All of March is Batman Month, to read more, visit the Dark Knight Discussion Column!
Batman has been regularly published in comic books from DC Comics for more than 75 years and in that time, he has been featured in multiple solo series, team books like the Justice League of America, and event stories that encompass the entire DC universe, often at the same time. From massive storylines to one-shot comic book stories, The Dark Knight has been featured in countless stories. And whether you are a new or old fan of the character, getting into his comic book adventures may seem daunting upon first glance.
And with good reason! While Batman is known and loved around the world, it can be confusing for a brand new reader to break into his comics. Do you start with his very first appearance? What about his most recent comic book? There are so many potential avenues that a new reader can be discouraged before he or she even starts.
The following 10 comic books are essential for any fan of the character and can be read in any order, with little foreknowledge of The Dark Knight. With these 10, you can both understand and love Batman in comic books. But be warned, you’ll only be hungry for more Batman comics after these 10.
Batman: Year One
Writer: Frank Miller Artist: David Mazzuchelli
There are many potential places to start as a new Batman reader, but Frank Miller’s defining origin story for The Dark Knight in Batman: Year One is perfect thanks to its origin story and a grounded tone that fans of Christopher Nolan’s films can enjoy off the bat. Here, we find a young Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham after eight years abroad studying to become a vigilante just as Detective Jim Gordon arrives in town, as well. They both go through their own trials that reflect one another’s until they finally come together to clean up Gotham. Using first person narration to get inside both men’s heads and tracing their stories across a year’s time, Year One gives readers everything they need in one of Batman’s all-time great comics.
Why You Need to Read: It’s the definitive take on the origins of Batman, distilling everything about his origins down into one of the character’s absolute best stories.
What to Read Next: Jeph Loeb’s Batman: The Long Halloween, which is, coincidentally, next.
Batman: The Long Halloween
Writer: Jeph Loeb Artist: Tim Sale
Building off the year-long origin for Batman, Loeb created a narrative set within the second year of Batman’s war on crime. Here, Bruce Wayne deals with a murder mystery while also forming an alliance with District Attorney Harvey Dent and not yet Commissioner Jim Gordon. All the while, Gotham’s mobsters battle the growing element of super criminal freaks like The Joker. Like Year One, The Long Halloween spans a year, but is done in 12 issues, which leads to a more complex mystery and a narrative that includes many of Batman’s mot defining character. Sale also puts in stellar work here through a moody yet heightened art that gives a cartoonish yet stark vibe to the tragic story at play.
Why You Need to Read: This is a really expansive take on the early days of Batman that features both the realistic crime element that most fans know via the films and the heightened superheroics that inform the comics. Together, it’s one of the most complete takes on Batman.
What to Read Next: Loeb and Sale’s follow-up story Dark Victory, which picks up the lingering plot threads and resolves them in another year-spanning story, this time involving the origins of Dick Grayson as Robin.
The Dark Knight Returns
Writer: Frank Miller Artist: Frank Miller & Klaus Jansen
A definitive story within the history of Batman in comics, Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” is set in a dystopian future outside of the continuity of the other comics on this list. But so long as you remember that this is meant to be taken only as a potential future, any reader can enjoy it. Just as important, TDKR is a major influence on both Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so those looking to understand more about the ideas and iconography used in these films can find everything they need to know here. Featuring an older and grissled Batman who comes out of retirement to restore Gotham, this is an operatic tale of redemption and sacrifice that features many of The Dark Knight’s most iconic moments.
Why You Need to Read: While it isn’t an in-continuity story for The Dark Knight, this is one of his greatest. The tone, ideas, and stories introduced here have informed countless comics and films in the time since.
What to Read Next: Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which also helped to redefine the maturity of Batman comic books and is featured later on this list.
Writer: Jeph Loeb Artist: Jim Lee
The comic book equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, “Hush” is a massive and action-packed mystery that works without any prior knowledge of most of its characters while still stuffing tons of heroes and villains into the narrative. Not only are there a ton of great fights (including Batman vs Superman), but Loeb showcases many of The Dark Knight’s defining relationships, including his romance with Catwoman, his partnership with Nightwing, and the many different ways his enemies impact him. While the central mystery may not be the most compelling or most unexpected, it’s all executed so well by Loeb and through Lee’s astounding artwork that you’ll have fun from beginning to end.
Why You Need to Read: Because of the wide array of characters and fun storytelling on display, Hush is almost like an introductory course for the wider world of Batman. Since these elements are all faithfully represented here, they are perfect for a reader getting deeper into the stories.
What to Read Next: Continue with massive and exciting Batman adventures with writer Scott Snyder’s relaunch of Batman in The New 52 with The Court of Owls.
The Killing Joke
Writer: Alan Moore Artist: Brian Bolland
No villain defines Batman like The Joker and writer Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” defines the Clown Prince of Crime to a greater degree than decades of storytelling in a single self-contained graphic novel. Make no mistake, this is a mature and disturbing story, which sees The Joker shoot Barbara Gordon (then Batgirl) and try to break the mind of her father, Commissioner Gordon. All the while, Batman works to stop the villain and save his friend. Most importantly, The Killing Joke gives us the most widely known origin for The Joker – a down on his luck comedian forced into crime, who then transforms into the madman through a dunk into an acid tank. But even that is up for debate concerning its authenticity. Those layers of tragedy and pathos make Moore’s story a must read for any fan.
Why You Need to Read: The Joker is a quintessential part of Batman’s history an no story captures their conflict quite like The Killing Joke. This helps to define their relationship and also adds a greater level of maturity to their conflict.
