To celebrate the birth of Bat-Shark Repellent, I thought I’d lend my expertise to you all by recommending the Greatest Batbooks of All Time. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my comic book collection threatens to swallow my entire bedroom, so rest assured – I’ve read a lot of Batman. So if you’re looking for a good jumping-on point for the Caped Crusader, you’ve come to the right place. Here goes…
16. Batman: Venom
This story marks the second time Batman is broken, this time by addiction to a performance enhancing drug known as Venom. Venom has an almost surreal quality, but the story takes a very Bond-like turn when the Batman hunts down his tormentors. And yes, Bat-shark-repellent is involved!
15. Superman: Red Son
While not a Batbook per sé, Red Son features the coolest iteration of the Batman that you’ll ever see. It’s also one of the greatest Superman stories you’ll ever read. It’s an Elseworlds tale [i.e. outside of continuity] that poses the question: what if Kal-El landed in Russia instead of America? It further poses the question, how would a Russian Batman react to a superhuman Communist dictator?
14. Batman: The Man Who Laughs
A menacing Joker tale by veteran Ed Brubaker. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his interpretation of the villain informed Heath Ledger’s performance.
13. Batman & the Monster Men
A young and naive Batman faces off against the abominations of Dr Hugo Strange. Written and drawn by the legendary Grendel creator Matt Wagner.
12. Batman & the Mad Monk
Matt Wagner returns for a supernatural romp through Batman’s past. It’s pulp and spectacle with a modern touch.
11. Son of the Demon
Batman marries the daughter of his greatest foe, Ra’s Al Ghul. The Bat and the Demon must work together to stop a terrorist threat, for Talia’s sake and the world’s. A controversial tale that has recently come into play in a big way.
10. Batman: Black & White Volumes 1 & 2
A series of Batman vignettes by comic book greats and mainstays, all in black and white. It’s amazing how much story they can cram within a few pages. A great laugh and a great deconstruction of the character. Pick up Volume 3 if you’re keen, it’s just not quite as good as the first two volumes.
9. Batman: Blind Justice
A surprising amount of material has been mined from Blind Justice to bring you Batman Begins, and this is chiefly because it is the authority on Bruce Wayne. It’s funny considering the author is none other than Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm. Never has Batman’s alter-ego [or past] been shaped so definitively. Believe it or not, Henri Ducard and Ra’s Al Ghul are two separate people. It’s a pity about the kooky mind-control, though.
8. Batman: Gothic
It’s surprising just how well Batman goes with the supernatural. Trust Grant Morrison to pull it off [and he continues to do so now!]. Everything about this tale is gothic, especially the art of Klaus Janson.
7. Batman: Year 100
Year 100 takes place in a dystopian future Gotham, which is eerily similar to the old Gotham: a dark place full of crooked cops. Batman is once again a wanted outlaw, though the authorities prefer to deny his existence altogether. Paul Pope’s gritty and brutal future is believable, and reminiscent of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. A great read with no strings attached.
6. Batman: The Cult
One of the greatest bat-villains was a one-and-done character, Deacon Blackfire. Criminals are being brutally murdered, while the homeless disappear from the streets of Gotham. He defeats the Batman in the worst possible way: by breaking his spirit. Another supernatural Bat-story written to great effect by comics stalwart Jim Starlin. Jason Todd (the second Robin) has never been so likable than in this book, which is surprising.
5. Arkham Asylum
Once again Grant Morrison gives supernatural depth to the Batman mythos, this time to his rogues’ accidental lair: Arkham Asylum. Batman’s greatest foes have taken the house hostage, challenging him to a game of wits. The Batman accepts, but he soon finds that the building has a life of its own. Drenched in symbology, each page is hand-painted by the legendary Dave McKean.
4. The Killing Joke
The Greatest Joker Story Ever Told. If there was ever a book to read before seeing Dark Knight, this is it. Comics legend Alan Moore proposes a possible origin for Batman’s arch-nemesis. Short and sweet.
3. The Long Halloween/Dark Victory
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale team up for one of the greatest Bat-mysteries ever told. Batman must sift through his rogues gallery to solve the mystery of the Holiday killer. The fall of the Falcone crime family; the definitive Two-Face origin story; the origin of Robin – it’s all here and it’s all told beautifully in a true marriage of word and picture.
