Frank Miller's seminal masterpiece that redefined Batman for this generation. Gritty and grim, it traces the origins of Batman, told largely from the viewpoint of Gordon, who is still a lowly cop right now. The story and overall feel of the book was hugely influential on the movie 'Batman Begins'.
Uses the characters from Year One and creates a twelve part murder / detective mystery that is also an explicit sequel. It's not the most engrossing or innovative detective story but it *is* set in the Batman universe, which makes it worthwhile for any fan. Even if the story isn't the greatest, the art is excellent and the characters are well crafted.
An explicit sequel to 'A Long Halloween', it picks up some time after the events in that book. We have a new series of murders in Gotham on holidays, all of them cops this time. The evidence points to Harvey Dent a.k.a. Two Face once again and Batman has a new riddle on his hands.
The Bad Guys Are-a-coming
Somewhere along the way, Batman encounters some really freaky villains.
The only Pre-Year One book that I own. It's not a single story but a collection of individual stories that feature Ras Al Ghul and his daughter Talia. Sometimes the Batman is on the same side as them and sometimes they are on opposing sides. It's an interesting collection just for that reason, as it highlights the complicated relationship Batman has with this family.
(Later, much later, Grant Morrison took this relationship to another level in his run on Batman leading up to Batman:R.I.P. (see below))
The storytelling style is pretty campy, about par for the 1970s and Batman isn't the dark, brooding presence that he is in the Post-Year One era. He's like a DC version of James Bond almost, with his gadgets and adventures. Despite these shortcomings, the book is an enjoyable read because of the reasons mentioned earlier. A Batman fan will enjoy this collection.
Almost an explicit sequel to 'Tales of the Demon', this rather dated story has Batman and Ras Al Ghul teaming up to defeat a common foe. In-between all of this, Batman and Talia Al Ghul consummate their relationship, resulting in Talia becoming pregnant with their child. She deceives him into thinking that she miscarried the child and we see that their son is born at the end of the book, without his knowledge.
There's several references to the USSR and USA, and the cold war, which makes this feel rather dated. The story is pretty thin, playing like some mid 80s mediocre action thriller, and lacking much depth. The only interesting aspects are Batman's reactions as a father to be. The birth of his son is also interesting because it ties into the Batman:RIP storyline, over 2 decades later. For fans only.
A classic one-shot by legendary author Alan Moore. It's pretty obvious that this is where the writers of "The Dark Knight" took inspiration for The Joker's character. The Joker tries to drive Gordon insane by putting him through psychological torture, while we follow the Joker's own descent into insanity through flashbacks. Just fantastic, like much of Alan Moore's other work.
The Knightfall Era
Roughly starts with the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd and ends with the third book in Knightfall. One of the best periods in Batman history, in my opinion.
Jason Todd, the second Robin in the current Batman continuity is led into a trap while trying to find his birth mother and then murdered. The storyline is shocking but I still don't think it belongs among the best Batman stories ever written, despite the huge amount of acclaim it has received over the years. Maybe I read it too late. The aspects of international politics in the story also give it a somewhat dated feel. This was unfortunately an integral aspect of many Batman stories of the 1980s.
Bruce Wayne has been framed by a secretive international cartel because he was attempting to stop illegal mind-control experiments being carried out within Wayne-Tech. This gets Wayne and thus Batman into a world of trouble that will take all his resources - and some helpful friends to get out of.
One of the few stories that delves into the dark psyche of Batman/Bruce Wayne and does it brilliantly too. Initially published as a three part story on Detective Comics, this covers some of the ground that led up to Knightfall. Batman's mental demons have been catching up with him since the events of 'Death in the Family' and this story delves into that often ignored aspect of Batman's mythos. This would make a worthy movie, it's so good.
This book introduces the newest (and last) Robin - Tim Drake. Batman is still troubled by the death of Jason Todd (in 'A Death in the Family') and his behaviour is getting increasingly reckless. Tim Drake has figured out the identity of Batman and Nightwing (the first Robin, Dick Grayson) and goes and tracks down Nightwing in an attempt to help Batman. Meanwhile, Two-Face is back and trying to lure Batman to his death.
This is a mediocre book, and it's only significance is the introduction of a new Robin. It foreshadows the events of Knightfall, yet again, by highlighting the mental breakdown of Batman.
Knightfall is one of the most ambitious Batman stories ever attempted. This book collects the first and arguably the best part of this story - the breaking of the Batman by Bane (the symbolism of the name is pretty obvious). The story begins with Bane engineering the breakout of all the insane criminals that are housed in Arkham Asylum. All of Batman's nemeses - The Joker, Scarecrow, Killer Croc and others - are let loose on the streets of Gotham all at once. This is Bane's clever and twisted strategy to break the Batman.
Bruce Wayne comes back as Batman after a confrontation with Azrael, his replacement. This trade paperback does not cover the entire story of Bruce Wayne's rehabilitation. Also, it feels more like a collection of individual comic book issues than a cohesive story like the first two parts.
