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The fantastic world of Batman is filled with amazing stories. Some of them are better known, mostly thanks to the fact that they have been adapted on screen in some form, but the true essence of Batman’s adventures lies within the stories told in the comic books. Some of them were published as graphic novels or one-shots (or republished as such), while others were published as a limited series (either a miniseries or a maxiseries) event or were just collections of several issues from an ongoing series.
Today, what interests us are the graphic novels and one-shots, as we are going to bring you a list of the 20 best Batman stories that have been published in the form of graphic novels or one-shots. Enjoy!
Also, be sure to check out our list of the best detective stories involving Batman, the best Elseworlds stories and the ten must-have Batman comic books, the best non-graphic novels, as well as the best Batman comics to start with.
20 Best Batman Graphic Novels
While assembling our list, we have tried to be as precise as possible, since the difference between a graphic novel and a non-graphic novel is not always clear. This is why we have decided to include only those stories that have been published (or republished) as graphic novels, miniseries republished as graphic novels and one-shots, while maxiseries stories (as representatives of the limited series group, meaning that miniseries, due to having less than 12 issues, won’t be included) and collections of issues from an ongoing series won’t be included on the list, as they do not satisfy the basic criteria. So, this is our list of the 20 best Batman graphic novels and one-shots:
20. Batman: Gotham Noir
Writer(s): Ed Brubaker
Artist(s): Sean Phillips
Published: March 2001
Gotham Noir is set in 1949 with Jim Gordon as the main character; Batman does appear, but quite rarely. Bruce Wayne and Gordon served together in World War II. Gordon is an alcoholic private detective who used to be a police officer. He is separated from his wife Sarah and their daughter Barbara.
Gordon was in a relationship with Selina Kyle, but she left him when his alcohol addiction worsened and started to cause problems. She runs a nightclub and one day offers him a part-time job accompanying her friend Rachel to a party. When Rachel is murdered, Gordon is the prime suspect. He is accused of the murder of Rachel by a corrupt mayor with ties to organized crime.
We start our list with Ed Brubaker’s Elseworlds story Gotham Noir, which is more a Gordon-based story than an actual Batman story. This is a truly interesting take on Gotham’s grotesque scenery and crime, and it was a truly fun read. This film noir take on Batman’s lore is pretty unique and that is why we decided to start our list with this title.
19. Batman: Holy Terror
Writer(s): Alan Brennert
Artist(s): Norm Breyfogle
In this version of the world, Oliver Cromwell did not die until 1668, which meant that Great Britain retained its unwavering position as the first power on the globe. The United States is called the American Commonwealth and is ruled by a theocratic government.
A murder is committed 20 years before the action begins in Gotham City. Arriving at the scene, James Gordon, one of the inquisitors, states that the victims are Thomas and Martha Wayne The victims’ son, Bruce Wayne, is an involuntary witness. Gordon identifies the killer, but his supervisor orders him to drop the case.
Twenty years later, when Bruce Wayne accepted the death of his parents, got rid of almost all their property and decided to become a clergyman, Gordon confessed to him the truth about the Wayne’s death: their murder was ordered by the Secret Council, because the Waynes, although perceived as faithful to the government, conducted activities directed against it.
Bruce learns the exact fate of his parents from a journal kept by his father, which was passed on to him by his friend, Dr. Charles McNider. The man, once actively opposed to government policy, now advises Bruce against openly fighting, reminding him that all his former comrades are now dead.
Bruce Wayne, following God’s voice, joins the ranks of the clergy, but at the same time takes on a new, secret identity to help him find the people who ordered the murder of his parents. He decides to begin by looking for those members of the Privy Council who were on it in the year of his parents’ murder.
The first of them, Lemuel Brown, tells him that the decision on the death of Wayne and his wife was made by the Star Chamber Court. As Batman, he goes to the cathedral where the Court is located; along the way, he finds a row of cells in which there are people endowed with extraordinary powers. He manages to release one of them, Barry Allen, who is able to move at superhuman speed.
Allen explains to him that the prisoners are guinea pigs whose powers are being sought and used by a group of scientists (led by Dr. Saul Erdel). There, Wayne comes into contact with the Green Man, a person who, according to McNider, could become a real threat to the American Commonwealth.
Wayne eventually reaches the Star Chamber, where he stumbles upon one of its members. Although he does not reveal his or his parents’ names, the man answers the question of who is responsible for the deaths of those acting against the government: Batman states that neither the people who voted for their convictions nor the Star Chamber as such are responsible for the death of his parents: the system that allowed such a court to exist is to blame.
