The Top 27 Best Batman Comics and Graphic Novels - IGN
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The Top 27 Best Batman Comics and Graphic Novels
The Dark Knight returns to stock your bookshelf with good reads.
Theres never been a better time to be aBatmanfan. Withmultiple incarnations of the Dark Knight appearing in upcoming movies and TV series, and a superstar creative teamtaking the reins of DCs flagship Batman comic, we figured now was the time to update our breakdown of the best Batman comics ever published. Weve now expanded this list to include 27 stories, a significant number considering Batman originally debuted in the pages of 1939s Detective Comics 27.
A few criteria before we get started. This list of essentials is meant to focus on Batman comics that provide a compete, standalone reading experience rather than spotlighting individual issues or long comic runs. They dont have to have originally been published in graphic novel form, but they do need to be available to read in a single collected edition now. Were also limiting our focus to stories where Batman himself is the star of the show. Classics like Mad Love and Batgirl: Year One are must-read stories set in the world of Batman, but you wont find them on this list.
With that out of the way, here are the 27 best and most influential Batman graphic novels of all time. These are the comics that belong on any Bat-fans shelf.
If Batman: Year One were written today, it would be Batman: Earth One. Its a modern retelling of Batmans early years where hes not an infallible master detective who moves like a shadow -- a point driven home when, while chasing a crook over the city rooftops, his grappling gun malfunctions and he lands in a pile of trash below. Also, instead of being best buds with Jim Gordon, he winds up socking him in the face.
The crucial element that makes this story work is the overhaul of Alfred Pennyworths character. No longer a kindly butler, Alfred is an ex-MI-6 agent who, instead of serving him tea and tending to his wounds, beats the crap out of Bruce to teach him a lesson. Its a refreshing spin on the classic dynamic that lets us appreciate how Batman would adapt to a world with more realistic limitations.
To date, Earth One has spawned two sequels, and were hopeful Johns and Frank have at least one more volume planned that will focus on a certain Clown Prince of Crime.
Creators:Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
Flashpoint marked a critical chapter in DCs history, paving the way for the rebooted New 52 universe and everything else that followed. But as it turns out, the best part of this massive crossover didnt involve The Flash himself, but rather Batman.
In this alternate timeline, Thomas Wayne became Batman after his son was murdered in front of him. The result is a vigilante who manages to top even Bruce Wayne in the brooding and scowling department. Knight of Vengeance showcases a darker, meaner Gotham City that plays perfectly to Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Rissos storytelling strengths.
Though this book technically serves as a piece of a much larger crossover, it also reads perfectly well on its own. It also features one of the most haunting endings youll find in any Batman comic.
Creators:Brian Michael Bendis & Nick Derington
When Marvel Comics mainstay Brian Michael Bendis made the jump to DC in 2019, it was inevitable hed write a Batman story. But anyone who expected Bendis to return to the type of gritty crime drama that defined his early comics career was probably shocked by the contents of Batman Universe. Sometimes surprises can be a great thing.
In a world where so many Batman storytellers seem intent on outdoing each other in terms of darkness and violence, its refreshing to have a comic that celebrates the lighter side of the Caped Crusader. Universe is a zany romp that spans the full scope of the DCU and shares as much in common with the classic Silver Age comics as it does contemporary Batman fare. Its a book that also benefits mightily from the dynamic art of Doom Patrol artist Nick Derington.
A mad man is targeting Gothams elite and next on his hit list is millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. This is Batmans introduction to his most nefarious villain, the Joker. Where Alan Moores The Killing Joke tells the origin of the Clown Prince of Crime, The Man Who Laughs details the first tussle between Joker and Batman.
Brubaker is one of the best crime writers in comics. He manages to bring some of that noir flair to The Man Who Laughs while maintaining the proper tone and pace for a good Batman yarn. To my knowledge this is the only story to ever suggest that, like Bruce Wayne, the Joker had to practice to perfect his art. And thats ultimately what makes the Joker so frightening. His psychosis is not chaotic, not as random as you might think. Theres a methodology and a purposefulness to many of his actions.
