Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: Dave Mazzucchelli
The best Batman story ever told, Batman: Year One defined the Batman for a new generation. This parallel story follows Jim Gordon as he arrives in Gotham from Chicago and Bruce Wayne as he returns from many years of training abroad. Both find that Gotham is a dying city overwhelmed by corruption from top to bottom. Through Gordon's eyes we see Gotham as it appears to the man on the street. Through Bruce Wayne we see the city from a distance as one might look to solving a complex puzzle. Both men want to save the city, but each follows a different path. It's Year One that shows how these two paths came to meet and an indelible partnership formed.
Miller takes a brilliant turn towards the end of Year One. He allows Gordon to see Bruce Wayne's unmasked and it's quite clear that the game is up, that Batman's days are over. But Gordon offers plausible denial, stating he really can't see anything without his glasses. Rather than making Gordon a sap who couldn't connect the dots between Wayne and Batman, Miller has Gordon choose to ignore the truth in order to help save his city.
In many ways it is difficult to compare Year One against The Dark Knight Returns. There are aspects of each story that outweigh the other. Ultimately, Year One is the best tale. Perhaps it's not as grand as TDKR, but no other book before or since has quite captured the realism, the grit and the humanity of Gordon and Batman so perfectly. The colors are almost muddy, as if Gotham were constantly enveloped in a haze. The city, like the panels, is a murky place. This book is just the beginning, but it could not start any other way.
Prior to 1986, futuristic tales of heroes were often fluff and fancy. They were joking tales, they were forgettable farce. Frank Miller forever changed the landscape of superhero tales with The Dark Knight Returns, a futuristic imagining of a Batman without hope. Having been retired for ten years following the death of Jason Todd, Bruce Wayne finds himself compelled to don the mantle of the bat once more. This in turn revives the insane criminals who'd been almost comatose for the past decade.
The Dark Knight Returns is not only brilliant for showcasing the best damn ass-kicking Superman will ever receive, it also shines a light on the very nature of Batman. Without the Dark Knight, the city has fallen into despair. With no one to look up to (or to fear), the youth have revolted against society, taken up with a false god and forgotten all sense of order or rationality. But the Batman's return changes all of that. There is no more visceral or satisfying Batman book than this. It is #2 not because it fails at anything, but because #1 does even more for the Batman.
A funny thing happened on the way to the insane asylum... The origin of the Joker has long been a mystery. That is until Alan Moore exposed a "possible" origin for the Clown Prince of Crime. For the first time we are shown the Joker as a sympathetic character, of a good man driven to insanity by a pair of unfortunate accidents. In fact, the Joker attempts to earn sympathy from the Batman of all people through a heinous act.
Attempting to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, the Joker shoots and paralyzes his daughter then sets him on a carnival ride from hell. The Joker hopes to prove that given the proper set of tragedies any reasonable man can be driven insane. Why the Joker suddenly desires understanding is unclear, but it's hard to find fault with the plan. The only problem is, it doesn't work. The Killing Joke is, eerily enough, the Joker at his most rational. Perfectly paced, beautifully illustrated and ending with a killer punchline, this is the finest Joker story ever told and, in turn, one of the best Batman stories of all time.
To dress up like a bat and risk your life every night requires some measure of insanity. Grant Morrison confronts that issue directly in Arkham Asylum as he puts Batman inside the famed looney bin. What's it like looking at the inmates of Arkham? It's like looking in a mirror. This topsy-turvy graphic novel parallel's Batman's race through the Asylum with Amadeus Arkham's descent into madness in the 1920s.
McKean's chaotic art keeps everything off-balance and is crucial to the story. In fact, were anyone else to have attempted this book, it would almost certainly have fallen to failure. As for Morrison, he's crafted a tale that actually puts doubt in the reader's mind as to Batman's own sanity. Had he not purpose driving him to fight crime, wouldn't he be locked up with all the other inmates? Through an examination of the psychology of the insane, we are given a harsh but accurate account of the Batman's own mental make-up.
