The past 75 years have seen way too many Batman stories to count. But here are some of our favourites.
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
Writer/artist: Frank Miller
Hands down, THE greatest Batman story ever written. It tells the story of a Bruce Wayne in his twilight years who embarks on a final hurrah to try and rid Gotham City of a vicious gang called the Mutants, and ends with Batman giving Superman the ultimate walloping. From the iconic visuals to the almost overflowing panels of content, this was a comic that literally changed the entire comics scene back in the day, casting aside the wacky battiness of pre-TDKR Batman and paving the way for the darker, grimmer Dark Knight that we know today.
In fact, the only blemish to this story’s legacy is probably that its follow-up, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was such a lazy hack job that it does not even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as TDKR.
Batman: Year One (1987)
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: David Mazzucchelli
If you only read one Batman origin story, read this one. Frank Miller’s riveting tale about how a young Bruce Wayne came to don the cowl and cape, and Jim Gordon’s initiation into the Gotham city Police Department (GCPD), is not just one of the best Batman books, but is arguably one of the greatest graphic novels of all time.
The Killing Joke (1988)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Brian Bolland
Some have called this the definitive Joker story. Others have called it an exploration of chaos and order, with two characters that are two sides of the same coin. Alan Moore himself treats it with some disdain, saying it was “clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance”.
Me? I think that this is a masterfully written and wonderfully illustrated masterpiece that is probably the best representation of the eternal struggle between the Clown Prince of Crime and the Dark Knight.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth (1989)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Dave McKean
Way before Grant Morrison came up with the convoluted mess that was Final Crisis and the time-travelling exploits of Bruce Wayne, he wrote this gem of a book that explores the fine line Batman treads between sanity and insanity, as he ventures into the hell-hole of Arkham Asylum, which has been taken over by its inmates, led by (who else?) the Joker.
Dave McKean’s surreal and visually arresting illustrations are what make this book a classic, as the panels flit from weird to dreamy, all the way to downright scary. The Joker has never look more insane or scarier than he does here (though Greg Capullo’s recent faceless Joker comes close).
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996-1997)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
It's not every day that the World’s Best Detective is flummoxed by a case. Here, Batman’s detective skills are put to the test every holiday, as he hunts for a mysterious serial killer (aptly nicknamed Holiday) who only murders during holidays.
With appearances by nearly all of Batman’s rogue gallery to accompany the solid whodunit story, The Long Halloween sets the benchmark for all of Batman’s detective stories, with some brilliant and visually striking artwork from Tim Sale.
Batman: Hush (2002-2003)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Jim Lee
Jeph Loeb has had his fair share of criticism, but somehow, Batman always seemed to bring out the best in him. Taking a page out of his own Long Halloween playbook, Loeb once again drags our hero through a whirlpool of emotionally sapping encounters with member after member of his rogue gallery, as he hunts a mysterious mastermind named Hush. Three elements of the book stand out – Jim Lee’s iconic and extremely cool artwork; Batman’s brief but brutal battle with a Poison Ivy-possessed Superman; and finally, THAT kiss with Catwoman.
Gotham Central (2003–2006)
Writer: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark and various
OK, fine, this one’s more a personal favourite rather than an essential Bat-book. It doesn’t even star the Dark Knight himself, focusing instead on Jim Gordon’s GCPD Major Crimes Unit. It’s criminally underrated and brilliantly written. I’d be glad if the upcoming GCPD-centric Gotham TV series is even half as good as this.
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