Creators:Denny ONeil & Trevor Von Eden
Venom opens with one of the biggest failures in Batmans career. A little girl is trapped. Drowning. And Batman isnt strong enough to save her. Distraught, the Dark Knight finds a new alternative to strength training -- a little pill that triples his strength. Of course, its highly addictive and the always-in-control hero loses his grip, nearly assassinating Jim Gordon just to get his fix. Its a look at a side of Batman we rarely see.
Venom is one of those stories that is a struggle to rank. The premise is stronger than the actual writing. Batman fights a shark. So, theres that. But there are moments, strong moments, where ONeil tests the limits of Batmans commitment to his crusade. And its enough to make Venom one of the more memorable Batman stories ever told.
Creators:Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Jim Aparo & Tom Grummett
Dick Grayson and Jason Todd became Robin out of circumstance. They didnt really choose the role, it was chosen for them. Tim Drake is different. He takes an active role in becoming the third Robin. A Lonely Place of Dying isnt just an origin tale of Robin 3, its the best response to the question: Why does Batman need Robin?
The answer, it turns out, isnt to keep Batman from the dark side or as some subconscious way of restoring Bruce Waynes lost youth. When Batman has to consider the safety of a young sidekick, hes more likely to think things through. Hell take more precautions. Hell be safer. Robin, just by virtue of being at his side, keeps Batman alive a little longer. Now, if that doesnt make you want to read the only worthwhile Robin origin, you just dont like Batman stories.
A year into his crime-fighting career, Batman has only faced mobsters, thugs, and a few crazies. Monster Men is Batmans first encounter with anything super-human. Hugo Strange is creating monstrous creatures, stronger than the Dark Knight and with a mindless thirst for blood. Now, Batman must adapt to a new kind of villain. This is the moment where Batman goes from street legend onto the path of superhero.
The best Batman books push the Caped Crusader to his limits. This story is about Bruce Wayne learning he has limits.
Batman/Elmer Fudd Special 1 is the quintessential example of a comic with no business being as great as it is. One of severalcrossovers between DC characters and the Loony Tunes castpublished in 2017, this comic introduces a bizarrely grounded version of Elmer who blames Bruce Wayne for the murder of the woman he loves. Naturally, a Batman/Elmer Fudd team-up ensues.
This comic isnt blind to the inherent absurdity of its premise, but it also treats that premise with a surprising level of gravitas and weight. It doesnt hurt that writer Tom King and artist Lee Weeks prove every bit the creative Dynamic Duo here that they are on Kings main Batman run. Theres a reason this issue isone of the few comics to earn a 10 rating from IGN.
Creators:Jim Starlin & Bernie Wrightson
While it doesnt feature Bane as the villain, Batman: The Cult is easily one of the heaviest influences on The Dark Knight Rises. Lets just say that the Nolan brothers know a good Batman comic when they see one.
The Cult showcases Batman at his most psychologically vulnerable. In this story hes captured by Deacon Blackfire and his cultists and subjected to torture and brainwashing. The result is an unnerving and even psychedelic Batman tale that uses Bernie Wrightsons gorgeous art to convey the instability of Batmans unraveling mind.
The Cult has proven to be a divisive story, in large part because it doesnt portray Batman as the tough, capable hero he normally is. But his failures in The Cult only make his eventual victory that much more satisfying.
Creators:Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had a tall order to fill when they took the reins of DCs relaunched Batman comic in 2011. They had to assuage the fears of those fans nervous about DCs New 52 reboot and somehow follow the impossible act that is writer Grant Morrison. And somehow they succeeded in both goals.
Snyder and Capullo kicked off their run by introducing a brand new group of villains to Gotham City - the Court of Owls. This centuries-old, shadowy organization forced Batman to confront the fact that he doesnt know his own city nearly as well as he thought. That fueled a personal odyssey that dragged Batman through the depths of Gotham and pitted him against a new archrival from a very unexpected source.
The Court of Owls immediately established Batman as one of the best comics of the New 52 era and Snyder and Capullo as one of the most effective teams working in comics.
