The original goal of The Real Batman Chronology Project, way back in 2009 when it first started, was to document the process of reading every single Modern Age Batman comic book. However, after I began reading I quickly realized that DC publishes a lot of monthly comic books that feature Batman, but they don’t tell you in what order to read them or how to organize them. And trust me, it’s not easy to figure it out sometimes. Thus, the adventure in comic book reading evolved into the project you see before you: an attempt to place every Modern Age Batman appearance into chronological order. The Real Batman Chronology Project was originally a blog, but its scope expanded tremendously and warranted significant change in 2011. Hence, the site you see here mirrors the blog, but in a more accessible and aesthetically pleasing format. The site also allows me to continue ongoing various research-based projects in regard to Batman Continuity—Continuity with a Capital C—including chronologies for the Golden Age Batman, Silver Age Batman, and New Age (New 52) Batman. The new blog contained within this site also allows me to conduct commentaries on comic book narrative, authorship, fandom, culture, news, and more.
Why so many timelines, you ask? Well, to put it simply, Batman has a long and renowned history that dates back to 1939. This rich history, aside from niche areas of the Internet and very few books, has not really been successfully evaluated and analyzed from the narratological perspective of serial-continuity. To answer the query about “why so many timelines” in a more scrutable and scholarly way, one must have prerequisite knowledge about how DC has rebooted its characters about every twenty-five years. For Batman, the titular character debuts in 1939 and gets rebooted roughly somewhere from 1960 to 1964—about twenty-five years later. The second version of Batman—the Silver Age Batman of Earth-One—lasts until 1985/1986. That’s close to twenty-five years later. And guess what? You guessed correctly if you said DC rebooted Batman again another twenty-five years after that. 2011 brought about the third major reboot (don’t call it a relaunch) in the history of the DC Universe. Columnist/reviewer Keith Callbeck even goes so far as to refer to the post 2011 rebooted DCU as the “DCU 3.0,” making the post 1986 rebooted DCU the “DCU 2.0″ and the original DCU the “DCU 1.0.” Pretty interesting stuff, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The complexity and narratological structuring and re-structuring involved with serial fiction has always fascinated me. Batman has always been of particular interest. I hope you enjoy this project as much as I have enjoyed working on it. And I hope that you can learn something from it, not only about Batman, but about narrative continuity as told by multiple artists and authors in a variegated serial-fictional world.
So, “What is the correct chronological order for reading Batman comics?” The answer to this question, and the shibboleth you should repeat over and over while reading this site, simply is there is no right answer and there can never be a right answer. 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 canonical Batman stories are essentially interchangeable on a timeline. Furthermore, who is really to determine which books are canon and which are non-canon, anyway? I declare this time and time again in the various sections of the site: We don’t know the true reading order and we never will. I can’t stress that enough. We never will. Columnist Travis Hedge Coke says it best, “There is no canon. [Readers and fans] can, and have, ordered certain comics into several different, sometimes overlapping canons. Further, belonging to a canon does not ensure that works are aligned by a shared chronology or continuity. Canons are personally established, or they are established for business reasons, for marketing purposes, and that’s about it. It’s not a magic thing, it only means, at essence, ‘these works count towards…’ whatever you want them to count towards. Canon is not a judgment of total value or relevance to all things. And canons are rarely permanent, both the personal and the business sorts.” Despite having addressed the ostensible futility of building comic book timelines, the Real Batman Chronology Project is definitely not a complete waste of time. This project 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. But that is simply a part of the process. Theoretically, if the perfect suggested order is compiled, then we have the closest thing to answering our dreaded chronological question. Finding continuity is a game—It’s piecing together an impossibly intricate jigsaw puzzle. There’s no greater satisfaction than stepping back and seeing the final picture as a whole.
