (arguably, since there isn't a specific name for the new age yet) with Flashpoint. Not coincidentally, Flashpoint is the final entry in this Modern Age Batman chronology.
Phew. I hope you learned something in there. If you didn't read it all, no worries. On to the meat and potatoes. The Real Batman Chronology Project.
<3 author, researcher, comic book historian Collin Colsher