Creators:Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Marshall Rogers & Walt Simonson
If you havent read Strange Apparitions, chances are youve never heard of Bruce Waynes best love interest, Silver St. Cloud. Shes smart enough to deduce Batmans true identity and strong enough to break the Batmans heart. And thats just part of the mix in this great tale from the late 70s featuring underappreciated lunatic Hugo Strange (back from the dead) and the Joker (creating more dead). Plus, as a bonus, you get to see Hugo Strange dressed as Batman.
Batman: Year One gets a little too much credit for reinventing Batman. The truth is that there were great Batman stories before Year One. This is the best youll find from the pre-Year One era thats been collected in a TPB. And it serves as a worthwhile introduction to Hugo Strange.
Creators:Grant Morrison & Klaus Janson
Where did Bruce Wayne go to school? We know about Waynes training to become the Batman, but in Gothic, we get a glimpse into Bruce Waynes life before his parents were murdered. This ties into a series of grisly murders in Batmans early days in the cape and cowl.
Gothic is a detective story, a horror story, and a thriller that teams Morrison with the great Klaus Janson. Religion and Batman arent married in comics as often as they should be. Morrison plays it perfectly. For those a little worried about a Morrison head-trip, relax. Nothing in these pages will damage your brain too much.
Knightfall is an example of a story that overcomes the shortcomings of its art and writing, which were flawed if only because of several change-ups over its publication. The story is so essential to Batmans character that it was the main inspiration for The Dark Knight Rises movie, further expanding its popularity and cementing it as a classic.
In Knightfall, Bane breaks out all of Arkham Asylums criminals to exhaust Batman. Once the Caped Crusader is exhausted physically and mentally, Bane breaks his back over his knee. Ouch. What follows next is why the story made this list. Batman hands over the mantle to Jean-Paul Valley, aka Azreal, who soon loses his mind and starts killing criminals. Batman must train and rebuild himself from the ground up with help from Lady Shiva, and then he returns to Gotham to reclaim his mantle from Azreal.
The story shows why Bruce Waynes morality makes him the ideal Batman. He is uniquely suited to be the kind of hero that Gotham needs, which is made plain by juxtaposing him with the murderous Azreal.
Creators:Tom King, Mikel Janin & Clay Mann
Plenty of Batman comics have flashed back to the early days of Bruce Waynes costumed career, but few have done it as successfully as The War of Jokes and Riddles.
In this extended flashback saga, writer Tom King and artists Mikel Janin and Clay Mann explore a Batman just young and naïve enough to think hes on the verge of cleaning up Gotham City for good. A devastating gang war between Joker and Riddler shows him just how wrong he is. This story stands out both because it pushes Batman to the psychological brink and because it showcases so many iconic villains. And somehow, D-List baddie Kite-Man outshines them all.
While The War of Jokes and Riddles has its place as part of Kings larger, 100-issue Batman run, it also stands alone as a compelling glimpse into one of the most formative periods in Batmans war on crime.
Two stories solidified the notion that Batman can kick anyones ass. The first was Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman outwits and outduels Superman, the other is Mark Waids excellent JLA story, Tower of Babel.
Batman, we discover, has a plan for everything. That includes what to do if any of his allies in the Justice League go rogue. Hes prepared to take down any of his friends when necessary. And when an enemy unlocks those secret plans and uses them against the JLA, we get to see Batmans obsessive planning come to fruition.
Creators:Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola
Set in the Victorian era, the origin of Batman hasnt changed much in Gotham By Gaslight. Bruce Waynes parents were murdered, he travelled abroad to train so that he could return to Gotham as its protector. Only catch is that while Bruce was in London, a madman was on the loose cutting up prostitutes. And when Bruce returns home to Gotham, the murders follow him. If youre going to suspect someone of slashing up ladies with a scalpel, why not the eccentric son of a doctor? After all, can Bruce Wayne explain his nocturnal habits?
Gotham By Gaslight is a tightly woven mystery that never tries to do too much. Sometimes Elseworlds tales throw in every bit of Batman lore and the Cray computers to boot. Wisely, Augustyn sticks to what makes sense for the story and pulls off one of the better tales in Batmans long history.
