Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

With The Dark Knight Rises out this July, we count down our top 10 best Batman comics, story arcs and graphic novels

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Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

10. Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn

(Writer: Grant Morrison, Artists: Frank Quitely, Philip Tan)
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A fresh take on the Batman concept, with Dick Grayson replacing the (temporarily) deceased Bruce Wayne as a less angry Dark Knight, with the Caped Crusader’s snooty assassin son Damian Wayne forming the other half of the Dynamic Duo, this was the most refreshing turn for the Batman franchise in years. Subsequent volumes written by Morrison maintain the same entertaining Sixties-TV-series-as-directed-by-David Lynch tone.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

9. Batman & Dracula: Red Rain

(Writer: Doug Moench, Artist: Kelley Jones)
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The first installment in the Elseworlds Batman: Vampire series is far better than anything this high-concept should be – Batman is made into a part-vampire, and has to use his new supernatural abilities to battle  Dracula in a fittingly dark tale, which illustrates the variety of stories that fit the superhero.

 Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

8. Batman: Son Of The Demon

(Writer: Mike W Barr, Artist: Jerry Bingham)
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In Son Of The Demon, Batman forms an unstable partnership with long-time enemy Ra’s Al Ghul, and at last pursues a relationship with his daughter, Talia Al Ghul, only to be forced into a terrible choice when confronted with a dangerous foe. Bruce Wayne’s humanity is prominent in this out-of-continuity tale, which deals with the concept of Batman having a son, later reintroduced into the DC Universe by Grant Morrison.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

7. Batman: Black & White

(Various)
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An anthology of Batman stories created by the industry’s best and brightest, this offers a creative head rush in its presentation of the many different shades within the Dark Knight character. In retrospect, the stories that stand out to me the most are the duality-themed ‘Two Of A Kind’ by Bruce Timm and Ted McKeever’s ‘Perpetual Mourning’, in which an autopsy conducted by Batman unravels the sad fate of the dead body that lay before him. Like Red Rain, it shows that any kind of Batman story can work when executed by the right people.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

6. Batman: The Killing Joke

(Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Brian Bolland)
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The defining Joker story sees the Clown Prince paralysing Barbara Gordon by shooting her in the spine, while later showing images of her to the Batgirl’s captive father, Jim Gordon – it’s a horrifically dark portrayal of Batman’s ultimate enemy coupled to his sad, questionable origin story. While The Killing Joke would be vital to the development of Barbara Gordon in the ensuing years after its publication, the story itself is justifiably remembered for exploring how close the Dark Knight is to The Joker in his psychological make-up.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

5. Batman: Black Mirror

(Writer: Scott Snyder, Artists: Jock, Francesco Francavilla)
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Scott Snyder’s first Dark Knight story sees Dick Grayson tackling a series of murders that may be linked to the Gordon family’s violent, secret history. This is an incredibly tight Batman detective mystery, told from multiple perspectives and building to a gut-wrenching conclusion – why did it take so long for DC to start publishing stories like this again? It also cements Grayson’s place as the new Batman, a paradigm that gave the original Robin the crucial character development he’d been lacking for many years.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

4. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth

(Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Dave McKean)
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A Batman story quite unlike any other, this visually surreal answer to the darker stories of the Seventies and Eighties is an unsettling study of the iconic Gotham City prison, as well as its twisted beginnings as a correctional institution. Dave McKean’s extraordinary and disturbing artwork results in a unique visual experience, as the Dark Knight’s disturbing range of foes put him through a symbolism-ridden hell.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

3. Batman: The Long Halloween

(Writer: Jeph Loeb, Artist: Tim Sale)
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A year-long Batman mystery sees the Dark Knight, post-Year One, dealing with a figure known as the Holiday Killer, who wipes out a member of the Falcone crime syndicate during a holiday of every month. This also depicts Harvey Dent’s tragic transformation into Two Face, and the way The Long Halloween encompasses every downtrodden aspect of Gotham City’s structure, from organised crime to law enforcement, to Batman’s rogues gallery to the Dark Knight himself, creates a comprehensive and engaging picture of this fictional locale.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

2. Batman: Year One

(Writer: Frank Miller, Artist: David Mazzuchelli)
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The greatest origin story ever told. Frank Miller’s grittier reinterpretation of Batman’s creation is bleakly presented alongside Jim Gordon’s rough initiation into the corrupt Gotham City Police Department, an extremely raw depiction of a broken city that calls for a superhero. We see the foundations of Bruce Wayne’s obsessions, his early errors and the remarkably dramatic birth of Batman in four exceptionally told chapters – if you’re a new Batman reader, start here.

Top 10 Best Batman Graphic Novels

1. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

(Writer: Frank Miller, Artists: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson)
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Year One is a terrific mandate of what a Batman story should be. The Dark Knight Returns is that same Batman’s end, a man relentlessly motivated by the death of his parents into his later years, who comes out of retirement to face a new urban terror that plagues Gotham City. Featuring a final, uncompromising battle with The Joker and a showdown with Superman, now a tool of the American government, this is an astonishingly dark dystopian story that transformed the depiction of Batman forever. Undoubtedly Frank Miller’s greatest work, this collects everything we understand the Dark Knight to be in a single epic storyline.

 

Honorable mentions: Hush (a thrilling and flashy ride, but a little too gimmicky and cameo-full to be among the very best), Dark Victory (Long Halloween rehash, not quite as entertaining – though we like Robin’s origin), Gotham By Gaslight (a gorgeous and well-realised Elseworlds tale, but the story isn’t spectacular), JLA: Tower Of Babel (we may do a JLA list at some point, so we’re saving that), A Death In The Family (ham-fisted and a little outdated, though we respect its cultural impact), Batman Incorporated (we’ll wait for the story to end properly, then it may well end up on this list), The Black Glove (great little murder mystery) The Court Of Owls (again, this story is still being told), Absolution (the Frank Miller-type story is well-represented on this list) Shaman (another great early Batman story) Knightfall (massively overrated Nineties event trash), Batwoman: Elegy, (we adore it – but we may save this for a Bat-family list) and World’s Finest (we’re saving that for a crossover list, too). On the art side of matters, any of Neal Adams’ work in the Seventies was hugely influential on the modern look of Batman. Gotham Central is also a superb series that defied categorisation.

There was also a lovely little Batman story in Darwyn Cooke’s issue of Solo that didn’t quite fit the framework of the list. Don’t get me wrong, though – all of these titles are well worth your time and money, too (except Knightfall). Batman is an enduring icon, and the character has evidently given generations of writers and artists a rich canvas on which to add their own interpretation of his fascinating universe. Let us know your choices below!

All Batman graphic novels are available from Titan Books in the UK and DC Comics in the US.


 

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