Peter Milligan is an Irish writer responsible for what is probably the greatest Riddler story ever told: Dark Knight, Dark City, which appeared in Batman #452-454 in late 1990.
The story concerned a sinister Riddler leading Batman on a merry chase (Comic Book Resources offers an excellent review of it here.) Milligan also tweaked Gotham history somewhat, establishing the idea that a centuries-old demon named Barbatos played an integral role in Bruce’s decision to become Batman. Subsequent writers ignored Milligan’s ideas for about 20 years, until Milligan friend Grant Morrison re-introduced his concepts to modern audiences (comparisons between Milligan’s original story and Morrison’s update can be found on the Comics Alliance website here.)
Dark Knight, Dark City remains uncollected which seems strange considering how many people regard it as a semi-masterpiece, not to mention its relevance to current Bat-continuity (putting it with the recent Batman and Robin #16 would be an easy way to package a trade.) Here’s the thing, though: Dark Knight, Dark City isn’t Milligan’s only unheralded Batman story. He wrote a few.
The best would probably be “And the Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels” from Detective Comics #630, which features one of the greatest covers ever drawn for a Batman comic:
Stiletto was a killer with a gift for charming witnesses, victims, and pursuers alike into doing whatever he wanted, like Psycho-Pirate but without the mask:
The story offered plenty of intrigue, action, and a twist ending that, considering the story is told in flashback and we’re informed of Stiletto’s fate on the first page, nicely toys with the audience’s expectations.
Something else that should be noted about Milligan was his tendency to introduce new characters in every issue he wrote. In addition to Stiletto himself, “And the Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels” gives us petty thug named Two-Tone, a “sociopathic Siamese-twin hitman (or men)” who, like Stiletto, was never used again. Writers don’t own the characters they create for DC Comics (see: Alan Moore), which is why the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, et al, are such popular antagonists. Yet Milligan introduced a new character (or two) in every issue of Batman and Detective Comics he wrote (even Dark Knight, Dark City premiered Barbatos and Dominique.) Grant Morrison would do something similar a couple decades down the road.
The Bomb, another memorable Milligan creation, was featured in Detective Comics #638. Described as “Oppenheimer’s monster on two legs” with the power of “three to four nuclear warheads,” the Bomb is a heavily-armoured individual kept and experimented on in a containment facility for the duration of its life.
Eventually the Bomb escapes and begins wreaking havoc on Gotham City, starting by (in one particularly grim scene) blowing up a bus station:
But Batman senses something’s not quite right, leading him to discover that the Bomb isn’t necessarily what he expected it to be. Not only that, but in a rather strange and graceful ending, he learns too late that he’s being manipulated into helping kill someone. As usual, “The Bomb” is filled with twists and turns, and introduces a compelling mystery and another intriguing villian.
Detective Comics #633 had Bruce Wayne starring in tale entitled “Identity Crisis,” in which he wakes up floating in the Gotham River and suffering from amnesia (coincidentally, Batman would later famously have his memory wiped in the miniseries Identity Crisis):
Things go from bad to worse, however, when he arrives home and discovers that the Batcave no longer exists, Alfred’s claiming Bruce and Batman are two separate people, and Tim Drake is nothing more than a tennis-playing trust-fund cliché:
Later, Bruce discovers his skills and training are no match for the “real” Batman:
It should come as no surprise that “Identity Crisis” eventually reveals itself to be an it-was-all-a-dream tale, the kind that’s been done to death before and after Milligan made a go at it (Morrison would do something very similar in 2009’s “The Butler Did It” and “What the Butler Saw” in Batman #682 and #683.) Why Milligan’s take is unique would spoil the surprise, but it adds another intriguing villian to the Batman mythos.
Milligan’s tales weren’t all surefire successes. “The Hungry Grass” from Detective Comics #629 and “Library of Souls” from Detective #643 were both interesting, but his two-parter “The Golem of Gotham” (Detective #631 and #632) was a dud, as was his four-part crossover “The Idiot Root” (Batman #472 and #473, Detective #639 and #640.)
DC could do worse than to package Dark Knight, Dark City with “And the Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels,” “Identity Crisis,” and “The Bomb.” It would familiarize modern readers with some exceptional stories from Batman’s not-too-distant past (and Milligan at his peak), as well as spare owners of those original issues from wearing their copies down into tatters.
UPDATE: DC has indeed released Dark Knight, Dark City in trade paperback format, along with a number of other Milligan Bat-tales. Sadly,”The Bomb” is not included. Confusingly, “The Golem of Gotham” is. Mercifully, “The Idiot Root” is nowhere to be found.