Jeph Loeb has mastered the lengthy storyline that cycles through Batmans Rogues Gallery. Usually these are stories from Batmans past, but Hush is a modern tale that uses some of the same clever gimmicks as The Long Halloween. Were left to wonder at the identity of a new mastermind villain named Hush whos playing all of Batmans old enemies in an effort to ruin the Dark Knights life. Its a mystery with a controversial resolution, but if the journey is what matters, well, then Hush belongs on the list of the 25 must-read Batman books.
While were not a big fan of how Hush resolves itself, the individual pieces are brilliant. This is one of the few pre-DC Rebirth Batman stories to give some notable page space to explore the Batman/Catwoman relationship in depth, which makes it noteworthy by itself. The real star, though, is Jim Lees art, which just might be his best work in his time at DC Comics.
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? came along during a period where Bruce Wayne was believed to be dead, but it isnt actually tied to regular Batman continuity. This story serves as more a hypothetical What if? scenario, as Batmans closest allies and most bitter enemies come together to pay tribute at his wake.
Basically, this story is intended as a thematic companion piece to 1986s Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? And while its tough to rival a creative team as good as Alan Moore and Curt Swan, Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert are as talented a duo as youll find at DC. Together, they weave a whimsical and wistful tribute to a pop culture icon.
Creators:Scott Snyder, Jock & Francesco Francavilla
The Black Mirror tells two distinct stories drawn by two different artists -- both masters in their own right -- and then marries them together in the end with an unexpected (and polarizing) twist.
Most notable -- and potentially blasphemous -- is that this story stars Dick Grayson under the cowl instead of Bruce Wayne. Commissioner Gordon isnt happy with it, but over the course of the story they form a bond not unlike the one with Bruce in Batman: Year One.
But the true obstacle for this new Batman comes in the form of James Gordon Jr., the Commissioners psychotic murderer of a son and modern day classic villain. Thanks to him, the tale is steeped in horror and full of deftly executed twists, not to mention the mystery he is responsible for is one that even Bruce would have had trouble with.
The name says it all. This is Batman, set a hundred years after the originals Gotham debut. Sadly, Gotham City is no better than it was a century ago. The police are still ravaged by corruption and too much of the city is gripped by poverty. But there is hope. There is a Batman. At least, thats the myth. No, this isnt Bruce Wayne at 120 years old. This is a new man in the suit, with a new Robin. But as we learn, the cape and cowl have become part of a legacy. A legacy most of Gotham has forgotten. Well, theyre about to get a reminder.
Year 100 is different. Not just because its set in the future. This is the rare Batman story that doesnt try to hang tight to the Bruce Wayne version of Batman. Its fresh and new and exciting. And yet, it has some very clear connections to Batman: Year One, keeping this wild fantasy of a futuristic Dark Knight tethered to the core mythology.
A scourge of the undead has hit Gotham City, turning its lowliest citizens into vampire warriors. The only thing keeping the vamps from turning Gotham into a buffet is Batman. One problem -- hes been infected too. Batman has often been called a creature of the night. In Red Rain, thats literal. Batmans challenge is two-fold: Stop the vamps from taking over the city and resist the urge to break his one rule and feed on another human being.
Long before True Blood, the vampire craze hit comics thanks to the almost abstract art of Kelley Jones and the heavy inks of Malcolm Jones III. Batmans ears never stood so tall before. In another artists hands, Red Rain might read like a farce. But this is an example of the perfect marriage between story and art.
Creators:Mike W. Barr & Jerry Bingham
When Batman and his nemesis Ras al Ghul find themselves chasing the same assassin, the two form an unexpected partnership. One that reunites Batman with Talia al Ghul, one of his stronger love interests. Is Batman ready to have a father-in-law like Ras al Ghul? To become a father himself? The answer may surprise you.
