Writers: Doug Moench / Chuck Dixon
Artist: Jim Aparo
Knightfall Part 1 sees Batman take on a host of classic comic villains (including Mad Hatter and Poison Ivy) after Bane, in characteristically violent plan, releases the inmates of Arkham Asylum. Moench’s story sees the Bat fight wave after wave of characters that are hell-bent on destroying him. We see him get weaker and weaker after each encounter, whilst Bane waits in the background looking for a chance to strike.
This is a firm favourite of fans of the 1990s Batman comics, and Aparo’s colourful art style is typical of the trends of the time. If you want to see a story where Batman is at his most vulnerable then check out Knightfall, one of the best Batman graphic novels ever.
#34 – Shaman
Writer: Dennis O’Neill
Artist: John Beatty
Just a warning up front; you’re going to see Dennis O’Neill credited a lot in this list. Although he doesn’t get the critical acclaim and press that writers like Frank Miller do, O’Neill is responsible for so many of the best bat graphic novels that he deserves a Batman Hall of Fame place if they ever make one.
Shaman is a graphic novel from the Legends of the Dark Knight comic series, and it sees Batman use his detective skills to find the perpetrator behind a series of human sacrifices, and this leads our hero deeper until he happens on an evil cult. This story covered the first five issues of Legends of the Dark Knight and is a big reason that the series was a success.
#33 – Nine Lives
Writer: Dean Motter
Artist: Michael Lark
Dean Motter’s Nine Lives comic is a noir-themed murder mystery centred on the killing of Selina Kyle. This is a classic ‘whodunnit’ story where we are given a list of people with a reason to kill her – Bruce Wayne, the Riddler, Joker and more – and then taken on a detective journey until the killer is revealed.
This is an original take on the Batman series in that it takes some of the characters we already know and recasts them in an archetypal noir light. For example, the Joker is a card shark, Penguin is a crime lord and The Riddler is a timid bank clerk. Nine Lives is a simple idea but it is done well and it brings a fresh perspective to the series.
#32 – Venom
Writer: Dennis O’Neill
Artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
See, I told you. Dennis O’Neill has already reappeared on the list, this time with Venom, another graphic novel from the Legends of the Dark Knight series. This book sees Batman looking vulnerable again, but unlike the purely physical vulnerability in Knightfall (#35 in the list), this one is mental as well. After he fails in saving a girl, Batman becomes addicted to venom, a new drug on the market.
Venom shows us a side of Bruce that we aren’t used to seeing; failure, self-pity, and an especially uncharacteristic mental weakness. Some fans saw this as a departure from the character and thus didn’t like Venom, but for many it is interesting to see the bat in a way you never have before. As well as a character study on Batman this is a look at the nature of addiction that has quite some depth for a Batman comic.
#31 – Birth of the Demon
Writers: Mike Barr, Dennis O’Neill
Artists: Norm Breyfogle
The third of a series of comics (previous entries were Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon), Birth of the Demon is a look at the history of one of the greatest Dark Knight characters ever – Ra’s Al Ghul – and written by the character’s creator and one of the best Batman writers ever – Dennis O’Neill.
The reason Ra’s makes such a good Batman graphic novel character is that he doesn’t have the weaknesses that other Batman villains have. He doesn’t act rashly and foolish like the Riddler, he isn’t pumped full of steroids like Bane and he doesn’t do evil things for the hell of it like Joker. Instead, Ra’s is patient, clever and serious, and it is this that makes him a deadly opponent for Bruce Wayne. Birth of the Demon is the definitive Ra’s Al Ghul comic.
#30 – Last Arkham
Writer: Alan Grant
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle show what a great graphic novel creative team they are with Last Arkham, a story that sees Batman incarcerated in Arkham Asylum after attacking an officer. That doesn’t sound like the Dark Knight, does it? No it doesn’t, and it is finding an explanation and cure to Batman’s behaviours that makes Last Arkham such a great read.
Last Arkham is at the top-end of clever Batman graphic novels and it is responsible for two great characters in the Dark Knight canon; Jeremiah Arkham and Mr. Zsasz. Breyfogle’s artwork is a great partner to a story that is deep enough to raise a few thinking points but still full of enough action to be fun.
#29 – Tales of the Demon
Writer: Dennis O’Neill
Artist: Neal Adams
In the 80s Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams were the dream team of creative comic partnership of Batman comics, and Tales of the Demon is their collection of eleven stories that give you an insight into the origins, mind and motivations of Ra’s Al Ghul. Tales of the Demon goes some way into getting into the head of a person that many consider to be Batman’s toughest opponent.
That battle between Bruce Wayne and Ra’s Al Ghul is one borne out of different ideas of justice; both men want to see justice in the world, but they go about it in extremely different ways. Aside from this, the two enemies are similar in a lot of ways. Ra’s and the Dark Knight are both clever, powerful, a masters of martial arts and have morals. This similarity is perhaps what makes them so dangerous to each other, and it is what makes this graphic novel great.
