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Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight

The lushly illustrated updated edition of Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight (published by Dorling Kindersley) employs dynamic graphics to tell the history of Batman, as per the sprawling, official canon that includes "well over 3,000 comic book appearances" and the influence of animated and live-action incarnations. Scott Beatty—author of seven Batman-related books (including the similarly conceived Batman Begins: The Visual Guide)—collates some of the most indelible images from 65 years of comic-book stories to enhance character profiles; brief histories of Gotham City, Wayne Enterprises, and Arkham Asylum; specs for Batman's gadgets and vehicles; notable Batman storylines (like "A Death in the Family" and "No Man's Land"); and a timeline of Batman's comics career.

Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight comprises 144 oversized, full-color glossy pages, hardbound with a dust cover. Following a nice forward by Batman writer Chuck Dixon, Beatty lays out "Batman's World" in 22 terrific layouts, beginning with the origin of Batman and ending with "Bat-Vehicles." These two-page spreads pack plenty of detail, including summaries, vital statistics, and copious pictures: technical drawings, cutaway illustrations, and comic-book panels, all annotated with useful information. Beatty then explores 11 "Allies of the Bat," from Alfred to Superman (with various Robins and Batgirls in between), a "Rogues Gallery" of over twenty villains, and a chapter devoted to "Batman's Career" (Golden Age, Silver Age, Frank Miller's Dark Knight stories, fantastical "elseworld" and historical Batman stories, and the timeline).

The book's last page acknowledges the contributing artists and writers, but anyone who doesn't know his Neal Adams from his Marshall Rogers, or his Dennis O'Neill from his Jeph Loeb, won't learn a thing about the talents behind the man behind the cowl. In this way, Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight fails to be an "ultimate" guide. That said, adding more to the layouts would have probably cluttered them unreasonably (solution: expand the book!), and at least poring over the timeline yields some of the information the reader will beg of the layouts. The storyline layouts (like "The Death of Robin") fail to identify which comics or trade paperback to pick up to read that story, but the timeline notes that the storyline spanned Batman #426-428.

All in all, Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight does a great service to Batman fans and will be a beloved, soon-tattered reference to children who enjoy Batman. The book manifests that the Batman universe—like those of Star Wars and Star Trek—has its own futuristic high-tech gadgetry of note, and a very deep bench of characters. Dixon, who assisted Beatty, asserts that this reference will sit permanently by his keyboard, and it's easy to see why. It's a handy, colorful reference with streamlined, easy to access information on every key element of the Batman mythos.

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