He decides to lead a double life – as a priest during the day, and as one of many opposing the government by night. The comic ends with Wayne’s reflections on what would have happened had his parents not died that night or if their murder had not been ordered by the authorities.
As far as Holy Terror is concerned, it is a rather interesting take on the Batman mythos with a lot of religious elements, which is not something that is usually associated with the stories of the Dark Knight. Holy Terror is an Elseworlds story and is, thus, not canon, but it’s interesting enough to be a fun read.
18. The Joker: Devil’s Advocate
Writer(s): Chuck Dixon
Artist(s): Graham Nolan
The U.S. Postal Service issues stamps about some of the country’s best-known comedians. Joker, after learning that no such stamp has been made of him, starts to vandalize the post office. Meanwhile, deaths are happening all over the city after the victims licked the back of the stamps, ending up with a Joker-like grin on their faces.
Batman and Robin miraculously catch Joker, who continues to steal mails in the meantime. He is found guilty by the court for his actions and then sentenced to death. However, Joker calls himself innocent, saying a criminal like him is acting much smarter. The only person who believes in him is his enemy, Batman, who begins to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, Joker’s execution grows into a real event and when the crazy clown finds out that every page is writing about him, he starts to get excited. Meanwhile, Batman realizes that the real killer is working for a company that stores stamps and has coated the stamps with Joker poison.
The crazy killer confesses everything to the police, so he can save Joker a few seconds before he is executed. At the end of the comic, Joker is very happy with his life, which is the joy of Batman, who visits him and tells him that he is still alive because of him.
An interesting one-shot, Devil’s Advocate is another interesting story focusing on the Joker. This story showed us, once again, why the Clown Prince of Crime is so twisted and how morbidly creative he can get when he wants to execute his plans.
17. The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Writer(s): Frank Miller
Artist(s): Frank Miller
Published: December 2001 – July 2002
Once again we find society in decline, thanks to Lex Luthor who, after having enslaved heroes like Superman, pursues his nefarious plans. The media play a major role in the narrative, as they offer a general picture of society: the president of the USA, for example, is just a computer manipulation created by Luthor; the news shows are presented by naked girls who constantly make sexual innuendos.
Bruce Wayne, aided by Catgirl (actually Carrie Kelley from the original story) and the Batboys, carries out a series of blows against Luthor, gradually freeing other heroes held captive (such as Barry Allen / The Flash, whose hamster race provides constant energy constant for the city, or Ray Palmer, reduced to microscopic dimensions and imprisoned in a Petri dish, at the mercy of single-celled organisms) until he inflicts a zeta-shaped scar on him (which evokes a hero much loved by Bruce, Zorro).
However, Luthor, who, thanks to the help from Brainiac, holds the miniaturized Kryptonian city Kandor hostage, blackmails Superman by sending him against Batman who, with the help of the other heroes and his technology, defeats the opponent in a few seconds.
Superman takes refuge in the North Pole, where he is joined by Wonder Woman; the two, formerly great friends, have become lovers over the years and have a teenage daughter, Kara, whose existence has been kept in the dark until that moment, especially from Luthor.
Batman and his army of Batboys, along with former colleagues from the Justice League of America, go and attack Luthor: thanks to the help of Atom, Kal-El’s daughter manages to free Kandor and kill Brainiac, proving to be a tough Amazon warrior like her mother and not a girl raised in Kansas like her father, while Batman manages to defeat Luthor, having him killed by the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, killed years earlier by Lex via Brainiac’s alien technology.
Meanwhile, a mysterious Joker-like figure kills the other heroes (e.g. Martian Manhunter), attacking Green Arrow and Catgirl. The Joker will eventually turn out to be Dick Grayson, the first Robin, genetically manipulated by the government. Bruce and Dick finally have one last face-off in the Batcave, during which Batman plunges into a volcanic crater below, finally killing Grayson and being saved at the last minute by Superman.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again might be weakest installment in Miller’s The Dark Knight saga, but it is still good enough to merit a place among the 20 best graphic novels about Batman. The story was a bit rushed and not on par with the original one, but it is still an intriguing tale about the Dark Knight and Miller’s brilliant fictional universe.
