There have been many great tales written with Gotham City serving as its backdrop. Batman is a household name that is uttered from children who recognize Christian Bale as their one and only Dark Knight, to the older folks who can remember the campy good times of Adam West. But as known as Batman may be, only a select few can speak about his greatest adventures offhand. Although a proportionate share of the Caped Crusader’s tenure as a vigilante has been told many times through the medium of film, television, and video games, his roots stem from the panels of many comic books and graphic novels that have featured the titular hero.
Although Superman is the face of DC Comics, it’s always the bad boy or the underdog people love the most. In Batman’s case, he just so happens to be both. He’s the grit of the DC Universe, and his story is one of overcoming despite his tragic childhood and lack of superhuman abilities in the face of unfathomable odds. His story is also about doing what’s right, uncompromisingly.
This list will feature the best of Batman’s storylines through the comic book, spanning the decades, that we need to see on the big screen. Included in this list are graphic novels, story arcs, and one-shot issues. All of the stories listed are required reading if you are an individual yearning to understand Batman to the utmost detail.
10. Batman Vol 1: The Court of Owls
The Court of Owls introduced many new elements to the Batman mythos, not unlike Grant Morrison did before him during his run on Batman & Robin. It is also here that we get to see the all-knowing Batman vulnerable to a new foe that has more knowledge of his city than him. Written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, The Court of Owls would begin their long run on the Batman series, by challenging the Dark Knight for control of the city and delving deeper into the history of Gotham and the Waynes’ family with it.
Capullo’s rendition of Batman and the overall aesthetic of Gotham is one of the best in recent memory. The Court of Owls is a great starting place for new Batman fans to jump in and absorb the lore without being lost or confused.
9. Batman: Under the Hood
Batman: Under the Hood was written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Doug Mahnke. The story features the revival of the second Robin, Jason Todd, who had previously died 15 years prior in the story A Death In The Family. Only this time Jason takes on the mantle of Red Hood, and begins to dispose of the criminal underworld in a cutthroat fashion that goes against the Bat’s “no killing” creed. It is an interesting arc that allows readers to get into the brain of Batman and observe his disposition having to face arguably his greatest loss yet again a decade and a half later. It is equally as interesting learning how Todd has coped with his fate, as well as his motivations for returning to Gotham.
The arc was adapted as a DC Universe Animated Original Movie entitled Batman: Under the Red Hood, and was released in the summer of 2010.
8. Batman: The Man Who Laughs
Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a one-shot comic written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke, produced over a decade after Batman: Year One–it’s intended successor. This tale picks up directly after Year One, with Batman going face-to-face with The Joker for the first time. The plot is based on the Joker’s original introduction in 1940, and also draws influences from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, an alternative take on the same story.
Both Jim Gordon and Batman combine forces in order to unveil the Joker’s mysterious plot. The Man Who Laughs greatly portrays the insane nature of Joker, as well as the brilliance of Jim Gordon. I personally recommend the prestige copy of this book, as the trade paperback features another story featuring the Green Lantern that isn’t quite up to snub with the main story.
7. Batman: The Black Mirror
The Black Mirror, written by Scott Snyder is notable for being the last story arc of Detective Comics before DC’s New 52 relaunch in 2011. What it’s also known for is its engaging plot and character interactions, most notably between Dick Grayson’s Batman, Jim Gordon, Jim Gordon Jr., and the Joker. Gotham itself is even portrayed as a character, much in the way Baltimore is treated as a focal character in HBO’s The Wire.
Both Jim and Bats must come to terms with the darkness in their past and in their future, respectively. As both engage into their own battles, their paths intersect and weave together one cohesive story. Artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla craft breathtaking panel after panel to illustrate the story’s eerie themes and somber tones. Batman: The Black Mirror is a fan favorite for many Batman aficionados, and with good reason.