The Long Halloween is the only Batman story of the past 15 years to crack the top five. It's a deserved recognition as Loeb's year-long tale is a benchmark that, like the other great Batman tales in the top five, will resonate with creators for many years. Taking place early in the Batman's career, The Long Halloween returns Batman to his proper role as a detective. This mystery is confounding and the true identity of the killer is not easy to piece together with the breadcrumbs Loeb leaves. Yet it's impossible not to have fun guessing and the shocking twist at the end will rattle around in your brain for a good long while.
Loeb's story, matched with Tim Sale's art, makes Batman both human and mythical in the same stroke. Through The Long Halloween we not only gain an understanding of what makes Bruce Wayne and Batman tick, but what makes his Rogues Gallery so formidable. With an ode to classic Hollywood films, particularly The Godfather, The Long Halloween stretches beyond the normal boundaries of comics to create a legendary story of one man's crusade against an insane world.
One of the most overlooked Batman tales is also one of the best. It begins with the Batman in dire straits, held captive beneath Gotham by a group of zealots. Their leader, the charismatic Deacon Blackfire is determined to break Batman's will and brainwash him to becoming a devoted follower. It works. It's shocking, jarring and incredible. The Batman's will is destroyed and even after his escape, the Dark Knight remains on shaky ground.
Outside of A Death in the Family, this is the only trade paperback to feature Jason Todd as Robin (and a likable one at that). He assists Batman in trying to reclaim his own will, but it's not an easy path. The Cult feels (and even looks) a lot like The Dark Knight Returns, but this is no futuristic tale or flight of fancy. This is real and the story is told with callous brutality that makes it all the more powerful.
Created by Dennis O'Neil, Ra's Al Ghul has grown into one of the best foils for the Batman. Oddly enough, the best Ra's story ever told was written by Mike Barr and not O'Neil. Son of the Demon is unlike just about any Batman story you've ever read. Much of this tale has Batman not just at Ra's Al Ghul's side, but as his son. Having married Talia, Batman trains Ra's men in non-lethal combat and aides Ra's on several missions.
Son of the Demon explores an area of the Batman mythos often ignored by others -- family. Sure, the Al Ghul clan might make for a very dysfunctional family, but there's a real sense of communion between Ra's and Batman. Bingham's art is as good as the story being told, always keeping the action moving. What's truly amazing is that Son of the Demon features no splash pages, but is one of the most well-paced action tales you'll ever read.
Once again, Jeph Loeb is running Batman through the gauntlet of his Rogues Gallery. The aptly named sequel to The Long Halloween is a darker year two tale. Bruce Wayne is slowly slipping away, overshadowed by the Batman. As the human face of the Dark Knight fades, Gotham grows colder, as if the two were intrinsically linked. The world of the Batman has so overtaken the life of Bruce Wayne that his only way to relate to his newly-orphaned heir is to give him a costume.
The Holiday murders, which were believed to be solved, resurface once more. Someone's killing mobsters on holidays and once again everyone is a suspect. Not only do we get a great mystery, but a fascinating examination of the Batman's most dangerous foes... plus Calendar Man. Dark Victory is the definitive look at how the loss of Harvey Dent affected Batman. Miller owns Year One, but Year Two belongs to Jeph Loeb.
God bless Doug Moench for taking the name "Batman" literally. This Elseworlds tale, perhaps the finest written to date, besets a gothic Gotham with the greatest vampire, Dracula. The daring Dracula, no longer concerned with keeping his vampiric nature a secret, has a bold plan to overtake Gotham one bite at a time. The only thing that can stop the centuries-old villain is the Batman. However, Batman would be no match against Dracula's power, unless of course he himself became a vampire.
Just about every turn of the page brings a new wrinkle, a new surprise. So many comics seem to go by the numbers but Red Rain offers the unexpected again and again. Jones, who loves to draw bat-ears longer than Wolverine's claws, shows great control over his art, adding just the right touch of exaggeration to his graphic storytelling. The first of a trilogy, this is the only Batman-as-vampire tale that is flawless in its execution.
