Despite not being the first, it’s safe to say that Batman is one of the most popular superheroes of all time. The star of campy 60s tv shows, multiple big budget films, critically acclaimed video games, generation defining cartoons, and almost 80 years of comics. It’s easy to become engrained with the world surrounding the Batman without ever picking up a book, but those who choose to, know the great depth and wealth of stories available. While the works of Alan Moore (The Killing Joke), Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns), and Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylam: A Serious House on Serious Earth) are often among the first recommended to new comers. They are far from the only must-read material.
With 78 years of history, here are 9 stories NOT by Moore, Morrison or Miller, that are more than worth your time…
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996 – 97) by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Set early in Batman’s career, The Long Halloween follows a yearlong investigation into a mysterious killer known as Holiday. A vicious killer who strikes ever holiday, once a month. With the assistance of Captain Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman races against the clock to figure out who it is that’s committing the murders, and try to save the next victim. Along the way we encounter many members of Batman’s famous rogue gallery, including Scarecrow, The Joker, and Poison Ivy, as well as the slow transformation and creation of Two Face.
Available here: Batman: The Long Halloween by Loeb, Jeph (2011) Paperback
Batman: The Cult (1988) by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson
Possibly one of the most brutal Batman stories written, The Cult focusses on the kidnapping and attempted brainwashing of Batman by Deacon Blackfire, and his army of homeless followers. During Batman’s absence, Gotham city has been driven into turmoil, as politicians are assassinated by Blackfire’s followers. Attempts are made on Commissioner Gordon’s life, leaving him hospital bound, and martial law is declared in Gotham, as the city decays. The books tone is helped phenomenally by the art of the late Bernie Wrightson, and is a story that is remarkably hard to shake after reading.
Available here: Batman The Cult TP
Batman Hush (2002 – 2003) by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee
Batman is being stalked. The culprit’s identity, unknown. His intent seems to sabotage Batman’s every move, and something about him seems to know Bruce Wayne intimately. Complete with a large number of guest appearances by Batman’s rogue gallery, and the inclusion of Superman, Hush contains an all-star cast, for a truly interesting mystery. Including the incredible detail of Jim Lee’s art, the story is rather hit and miss among fans, but still an interesting read just to uncover the mystery.
Available here:Batman Hush Complete TP
Batman Black and White (1996) by Various
A wonderful example of what happens when you give creative minds just a few pages, and complete free rein of the Batman world and characters. With an incredible array of talent from Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series), Neal Adams (Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore), Simon Bisley (Judge Dredd), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Alex Ross (Kingdom Come), and more! It’s hard to find a more intriguing, varied, and fascinating creative pool of tales.
Available here: Batman Black And White TP Vol 01 New Edition (Batman Black & White)
Batman: New 52 Run (2011 – 2016) by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
It’s hard to pick just one story from this incredible run. The opening arc Court of Owls was an unbelievable debut. Death of the family was chilling to the bone. Zero Year gave us a truly interesting interpretation of Batman’s first year active. Even Jim Gordon’s turn in the suit was notably interesting, even if a little strange. The 52 issues of Batman from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are a must read, particularly for those looking to inject just a little bit of horror to their Batman. The pair are currently re-teaming for the Dark Metal event, but it’s this run that made them both synonymous with the Bat.
Available Here: Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls TP (The New 52) (Batman (DC Comics Paperback))
Batman and Robin: New 52 Run (2011 – 2015) by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Despite his role as a surrogate father figure to all the Robins. When it comes to the 5th Robin, Damian Wayne, there’s no surrogate about it. The 40-issue run by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason explores Bruce and Damian’s relationship with one another while working as partners. The battle-hardened Batman having to work with, and train his own bloodthirsty son. One who sees himself as greater than his father. Ready to kill those in his way, boast of his assassination skills. Tomasi and Gleason are masters at the father/son dynamic. Something they are currently exploring over in the Superman title. But their work with Bruce and Damian stands just as strong.
Available here: Batman and Robin Volume1: Born to Kill TP (The New 52) (Batman & Robin (Paperback))
Detective Comics #27 (1939)/Batman #1 (1940)
On the list more for history buffs than anything, but still two incredibly important issues in Batman’s life time. His first appearance in 1939, and the first appearance of both The Joker, and Catwoman in 1940. Certainly not the best that Batman has to offer, but hugely important. Learning the history behind these two issues, does add an extra layer of enjoyment. Did you know, The Joker was supposed to die in his first appearance? Or the story of Bill Finger, the long ignored co-creator and writer of these historic stories.
Available here: Batman The Golden Age TP Vol 1
Batman: Dark Victory (1999 – 2000) by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
A sequel to The Long Halloween, though heavily enjoyable on its own. The same creative team takes the next step in Batman’s early years, and tackles the origin of the young Dick Grayson. The first Robin. The story deals heavily with the themes of isolation and loneliness, especially after the events of The Long Halloween. Affecting not only Batman, but the now traumatised and orphaned Dick Grayson, and the struggling Commissioner Gordon.
Available here: Batman: Dark Victory (New Edition)
Batman: Death in the Family (1988 – 89) by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo
Heavily controversial at the time it was released, and still a major talking point when discussing fan outcry and involvement. Death in the Family is a defining point in Batman’s career. The death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Another death that Bruce couldn’t prevent. A death he feels heavily responsible for. Death in the Family also holds a significant point in pop culture history as the moment where fans killed Robin. DC held a call-in poll to help decide whether or not Jason would make it out of the story alive, dying with just a hand full of votes separating the options. The death of Jason is an important moment in not only Batman’s history, but in comics and pop culture. Much like Detective Comics #27 and Batman #1, not a great story, but hugely important.
Available here: Batman: A Death in the Family (Batman (1940-2011))
These are just a handful of amazing stories of the Caped Crusader to try, aside from The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Killing Joke, or Batman and Robin. Batman’s history now spans almost 80 years, and it’s incredibly unlikely that his popularity will fade. There are still plenty of stories to be told in Gotham.
Avoid All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder….
(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine. I have not read every Batman story in existence.)