Batman is a character who isn’t just a member of comic book royalty, he’s also one of the most widely-recognised pop culture figures of all time. Having debuted way back in 1939, the Caped Crusader has gone on to become a part of the lives of so many, be it in comic book form, the early TV serials, the Adam West show, the animated efforts, or one of the many live-action movies.
To put it simply, everybody knows the Batman.
Over his long, vast and deep history, however, the Dark Knight has suffered and endured plenty as fans have been taken on many a rollercoaster ride by Batman and his group of supporting characters. In amongst that history have been some stories and moments that have been truly shocking in their nature, taking many a fan aback with what we saw play out.
Here, it’s time to take a look back at the 15 most shocking stories that the world’s Greatest Detective has been involved in. Some may be crude, some may be clinical, some may be full of twists, turns and revelations, and some may just be plain game-changers, but all of these tales were massively shocking for all involved.
15. The Black Mirror
Scott Snyder is a writer who has won plenty of praise from fans and critics alike for his work over the years, and The Black Mirror is a Batman story that is up there with the talented writer’s very best work. Not only was it a shocking, twisted tale of a Gotham City that is seemingly even darker than ever before, but it was also a story that didn’t feature Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl.
No, in fact, this 2011 tale took place when Bruce had taken a leave of absence from Gotham, with Dick Grayson stepping up to take on the mantle of the Bat once more. Let’s face it, we all love Dick Grayson, and it’s always felt right whenever he’s had to become Batman. And this fantastic, tense, unnerving time was no different.
What was so shocking about The Black Mirror, though, is just how crazed James Gordon Jr. is, with him returning to Gotham and claiming to totally, totally not be a crazy murderer. Totally, totally not. Only by the end of the arc, it’d be unequivocally confirmed that James Jr. is, you guessed it, totally, totally a crazy murderer.
The Black Mirror shocked many readers by fully fleshing-out the true mindset of James Gordon Jr., but it was also a shock in just how deep into darkness Gotham City had fallen by this point, with the grim nature of the city even shocking its two main protectors, Batman and Jim Gordon.
14. The #500 Redo
Urgh. Just… just urgh.
Whilst a lot the “shocks” on this list may involve vile, heinous events or certain actions that changed the game for the Caped Crusader, Batman #500 was and is a shocker for an entirely different reason; it gave readers a depiction of Batman that truly sucked!
To put it into context, Bruce Wayne had retired from the Batman gig due to having had his back broken by Bane during the Knightfall arc. In his place, rather than giving the Bat mantle to the ever-popular and totally-badass Dick Grayson, Bruce handed the moniker over to Jean-Paul Valley.
Yep, it was as random to this day as it was then. JP had impressed Bruce with his skills previously, but his brutal and clinical ways made him out to be a kind of un-Batman Batman. But most shockingly was just how bad they made Valley’s Batman outfit, making him look like the product of Batman having sex with an old style garters-wearing lady of the night.
While DC saw Jean-Paul Valley taking on the Batman name as being something revolutionary and game-changing, most readers just saw it as a snub to the beloved Dick Grayson and, as such, JPV’s time as Batman was ultimately short-lived.
13. The Long Halloween
In terms of Batman stories that would make for truly stunning movies if handled correctly, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween is right at the top of the tree. Rich in narrative, twists aplenty, and brimming with noir-esque charm, this is a story that is a firm favourite of many a Bat-fan. It’s also a tale that is full of shocks at every corner.
The basic premise of The Long Halloween sees the action pick up in the relative-infancy of Bruce Wayne’s career as the Caped Crusader, loosely following what Frank Miller had laid down in Batman: Year One, as a new mysterious villain known as Holiday is causing chaos in Gotham City.
All bets are off when it comes to the real identity of Holiday, and the constant twists and turns at every corner gave readers a jolting shock with each and every passing issue of this arc. From criminals being offed, crime bosses being targeted, well-established Batman villains being brought into the mix, and then the ultimate reveal of who Holiday is… followed by another reveal of who Holiday really is, The Long Halloween is one of the most edge-of-your-seat Batman reads that’s overflowing with shocks, twists, and, more importantly, genuine quality in its storytelling. Also, it’s the story in which Harvey Dent’s tragic transformation into Two-Face occurs (as shown above).