If you'd told us a decade ago that Jeph Loeb would write some of the best Batman stories ever, we'd have laughed in your face. Who knew Loeb had such great depths and ability for weaving tales of the Dark Knight? The controversial Hush is as "love it or leave it" as they come. The year-long epic didn't just make one or two major changes to the Batman universe, it made more than perhaps any story arc in Batman history. Batman starts dating Catwoman, Two-Face gets his mug and mind repaired, Jason Todd goes missing from his grave and the Riddler finally becomes respectable.
Hush doesn't follow the same cadence as The Long Halloween or Dark Victory. This story has a much more modern feel. There are some truly unforgettable moments, such as when Batman kicks Superman's ass (and is thanked for it) or when the Joker pleads his own innocence and means it. Yes, there are some aspects that are hard to swallow, particularly the identity of Hush and a Clayface trick that was already used in the early '90s. Still, Jim Lee's artwork is unbelievable and whether you love the changes or not, it's tough to deny Hush is impossible to put down.
Bruce Wayne is one of the most underutilized characters in comics today. That, however, wasn't always the case. Blind Justice is as much a Bruce Wayne story as it is a Batman tale. Sam Hamm, who also wrote the 1989 Batman feature film, puts Bruce on the hot seat. Following a scandal at WayneTech, Bruce finds himself indicted on charges of treason. Bruce is nailed for his worldly travels and association with the criminal element. Commissioner Gordon, however, offers a way to clear his name -- by testifying that Bruce Wayne is a certain caped crusader!
The shocks don't stop there. Blind Justice examines the dynamic relationship between Wayne and his counterpart, Batman. It also tells one hell of a story that sees Bruce in a wheelchair and pits him against his former mentor, the great Henri Ducard. By the time we turn the last page, it's hard not to stand up and cheer. This is one heck of a Batman story and it's all about Bruce Wayne.
There is something truly beautiful in the manic vixen Dini and Timm have created. Based on Batman: The Animated Series, this over-the-top graphic novel explores the origins of Harley Quinn. Though it looks like a kids book with the cartoonish drawings, the subtext is more like the Jerry Springer show than anything else. Harley is the wife with low self-esteem who hates the way her man treats her but can never escape her love for his abuse. But she certainly tries.
Fed up with being a second-class citizen to Mister J, Harley decides to do the one thing her love never could -- kill the Batman. She almost succeeds too, until the Joker arrives to save him. See, he can't have someone else using his insane plans and offing his greatest foe. Though he may scream at her, though he may even hit her, Harley comes back to him at the end. She just can't help herself. The fact that despite all this she has an endless supply of zeal and is so adorable in her madness makes us love her all the more.
Elseworlds have a habit of falling apart towards the end as the writer tries to jam epic events into the final few pages. Gotham by Gaslight does not suffer from this weakness. In fact, Gaslight is as taut and well-conceived a graphic novel as you can fine -- Elseworlds or otherwise.
Taking place in Victorian-era Gotham City, Gaslight imagines that Bruce Wayne has just returned from England, having studied abroad to prepare for his role as dark avenger. No sooner does the Batman appear than a rash of grisly slayings hit Gotham City. The murders are identical to those of England's own Jack the Ripper. The most likely suspect? Bruce Wayne, a man who's travels fit the timeline for the Ripper slayings in England and one who cannot account for his whereabouts at night. Quite simply, no other Elseworlds tale has managed such a brilliant concept nor executed it so perfectly.
11 9 0
14. Batman Black and White Vol. 1 - Brian Bolland,Howard Chaykin,Chuck Dixon,Neil Gaiman,Archie Goodwin,Andrew Helfer,Klaus Janson,Joe Kubert,Dennis O'Neil,Katsuhiro Otomo,Simon Bisley,Bob Kane
Written by: Various
Art by: Various
It's a daring idea. Take the best artists and writers in comics, give them free-reign on abbreviated Batman stories and make it all black and white. Anthologies, black & white, high-priced talent -- a recipe for disaster. Instead, Batman: Black & White was born. The first volume collects all four issues of the original series and really does feature some incredible talent. Matt Wagner, Dennis O'Neil, Archie Goodwin, Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman, Katsuhiro Otomo, Joe Kubert and on and on and on.