Oh, and one final note: This site is meant to be entirely non-opinionated and nonobjective, and not some random fanboy list of my own personal favorite Batman stories. I’ll be the first to admit that I geek out a bit harder (and usually write a bit more positively) about my faves, and likewise, write a bit more negatively about things I don’t like as much. That being said, this does not mean that I’m trying to alienate any fans or tell any of my readers what’s good and what’s bad. I’ll leave that to the reviewers and the critics. This website is not a comic book review or critique site. This website is home to an intensive scholarly research project, through-in and throughout. There are a ton of stories I’ve included on my timelines that I despise and many more that I absolutely adore, which are absent since they are non-canon. I can’t stress this enough: The Real Batman Chronology Project is meant to be uninfluenced, unbiased, and most importantly, a scientific research-based endeavor that examines the continuity of Batman via a narratological reading based solely upon the facts (admittedly as I see them) in the comic books themselves. Every tale—and I mean every tale—that is slotted into my chronology is done so only after a thorough examination of narrative and an intense regard to continuous in-story information. There is no such thing as a definitive right or a definitive wrong when it comes to creating these comic-book-world timelines. As the late curmudgeonly genius Robert Anton Wilson said, “I don’t think most issues in the sensory-sensual spacetime world (the world of experience) actually reduce to two-valued logic.” The same mentality can and should also be applied to Batman comics that exist in the sensory-sensual spacetime world of the DC multiverse and the greater omniverse in which it dwells.
If you are so inclined, please check out http://therealbatmanchronoproject.blogspot.com and add yourself as a follower! And feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
And last but certainly not least, thanks to Ashley Jean and Ross for supporting me from the awkward beginning. And thanks for the multitude of assistance that I’ve received along the way from countless friends and strangers alike.
-  COLLIN COLSHER: I should clarify, when I say “DC” I refer to the corporate beast that is “DC the company.” Unfortunately, the business of comic books has a long documented tradition of screwing over some creators, writers, and artists. The unethical treatment of workers in the comic book “industry” isn’t something that I will tackle very often on this site, but I felt there should be at least something said. All superhero comics, including Batman books, are the products of many different creative minds, but in the end it is the corporate bigwigs, publishers, and editors that control the characters and the worlds in which they live—even if most of the time these said bigwigs, publishers, and editors have contributed little or nothing towards either. Thus, from a narratological perspective, innovation and strong continuity or story development are tough things to achieve in the capitalist consumer-driven market. It’s a sad state of affairs, and probably a topic of discussion for another venue, but it is interesting to see how the hierarchical dynamics of the mainstream superhero comic book genre directly affect how story and character are shaped. On the other hand, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I love comics. And without Disney, Warner Bros, and other conglomerates, my favorite characters and stories would not exist in the forms they do today. Plus, it is my wholehearted belief that comic book art and stories, despite everything (and despite what Alan Moore says), are evolving for the better every year! So, as you can see, the complexity of the issue only gets more complicated as you peel back layer after layer. ↩
-  COLLIN COLSHER: For the intents and purposes of this project, I will refer to the classical comic book ages that are born from line-wide continuity reboots—the GOLDEN AGE, the SILVER AGE, the MODERN AGE, and NEW AGE. One can also split the Modern Age into subsections: The early years of the Modern Age in the late 1980s being the IRON AGE, DARK AGE, or COPPER AGE where comics became more “adult-themed” and darker in general; the CHROMIUM AGE or IMAGE AGE of the 1990s, named after Image Comics and the subsequent style that permeated all companies in that decade—which was then followed by the bubble bursting in 1996 and the steady decline of the industry for five years until…; the DYNAMIC AGE of the 2000s where DC and Marvel began branching out with more forward-looking, diverse storytelling by contracted big-name talents; and 2011 DC, with its huge New 52 reboot, and 2012 Marvel, with its NOW! reboot, both spawning the NEW AGE of comics (as I like to call it). Both DC and Marvel ushered in the New Age around this time with a re-purposed focus on nostalgia, even darker themes, decompressed continuity, and mega event crossovers. Since the New Age really won’t be officially categorized until after its has ended, it currently has several different names, such as: The NEW GOLDEN AGE (as claimed by Douglas Wolk); the PRISMATIC AGE (as defined by Andrew Kunka, Grant Morrison, and the Mindless Ones blog); the BOUTIQUE AGE (as labeled by Ken Quattro); and the MEGA-CORPORATE AGE (as labeled by Charles Hatfield). But as I was emphasizing, for the purposes of this site, these subdivisions and alternate names will be ignored. ↩
-  TRAVIS HEDGE COKE ↩