These days it’s impossible to walk across campus without seeing countless superhero logos plastered across people’s t-shirts. Men and women alike have happily embraced the latest superhero trend that is currently sweeping the nation.
The last few years have marked the dawn of nerd culture. The once underground, niche nature of comic book fandom has been thrust into the mainstream.
Thanks to box office success, superheroes have become much more than colorful cartoons on a page. Superheroes have morphed into highly profitable commercialized properties, as well as staples of modern American pop culture.
Despite being bombarded by superhero merchandise and media, it’s definitely worth going back to the original source material. Comic books themselves are what started it all and have stood the test of time as credible works of fiction. The stories told are not as childish as some may assume but are instead filled with intelligent plots and ideas that could rival any novel.
Among the most popular of all superheroes is the big, bad Dark Knight himself – Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. While most people automatically think of the gravely voiced Christian Bale version of Batman, the character’s representation throughout comic book history is very complex.
The way Batman’s character is presented has changed drastically over the lengthy 76 years the character has existed. The character’s longevity also means a pretty daunting amount of comic book material has been published with Batman as the titular character.
To save one from the daunting, overwhelming task of navigating this mass of material, I have comprised the quintessential Batman comic starter guide. Most Batman comic fans worth their salt have read most, if not all of the books that I’ve listed below.
So if you are ready to nerd it up and impress everyone with your insider knowledge, here is my suggestion of where to start.
Disclaimer: The following are listed in no particular reading order.
1.) “Batman Chronicles Vol. 1” by Bill Finger
Is there a better way to start off this list than to go back to the very beginning? I think not.
“Batman Chronicles” contains the generous reprinting of Batman’s first adventures, starting with Detective Comics #27 in 1939, penned by Bill Finger and drawn by the creator of the character, Bob Kane. DC has daringly gone on the mission of reprinting all of the original Batman comics in full color and selling them in chronological graphic novel collections.
The Batman contained within these pages is a lot different from the dark, gritty brooder many are familiar with today. Reflective of the general innocence of media at the time, the original Batman tales are very charming, kitschy and fun.
2.) “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller
Every Batman essential reading list is bound to include this comic at one point or another. Its infamy and cultural significance truly changed the landscape of the comic book industry.
Written by industry titan Frank Miller, “The Dark Knight Returns” details a futuristic landscape where a retired Bruce Wayne is called back into action for one last showdown. This comic book changed the tides drastically for Batman and the world around him. It transformed the light-hearted, kid-friendly hero into the morally ambiguous, angst-ridden hero we know today.
Beyond the implications for Bruce Wayne’s character, this comic proved that the medium is capable of thought-provoking plot and unique characters worthy of the highest literary praise.
3.) “Batman: Hush” by Jeph Loeb
Moving forward in time, “Batman: Hush” is a modern day classic written by Jeph Loeb. This comic has captured the hearts of fans for many reasons, whether it is for the dramatic introduction of an intriguing new villain or the masterful odes to comic history, this graphic novel delivers on every front.
The cherry on top of the delicious, multi-layered story cake is Jim Lee’s artwork. He is recognized as one of the best comic book artists working today, and he certainly proved himself through his work on “Hush.”
Including a multitude of familiar friend and foe faces, “Hush” is a treat with all of the awesome action scenes and heavy emotional baggage any Batman fan could want.
4.) “Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” by Neil Gaiman
“Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” reads like a humble ode to the long, rich history of Batman as a character. It is not a traditional, action-based “save the day” piece but rather more abstract and philosophical.
This comic puts a critical eye to Batman not only as a person, but as a concept and a symbol. Written by beloved writer Neil Gaiman, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” is a thoughtful and introspective examination that brings a fresh perspective to an old character.
5.) “A Death in the Family” by Jim Starlin
Some events in comic history become so infamous that everyone talks about them years after they originally transpired. One such instance in the Batman comic universe was the brutal murder of Jason Todd, the second young man to ever don the Robin uniform.
“A Death in the Family” will always live in infamy and stand as a testament to the power of comic book fans. Before the issue where Jason’s fate was revealed, phone lines were opened, and the fans were given the opportunity to vote whether Jason would live or die. Having not been as popular as his Robin predecessor, the public voted for Jason to lose his life.
The impact this had on the characters in the story was devastating. The events of that horrid day still haunt Bruce Wayne in the comics today, and it will always be personally regarded as his biggest failure.
6.) “Batman: Year One” by Frank Miller
Frank Miller is back on this list for another round and definitely for good reason. While there is an immeasurable variety of good reading material out there, Miller has truly defined the Batman mythos in the modern age. It is hard to compete with “Batman: Year One,” and for beginners this classic story is an excellent place to start building one’s Bat-knowledge.
On that note, “Batman: Year One” contains a plot much like the title suggests. It details Bruce Wayne’s first year as the caped crusader and establishes a lot of the key early relationships that came to define Gotham and the Batman universe.
7.) “Batman: The Long Halloween” by Jeph Loeb
“The Long Halloween” is another classic Batman story, filled with enough drama and action to satisfy every reader’s needs.
A chunk of the book is dedicated to the nefarious Harvey Dent, a.k.a Two-Face, and explains how he came to adopt his evil split identity.
There are certainly many lines that can be drawn between this comic and “The Dark Knight” film directed by Christopher Nolan. So if you want to learn what source material inspired Dent’s on-screen depiction in the Nolan classic, this is the comic to read.
8.) “Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls” by Scott Snyder
As the most modern entry on the list, “Court of Owls” proves that some of the greatest Batman comics are being published today.
A new series by fan-favorite Scott Snyder pits Batman against a new foe: The Court of Owls, an organization that seeks to control Gotham City. The originality and excellent writing is a breath of fresh air, and Snyder’s entire run with the character remains solid from being to end.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is undoubtedly one of the best things to come out of the New 52.
9.) “Batman: The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore
When thinking about what Batman comics qualify as quintessential, “The Killing Joke” is inevitably going to come up at one point or another.
“The Killing Joke” provides a definitive origin story of Batman’s greatest enemy – the Joker. Fusing flashbacks from the Joker’s past with his current evil schemes, the events of this comics still shock, horrify and engross readers who pick it up today.
10.) “Batman: Son of the Demon” by Mike W. Barr
Next to the Joker, Ra’s Al Ghul, in my opinion, has always been Batman’s greatest adversary. While the Joker represents chaos and insanity, Ra’s Al Ghul is composed–a trait that often allow him to be equally as lethal as any insane clown. This comic explores the interesting dynamic between both men and also explores one of Bruce Wayne’s most notorious romantic relationships with Ra’s’ daughter, Talia.
These are the ten Batman graphic novels that you should read, but riddle me this: What awesome Batman books did I miss? Let me know in the comments what some of your favorites are that weren’t on this list, because there are plenty of great books that got left off.