Top 10 – Batman Graphic Novels
Howdy folks, some of you may have heard that earlier in the week we saw Batman’s 75th birthday. No not the day the fictional character Bruce Wayne was born in the comic book, but rather the day the original comic book was published. On the 30th of March waaaaay back in 1939 ‘Detective Comics #27’ was released. Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane ‘Detective Comics #27’ marks the first appearance of a character then known as ‘The Bat-Man’ before he’d go on to receive his own series in ‘Batman #1’ released in 1940. Now, I can already hear some of you eager to point out that the cover to ‘Detective Comics #27’ itself is dated “May, 1939’, and yes it is. But that cover is also a bare faced lie. Here is the official statement from publisher DC Comics;
“It was common practise in 1939, and remains so today – for publications to go on sale prior to their indicated cover date. Thus, while the Bat-Man as he was known) first appeared in the May 1939 cover-dated issue of Detective Comics #27 that issue actually hit newsstands on March 30”
Now, that little history lesson aside, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Batman I’ve put together a list of my personal favourite Bat-stories from over the years that I’d recommend to anyone who’s curious about getting into the world of Batman comics and not sure where to start. I don’t claim that these are the best bat-books but I’d argue they’re some of the best I’ve read anyway so please, feel free to sound off in the comments and let me know what your “Desert Island” Batman books would be and what you’d recommend.
10: Justice League: Tower of Babel.
As most of you already know Batman can and will beat anyone, fact. If I were being attacked by the incredible Hulk … I’d want Batman at my side. Just he being Batman is usually reason enough for most people to understand why he’d win. But this legend was born largely from Mark Waid’s 1998 ‘Tower of Babel” storyline where Batman takes out the entire Justice League … by accident. Well sort of. To keep the Justice League out of his hair while he takes over the word, Ra’s Al Ghul steals Batman secret files on the league detailing how he’d take them all out if he ever had to in case they were turned or … just pissed him off. Naturally the league pulls together (thanks to Batman) and ends Ra’s Al Ghul’s scheme but it did leave the Batman in the bad books with his fellow leaguers, not that he cared though. A highlight has to be where Batman’s plans make Aquaman afraid of water. No joke.
9: Batman: Hush.
Some people love, some people hate it. Either way, you should read it yourself and have a vote. Batman Hush is one of the more controversial Bat books out there. The basic jist of the story without giving too much away is that there’s a mysterious stalker going by Hush, who’s looking to make trouble for Batman. Vague I know but it’s a spoiler-filled story guys. Boasting a massive cast of allies and enemies and what I’ll always remember as one of the best ‘Batman is better than Superman’ moments of all time. Joker, Killer Croc, Riddler and Poison Ivy, Nightwing, Catwoman and loads more are here. While the pacing may be a little quick for some fans, Jeph Loeb’s writing is masterful and captivating all the way through this epic mystery tale and if that doesn’t do it for you the entire thing is drawn by none other than Jim Lee. Reason enough to buy any book I’d say.
If this story doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you are an insensitive beast who is incapable of any emotion. Sorry, now that that’s been said let me explain. Still reeling from the death of Damian Wayne in Batman Incorporated, the Dark Knight has come to terms with the death of not only his partner, Robin, but also his son. Mother of god this makes The Lion King look like Wayne’s World. Here is the mighty Batman, arguably at his lowest point. The first issue of this arc is an instant classis with no spoken dialogue present using only the artwork of Patrick Gleason to lead the emotionally charged tale of a distraught Batman trying to keep it together, but ultimately breaking down alone in the Bat-Cave cradling his dead sons costume. The rest of thi … – Sorry I just … *takes deep breath* … sorry, the rest of this arc focuses on Batman working through the 5 stages of grief and loss with a different partner at his side for each phase regardless as to whether he wants them there or not. Seriously guys, they made Batman cry. Think about that for a moment.
