The back cover of Robert Greenberger's The Essential Batman Encyclopedia hits the nail on the head. It isn't mere hype to call this book "a must for every Batman fan's bookshelf"—any fan of the Batman comics, that is. This reference isn't the place to go for characters exclusive to the Batman TV show or invented for the Batman films, unless those characters eventually turned up in the comic books. Batfans are in good hands with Greenberger, who has worked for DC Comics, on and off, for years as an editor and executive (incidentally, Trekkers will also recognize Greenberger as the editor of two Star Trek titles and author of several Trek novels). Greenberger knows his DC history and sets forth his ambitious goal in a pithy Preface: to itemize the history of the Batman universe from May of 1939 to September of 2007.
Readers can look elsewhere for entries on the Batman writers and artists (though there's a simple page of artist credits at the back of the book): Greenberger has enough on his plate in cataloging the characters and key elements of the comic-book adventures, from serial killer Abattoir to planet Zur-En-Arrh. Each entry includes parenthetical references to the comic title (Batman, Detective Comics, World's Finest, et al) from which each given milestone comes. The book is thoroughly illustrated from the DC archives, inlcuding two 16-page color inserts—the first focusing on heroes and the second on villains.
This sort of enterprise will always invite quibbles from fans ("What? Only 7 lines for Killer Moth?!"). Though Greenberger begs pardon of the reader due to space considerations, the 388-page book gives a reasonable impression of being exhaustive, without ever being long-winded. "Crime Alley," where Thomas and Martha Wayne met their end, merits 15 lines, Ra's al Ghul's "Lazarus Pit" gets around 60, and "The Joker" gets about 365. The fun part is flipping around to read about the obscure characters from forgotten adventures: a modern-day "Cratchitt, Timmy" (father Bob) from a Christmas Carol-themed story in Batman #9, for example. How about one-time 1948 bad guy "The Crier," who Batman and Robin encountered on a time-travel trip to ancient Baghdad (I'm guessing he ain't coming back)?
Greenberger's Preface explains the concept of multiple universes in the DCU (DC Comics Universe)—Earth-1, Earth-2 and so on—and promises to "sort all of this out by clearly identifying what happened in each reality." Because he fulfills this promise, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia is ideal for the hardcore Batman reader, but also a wonderful invitation for new or long-absent readers fearlessly to jump back in to reading new or old Batman comics. And to true-believing Batman fans, that's a gift that keeps on giving.