12. The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Now no matter how much we may all adore Frank Miller’s iconic The Dark Knight Returns, there’s no denying that its follow-up, 2001’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, fell way, way short of reaching the heights of its predecessor. That’s not to say that it’s not a tale that ends with a major, major shocker.
The big shock here is what Miller decided to do with one of the most beloved comic book characters in DC history, Dick Grayson. With the former Robin having been absent from The Dark Knight Returns, the appearance of a faux Joker in The Dark Knight Strikes Again sees it revealed that it’s in fact Dick who has been portraying himself as the new Clown Prince of Crime, even going as far as to savagely brutalize Robin-turned-Catgirl Carrie Kelley.
Frank Miller has never been shy of giving fans a shock, be it in terms of how a longtime character is portrayed or in how he incorporates social commentary and political leaning into his work, but to many readers it was just too much of a turn off to see Dick Grayson, the longstanding protégé of Bruce Wayne, the man revered as the very best of the Robins, a hero who would become hugely popular with comic book fans as he became his own hero in the form of Nightwing… yeah, Frank Miller took a giant turd on that character, shocking fans in all the wrong ways in the process.
11. No Man’s Land
After a few so-so years during the mid-90s, the Batman world was well and truly shaken up with 1999’s No Man’s Land arc, a story which dominated any and all Batman or Bat family related titles for over a year.
What was the most shocking element about this tale wasn’t particularly how it involved a certain character, it was more the effect that the story had on Gotham City as a whole. With a huge earthquake having decimated Gotham, the city is written off as a ‘no man’s land’ as crime and villainy runs amok.
Of course, rogues such as The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Bane, etc all rear their heads to claim their own corners of the dishevelled shell of Gotham City, with a turf war of sorts breaking out. And then there’s poor Jim Gordon, who once more is put through hell by The Joker as he becomes the person hit hardest by No Man’s Land and its aftermath; the Clown Prince of Crime shooting Gordon’s wife, Sarah Essen, in the head from point blank range after Mr. J dropped a baby for her to catch.
No Man’s Land was heartbreaking for Gordon (yet again!), which in term made for a tense, emotional confrontation between Jim and The Joker, with Gordon once more being able to just about keep it together and not kill the Jester of Genocide. This element of the story in itself was a truly shocking affair, but the overall shock of seeing Gotham City truly brought to its knees made for this arc becoming one of the best Batman stories readers had seen for years.
10. Bruce Wayne: Murderer?
2002’s Bruce Wayne: Murderer? and Bruce Wayne: Fugitive are so-so when it comes to the truly exceptional, legendary tales from Bat-lore, but that doesn’t mean to say that there wasn’t a major, major shocker at the core of this double-act story.
After his girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild, is found dead at Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne has the eyes of any and every one on him, even those nearest and dearest to him. And this is where the most shocking element of this story comes to be, for not only did this gripping narrative have you genuinely believing that maybe, just maybe, Bruce had finally snapped and had indeed killed his beau, but so intense was the Bruce Wayne: Murderer? story that readers were massively shocked to see Nightwing actually punch Batman square in the face.
With Bruce being his most boneheaded – which is saying something – Dick Grayson, aka the former Robin and now a fully-fledged hero in his own right as Blüdhaven’s protector, Nightwing, finally has enough of his mentor’s attitude and clocks him.
In terms of recent memory – although it’s now shockingly 14 years since this story began – Hush is one of the very finest Batman stories out there. It’s also one of the most shocking.
From comic book royalty Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, this tale, which was split up into two distinctive parts, is an absolute joy for any and all longtime Batman fans. Not only does it tick a whole host of boxes when it comes to bringing in iconic Bat-foes – The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Clayface, Killer Croc – but it also serves to introduce readers to a new, impressive bad guy in the form of Hush.
A huge, elaborate story with a whodunit edge to it, it was finally revealed that Hush was really Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Tommy Elliott, and that it was actually The Riddler who had stepped up a level to mastermind the whole scheme that saw Batman tormented on a multitude of levels, including even the tease of the long-dead Jason Todd being alive and well.
8. Death Of The Family
Since the DC relaunch that was The New 52, Batman’s greatest foe, The Joker, had remained ominously absent from the action, having not been seen for what felt like an age. Of course, though, the Clown Prince of Crime is always lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. And boy did he strike hard when he finally did make his New 52 mark.