Batman might not know Gotham as well as he thought he did and the owls came to roost long before the bat did. That’s one of the underlining plots here as well as working to relaunch Batman in DC’s New 52 and introducing one of the creepiest and best villainous groups in bat books, The Court of Owls. With Scott Synder’s work to integrate the history of Gotham city from other classic Batman tales with meticulous attention to detail all the way through, this is a story you’ll read again and again and still find some detail that you could’ve sworn wasn’t there the first time you read it. Greg Capullo’s take on the Dark Knight launches one of the best runs on Batman too.
6: Batman: The Long Halloween.
This is the quintessential Batman story. Focusing on the ‘detective’ element of the bat, Long Halloween takes place earlier on in Batman’s career with Bruce-man working with (then) DA Harvey Dent (aka Two-face) and up-and-coming lieutenant Jim Gordon to track down the mysterious ‘Holiday Killer’ across the calendar plenty of other Batman rouges popping up across the story. The story also serves as a vehicle for Dent’s transformation into Two-Face. Tim Sale arguably creates one of the best artistic takes on Batman and his rouges here with some seriously amazing pages.
15: Batman: A Death in the Family.
Although the story may be a little old school and everyone already knows the ending, this story still gets a spot on my list. While I may have possibly, momentarily, lost my composure earlier discussing the death of another Robin, I’m not too broken up about Jason Todd’s death. That might sound bad but let’s just be honest, he sucked as Robin. He was bad, so bad the fans voted to kill him off at the hands of the Joker in a storyline that definitely impacted the Bat in a huge way and still does after all this time. If the Batman cares, so should you.
Another ‘Must-read’ in the legacy of the Bat the Killing Joke focuses on the excruciating levels of detail by the Joker in his endeavour to try and drive Commissioner Gordon nuts. Shooting and paralyzing his daughter Barbara Gordon Joker tries to break and corrupt Gordon in a brilliant story detailing the true brutality of Gotham’s clown Prince and just how far he’ll go to get what he wants. Digging deep into the relationship of Batman and the Joker and even going so far as to offer an origin for the Joker too, Killing Joke boasts another highly controversial moment in its ending that still has fans talking.
How far down the rabbit hole can Batman go to psychoanalyze some of his villains before he goes too far? Arkham Asylum is a beautifully illustrated book that takes a look into the sanity of the Batman himself as he works his way through the halls of the asylum seeing more and more of himself in the inmates that run loose there. The astonishing illustration of Dave McKean totally brings a new level of epic to Batman and his villains. An amazing look into Batman’s mind as Morrison asks just how sane a man dressed as a bat can be. There’s also a fantastically woven ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme to this book that’s brought to life vividly by McKean’s art. Seriously go read it now.
Batman kicks Superman’s ass for the second time on my list. This is a sensational read set in the dark future of Gotham long after the Batman’s retirement from kicking ass. The pages are literally crammed with panels as Frank Miller packs tons and tons of action and fantastic story telling. One of the most iconic books not just for Batman but as a series itself, Dark Knight Returns brings the Bat back to Gotham with a vengeance as he tackles gang wars inspires the heroes of tomorrow. And he kicks Superman’s ass.
“Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot…”
This I will say is the best Batman book there is. Frank Miller works to give Batman the definitive origin story he deserves, an origin so good it’s actually just been left alone for the most part by DC which in itself says a lot. Its Batman learning just how and what he must do to become the legendary Dark Knight we know he becomes. The story kicks off with Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon both arriving in Gotham city and taking their first steps to discover their place within it and how they’ll shape it in the years to come. Gordon plays an integral part in this book and it’s as much his story as it is Bruce Wayne’s. This is the book that Chris Nolan largely based his Batman Begins film from. With no traditional Batman villains present either, Year One puts the focus on a young Bruce Wayne crafting the legacy of the Dark Knight alongside Jim Gordon’s crusade against corruption within the GCPD. This is the best Batman book there is. I stand by it. I you go read at least one of the books I‘ve listed make it this one.
Here’s to another 75 years of the Batman!