People love the Joker and claim he is the perfect foil for the Batman. However, Ras al Ghul can be the best Batman villain if the proper writer gets a hold of him. Thats what you get with Son of the Demon, the perfect Ras al Ghul tale. Its a brilliant, perfectly paced story that also happens to be the origin for one of the newest (and most interesting) Robins. For years, this book was impossible to find, but thanks to the introduction of Batmans son, Damian Wayne, Son of the Demon has been reprinted and is now readily available.
Creators:Grant Morrison & Dave McKean
Arkham Asylum is home to some of the most twisted villains the DCU has to offer. What is it like to walk its winding halls and be confronted by by so many deranged killers and madmen? Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is as close as we ever want to get to experiencing that for ourselves.
This 1989 graphic novel follows Batmans surreal journey as he ventures inside an Arkham overrun by rioting inmates. Even as he encounters one iconic foe after another, he learns about the twisted history of the facility and the possibly supernatural forces at play. With a creative team as unique as Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, this is an odyssey neither Batman noir his readers will soon forget.
Someone in Gothams decided to make a killing during the holidays. Each issue tackles another holiday as the year winds round. This new holiday killer has the mob, the cops, Arkhams crazies and the Batman all on edge. The Long Halloween is both a great mystery, among the best told in Batmans long history, and a new look at the Dark Knights early career, when the status quo of Gotham City was changing.
The Long Halloween has all the ingredients of a classic Batman story: A mysterious killer, appearances by notable villains, striking visuals, and an imperfect ending to the case. Special credit to Loeb for making one of the dumbest characters ever created, Calendar Man, appear interesting and necessary. As an added bonus, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale reunited for a worthy sequel series, Dark Victory.
The Joker. Batmans greatest foe. His goal is chaos, but the beauty of his madness is the incredible amount of thought he puts into each caper. In the Killing Joke, the Clown Prince of Crime decides he wants to prove that, given the right push, anyone would fall into madness. To go about this, he torments down-to-earth Jim Gordon. All the while, were given glimpses into the Jokers origin and see what pushed him over the edge.
The Killing Joke isnt just a brilliant origin story for comics most famed villain, it also clearly defines what separates the good guys from the crazy guys. When push comes to shove, the sane ones shove back; the crazies allow themselves to go over the edge.
Creators:Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
Who would dress up like a bat and prance around the city fighting crime? We all know that answer. Who would stand by his side? Thats the story we learn in Year One. Batman and Gordon arrive in Gotham around the same time, both carrying a lot of baggage. Though they spend the year making their fair share of mistakes, they form an uneasy partnership, one that will last throughout their careers.
Whenever a new Batman movie is announced, the first question is always: Whos the villain? And yet, the best Batman story of all time remains the one that features no marquee villains. At best, you get a cameo from Selina Kyle. Otherwise, this is a story about two men trying to do right in a city where everything has gone wrong. Perhaps thats what makes it so strong. Theres no reliance on campy villains or a threat that would wipe out all of Gotham. This is street crime and corruption. This is the impossible battle, the one Batman and Jim Gordon can never win.
This is the one where Batman kicks Supermans ass. Set a decade after Batmans retirement, The Dark Knight Returns offers a grim vision of the future of Gotham City. Times are bleak and Gotham is in need of a hero. And Bruce Wayne? Well, hes been fighting his obsession for a decade. He simply cant hold out any longer. He puts the suit back on to face off against his oldest foe and his oldest friend.
The Dark Knight Returns is a masterpiece of comic-book storytelling. The pages are packed, sometimes with dozens of panels. Overcrowded, even. And yet, Miller creates a distinct pacing through each page and builds to perhaps the most optimistic ending in any Batman story. Yeah, Frank Miller ends with a touch of optimism.
For being just as entertaining the first time we read it as the last, creating the definitive dark and moody characterization of the Caped Crusader that is still channeled to this day, and for answering the age old question of Who would win, Batman or Superman?, The Dark Knight Returns is the greatest Batman graphic novel of all time.
What are your favorite tales of The Batman? Lets discuss in the comments below! And be sure to check out IGNs picks for the25 best Spider-Man comicstoo.
Following the adventures of Gothams Dark Knight, Batman is one of comics longest-running monthly comic books.
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