Superheroes generally aren’t my thing, but I’ve loved Batman since I was a wee child. My dad found the 1960’s series on TV for me to watch one day- I was so hooked that he made me a special edited version of the 1989 Tim Burton film, since I was only six or seven when it came to video and it is clearly rated PG-13. Batman ’89 was eye-opening: it was my first introduction to Batman as the dark, noir-ish anti-hero that I love to this day.
I’m often drawn to works with similar elements, especially novels. These novels scratched that perpetual Batman-induced itch.
1. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.
People either seem to love Miéville or hate him; I loved Perdido Street Station. It hits many different satisfying notes for me: mystery, intrigue, crazy inventions, bigger-than-life characters and monsters, a dark story, a gritty setting, a seemingly insurmountable challenge. It’s one of the best speculative fiction novels I’ve ever read.
2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.
This one is obvious, but still worth mentioning. It combines the bright and shiny world of comics, the time period during which Batman was created, and the pathos of three characters trying to find their way in a world that’s unfriendly to them. Bob Kane is cited as one of the inspirations for the novel, among other comics creators.
3. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
If you are a Batman fan, there’s a decent chance that you’re also a Joker fan; some people (not to name names) (me) might actually be more obsessed with the Joker than they are with Batman. Judge Holden has the brutal, spooky qualities of the Joker, though none of the camp- Blood Meridian is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Think “beating Jason Todd to death with a crowbar” Joker, not Cesar Romero Joker.
4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
The main character of C&P is an antihero who struggles with questions about the ultimate good, whether some people are inherently “better” than others and justified to use more extreme means to solve problems. One of the perennial questions around Batman asks just who the hell he thinks he is to take the law into his own hands; Crime and Punishment delves into that question, though Raskolnikov’s motives are decidedly less pure than Bruce Wayne’s.
5. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.
Libby, the book’s main character, is the antiheroine that Bruce Wayne might have been if he hadn’t had Alfred to keep him on the straight and narrow. After the violent death of her mother and sisters, she “was raised feral, and… mostly stayed that way.” The combination of family tragedy, mystery, and a grim setting make this book perfect for the Gotham-obsessed.
6. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler.
Okay, really, anything by Chandler that features Philip Marlowe is going to be a winner here (Batman is, after all, the world’s greatest detective), but The Long Goodbye is especially apropos. A 1954 review from The New York Times described the book thusly: “On the whole, despite occasional outbursts of violence, it’s a moody, brooding book, in which Marlowe is less a detective than a disturbed man of 42 on a quest for some evidence of truth and humanity.” Yep.
7. All the Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones.
This offering from Dzanc Books is a surreal crime novel. A sheriff is tracking a serial killer known as the Tin Man; as he finds out more about the killer, he has an identity crisis as he sees more of himself in the killer. Sinners digs deep psychologically and plays with the sometimes-blurred lines between heroes and villains.
What would you put on a must-read list for Batman fans?