What to Read Next: Ed Brubaker’s The Man Who Laughs, which retells the story of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker for the modern era.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: Dave McKean
This is a little more experimental in its storytelling than most others on here, but once you’ve created a strong basis for Batman in comic books, a story like Arkham Asylum is perfect for diving deeper into the character and his world. Like a nightmare giving life on the comic book page, Morrison’s Arkham Asylum centers on Batman being forced to stalk the halls of Gotham’s infamous madhouse, as its criminal lodgers have taken over. This is no ordinary superhero tale. In fact, it’s far more an experiment in fear, metaphor, and the questioning of sanity than a true narrative. But that’s what makes it all the more fascinating and worthwhile in the end.
Why You Need to Read: Morrison made a deep and disturbing impact on Batman with just a single graphic novel. Combined with McKean’s psychotic art, Arkham Asylum is a trip into madness that shows just how experimental a mainstream superhero comic can be.
What to Read Next: Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, a metaphorical story that features Batman witnessing different tales about his own death as he experiences a never ending cycle of death and rebirth.
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, & More Artists: Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, & More
The ‘90s featured DC Comics shake up their stalwart heroes in numerous ways in an effort to breathe new life into somewhat stale monthly stories and Knightfall is where Batman got his turn. Easily one of the biggest moments in The Dark Knight’s comic book history, Knightfall tells the tale of the villainous Bane, a cunning and powerful criminal intent on destroying Batman by breaking him down over time until he breaks him physically. And break him he does. Eventually snapping Batman’s back over his knee, Knightfall sees Bruce Wayne truly defeated, only for the former assassin Jean Paul Valley (aka Azrael) to take up the identity of Batman in an effort to stop Bane permanently and save Gotham. Yes, Knightfall is very over the top and emblematic of the ‘90s, but its huge storytelling is still ton of fun today.
Why You Need to Read: Comic books in the ‘90s were filled with all sorts of overblown events that swallowed up dozens of series and issues, but Knightfall is one of the few that worked well and still works today. From the iconic breaking of the bat to the rise of Jean Paul Valley, there are many iconic moments here that have defined the history of Batman.
What to Read Next: Knightquest and KnightsEnd, the two massive follow-up storylines, which sees Jean Paul Valley fall into madness as he continues to carry the mantle of Batman and the return of Bruce Wayne, who must confront Valley to retake his place as Batman.
Batman and Son
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: Andy Kubert
A major piece of Batman’s character development in recent years, Morrison’s “Batman and Son” not only introduces Wayne’s previously unknown son Damian, but is also one of the great modern Batman stories. While it may seem that giving Wayne a young son would irreparably age the character in a negative manner, Morrison uses the development to add new dynamics to the Batman legacy while giving the character an even richer history. Here, Damian is a young assassin trained by his mother Talia al Ghul and The League of Assassins and when he omes crashing into Batman’s life, he changes everything. That family dynamic is spectacular, with Morrison deftly balancing plot twists with deep character moments.
Why You Need to Read: In the years since, Damian Wayne has become an essential part of the Batman narrative and has become a character beloved by fans everyone. Batman and Son is not just a fun ride, it’s a foundation for years of stories that follow.
What to Read Next: Morrison’s next entry – The Black Glove. If you love these stories, you’ll want to explore Morrison’s entire modern day Batman saga.
Batman: The Black Mirror
Writer: Scott Snyder Artists: Jock and Francesco Francavilla
Another break from the typical Batman story, Snyder’s Black Mirror was his first work with the character and features Dick Grayson (the former Robin and modern day Nightwing) fighting crime as Batman in Gotham City while Wayne is abroad. The different identity of the man under the mask may seem disappointing to those looking for classic Batman, but Grayson offers something unique in his take on the vigilante. He’s more lighthearted and daring than Wayne, but this storyline sees him struggle with the darkness of Gotham and his own brokenness as he teams with Commissioner Gordon in investigating the cop’s son, who may be a sociopathic serial killer. It’s a taught and haunting storyline that weaves numerous plot threads together for something truly spectacular.
Why You Need to Read: The use of multiple storylines that push both Grayson and Gordon to their breaking points and the dueling artistic styles of Jock and Francavilla make Black Mirror into something really special. There’s a wild and haunted nature to the entire story that sticks with you long after the final page.
What to Read Next: Get more Dick Grayson Batman mysteries with Gates of Gotham by writers Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins, where Grayson faces off against a mysterious killer with ties to Gotham’s ancient past.
Batman: The Court of Owls
Writer: Scott Snyder Artist: Greg Capullo
The newest story on this list, Snyder’s “The Court of Owls” kicked off DC Comics’ franchise-wide reboot known as The New 52, so it is light on continuity and new reader friendly. The story begins with Batman about five years into his crimefighting career (which is where every hero was at the start of The New 52) when he is confronted with the notion that the urban legend known as The Court of Owls – a centuries old spooky story of a mysterious group that secretly pulls all the strings in Gotham – may actually be true. The idea that The Court may have eluded the world’s greatest detective immediately puts Batman at a disadvantage and pulls him into an adventure that is equal parts horror, mystery, and action. Spanning 12 issues (which includes the second half known as City of Owls), this is an epic tale with enough twists to keep even the most astute reader on his or her toes.
Why You Need to Read: Snyder writes a splendid Batman and Capullo is one of the best artists in the business, and Court of Owls is a great story for fans of any background. Together, Capullo and Snyder have created a defining run on The Caped Crusader that can stack up to any other team’s work with Batman.
What to Read Next: Snyder’s follow-up story Death of the Family, where a vengeful Joker returns to Gotham after an absence to break down Batman and the Bat Family once and for all.