Though having just eight pages to tell a story can certainly be confining, it also proves to be liberating. Forced to scrap complex plots but create something indelible, these tales are often parables, send-ups or unforgettable vignettes surrounding The Batman. It doesn't hurt that the limited edition hardcover comes with an awesome Steranko print.
Poor Jason Todd. So hated was he by comic-book fans that over 5000 paid for phone call votes to assure he bit the dust. Not only was A Death in the Family the first comic to play the Roman game of Yay or Nay with a person's life, but it did end up being the second most significant event in the life of Bruce Wayne. A shocking moment, however, wouldn't get this high on the list if the story wasn't also high-caliber.
Having discovered the his birth mother is still alive and one of three women living abroad, Jason Todd runs away from home for a family reunion. As bad luck would have it, the Joker has stolen a nuclear missile and has gone off to the Mid-East to sell to the highest bidder. When Batman follows after the Joker and runs into Jason Todd it sets of a series of events that lead to one of the most memorable splash pages in the history of comics. The final issue turns out to be the real gem as Batman must deal with his thirst for vengeance -- and it's Superman who stands in his way.
Horror and the Dark Knight have rarely mixed and never quite as well as in Grant Morrison's Gothic. Someone is killing off Gotham's mobsters in horrific fashion, someone named Mr. Whisper. The man with no shadow cannot die and seems bent of revenge. Desperate, the mobsters band together and summon Batman with an upside-down bat-symbol. They offer to strike a bargain -- Batman stops Mr. Whisper and for a little while the mob stops all illegal activities. The Batman's response? "You and your kind have turned Gotham City in a hell. Now rot in it."
However, Bruce has a personal connection to the crime, one that traces back to his days in boarding school. With a supernatural bent that's uncommon in Batman stories, Gothic offers not only a new twist to the origins of Bruce Wayne, but a dark and suspenseful tale perfectly suited for the Dark Knight.
Written by: Steve Englehart and Len Wein
Art by: Walt Simonson and Marshall Rogers
Contrary to popular belief, Batman books did not suck prior to Frank Miller's Year One. In fact, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' run on Detective Comics in the late '70s is one of the best in Batman history. Strange Apparitions gives Bruce Wayne a love interest and puts all of the GCPD on The Batman's trail. Both Batman and Commissioner Gordon must deal with evil Mayor Thorne while also fighting the sinister Hugo Strange.
The crowning moment of this collection comes after Strange has discovered that Bruce Wayne is Batman. The mad doctor then attempts to sell this information to the highest bidder. However, in a surprising turn, the Joker actually attempts to protect the Batman's identity from all other would-be suitors. He doesn't want anyone to know who Batman is, because that would mean the end of his arch-foe. And, as Joker notes, "What fun would there be in humbling mere policemen?" This is the Joker at his mad best and that means it's also Batman at his finest.
The death of Jason Todd is one of the most significant moments in Batman's history. So is the discovery of a new (and better) Robin, Tim Drake. A Lonely Place of Dying tells the origin of the latest Robin, the one who would make an indelible mark on DC Comics and become a fan favorite. The different between Tim Drake and the previous two Robins is that his crusade is not born of tragedy. Instead, Tim has used his detective skills to discover that Batman is, in fact, Bruce Wayne. He further deduces that Dick Grayson was the original Robin and that the newest Robin, Jason Todd, is now dead.
Tim's a Batman fanatic and he's witnessing his idol slowly falling apart. Batman's stopped thinking and has become a brute with a cape. The solution? Get a new Robin. But Tim's idea is not to take up the mantle of Robin for himself, but to convince Dick Grayson to return to his former partner's side. A Lonely Place of Dying creates a new status quo for Batman books and happens to be an engrossing read to boot.