#28 – Ego
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Cooke’s simple artwork and noir-like effects make Ego a stunning graphic novel, and the simplicity of the illustration acts as a contrast to the subject of the book (which is actually quite deep). Ego is a look inside the mind of the Bat, and we see him battle his inner most fears in the form of a grotesque physically representation of his costumed superhero identity.
Ego of course is just one story in Cooke’s Batman comic collection and although it is the best, there are lots of other great stories to be had. Some highlights are the black and white Monument and Catwoman’s star turn in a heist story.
#27 – Eye of the Beholder
Writer: Tony Daniel
Artist: Andy Clarke
Eye of the Beholder follows the tried and tested Dark Knight comic formula: there’s a mystery, followed by some detective work from the Bat and then the mystery gets deeper. In this case the first mystery is the disappearance of a rich developer who wanted to do business with Waynecorp, and the deeper mystery is one about a criminal gang in Chinatown.
#26 – Batman and the Monster Man
Writer: Matt Wagner
#Artist: Matt Wagner
Batman and the Monster Man by Matt Wagner rolls back the years and looks at Bruce Wayne’s early Batman career. In the first couple of years in his role as the Dark Knight, Bruce believes he has beaten organised crime in Gotham city. What he isn’t prepared for is the emergence of super-powered villains, and in this book we see him get the first tough test of his life as Batman.
This graphic novel is a mix of the realistic and the fantastic – realistic in its take on Bruce’s formative Batman years, and fantastic in his battles with the over-the-top villains. Wagner’s art style has a classic feel to it that complements this perfectly.
#25 – Thrillkiller
Writer: Howard Cheykin
Artist: Dan Brereton
You might be familiar with the Elseworlds series of comics, a series where familiar characters like Batman and Superman are cast into alternate timelines or otherwise have a significant details in their lives changed to see what happiness. In Thrillkiller Bruce Wayne’s parents were still murdered when he was a child, but instead of leaving him with a fortune they leave him broke and penniless.
Cheykin plays with this idea and still make Bruce seek out justice, but this time in a completely different way. Instead of becoming a costumed superhero he becomes a detective in Gotham Police Department, and in a visually gorgeous graphic novel he fights the villains of Gotham in a way that you have never seen before.
#24 – The Court of Owls / Night of Owls
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Gregg Capullo
Scott Snyder’s recent run on the Batman comics has been a wildly successful one, and the double-part story Court of Owls / Night of Owls has been an excellent addition to the series. Snyder, best known for his work on American Vampire and his own prose collection Voodoo Heart, has had an acclaimed run on Batman and has drawn healthy comparisons with Grant Morrison (author of Arkham Asylum as well as other titles on our top 100 list).
For a character that has been in print since just before World War II it is sometimes hard for a new fan to get up to speed. There have been hundreds, probably thousands of comic books featuring the Bat and it can be tough to know where to start. This is why I’d recommend Court of Owls to a new Batman reader. Snyder has written the book to serve as a reintroduction to the character, perhaps due to him recognising the influx of new comic fans after the success of the Dark Knight movies.
#23 – Batman Reborn
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
I don’t think I have made any secret on this site that Grant Morrison is one of my favourite graphic novels writers. Not only did he make his own titles The Invisibles and WE3, but his contribution to the Batman series is one of the best of any writer. Batman Reborn is special because it is a Batman and Robin reboot that is full of originality.
The comic starts with Bruce Wayne missing in action, and to fill the gap and stop Gotham from decaying at the hands of its criminals Dick Grayson steps into his shoes. He doesn’t wear his old Robin costume though; no, Dick decides to become Batman. This leaves a gap for Robin, and for this role Morrison chose Damian, Bruce’s young son. This is a unique spin on the franchise and is good for someone looking for a Batman fix that is slightly different. As long as you can handle someone over than Bruce Wayne stepping into the Bat suit that is – not all fans are comfortable with it.
#22 – What Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert
As you’d expect from any comic written by Neil Gaiman, ‘What Happened to Caped Crusader?’ Is a deep graphic novel full of emotion and adult themes. The story is about the death of Batman and it is told by some of the legends of the Dark Knight cast. Through their tales of how Bruce died we are treated to a celebration of the Batman series and the level of detail, references and homages to the history of character are incredible. Expect to see some of your favourite characters, like Joker, Penguin, Two Face and Superman all getting involved.
This comic is one book but there are four more in the collection for you to enjoy. They are all equally as complex and entertaining as this one, and it just goes to show that Gaiman can turn his hand to any comic series or any character and he can make it his own. This book might be a little heavy to newcomers to the series – it doesn’t explain the history any of the characters or otherwise signpost things for new readers – but older graphic novel fans will absolutely love it.
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