In a tale that saw The Joker being far more twisted and despicable than readers had seen for many a year by that point, Death of the Family brought Mr. J back into the fold in a major, major way, with him deciding that the Bat family was a little too cluttered and that he wanted Batman all for himself.
To do this, The Joker, who by this point was wearing his own face as a mask, tormented the entirety of Batman’s supporting cast; Jim Gordon was spiked with a blood thinner that saw his body drained of its blood supply; Alfred was attacked with a hammer and poisoned; Barbara Gordon’s mother was kidnapped and had her finger chopped off; Dick Grayson’s ex-girlfriend Raya Vestri and pal Jimmy Clark were killed; Damian Wayne was forced to fight a crazed doppelganger of his father; and Jason Todd and Tim Drake wound up tied together after being beaten to a pulp.
Having been drugged, Batman would wake up at a table that saw all of these figures present and with bags over their heads, with the gag being that they were all about to eat their own faces.
The Knightfall story is now known to many as being one of the most popular Batman stories to have ever been told, largely with how the tale spread into the mainstream due to its influence on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
In case you’d not placed it by now, this was the story where Bane famously broke the Batman. Well, the Batman’s back, at least. Either way, the Caped Crusader was crippled and seemingly completely done from ever donning the cape and cowl ever again. In comic book terms, though, we all know that phrases like “ever again” or “completely done” are usually just temporary deals, and this ultimately proved the case here.
In fairness to Knightfall, however, the happenings of this particular story did last for a little longer than so many other supposedly permanent comic book developments, and as such that just made the shocking nature of the tale even more impressive. Even further, not only was Bruce Wayne out of action, a newcomer by the name of Jean-Paul Valley was handpicked by Wayne to become Gotham’s new Batman.
6. The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller’s legendary The Dark Knight Returns is regarded by many as being the single greatest Batman story ever told. And whilst that may well be true, this fantastic 1986 effort is also one of the most shocking Bat-tales to have been read by fans.
With Bruce Wayne having hung up the cape and cowl a good decade earlier, the Caped Crusader is brought out of retirement by a nefarious new threat known as The Mutants. But that’s not the most shocking moment of this tale, for the resurfacing of the Dark Knight also brought about the resurfacing of a seemingly comatose Joker.
Going even further, the Batman and the Clown Prince of Crime truly had their last ever battle during this story, with the shocking final moments of this longstanding rivalry seeing The Joker end up with a Bat-a-rang in his eye before the World’s Greatest Detective proceeded to snap his neck… only Batman didn’t go quite as far as to kill his nemesis.
Still, that wasn’t enough for Mr. J, for he’d take his own life by forcibly snapping his own neck in order to make it look like Batman had finally given in and killed him, dishing out one last attempt to make Bats look like the fool.
5. Under the Hood
In comic book history, very few people truly ever remain “dead” dead, particularly after 1992’s The Death of Superman was made a mockery of by the Man of the Steel returning from the grave (complete with a dodgy mullet) only a year later. From that point forward, death in comic books meant absolutely nothing and eventually we’d see the likes of Oliver Queen, Barry Allen, and Hal Jordan all brought back from the dead. But with Jason Todd, it truly felt like death was a permanent fixture for this second Robin.
In modern comics, apparently-permanent events tend to last a year or so before being tweaked with or just flat-out ignored. With Jason, though, he’d been untouched as a character for over 15 years by the time he turned up alive-and-well in 2005’s Under the Hood.
Jason had previously been teased in the fan favourite Hush arc, but it was Under the Hood that saw Batman’s long-dead protégé fully back in action as he took on the moniker of the Red Hood and brutally executed Gotham City’s criminal element, gaining the ire of the Dark Knight in the process.
When it was revealed that this vigilante was indeed Jason Todd, this came as a huge shocker to the Bat family and to all reading, with Jason’s death being one of the few comic book deaths that felt like it really was a permanent arrangement. And in fairness to DC, unlike many of the other convoluted or bungled returns that they’d done prior or since Jason’s resurrection, the return of Jason Todd was brilliantly executed and has seen the character become a firm favourite of readers… something which alluded the second Robin back when readers actually voted to have him originally killed off in 1988’s A Death in the Family.