Somewhere in the Middle
Technically, most of these are in the No Mans Land/New Gotham Era, but I don't much care for most of the stories around this time.
One of the few non-Batman DC books that I own. While it's a JLA book technically (and I'm not a fan), this is an interesting Batman story in it's own right. Someone is taking down every JLA member one by one, using secret files that Batman kept on each member. Batman realised that these were some of the most powerful beings on Earth, and if somehow they fell under the control of not so friendly forces, there could be hell to pay. Batman doesn't trust anyone. Shocking? Not really.
This short lived (30 issues) Batman comic was excellent, start to finish. Set in the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), it follows the cops as they solve cases and tackle crime in the city. Of course, Batman makes a regular appearance but the focus is definitely not on him, it's on the cops.
The entire series was collected into five volumes, this is Vol. 1.
The start of Grant Morrison's run on Batman and can be considered the first book of the Batman:RIP storyline. We encounter a boy, Damian, who claims to be Batman's son by Talia, Ras Al Ghul's daughter. Conflict arises between Batman's adopted son, Robin and Damian as to which of them is the rightful heir to the Batman - his partner or his son?
Batman gets involved with the conflicts in his new "family" i.e. Ras Al Ghul, Talia and Damian. This is the weakest of the four books in the Batman:RIP storyline. It covers ground between the three that is already very well covered. Still, the writing is good and this book is book-ended by some great stories.
The penultimate book in the Batman:RIP storyline by Grant Morrison. This gets a slightly low rating because of the first one-third, which is a meaningless story. The rest of the book is a fascinating insight into the mind of the Batman. Any story that explores the twisted mind of Batman is always interesting to me and this one is no exception. Grant Morrison flirts with the idea of completely destroying the foundations of Batman's origins and motivations, but steps back just at the precipice.
Grant Morrison concludes the Batman:RIP storyline with this fourth TPB of his run on Batman. The ending was bittersweet, a teeny bit disappointing as well as satisfying at the same time. A part of me was wishing that Grant Morrison would go through and completely destroy the Batman origin mythology, but honestly, that will never happen in a mainstream publication like DC. I'm glad I didn't read these issues individually, they would have made little sense and raised my frustration levels.
A classic one-shot by Frank Miller, and his third entry in this list. He sure knows how to write a good Batman story. An aging and retired Bruce Wayne returns as Batman to tackle new threats to Gotham City. This is the only book that shows Batman at any kind of advanced age.
Alternate universes, alternate locations, alternate timelines. Most of these retell the origins of Batman and are therefore set early in the timeline.
A Batman Elseworlds story set in the 1960s. The book takes a number of familiar characters from the Batman universe and gives them an interesting twist. Gotham is in the grip of a corrupt Mayor and police department and a drug epidemic is coursing through it. The only people who protect the innocent are Batgirl and Robin, as Detective Bruce Wayne, the only honest detective on the force watches from the sidelines - for now anyway. The story re-writes the origin of Batman completely as well as the origins of a number of other characters. The writing is good and the art is impressive, but overall, this book falls short of greatness.
A series by Frank Miller that stands outside of the regular continuity. It traces the story of Robin's introduction into the Batman universe. After the first couple of chapters, it becomes clear that Miller is attempting something complete different from a traditional Batman story. The story is filled with dark comedy and portrays a Batman who is a caricature of himself - darkly violent, almost unhinged and without any perceptible sense of morality. One of his dialogues sums it up quite nicely - "I am the goddamn Batman".
The very first Batman Elseworlds story to be published. At the time, the concept of Elseworlds did not even exist. Set in the 1890s, Batman/Bruce Wayne has been given his familiar origin with the murder of his parents. Bruce returns from Europe after studying with Freud and others, only to find that Jack the Ripper has invaded his city. Soon enough, Bruce becomes a suspect and must find the true identity of the Ripper to save his skin.
An Elseworlds series that isn't part of the Batman canon. It's a detective story set during the lifetime of the author Edgar Allan Poe and written with him as the narrator. It's got a strong gothic feel to it and the artwork is just brilliant.
The series was never actually published as a trade paperback and is only available as five parts.
An Elseworlds one-shot that is isn't part of the regular Batman universe. It's set in a corrupt theocratic state that was born as a result of Oliver Cromwell's crusade. In this version of history, Cromwell did not die, instead he left behind a theocratic state. Gordon is now an inquisitor and Bruce Wayne is a priest. The story is excellent and the characters feel true to both their new settings and to the Batman mythos as well.
I have been fascinated with Batman's character and have read a substantial number of graphic novels and trade paperbacks over the years. This isn't a comprehensive list of all Batman titles, just the ones I've read.
The books have been arranged in chronological order of continuity, more or less, and not in order of publication. The Elseworlds have their own section since they tend to be early in the Batman timeline and often re-tell his origins or early development.