Written by: Dennis O'Neil
Art by: Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Michael Golden and Don Newton.
Ra's Al Ghul is one of Batman's greatest foes. No other enemy can match the Dark Detective's intellect, no other can challenge him in quite the way Ra's can. Where most collections, like The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told feel uneven, Tales of the Demon reads brilliantly from cover to cover. This is, in no small part, due to the fact that Denny O'Neil, creator of The Demon's Head, wrote all eleven stories.
Tales of the Demon shows the first decade of Ra's in DC comics, from his first meeting with Batman to the introduction of the Lazarus Pit and the marriage (yes, marriage) of Talia Al Ghul to The Batman. Ra's and Batman act almost like family. It's just that Papa Al Ghul wants to end all life on Earth and Batman doesn't, because WayneTech needs investors. Oh, and 'cause he's a good guy.
Written by: Mark Waid, Dan Curtis Johnson, Christopher Priest and John Ostrander
Art by: Howard Porter, Steve Scott, Mark Pajarillo, Pablo Raimondi, Eric Battle and Ken Lashley
JLA: Tower of Babel is unique among this list. It's the only JLA title to make the top 25, but it's also the only book that manages to say a lot of The Batman without having him be on the page. It turns out that Batman has been keeping secret files on every member of the JLA. Not only does he know their weaknesses, but he has plans to take each of them down if necessary -- and painfully at that. As the JLA is systematically destroyed, one member at a time, it becomes clear that those files have been stolen.
This compelling story examines the depths of Batman's paranoia, but also shows admiration for his forethought. Even the JLA, embittered by this betrayal, recognize that perhaps someone should have a contingency plan in case the League becomes mind-controlled or are otherwise in need of incapacitation. But that still doesn't forgive Batman's deception. And here you thought Identity Crisis was the beginning of the end for the JLA.
Elseworlds stories are known for throwing preconceived notions about DC heroes and their world out the window. Chaykin's Thrillkiller is far more surprising than most. It stars Batgirl and Robin, with Bruce Wayne as one of the only good cops on the force. The Joker's an eccentric (and insane) lady and Catwoman's a bump-and-grind dancer at a popular nightclub. Nothing is quite what it should be and yet everything feels right.
This steamy noir thriller, set in the early '60s, is among the best Elseworlds stories ever told. The role reversals keep you on your toes. While everyone seems familiar -- Dick's family died at the circus, Bruce witnessed his parents' murder -- no one is quite what they are in continuity. This is what Elseworlds were mean to be, beyond just the situational gimmick.
Everyone knows the story of how the Joker came to be -- He fell into a vat of chemicals while running from The Batman. However, Brubaker examines the first time the Joker and Batman every battled after the accident. This is Batman's first taste of the madness that would strike Gotham City on a repeated basis and he is not prepared. As the Dark Knight notes, he was ready for pimps and thugs, not madmen.
This year one tale makes for a perfect companion to Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. It is not an examination of the Joker and his methods or motives. Instead, this is a look at the most critical moment in Gotham's history. From this point forward, the city and its citizens would never be the same and neither would The Batman.
Superman can't do noir, neither can Wonder Woman or Spider-Man. Batman, however, is a perfect fit for hard-boiled crime. In this Elseworlds tale, Dean Motter imagines a post WWII Gotham City rife with corruption, filled with no good hoodlums and championed by a man dressed like a bat. Nine Lives casts classic Batman villains as gritty noir crooks. Two-Face doesn't have the acid scars, but he's still a betrayer. Joker is a manic, card-playing, trigger-happy hustler. Despite the alterations, the bad guys stick to their personalities, which makes it all work brilliantly.
It turns out that everyone's been in bed with Catwoman -- everyone. From the two-bit hoods to private eye Dick Grayson to Bruce Wayne. So when Selina turns up dead, everyone becomes a suspect and the streets of Gotham explode in violence. While the ending falls a little flat,Nine Lives is one of the most unique and pleasurable Batman books ever written.
