With literally hundreds in circulation, trying to compile a list of the best Batman graphic novels is no easy task. The Dark Knight has had no shortage of adventures, and often the choice of which book to dive into will come down to what kind of mood you’re in. Still, that wouldn’t make for a very good Top 10…so what follows is a list of, in my opinion anyway, the best Batman comics out there.
The inspiration for the finale of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. If its status as one of the best Batman graphic novels of all time was ever in doubt, its big screen adaptation sure whisked them away.
Bane’s comics backstory is pretty similar to that of the movie, except he uses his mask to inhale a drug called Venom that turns him into a supersoldier. Having unleashed Arkham Asylum’s criminals on Batman, exhausting him in the progress, Bane beats Batman in hand to hand combat. Then, just as in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane breaks Batman’s back.
The aftermath deals with Batman’s attempts to rehabilitate himself, as well as his handing over the Batman mantle to the murderous Azrael (a useful way for writers to demonstrate why a Batman who kills is not a good thing!). Truly a seminal arc. A lot of reading, but it’s worth it for some of the best Batman comics ever written.
Check out Knightfall:
4. Death In The Family
Unless you’re a real newcomer to Batman, chances are you already know how this one ends. If not, be warned – there be spoilers here!
For (almost) as long as there has been Batman, there has been Robin – his first debut came around one year after the caped crusader’s. Introduced to be the Watson to Batman’s Sherlock, Robin serves a few purposes. One is comic relief, which is often needed to lighten the tone in that depressing city of Gotham! Another is suspense, as he often makes mistakes that Batman wouldn’t, which cues up the big rescue. The final, and perhaps most important, is to remind us that Batman is just that. A Bat-man.
In a world of invincible heroes with the power to destroy planets, Bruce Wayne is a human being who hit the gym and decided to patrol the city in a costume. He does it so well that it’s easy to forget that he is just a man. The best Batman graphic novels, particularly through their portrayal of Bruce’s relationships with Robin and Alfred don’t let us forget this. Death In The Family takes a devastating look at what happens when, after so many near misses, Batman fails to rescue the Boy Wonder. Twenty years later, the scene of Batman cradling a lifeless Robin is still incredibly powerful.
Find Death in the Family:
3. Gotham By Gaslight
It may not say so anywhere on the cover or blurb, but Gotham by Gaslight is widely regarded as the first Elseworlds graphic novel. In addition to being one of the best Batman graphic novels around, it’s also almost certainly one of the best Elseworlds tales. The year is 1889, and Bruce Wayne decides to take a trip to Victorian London.
The plot thickens when the grisly murders of one Jack the Ripper follow Bruce Wayne when he returns to Gotham, ultimately resulting in him being tried and convicted of being Jack the Ripper. The architecture, clothing etc are all right for the period, and the moody inkwork gives the book exactly the dark, shadowy feel you’d want from such a story.
Gotham by Gaslight is fun because it pits one creature of the night against another. It’s eerie, atmospheric and paced just right. Fun fact: it was also the subject of a cancelled video game for Xbox 360 and PS3 – follow the link to check out some prototype footage of the cancelled Gotham By Gaslight video game!
Pick up Gotham By Gaslight:
2. Arkham Asylum
Inspiration for the video game for the same name! Arkham Asylum has been taken over by the inmates and, their idea of a fun April Fool’s Day is to invite Batman for a party. How thoughtful. Along the way The Dark Knight encounters foes like Two-Face, The Joker, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy. He also encounters some of his inner demons, who are just as dangerous.
I’d advise against reading it before bed since, as the cover art suggests, it’s definitely not light or breezy. The Joker is at his best, by which I mean worst, here and could definitely have helped to inspire Saw‘s Jigsaw Killer puppet.
The artwork is more than just moody, with a glossy mix of almost photorealistic portraiture and villains who resemble the scrawled sketches of a deranged mental patient. And I mean that in the best possible way! Revolutionary.
Check out Arkham Asylum:
1. The Killing Joke
A work of genius. There are no other words for The Killing Joke. An origin story like no other, the book sees The Joker torment Jim Gordon in the hope of proving that madness can take hold of anyone. This isn’t even an origin story in the strictest sense of the word, as The Joker admits that even he isn’t sure which version is the truth.
Anyway, the real story here isn’t how The Joker came to be, but why he came to be – his attempts to drive Commissioner James Gordon insane are an attempt to absolve himself of blame for his twisted life of violence and murder; if he can drive Jim insane, that proves (to him, at least) that he’s a victim of circumstance and not inherently psychotic.
All that makes for a fascinating examination of human nature and the concept of insanity, not to mention the world’s favourite Batman villain. Arguably the best Batman graphic novel of all time.
Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s ‘the joke’ referenced by the title of The Killing Joke:
“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum… and one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light… stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn’t dare make the leap. Y’see… Y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea… He says “Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!” B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says… He says “Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!”
Get a copy of The Killing Joke:
More of the best Batman graphic novels still to come…
I’ve made a start, but there are plenty more great Batman graphic novels deserving of a place in this list! Synopses and reviews still to come for…