Welcome to another DKN Top 5. We continue to observe Batman’s 75th Anniversary by compiling a list of our favorite graphic novels featuring the Dark Knight. Although not everybody may be well acquainted with the comic book medium, it’s arguably the most important that Batman appears in. Why? Because it’s the medium he originated in and also serves as the number one source of inspiration for movies, cartoons, and video games. Plus, you have to sit back and realize how amazing it is for a character to be in continuous publication for three quarters of a century.
Since first appearing in the pages of Detective Comics #27 in 1939, Batman has continued to thrill and inspire fans of all ages across the globe. He’s been a dark avenger of the night, an intergalactic peacekeeper, a public crusader, a vampire, and more. Perhaps it’s the versatility of the character that has helped its endurance. Batman has managed to attract the greatest writers and artists in the history of comics. The brainchild of Bob Kane and Bill Finger (I said it!) has been touched by everyone from Dick Sprang, to Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams, to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, to today’s fan favorites Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I’m aware that there are many in between and some will get their mention on our list. If we listed all of the greats, we would be here all day.
But what makes a classic Batman story? Is it compelling writing? An incredible artist? Batman using a combination of his world class detective and martial arts skills? Appearances by the many colorful villains that comprise what many feel is the greatest collection of rogues any superhero could have? A supporting cast that can function as its own pocket universe? Something tells me that it’s a combination of all of the above.
Enjoy our list. You may be surprised as to which stories made it and which ones didn’t.
5. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
Not long after completing a story chronicling an over-the-hill Batman with The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller took on the daunting task of exploring the character’s beginnings with Year One. Joined by artist David Mazzucchelli, they showed just why Gotham City would need a vigilante – it was corrupt from top to bottom. What really made this book multi-dimensional was the parallel story involving an up and coming cop named Jim Gordon. Seeing why the right and wrong sides of the law come together is one of the many reasons this caught on with fans. Year One would later serve as an inspiration for Batman Begins before being adapted as an animated feature.
4. BATMAN: HUSH
This one actually happens to be my personal favorite. Jeph Loeb weaved an intriguing tale that saw a mysterious new villain attempt to take apart Batman’s life as nobody had up to that point. Some say that this book looked like an excuse for Jim Lee to draw every Batman related character, but therein lies some of its greatest strengths: it’s because of the inclusion of so many that elevated this story. Jeph Loeb is among the pantheon of writers that seemingly knows every character inside and out and uses them well to boot. Lee’s insanely detailed artwork certainly helped bring them all to life. When introducing fans of Batman to the world of comics, you would be hard pressed to find a better primer to recommend than this.
3. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
I’m fairly certain that writer Grant Morrison credits this book as the one that truly allowed him to gain financial independence. The mid to late 1980s were fertile ground for comic creativity and Batman was one character that certainly benefitted from it. Morrison churned out a psychological mindhump (I cleaned it up) that amazes readers to this day; Arkham Asylum is one of the best selling graphic novels of all time. Dave McKean’s spooky artwork helped make this book something truly unique. His Joker is the stuff of nightmares.
2. BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN
Jeph Loeb graces our list yet again. In one of his earliest Batman outings, he fashioned a year long story that saw a mysterious killer called Holiday carve a bloody path throughout Gotham’s underworld. The World’s Greatest Detective takes it upon himself to find out who this ruthless murderer is and bring them to justice. This book also features a large, yet wisely used supporting cast and has some great subplots such as the burgeoning romance between Batman and Catwoman, as well as the origin of Harvey Dent/ Two-Face. Artist and frequent Loeb collaborator Tim Sale brings his A-game, giving the book a timeless, noir feel.
1. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE
This is more of a Joker story, though Batman does play a significant role. Alan Moore dazzled readers with this oddly formatted tale that not only sent certain characters on a hellish roller coaster (literally and figuratively), but also gave a possible origin for the Clown Prince of Crime. Brian Bolland’s detailed artwork brought everything to nightmarish life. Sit back and count how many different facial expressions he was able to render. Another bullet point worth mentioning is that this book forever altered the status quo of Barbara Gordon. It’s no wonder this examination of the Joker served as great inspiration for both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s big screen interpretations.
Do you agree with our list? Did any of your favorites not make the cut?