Written by: Chuck Dixon & Doug Moench
Art by: Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan and Jim Balent
Few events have been as traumatic as the breaking of Batman's back. While some were shocked that it was not the Joker, Two-Face or the Riddler who finally cracked Batman's will, the entrance of a newcomer seemed almost inevitable. After all, Batman learned long ago how to handle his regular crop of insane foes. Bane proves himself a brilliant adversary -- at least in this trade paperback.
What makes Knightfall Part One so memorable is not the actually snapping of Batman's back. It's the quick fall into despair that proves most shocking. The ending is a foregone conclusion as Batman is worn down both physically and mentally. The Batman's spirit is broken before his vertebrae and that's a feat you'll never see accomplished anywhere else.
11 8.8 0
25. Batman: Venom - Willie Schubert,Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez,Steve Oliff,Russell Braun,Trevor Von Eeden,Dennis O'Neil
Written by: Dennis O'Neil
Art by: Trevor Von Eeden & Russel Braun
Admittedly, Venom isn't the best-written tale around. Let's just say Batman literally jumps the shark towards the end. That being said, the images in this book have stayed with us for over a decade. Though the execution may not have been perfect, the concept is one of the best from the Legends of the Dark Knight series. Having found himself incapable of saving a little girl from drowning due to his all-too-human strength, The Batman falls into despair. Batman clings to grief and it's that remaining scrap of humanity that leads him down this dark and desperate path.
He finds a solution to his physical limitations through some experimental pills nicknamed "Venom." The pills, however, turn out to do more than boost Batman's strength. This is a superhero on steroids and yes, The Batman experiences 'roid rage. Ultimately, Batman must overcome his dependence and exact his revenge on his white-collar pusher.
Originally published June 2005 on ign.com
Batman is the greatest comic-book character ever created. We say this with confidence, because it seems every writer has at least one Batman story to tell. No other character has more graphic novels and trade paperbacks. It's not even close. The list we initially compiled, which certainly missed at least a few out of print prestige-format books, rang it at more than 150 titles. That kicks Spider-Man, Superman and every other comic-book characters ass big time.
With so many Batman tales out there, it's tough to determine which you should read -- or at least which you should read first. We've read them all. That's right, we've gone through well over 100 Batman books to compile our list of the 25 best.
Putting together the list became a real challenge. To be honest, the top 20 came rather easily. There are certain books that really stand out. But the bottom five, which we reveal first, were really difficult. We had a dozen books we wanted to include and only five spots. Some of our favorites didn't make it, some great books of merit didn't get on the list. And for that reason we'll be including a list of honorable mentions, of other recommendations, when we reveal the Top 5 this Friday.
This list should not be seen as the only 25 good Batman books around. In fact, this is just a starting point. We hope you'll debate this list, come up with your own and, ultimately, give some books you've never read a chance. None of this is scientific and if you agree with all 25 books and the order we've placed them, you've got some issues that need working on.
When making our selections, it became necessary to set up some ground rules. After all, Batman's adventures go beyond his own books. Do we count the JLA? What about something like Robin: Year One? Books were weighed against four criteria.
* Format - Though we call this list "The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels," it's in a loose sense. Prestige format books (such as The Killing Joke), graphic novels (Son of the Demon) and trade paperbacks (Tales of the Demon) are all eligible.
* A Batman Story - Batman needs to be involved in the story as a vital character. We love books such as Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood and Batman: Birth of the Demon, but these great tales are origins of other characters that scarcely utilize the Dark Knight. A JLA or any other story is eligible, provided Batman is in the lead role.
* A Good Read - Sometimes too much importance is placed on the significance of a story rather than the quality of the storytelling. A story needs to be compelling beyond just the plot twists.
* Indelible Mark - Great stories are unforgettable. It's not enough just to be a good read, each of these books must linger in our memories. Every book on this list has stayed with us even after the last page was read. These are books you tell people, "You just have to read this, if not your life will have less meaning."