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Living Up to Its Title

All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMake March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered.  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.

To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.

Today’s piece is from writer/editor Joseph Berenato:

I was just turning eleven years old when Tim Burton’s Batman premiered in 1989, and I had no desire to see it. Mr. Mom as the Caped Crusader? The guy from The Shining as the Joker? No thank you. That wasn’t Batman. That was some dark twisted thing that was not Batman. No way, no how.

Though not much into the comic book aspect of the character, I had grown up on Adam West and Burt Ward’s Dynamic Duo. I had grown up on Super Friends. I had grown up on Scooby-Doo Meets Batman. That was Batman to me, with blue and gray and yellow accoutrements, not a black and rubbery bodysuit.

But Bat-fever was everywhere, and even if I had no interest in Michael Keaton (a position I later reversed when the movie came out on VHS with record speed five months later), there were plenty of opportunities for new Bat-merchandise. A fateful trip to Hall of Heroes – the now-defunct-but-once-glorious LCS at the Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ – presented me with the opportunity to buy a tome that forever altered my view of the Dark Knight:

The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.

This collection of 26 stories presented so many sides to the Masked Manhunter I’d never seen before. Some were grim. Some were goofy. But all of them, somehow, were undeniably Batman, and all of the tales enriched the character I’d come to love – though I felt like, after reading this, maybe I didn’t know him as well as I thought.

This book had everything. “Batman versus The Vampire” had, well, Batman fighting a vampire and firing a gun; never saw that before. “The Origin of the Batman” showed how he came to be and introduced me to the name of his killer: Joe Chill (which would lead to many arguments later on with classmates who bought the Burtonian notion that the Joker killed Thomas and Martha Wayne). “The Batman Nobody Knows!” and “There is No Hope in Crime Alley!” showed how innocents perceived the world’s greatest detective.

There was some pretty revelatory stuff in there, too. “A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman at Bay” gave me my first glimpse of Calendar Man. “1001 Umbrellas of the Penguin” not only told me his real name – Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot – but introduced me to his Aunt Miranda, who doesn’t know he’s a criminal. Deadshot shows up (in “The Deadshot Ricochet”), as does Man-Bat (“Man-Bat Over Vegas!”), and even Bat-Mite (“Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure”), whom I had never heard of before but whose ceramic visage adorns my writing area. This also introduced me to the very concept of Earth-2, and gave me my first glimpse of the Justice Society of America – albeit in flashback – in a story that told how Batman and Catwoman came to be wed (that and more shocking stuff in “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!”).

The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told had everything anybody needed to know for the first 50 years of Bat-history, and had almost as much gold in what it teased as in what it actually contained (Rainbow Batman? Negative Batman? HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?). It had an intro by DC luminary Dick Giordano, a foreword by Mike Gold, endnotes by Robert Greenberger, and biographies by Mark Waid (and how I wish I could go back and tell my 11-year-old self that, just 21 years after buying that book, I’d be on a Comic-Con panel with those last two gents, talking about Batman!).

It was my primer for all things Batman. It piqued my curiosity in a way that no other comic – issue or collection – had done. It schooled me and left me wanting more at the same time. It was the first Batman comic I’d ever purchased, and it started a life-long love of superhero comics. I’ve read thousands since then, but few as often – and with such warmth – as The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.


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