Marvel may have the monopoly on the cinematic world right now, but DC has always been rock-solid in their comics line-up. By far, no other superhero in their roster has as compelling a list of stories as Batman, and today we’re taking a look at the ten essential Batman graphic novels to read. These aren’t in any specific order, but they’re picked from several polls, forums and message boards with a dash of my own personal opinion. So without further delay, let’s dive in, starting with some honorable mentions…
Honorable Mentions: Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Earth One, Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman: The Man Who Laughs, Batman: Gotham By Gaslight, Batman: Ego
Batman: Hush is now one of the most iconic Batman stories ever told, and largely thanks to the spectacular art of Jim Lee and a captivating storyline by Jeph Loeb, which follows Batman attempting to pursue a relationship with Catwoman. Unfortunately, a series of bizarre events leads to a strange, masked figure known as Hush who may indirectly be involved in the rogues gallery’s odd behaviour. This one is a personal favourite of mine, especially since the great twist ending puts the spotlight on an unsuspecting Batman foe.
Batman: The Long Halloween
Batman: The Long Halloween is perhaps the most commonly cited graphic novel when it comes to filmmakers drawing inspiration for their movies, such as Christopher Nolan and recently, Matt Reeves for his upcoming The Batman. Placing an emphasis on Batman’s detective skills in his early years, The Long Halloween tells a harrowing story of an elusive serial killer known as The Holiday Killer that Batman must track down with the help of some unlikely adversaries. It’s a gripping, classic crime story that explores the origins of some familiar villains, but also gives Batman’s detective skills the limelight.
The Dark Knight Returns
Perhaps the most well-known Batman graphic novel on this list, The Dark Knight Returns comes to us from Sin City scribe Frank Miller. Set in the later years of Batman’s career, it shows a more hardened and older Bruce Wayne attempt to put the cowl on again after years of absence. Gotham has become hell, and it’s up to Batman who, rather aggressively, returns to the underbelly of crime. It also delivers the greatest Batman and Superman throwdown ever put to page, and that’s always a plus.
Batman: Year One
Frank Miller had another crack at Batman, this time exploring his origins in Batman: Year One. As the title suggests, this is Batman’s first year on the scene as a vigilante. It mostly explores the origins of Bruce and Batman, but also touches upon James Gordon’s initial reaction to Batman and how the GCPD has to often begrudgingly cooperate with the caped crusader. It’s a fascinating origins tale that goes a bit deeper than one might think, making for what I consider to be the quintessential beginnings story arc of the Bat.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham Asylum (or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth) from Grant Morrison and artist Dave McKean takes a more cerebral approach to DC’s detective. Some may recognize the title from Rocksteady’s video game, but in the graphic novel, it’s a lot darker and psychological in its execution. Batman has to tend to a riot that recently broke out in Arkham Asylum, but is confronted by familiar faces like The Joker and Killer Croc. The graphic novel’s striking gothic art style is a thing of beauty, elevating it above your regular superhero chapter.
Batman: The Court of Owls
Easily one of the best things to come out of Batman’s New 52 run, Batman: The Court of Owls from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo leaves a pretty profound impact on readers as it not only introduces us to a shady underground organization that’s secretly pulling the strings of Gotham’s crime, but also implicates the Wayne family in hiding some dark secrets of their own. It’s a devastating journey for Batman, and the saga overall involves the entire Bat family confronting the strange Court of Owls and their deadly assassins, the Talons. Don’t miss out on this one as it’s heavily rumoured to also play a part in the upcoming The Batman movie.
Batman: Knightfall is an imposingly massive saga but a highly essential read. As most may have already guessed, this is the famous story in which an enhanced, juiced up Bane breaks Batman’s back, leaving him crippled and out of commission for months. Azrael temporarily picks up Batman’s mantle but only further diminishes his reputation in Gotham, leading Batman on a journey of physical healing – even by supernatural means – to rise again and confront Bane. The Dark Knight Rises draws a lot of inspiration from this storyline, but most importantly, it catapults Bane to the upper echelon of Batman’s most dangerous and intelligent villains.
Batman: The Black Mirror
The final storyline before Batman’s New 52 debut, Batman: The Black Mirror from Scott Snyder is unexpectedly brilliant, even though the story doesn’t seem to suggest that much. Following Dick Grayson who dons the cape and cowl, he must wrestle with the daunting responsibilities of being Batman while facing personal turmoil of his own. It’s a compelling look into the darkness one must endure as Batman, all the while bringing excellent conclusions to long-standing story threads set up in the Post-Crisis DC Universe.
Batman: A Death in the Family
Truly a testament to fans literally writing the history of Batman, A Death in the Family from Jim Starlin is widely considered to be the most important Batman story of its time – mainly because it leads into Under the Red Hood. Notorious for being the event in which fans unanimously voted to kill off Jason Todd, this is perhaps one of the darkest chapters in Batman’s past and one that really made The Joker a formidable foe that takes a crucial step in setting him up as Batman’s most cunning adversary.
Batman: White Knight
Finally, we reach Batman: White Knight from Sean Murphy’s “Murphyverse”. Once again featuring The Joker, White Knight instead chooses to tackle a bit of a moral dilemma as Joker is set on shifting the public perception of himself and Batman by, well, cleaning himself up and getting into politics. Very few comics have managed to completely flip the script on the “good guy/bad guy” routine as thought-provokingly as White Knight. Furthermore, it’s a terrific look at a different side of The Joker, who now plays a more subdued and diplomatic role in bringing down Batman by playing his own game.