Batman Top Ten Graphic Novels
"I chose this life..and on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn't that day. And tomorrow won't be either."
Batman is a blue chip comic character. Critic -proof. That should make him 'establishment', unpopular (like Superman is to some, inexplicably) but it doesn't. Batman somehow retains an indie vibe and sensibility that has always made him a pop culture icon, and probably always will. Batman has also been blessed with a lot of very good stories, written and drawn by the industry greats. My Top Ten could easily have been a Top Fifty!
Despite being over 70 years old, Batman remains fresh, interesting, and relevant....and the guys got one of the best costumes.Ever. One of the best cars.Ever...and probably the best nemesis in comics, The Joker.
I didn't want just to list any old Batman books, I wanted to give a flavor of the variety the Bat offers. There's future Batman, animated Batman, team-up Batman, early years Batman, 70's Batman etc. I wanted each choice to showcase a different quality. I thought hard about these choices, and hope you like them. Let me know if you disagree, we'll haggle...
To the Bat-List....!!!
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10. All-Star Batman and Robin Volume One:
Writer: Frank Miller Artist: Jim Lee
This book seems to be very divisive, and I must admit that even I'm unsure about it. Should people try it? you betcha. All else aside, Jim Lee's art is fantastic. Bright, vibrant colors, great double page spreads, its epic artwork.
Frank Miller's writing has been the bone of contention, but I think it deliberately has the tone of satire about it. All-Star was not meant to be just another Bat-book, so Miller took it to the extreme...in spades. His Batman is truly obsessed, a borderline lunatic, with violence and sexual innuendo/tension woven through the book...and Frank Miller's tongue firmly in his cheek. Its the excesses of the genre writ large, and to be honest, Batman is the perfect character to do it with.
If you can not take it too seriously, I think you'll enjoy this. I had to read some bits several times , to be sure I was understanding what I was reading. Check out some of the dialogue....this ain't Adam West. Give it a go.
Holy Bat Prices....!!
9. Showcase Presents: The Brave And The Bold Vol. 3
Writer: Bob Haney Artist: Jim Aparo
Although I am recommending volume 3 (I think it has the best run of stories), I'd also recommend the other volumes as well, all are great, fun reads.
I loved the Brave and the Bold comic book growing up, I mean who doesn't love team-ups anyway. The great thing with these stories is we get a Batman very different in tone than in his own books. This is a more 'normal' Batman, no grim and gritty here,a more traditional superhero with great detective skills, and its very refreshing. Bob Haney was notorious for just ignoring continuity, so these stories all exist in the 'Haney-verse', as DC called it, to avoid inevitable complaints from fanboys.
Its lighthearted fun, but still well-written and drawn, in the main. I do get the feel sometimes that Aparo's art was a little rushed, and there's an occasional story that Haney clearly phoned in, but overall you get 520 pages of great reading. The guest stars are a nice mix as well, with A-list talent like Green Lantern and Aquaman interspersed with underexposed (at the time) B-listers like Wildcat, Metal Men, and Mr Miracle.
No action is too far-fetched, no behavior too out of character...this is the Haneyverse. Come visit, you'll love it!
Classic Jim Aparo...
8. Batman: Dangerous Dames and Demons
Collects together: Batman Adventures: Mad Love by Dini & Timm, Batman Adventures Annuals 1 and 2, #1 and #2, and stories from The Batman Adventures Holiday Special 1 and Adventures in the DC Universe 3
The Batman Adventures Animated show is one of the greatest Batman works ever, in any medium. I have watched most episodes many times, and still love them. It was a no-brainer to transfer the classic, art-deco, timeless style of the animated show back to the comic book, and hey, lets get its creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm to do it as well!
The books highlight is Mad Love, a story that sits alongside the best anywhere; it features the Joker and Harley Quinn, and fits in a great story alongside a recap of Harley's origin (she used to be an Arkham Asylum Dr!). The other stories vary in length but are all very good, we get Poison Ivy, Ras Al Ghul, more Joker, Batgirl, Clayface, and Scarecrow. Timeless story and art,all great stuff.
If you like a little humor with your dark nights, try this collection, you'll love it.
Batman the Animated Series Best Bits...
7. Justice League of America: Tower of Babel
Writer: Mark Waid Artist: Howard Porter
Ever since The Dark Knight Returns, Bat-fans have said Batman can take out anyone in the DC Universe, regardless of power level. In this story arc, Mark Waid examines that. Who would trust Batman? would you? should you? turns out the JLA shouldn't have.
You see, Batman has an arrogance about him that most writers gloss over, but not Waid. His Batman has amassed secret files and data on all his 'friends', so that if they go rogue, he knows how to take them down. Good idea in theory I guess, until a master villain like Ra's Al Ghul gets hold of them and implements them. Guess what? they work. And they hurt....a lot.