6. Batman: The Long Halloween
Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale combined forces to create what would be a trilogy of connecting tales taking place after the events of The Long Halloween. This story takes place during the early years of Batman attempting to take down a criminal known as Holiday, who commits a murder once a month during the holidays. The Long Halloween also features an alliance between Jim Gordon, Batman, and Harvey Dent, as well as the former’s eventual downfall into becoming Two-Face.
The story is told in a film-noir fashion, with dark tones and true detective work at the helm of its narrative. Sale’s art is excellent and has become a standout in the various renditions Batman has had.
5. Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Batman & Robin Must Die
Batman & Robin Must Die changes the usual paradigm of Batman stories featured in this list by having Dick Grayson – the original Robin – taking up the mantle of the Dark Knight. By his side is 10-year old Damian Wayne as Robin. Instead of a brooding Batman and a jesting sidekick, the roles are reversed. We see Robin with the same darkness his father carries and Batman as the quipping mouthpiece of the duo. This story, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frazer Irving, focuses on Dr. Hurt and his near spiritual connection with the Wayne family. We also get to see the dynamic between the new Robin and the Joker for the first time, which the former commemorates by beating the latter with a crowbar.
Irving’s art is gritty, beautiful eye candy, and the culmination of Morrison’s Batman stories paying off in his final issue of the series is masterful. This is definitely one series that had much potential in its pairing of Grayson and Wayne, and one that was gone way too soon.
4. Batman: R.I.P.
Batman: R.I.P., written by Grant Morrison and penciled by Tony Daniel, pits The Dark Knight against a new villain named Dr. Hurt and the clandestine Black Glove organization. It also features Bruce Wayne’s new lover, Jezebel Jet, and his newly discovered son Damian Wayne.
Grant Morrison displays Batman in a way that he does best, a meticulous genius with the power to overcome any situation if planned properly. The Black Glove initiates a plan to render Batman mentally useless, and they actually pull it off. What they didn’t expect however was that years prior, Batman compartmentalized an entire vigilante persona -akin to a back-up disc – to take over the role of Batman if he’d ever become mentally compromised. It was this way he could continue to serve justice promptly, and later enact revenge. It’s The Dark Knight at his best.
3. The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns is possibly the most important Batman story ever told, and what acclaimed comic book writer/artist Frank Miller is known for. This graphic novel is the first realistic story of Batman ever told, with Miller taking the character into the gritty, realistic tone his work is identified with. It also introduces a much older Batman 10 years after his retirement from crime fighting, finally coming back into the fray to take back his city from Gotham’s now over-infested array of criminals. The story touches on psychology, morality, social issues, and politics- all culminating into one of the greatest Batman tales to ever be told.
This is the story in which Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will borrow most of its material. The Dark Knight Returns was also loosely adapted in a two-part animated film called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
2. Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, is the quintessential Batman/Joker confrontation. This story perfectly exemplifies the ying/yang relationship between the two enemies; Batman’s uncompromising belief in order and justice versus the Joker’s credence of chaos being the way of the world and how even the most morally impartial has no immunity of falling into that chaos, all by having just one bad day. The book also delves into the possible origins of the Joker, before he came to be known as The Clown Prince of Crime.
Things get very personal in this one-shot graphic novel, as most of the events in the story has carried over into canon events of the main Batman mythos. Even more, the ending of this tale is ambiguous, and has raised much discussion on the overall outcome of the story. But in truth, it is the interpretive ending that makes this tale so legendary.
1. Batman: Year One
In what is arguably Frank Miller’s greatest work of all time, Batman: Year One follows the very first moments of the Caped Crusader early in his career. Along with artist David Mazzucchelli, Miller brings to life countless characters with his ability to craft brilliant inner monologues, whether they come from Batman himself, or Jim Gordon, which the book also follows during his transfer to the Gotham City Police Department. Batman: Year One has been the origin story of Batman in many continuities, including the main universe. However, since the launch of DC’s “New 52” initiative, his origin story has been retold in Batman: Day Zero, by Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.
The story is gritty, the art is iconic, and both capture the relationship between Batman, Jim Gordon, and the city of Gotham. This comic was also adapted into an animated film feature during 2011.