2. Batman: Year One
Frank Miller redefines the Batman for a new era. Make no mistake, the Batman of Year One is the Batman we know and love today. The definitive Batman origin story, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham to wage his personal war on crime. Gritty, dark, and grounded, Batfilm enthusiasts have this book to thank for its rich source material.
1. The Dark Knight Returns
Before Miller wrote his beginning, he wrote [and drew] the Batman’s end. A retired Bruce Wayne must don the cape and cowl once more to reclaim the streets of Gotham from Violence and Unreason. Without a doubt the Greatest Batman Story Ever Told, and one of the greatest graphic novels ever written.
This is a list of other Batbooks that are still worth a read for Batfans, but have not been included in ‘The List’ for reasons I will state below:
Batman: Knightfall Part One – Broken Bat
Knightfall is like the Rocky movies: a great overall story arc, but the execution leaves a little to be desired. The chapters written by Chuck Dixon are pretty good (especially the moving finale), but most of the fill-in stories are abhorrent. Nonetheless, an important chapter of Batman’s life, though it suffers from the trappings of 90s event books and B-list villains. Bane puts the Batman through his paces, letting his entire rogues gallery loose upon Gotham. He breaks his spirit and then his back.
Batman: Nine Lives
A cinema-style noir murder mystery and a damn fine Elseworlds tale. It just feels a little dry, and the Batman takes a while to surface.
Again, this is a great Elseworlds tale, starring Batgirl and Robin, this time in the early 60s. Each panel is painted beautifully, but Batman’s glaring absence is once again noted for most of this tale.
JLA: Tower of Babel
A pretty good Justice League story with one tiny problem: Mark Waid’s Batman is a prick. This was the era of the know-it-all Batman – the House M.D. of comics, if you will – never explaining the methods behind his madness until the very end. Ra’s Al Ghul [you’ll hear his name a lot] procures Batman’s secret files to use them against his allies.
Tales of the Demon
If you can get past the West-ian campiness you’ll enjoy some of the greatest Ra’s Al Ghul stories ever written.
Such an apt title for such a strange book. Following the death of Dr Hugo Strange, this story proves once again that the Bat mixes well with the supernatural. But if you can’t handle a little West-ness, you might want to steer clear.
A Death in the Family
An extremely imporant chapter in Batman’s life, but pretty poorly executed. The fact that the ending was voted for only cheapens the emotional impact.
Gotham by Gaslight
Another Elseworlds tale that suffers from not enough Batman. Batman must hunt down Jack the Ripper before it’s too late, but when Bruce Wayne is suspected, things go arye. The identity of the infamous serial killer is a little disappointing, especially when you compare the mystery as a whole to Alan Moore’s From Hell.
Hush amounts to nothing more than a gorgeous fangasm, really. Still a good read, up until the ‘big reveal’ at least. It’s still a pretty fun ride through Batman’s gallery of rogues and allies.
Batman & Dracula: Red Rain
The Batman must become a bat-man to protect Gotham from its bloodthirsty tormentor. It’s a pretty decent Elseworlds tale with a great idea behind it, Moench just doesn’t get as much mileage out of it as I had hoped.
Batman: Child Of Dreams
A Japanese take on the Batman, author Kia Asamiya actually deconstructs Japanese culture better than the character himself. This is essentially Batman for a new audience (the Japanese), so it’s understandable that many of the ideas presented are well-worn. It’s still well-executed and an intriguing read, nonetheless.
Death and the Maidens
Greg Rucka cooks up a storm within the Al Ghul family, building up a new heir and Bat-villain in Nyssa Al Ghul. But to kill a man who has resurrected himself time and again with such apparent finality – it’s a little hard to swallow – and with Ra’s’ recent resurrection last year, it all feels a little ineffectual. It is Greg Rucka and Klaus Janson, though, and you can’t blame them for trying.
So that does it for me – if want to dive headfirst into the Batman mythos, check out the books I’ve recommended above. If you want to go further, give the others a try – I’ve been a little harsh on them – they’re not the greatest, but they’re still enjoyable reads. I also highly recommend Grant Morrison’s current run on Batman, but be warned – it’s extremely zany, and requires a lot of background knowledge to follow.
What about you? Do you fancy yourself a fellow Bat-fan? Have I left out your favourite Batbook? If so, gimme some hell!