Ra's is ultimately beaten, but its the betrayal by Batman which hurts the most, and the JLA 'sack' him. Even then, he can't quite understand the level of disappointment in him; he's a man of pure logic who's lost his soul.
It's a great story that asks questions about heroes, and just where do you draw the line?
As well as the main storyline,( from JLA issues 42-46), there is some extra material from JLA Secret Files issue 3, and the JLA 80 Page Giant. They don't tie into the main storyline, but are decent reads.
If you like Batman when he's not such a good guy, this one's for you. Great read.
Point of interest: the DC Justice League Animated movie JLA: Doom is based on this story arc. Watch that too, its good! (I've an Amazon link to it below)
Who do YOU trust...
Justice League:Doom Trailer
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: Dave McKean
We all know Batman inhabits a dark, nasty world in Gotham, but this book was one of the first to show you just how nasty it was. The writing is immaculate, the fully painted artwork stunning. This is what the graphic novel was created for.
This is mature readers only, make no mistake, and is a study, for all intents and purposes, of the nature of madness. The plot involves the madmen literally taking over the asylum, and wanting Batman in exchange for their prisoners. Batman's sanity itself is on the line as he finds himself trying to retake Arkham Asylum.
We see Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the notorious asylum; Bruce Wayne himself (is Batman Bruce Wayne? or is Bruce Wayne Batman?) and we see the world through the eyes of Batman's rogues gallery...and its not nice.
Grant Morrison is noted for his love of symbolism, and he throws in plenty here, but it works very well. Being the Anniversary Edition as well, we get a lot of 'dvd extras' which enhance the book incredibly. The commentary from Morrison is fantastic, as is the script and concept drawings.
The story arc is fantastic, this volume is fantastic. Every fan should have this on their shelf, it was/is a game-changer!
I would imagine that this inspired the PS3/XBox game Arkham Asylum, which has a similar storyline, and I've linked below.
Which artist captured the perfect Batman?
Wondered how a comic book page is created? See the following 3 steps from Jim Lee to give you an idea. Its hard work! replicate that by 22 pages and you have just 1 monthly book...no wonder so many are late!
Jim Lee Page Art, Step 1: Layouts
Jim Lee Page Art, Step 2: Pencils/Inks
Jim Lee Page Art, Step 3: Full Color/Lettered
5. Batman: Strange Apparitions
Writer: Steve Englehart Artist: Marshall Rogers
Although I am recommending this volume specifically, I think it is currently only available second hand; you can however find the material, along with all Marshall Rogers other Batman work, in 'Legends of the Dark Knight - Marshall Rogers', which I'll list in my Amazon section below.
For me, the Englehart/ Rogers run on Batman in Detective Comics 469-476 and 478-479 from the late 70's is one of the best runs on the character, period. The artwork by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin is so good I could eat it! So much of the artwork in this collection is iconic, and Batman has rarely looked better. He's not some musclebound WWF wrestler; he has the build and physique of a world class athlete.
Steve Englehart's stories are a true pleasure, giving every story deep plot, and great characterization, in perfect synch with the art. the Joker, Clayface, Dr. Phosphorus, Hugo Strange, and the Penguin all feature, with the Hugo Strange and Joker stories being outstanding. Englehart doesn't see a vengeful psychotic in Batman, but a man committed to defeating crime through his skills, intelligently and rationally. THAT is his superpower.
So many creators since the 80's onwards have been influenced by this run, it is truly Bat-royalty. Trust me, you are not a fan of Batman unless you have read these stories.
the recent PS3/XBox game Arkham City also owes a debt to Englehart and Rogers
Marshall Rogers, still missed....
Steve Englehart himself has cited his run with Marshall Rogers on Detective Comics as a direct influence on the modern Batman films. See his views here
4. Batman:The Long Halloween
Writer: Jeph Loeb Artist: Tim Sale
If you have have the moolah, I'd recommend picking up the Absolute Edition - fantastic oversized art, top production, and a very nice set of 'dvd extras'. The book deserves to be read this way. Its also available in a softcover for a far more reasonable price, either way READ IT, ITS GOOD!!
First off, the artwork is gorgeous. Some of the double page spreads are simply breathtaking. Luckily Loeb's writing lives up to the artwork.
Its essentially a murder mystery set over the course of a year in the early days of Batmans career, with a mysterious serial killer striking only on holidays (Xmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day etc). We see all the top Batman villains in their early days, as well as crusading DA Harvey Dent. I don't want to give too much away, as the pleasure in the story is trying to guess who 'Holiday' is....
