In the current storyline in DC’s Batman and Detective Comics, Jim Gordon’s shaved his mustache, ditched the overcoat, and done some serious body sculpting for his new job—the pilot of a new robotic Batman suit that is protecting Gotham, because the real Batman is feared dead from a final confrontation with the Joker.
I thought Jim Gordon had reached the height of popularity when an entire show, Gotham, was built around him.
No. Not even close.
Because now he’s Batman.
It’s quite a pinnacle for a character introduced in 1939, who stayed in the background for decades, and then was shown as an ineffective bumbler in the Batman (1966) television show.
Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns revamped Gordon and cemented him firmly as Gotham’s honest man. But there’s more to Gordon than Miller’s stories. Here are the others I consider essential:
Batman: No Man’s Land, Volumes 1-5
In the early 2000s, DC’s writers Bob Gale, Greg Rucka, and Chuck Dixon created an ambitious multi-part story that featured a Gotham devastated by an earthquake and abandoned by the federal government. At the time, I considered the idea far-fetched. More recent events, such as the devastation of New Orleans during Katrina and the weak federal response, have changed my mind on the believability of the concept.
No Man’s Land features all the heroes and villains of Gotham struggling to survive in a hostile environment with few resources. Gordon forms the remnants of the police force into a gang bent on taking back Gotham, block by block, and imposing order upon the chaos. He’s helped along primarily by his wife, Detective Sarah Essen, and Detectives Renee Montoya and Harvey Bullock, as well as his daughter, Barbara, in her role as Oracle.
There’s also a focus on Jim’s private life and on his relationships with Sarah in the quiet moments between battles. Things don’t end well for Sarah, and I’m still bitter about that, but this an epic story that shows off the best of Gordon and his police force and also introduces the Cassandra Cain Batgirl.
Batman: Gordon of Gotham by Dennis O’Neil and Chuck Dixon, art by Klaus Janson
In this collected volume of stories featuring Gordon (without Batman) from the late 1990s, Gordon’s detective skills are showcased. The volume also provides background on his move from Chicago to Gotham. Again, Bullock and Montoya are much in evidence. This collection is probably the least-known of the Gordon stories but well worth reading.
Batman: The Black Mirror, by Scott Snyder, with art by Jock and Franceso Francavilla
The most recent of my recommendations, Batman: The Black Mirror began as a back-up feature focused on Jim’s efforts to understand his teenage son, a sociopathic young man with hidden motives. Jim’s somewhat blinded by his love of his son and, in the end, it takes help from the Dick Grayson version of Batman and from Barbara to expose his son for the villain he is and save Gotham. Brutal, but brilliant.
Batman: Turning Points, by writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber, Dick Giordano, Paul Pope, and others
This was a fill-in event, meant to transition the Batman books to a world where Gordon was no long the police commissioner. Instead, it turned into four classic stories of Gordon and Batman working together over the years, as Gordon struggles with his divorce and increasing responsibility, while Batman struggles with the kind of villains he never thought he’d face. It’s their relationship in a nutshell. Taken together, these books are not only excellent superhero noir stories but they also provide a full view of Gordon and the world of Batman.
One book I have excluded from this list is Batman: The Killing Joke. I don’t like the story, because I consider the ending ridiculous and out of character for Batman. Additionally, I’m just sick of seeing that panel of Barbara Gordon being shot by the Joker, a panel that writer Alan Moore received permission to include from DC editorial with this admonition: “let’s cripple the bitch.” I’ll pass and I’d suggest others do as well. There are plenty of other decent Joker stories.
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.