4. Batman and Son
Grant Morrison is never one to do things by halves, and that was exactly the case when he took over the main Batman title in 2006 when he looked to give the book an injection of life by taking inspiration from a previous Elseworlds tale dubbed Son of the Demon.
In that Elseworlds book, Batman is revealed to have a son with Talia al Ghul. And so, leaning on this story, Morrison introduced Damian Wayne into the main canon of DC Comics. With Bruce having no knowledge of even having a child, all were shocked to their core when the young Damian arrived with a bang into the realm of the mainstream DC world.
Trained since birth by the League of Assassins and brimming with charisma, charm and the right amount of frankly d*ckish straight-faced humour, Damian was a character who was initially unwelcomed by many longtime readers but soon became a massive favourite of many. And whilst his ever-developing relationship with his father was the clear foundations of the Batman and Son arc, arguably even more enjoyable was Damian’s relationship with those who came before him as Robin, particularly his always-engaging interactions with Dick (or is that Richard?) Grayson.
Sadly, Damian would eventually be killed off courtesy of the Heretic, an adult clone of himself, and that in itself was another shocking, saddening moment in Batman history. Unfortunately, that whole event would be tarnished by Damian returning from the grave in a manner which left a bad taste in the mouths of many.
Whilst the Caped Crusader is reduced to merely a small role in Brian Azzarrello’s 2008 Joker graphic novel, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that the story is one of the most messed up and shocking tales in recent memory.
With an appearance that’s part Heath Ledger’s Joker, part Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, this is a take on the Jester of Genocide that is as disturbing as anything you’ll have ever seen in a mainstream comic book.
Sure, Mr. J’s appearance in itself may be shocking and jarring to many, but his actions here are of a truly heinous nature. When he finds out that his new goon-for-hire, Jonny Frost, has previously had a meeting with Two-Face, The Joker deems this an act of cheating and proceeds to rape Jonny’s ex-wife as a form of twisted revenge for this betrayal. Messed up, right?
Not only that, Joker also saw the book’s titular villain make a bank president masturbate over a picture of his daughter, then followed that up by skinning alive some poor sap known as Monty.
2. The Killing Joke
Whilst The Killing Joke may well be one of the most popular Batman graphic novels of all time – and in fairness, it’s a Joker-driven tale – that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most shocking stories in the Dark Knight’s history.
With the main narrative being The Joker tormenting Jim Gordon in order to prove his mantra of anyone can go crazy due to one bad day, this 1988 effort saw the Clown Prince of Crime given a totally grim kick in the right direction. For years, Mr. J was often seen as a happy-go-lucky criminal who partook in petty crimes, but the late 1980s saw the Jester of Genocide given a more dark and twisted edge. Key to this was The Killing Joke.
Not content with having shot Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, through the spine as part of his plan to torment her pops, The Joker went as far as stripping Babs and then taking pictures of her naked, crippled body, with the arc even going as far as to insinuate that the Harlequin of Hate even raped one of Batman’s most trusted protégés. In addition to this, The Joker would strip and torture Jimbo whilst showing him the aforementioned pictures of his tortured daughter.
1. A Death in the Family
Jason Todd may have returned from the grave in 2005, but his death was the most shocking moments in Batman history as part of the chaotic A Death in the Family story.
With Jason having taken over the Robin mantle that Dick Grayson had left behind, fans were actually given the chance to vote on whether or not the frankly annoying Jason lived or died during this arc. Being the bloodthirsty bunch that we are, fans voted in their droves for Jason to be offed! And who better to do the deed than Batman’s greatest rival, The Joker.
Whilst the death of Jason Todd was certainly a major event that shocked the comic book world, the way it played out was also shocking in its deviousness and devastation, with the Clown Prince of Crime playing on young Jason’s emotions by luring him out to Ethiopia to meet up with his estranged mother.
Using a handy crowbar, the Harlequin of Hate would beat Batman’s sidekick to a bloody pulp before then tying him to his mother and blowing the whole building up, leaving the Dark Knight to get to the scene agonizingly too late to save the day. For the following years, this whole horrible story would be something that would regularly haunt Bruce Wayne until Jason returned from the dead in 2005.