The 10 most essential Batman stories of all time


In celebration of the Dark Knight’s 80th birthday, we take a look back what are the best and most important Batman stories of all time.

It would be hard to argue that any other superhero has the depth of classic stories that Batman can boast to have. Some of the best comic book writers and artist of all time have done some of their best work for Batman stories, and this list will try to narrow down 80 years of amazing stories down to the 10 most essential Batman stories of all time.

10) “Bat-Man: The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” (Detective Comics No. 27 (1937)

Writer: Bill Finger

Artist: Bob Kane

What better place to start than with the one that started it all, Detective Comics No. 27. This is the first appearance of the Dark Knight in any form and laid the foundation of what later would become the most famous superhero on the planet. While better stories have been told, you would be hard pressed to find a more important one as Batman takes on Alfred Stryker and tries to stop him from taking over full control of APEX chemicals.

Credit to DC Comics and cover artist Lee Weeks

9) “Batman: Cold Days” (Batman 51-53, 2018)

Writer: Tom King

Artist(s): Tony Daniel, Matt Wagner, Lee Weeks

The most recent entry in this list, Batman: Cold Days takes place right off the heels of one of the most depressing days in Batman’s life (parents being killed in front of him still No. 1), being left at the by the love of his life Catwoman. Tom King explores how Batman can’t deal with his emotions and nearly beats Mr. Freeze to death. Bruce knowing he had gone to far, needs to make sure the people of Gotham City know that Batman needed a system of checks and balances to keep him grounded.

A combination of Batman and 12 Angry Men, this beautifully written and drawn will go down as one of the most impactful story arcs of all time.

8) “Gotham by Gaslight” (1989)

Writer: Brian Augustyn
Artist: Mike Mignola

The very first DC Elseworld story, Gotham by Gaslight asked a very simple question: Could Batman find Jack the Ripper? And the answer is, of course. Writer Brian Augustyn and Hellboy artist Mike Mignola put BatmanVictorian-eraa London and put him against one of the most notorious killers of all time. The steampunk aesthetic introduced in this version of Batman was very unique and gave a new spin to and old character like Batman. This is still one of the best and well known Elseworld titles and it makes this list for its pure brilliance and originality.

Credit to DC comics and cover artist Greg Capullo

7) “Batman: The Court of Owls” (Batman No. 1-11, 2011-2012)

Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo

When DC comics decided to relaunch and reboot the DC Universe after Flashpoint in 2011, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo decided to start with with a bang and gave us one of the best Batman stories of all time, The Court of Owls. Snyder introduced us to the Court of Owls, a centuries old cult organized by some of the wealthiest people who act as a shadow government for Gotham City. This makes so much sense that it crazy nobody thought of this before Snyder.

Capullo’s Batman is one of the most dynamic and best drawn Batman in recent memory and really changed the way people looked at Batman. Snyder and Capullo have become one of the greatest teams to ever work on Batman and the Court of Owls storyline is the prime example of that.

6) “Batman: The Long Halloween” (1996-1997)

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Tim Sale

The Long Halloween is flat out the best story of Batman being an actual detective, period. Set during the early years of Batman, We follow Batman as he is on the trail  for the “Holiday Killer,” a murderous psychopath who kills on someone on every major holiday.

While Batman deals with trying to find the killer, he also has to deal with the fall of Harvey Dent and rise of Two-face as The Long Halloween is also used as an origin story for the classic villain. This is a multi-layered story gives us a good look at how chaotic the early years for Batman were and how his meteoric rise was not an easy one.

Tim Sale’s Batman design in The Long Halloween is one of the best Batman designs ever and added so much depth to this fantastic story.

Credit to DC comics and Mike Mignola

5) “Batman: A Death in the Family” (Batman No.426–429, 1988-1989)

Writer: Jim Starling

Artist: Jim Aparo

The 1980s were a very important and packed decade for Batman, for great storytelling. This decade included the likes of: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Gotham by Gaslight, The Killing Joke. As strong as all those stories are, you could easily make the argument that A Death in the Family is the most important.

Everyone by now knows the story of the 900 number people would call to vote to either kill or save the very unpopular Robin at the time, Jason Todd. Of course, we all know how that ended with Jason Todd being beaten to death (or so we thought) at the end of the Joker’s crowbar. A Death in the Family was Batman’s greatest failure as a hero and created a very fundamental change came to the Dark Knight this four-issue story arc.