Its storytelling at an elite level, I've read it several times and still marvel at it, and its direct influence on The Dark Knight movie is obvious.
I can't recommend this story enough
The sequel, Batman: Dark Victory is worth a look too. Although not quite as good or fresh, its still a very high level of work.
The Bat and the Cat...
3.Batman:The Dark Knight Returns
Writer/Artist: Frank Miller
Like it or loath it, and there has been a backlash in recent times, The Dark Knight Returns changed EVERYTHING. I would recommend 'Absolute Dark Knight' as the edition to buy, for the fantastic over-sized artwork, plus the bonus extras (new introduction, a new cover and new art for the slipcase, plus an excerpt from Miller's original plot for Dark Knight Returns issue 4, and Miller sketchbook material ). The Edition also includes the sequel 'The Dark Knight Strikes Again' which doesn't quite capture the magic second time round. You can also just buy The Dark Knight Returns in a more affordable collection, I'll list both flavors below in my Amazon listing.
When The Dark Knight Returns appeared in 1986, there had been nothing like it before; it made Frank Miller a huge star (although his work on Daredevil had been building his reputation for a few years already). The whole industry sat up and took notice, and comics moved to the grim and gritty side of the road, where they stayed for years.
The plot is relatively simple: an old, retired Batman returns to action when his beloved Gotham has sunk to its lowest level of crime and corruption. Can he still cut it? are criminals still scared? is his brand of violence not enough anymore? Its a great read, and we see characters, now older, tired, broken, that we both recognise and don't. The Joker and Catwoman appearances are especially telling.
Was it a good influence on comics? I think so. For the first time, it allowed a creator to take radical liberties with established characters (although set in the future, it was NOT a 'what if' story) and comics benefited. This book was not responsible for some of the excesses that followed.
In its own right, its darn near a masterpiece.
Warner Bros/ DC will release the official The Dark Knight Returns animated film in 2 parts, in late 2012 and early 2013. Peter Weller (Robocop) will voice Batman, Ariel Winter (Modern Family) will voice Robin. It will be the 15th DC Animated movie
The Dark Knight Returns tribute, animated Batman style!
2. Batman:The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition
Writer: Alan Moore Artist: Brian Bolland
This was one of the biggest ever influences on me as a comic book fan. Behind a truly horrifying cover (you'll only realise why after you read the story), this is perhaps the definitive Joker story, and of the relationship between The Joker and Batman. This Joker is not the jovial clown prince; he is a true madman, who hides his evil behind a twisted humor. The nature of Jokers madness is also examined, and the way he tests his theory that we are all one bad day away from madness is horrifying in the extreme.
When I read this as a 17 year old, I was on the one hand transfixed by the fantastic writing and amazing art (both nearly perfect in their execution) but also devastated at what happens; one of my favorite characters is completely altered forever, and I was stunned. Alan Moore, the writer, admitted he was amazed DC let him do the story.
The book kind of shows us how Batman and The Joker are stuck in a hell of their own making; they always end up repeating the same cycle. Is it deliberate? do they need each other? is Joker's origin real, or invented?
There's a lot to chew on here. Despite its age, this book stands up to re-reading many times over. Its a lesson in comic book writing and art.
The Deluxe Edition also throws in new intros and afterword, and a nice new short Bolland Batman story.
Read this. You'll thank me.
Batman and Joker, doomed to repeat....
1 Batman:Year One Deluxe Edition
Writer: Frank Miller Artist: David Mazzuchelli
Anyone who has enjoyed a Batman comic, graphic novel, animated series, or movie in the last 25 years owes a debt of gratitude to this story; the recent Christian Bale films are almost Year One to a tee. This is as close to perfection as a graphic novel can get - the perfect combination of writer, artist, and character.
This was the story that humanised Batman so well; if you could never identify with a multi millionaire playboy fighting crime, how about a young man who gave up his childhood and adolescence to teach himself, and train himself to be the best he possibly could. That we CAN identify with, right!
Miller shows a young Bruce Wayne, talented and skilled, but naïve; possessed of raw ability, but not focused. We watch him become Batman; its not about putting on the costume, its about being Batman, the mindset, the focus,creating action from theory.
We see the beginning of the relationship with James Gordon, the birth of Catwoman, and the fall of the old Gotham criminals, soon to be replaced by the likes of The Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow etc.
Its a superb piece of work. Millers writing has never been better, his narration as Bruce perfect; Mazzuchellis art is breathtaking, clean and muted. A lor of people cite The Dark Knight Returns as the most influential Batman book ever, with good cause, but this runs it a very, very close second.
There is a deluxe edition, with the usual extras - new intros, sketches etc- which is very affordable, so pick that up if you can, The vanilla edition though has all you really need. Either way, read this book. Its a crime not to.