Do Your Comics-Reading Homework Now for “Batman: Arkham City”

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There’s been a lot of buzz this week about Batman: Arkham City, the sequel to last year’s Arkham Asylum game that’s being released sometime next year. (A new teaser trailer is floating around; the full trailer is supposed to debut this weekend.) You can’t play it yet, but if you’re looking to bone up on some comics that flesh out the background of Gotham City’s craziest quarter and its residents, you might want to start with these books.

Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories –It looks like the Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn will play a substantial role in Arkham City. This volume collects her origin, as written by the Arkham City game’s writer Paul Dini, along with stories (drawn in the style of Batman: The Animated Series) involving some of the other characters in the game, notably Mr. Freeze.

(More on Techland: The Dark Knight’s Return: Arkham Sequel Out in Fall 2011)

Batman: Arkham Asylum –This standalone graphic novel (originally titled Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth) was more of a source for the first game than the sequel, but a) it’s terrific, and b) it was the first major Batman story written by Grant Morrison, who’s now the de facto captain of the whole franchise. And its artwork, by Dave McKean, is even creepier and darker than most of the imagery you’ll see in the games.

Batman: Strange Apparitions –Professor Hugo Strange, apparently a major character in Arkham City, first appeared way back in 1940. His career-defining appearance, though, came in the late-’70s sequence collected here, by writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers, which also features one of the all-time greatest Joker stories, “The Laughing Fish.” (For further background on Hugo Strange, have a look at Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy’s Batman: Prey, collecting a 1990-1991 storyline that established him as a mad psychiatrist rather than just a mad scientist.)

(More on Techland: New Art and Screens for Batman: Arkham City)

Batman: No Man’s Land –This is a five-volume series with ten different writers, rather than a single book, collecting a storyline that ran in multiple Batman-related series for most of 1999. But if you’re trying to imagine “what would happen if Gotham City went totally crazy,” this is your answer: following an earthquake and a plague, the U.S. seals off and abandons Gotham City, and Batman and crew are left to keep the peace.

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