4) “Batman: Year One” (Batman No. 404-407,1987)

Writer: Frank Miller

Artist: David Mazzucchelli

A year after The Dark Knight Returns, writer Frank Miller returned to give us, what many consider to be, the consensus Batman Origin story. Batman: Year One is exactly what the title suggests, and that is the adventures of Batman during his first year under a very minimalistic and basic, cape and cowl.  This is juxtaposed with Miller’s take on Lieutenant’s (not yet a commissioner) Jim Gordon’s story as a newly transferred police officer from Chicago and his desire to clean Gotham up his way.

David Mazzucchelli’s art here is master class and one of the finest examples of a stripped down Batman that we have ever seen. Mazzucchelli also brings Gotham City to life in a way that we hadn’t seen before. Batman: Year One hit reset on the Batman continuity and gave us the definitive Batman origin story.

Credit to DC comics

3) JLA: Tower of Babel (JLA No. 43-46, 2000)

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Howard Porter, Steve Scott

If there was ever a doubt that Batman was a superhero Justice League of America: Tower of Babel puts those notions to rest. Mark Waid’s incredibly written arc shows how far Batman would go to come up with a contingency plan in the event the Justice League would go rogue. Batman’s paranoia is put on full display here, and makes him untrusting of the JLA, while making him persona non grata with the rest of the heroes.

This story really started the notion of “Batman is prepared for any and all occasions” and turned up the dial to 11. This also shows how vulnerable Batman is to his own over preparedness and how vulnerable this leaves him and the Justice League.

Credit to DC comics and cover artist Brian Bolland

2) The Killing Joke (1988)

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Brian Bolland

Perhaps the most controversial book on this list, The Killing Joke is as definitive an origin story as one is going to get for Batman’s arch nemesis, The Joker. Even if “definite” could be the wrong word, since we don’t necessarily get a concrete origin story, since the Joker does eventually admit that he doesn’t even remember his own life story.

By the far the most unsettling and violent story on this list, The Killing Joke walks the like between trying to give credence to the Joker as a sympathetic character, and portraying him as the ultimate evil. A mix between struggling comedian trying to feed his starving family and maniac who shoots Barbara Gordon is ultimately where Moore succeeded with his greatest Joker v. Batman story. Also, this book leaves us with one of the greatest cliffhangers of all time: Does Batman kill the Joker at the end of The Killing Joke?

The recent controversy over the violence and misogyny in The Killing Joke in recent years (revitalized by the release of the 2016 animated adaptation) has pushed Moore away from landmark work, saying,  It was too nasty, it was too physically violent. There were some good things about it, but in terms of my writing, it’s not one of me favorite pieces.” While this story continues to split the Batman fan base down the middle, the impact the Killing Joke made on the Batman mythos is here to stay.

Credit to DC comics and cover artist Frank Miller

1) The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

Writer: Frank Miller

Artist: Frank Miller

You know this was going to be the obvious choice for number one, right? The Dark Knight Returns is not only the greatest Batman story ever told, but it might be the greatest comic book/graphic novel of all time. So much of what we know of Batman today, good or bad, is taken from the 1986 limited series and has left such an impact in what the mainstream community thinks of Batman. Every movie, every TV show everything that hits mainstream pop culture can somehow traced back to The Dark Knight Returns.

Miller’s lampooning take on the “Age of Reagan” with his writing and art is the perfect snapshot of the late 1980s, which was encapsulated perfectly with the story of the soon-to-be-out of retirement Bruce Wayne.

Unless you have lived under a rock, which is directly under a bigger rock, everyone has heard of The Dark Knight Returns. There are four very distinct story lines with in the book, which work completely separate also work in concert to tell the story of the geriatric Batman comic back for one last hurrah. Joker, Superman, Green Arrow, Two-Face, Catwoman are all reimaged for Miller’s magnum opus. We also cant forget the fact that Miller introduced a girl Robin, Carrie Kelly, which stands as the most groundbreaking aspect of this classic Batman tale. There is no way any Batman fan should go without reading the Dark Knight Returns.

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It is almost impossible to narrow down such a deep history of stories to just 10, so let us know which ones we missed in the comments below.