Superhero movies are driving people to actually pick up comics again, some for the first time since childhood, others for the first time ever! Tons of fans look to the source material in order to prepare for an upcoming flick, but what is the best starting place? Here is the Essential Reading for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The Dark Knight Returns
Harry Lennix read an excerpt from this seminal story when Batman v Superman was first announced back in 2013. Zack Snyder has stated that the film is heavily influenced by it, and the trailers have confirmed that.
The dark, gritty Batman coming out of retirement. The battle armor. All of that comes from The Dark Knight Returns. It’s the quintessential Batman tale, the one that forever changed the character, and his relationship with Superman is at the core of it. This is necessary reading for anyone going to see Batman v Superman.
They battle again in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but be warned, it’s a far inferior sequel.
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
Brian Azzarello’s modern day classic is told from the perspective of Lex Luthor. Since Jesse Eisenberg will be playing the iconic villain come March, this miniseries is a great way for new fans to take a look inside his head. It shines a light on his warped sense image, and further develops his reasons behind hating Superman. Luthor is a much richer character than the plain-jane evil billionaire that most casual fans know from 1978’s Superman.
On top of the Luthor analysis, the series has an awesome side story involving both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. It digs into the distrust between him and Superman, and shows exactly how low Bruce is willing to stoop for peace of mind.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Most of the stories on this list involve epic battles between Batman and Superman. “Public Enemies,” on the other hand, shows the heroes at their best: as close friends.
In the first arc of Superman/Batman, the pair are declared enemies of the state by President Lex Luthor. They go on the run, chased by some of their own super-friends, and try to both clear their names and save the day. This is an incredibly enjoyable read that showcases the very best of the characters’ relationship.
Justice League: Origin
The film is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. So, before the Justice League makes its big screen debut, why not read the latest incarnation of its origin? The New 52 gets a lot of flak, but this story is actually one of its best. It exemplifies the strongest aspects of the various League members, like the savagery of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and the wit of Green Lantern and Flash. And yes, it shows how Superman and Batman meet, and it involves a scuffle.
The duo’s first meeting was also retconned for the New 52 in the first arc of Batman/Superman, which is worth checking out. How did they meet in Justice League AND Batman/Superman, you ask? Read them both and find out.
The Man of Steel
In 1985, DC rebooted their entire line of titles for the first time with Crisis on Infinite Earths. In 1986, they updated Superman’s origin story in The Man of Steel, which became the boy scout’s definitive backstory for 17 years. It’s an iconic miniseries that anyone interested in the character should read.
Issue three brings Batman into the fold, recounting how the two met in the new continuity. It’s not as dark and gritty as DC stories would later become, but it does give a great insight into how Bruce Wayne’s mind works, and how he relates to Clark.
Batman: A Death in the Family
The Batman v Superman trailer shows that Bruce has an old Robin suit on display in the Batcave, defaced with Joker-themed graffiti. Any fan worth his or her salt knows that this suit belongs to Jason Todd, the second Robin, who died ruthlessly at the hands of the Clown Prince of Crime. It remains to be seen if Jason’s death will be visited in Dawn of Justice, or perhaps in a Batman solo film, but interested fans can read the original story from the late-80’s now. Keep a box of tissues handy.
See also: Under the Red Hood (a.k.a. the best of the DC Animated films).
Hush is a straight-up Batman detective story. However, Superman does cameo in a few issues, and it turns out to be one of the absolute best brawls between the two.
The fight is a prime example of how the Dark Knight is able to hold his own against the Man of Steel. In spite of that, the post-battle conversation between the two is actually even better. It shows just how strong their relationship is, and how deeply they trust one another, despite their differences. Read Hush for the story, the throw-down, and the bromance.
Superman: Red Son
On another Earth, Kal-El’s rocket landed in the Soviet Union, where be becomes the champion of the common worker, fighting a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.
For every Yin, there must be a Yang, so of course there is a Soviet Batman as well. And, just like the regular Dark Knight, he doesn’t trust someone with as much power as Superman. This is a great read just to see the two tussle, but don’t expect to see any story elements in Dawn of Justice.
Dishonorable Mention: The Death of Superman
The Death of Superman is one of the most reviled stories in comic book history. It helped almost kill the entire industry, and forever ruined the concept of death in comics. Don’t believe it? Just watch NerdSync’s video on the topic. The Death of Superman comes into play around the 5:35 mark.
However, this is the introduction of Doomsday, who looks to be the villain that brings the heroes together in Batman v Superman. So read this just to get some basic understanding of where the character comes from. Or, save yourself the pain and watch Max Landis’ (somewhat) amusing short film instead.
DC has also released a trade paperback of Batman and Superman’s greatest battles for just $9.99, but it only contains an issue or two from each story. New time readers are much better off reading the full stories from the list above.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in theaters March 25, 2016.