16. The Batman Adventures: Mad Love
Writer(s): Paul Dini, Bruce Timm
Artist(s): Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami
Published: December 14, 1993
The story revolves around the Joker’s partner, Harley Quinn. She was a psychiatrist named Harleen Quinzel, but she falls in love with the Joker, making the decision to become a criminal to win her love. After Batman spoils yet another of her plans to kill him, The Joker becomes angry with Harley and makes her leave.
So Quinn decides that the only way Joker would love her would be by eliminating Batman, which she tries to do herself by hanging him above a tank full of piranhas. When she almost succeeds, Batman reveals to her that the stories Joker had told him about her childhood were a lie. Also, he manipulates her into calling the Joker.
After he arrives, he scolds her for having tried to kill Batman by herself; Harley explains her plan to him but he goes into a fit of rage and throws her out the window. Meanwhile, Batman fights the Joker and tells him that she was closer to killing him than he ever was. Joker is enraged and Batman takes the opportunity to defeat him.
Back in Arkham, Quinn thinks Joker used her and gives up on him until she sees a vase of flowers next to her bed and a card on them that says “Get well soon -J.” At this, Harley, again, falls madly in love.
This one-shot comic book by Batman legends Paul Dini and Bruce Timm is tied to the cult classic Batman: The Animated Series and focuses on Harley Quinn, a character that debuted in the animated series and later appeared in the comics. Mad Love is a fun and quirky story that all fans of the animated series are bound to enjoy.
15. Batman: Two Faces
Writer(s): Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Artist(s): Anthony Williams, Tom Palmer
Published: November 1998
A work inspired by a classic of horror literature – Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous story Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Two Faces is a Victorian tale about Batman devising a potion that could save Two-Face, but ultimately becoming a victim of his own concoction as he develops an evil side to his persona – The Joker – the Mr. Hyde to Bruce Wayne’s Dr. Jekyll.
Batman has to fight both Two-Face and The Joker to prove himself the hero he truly is.
Two Faces is among those rare jewels that DC Comics published, jewels that people generally do not know about, but that are actually great stories. In this retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we get a new perspective on the relationship between Batman and Joker that is certainly intriguing.
14. Batman: In Darkest Knight
Writer(s): Mike W. Barr
Artist(s): Jerry Bingham
The story begins after Bruce Wayne’s horrible first attempt at fighting crime, as described in Year One. While sitting injured in his office, he asks the picture of his late father for a way to scare Gotham City’s criminals. Suddenly a ghostly image from a bust appears in front of him, telling him that he has been chosen.
The character heals his wounds and leads him to a crashed missile on his property. Inside, the dying Green Lantern, Abin Sur, gives Bruce his ring of power and tells him to wait for his masters to contact him. Bruce hides the vessel in the Bat-Cave under his mansion and begins his crime fighting career. His first mission is to catch the Red Hood thieves in a chemical plant.
With a combination of his powers and abilities, Bruce manages to overpower the three and hand them over to Officer James Gordon, preventing the creation of The Joker. As Bruce takes to the skies, Gordon tells District Attorney Harvey Dent that he is suspicious of vigilante groups, especially those with superpowers.
Shortly thereafter, the Guardians of the Universe give Bruce his first official mission: to stop the wandering, power-hungry Sinestro, who is abusing his Green Lantern ring for personal purposes. Bruce manages to subjugate Sinestro, leaving the people he once dominated discouraged. When one of them, Katma Tui, says Bruce is her hero, he gives her Sinestro’s Ring of Power before returning to Oa.
Sinestro swears revenge on Bruce before he is banished to Qward. Back on Earth, Bruce goes to Gordon’s house and asks for help in establishing the identity of his parents’ murderer (without revealing his identity). Gordon refuses at first, then goes to work later and almost finds the answer when Sinestro shows up, wearing a Yellow Power Ring.
He steals the information and kills Gordon, then goes on his way. Sinestro finds Joe Chill and uses his Ring of Power to absorb the human mind. When Bruce shows up to examine Chill’s corpse, he is ambushed by Sinestro, who demonstrates a split personality thanks to Chill’s thoughts. Bruce manages to hunt down the criminal, which leads Sinestro to find allies on Earth.
Days later, Bruce meets two people empowered and changed by Sinestro: Attorney Dent was scarred on the face and driven mad from transformation, and burglar Selina Kyle has become a Star Sapphire. Although Bruce defeats Dent and Kyle, they flee to Sinestro, who watches Bruce set up a system of observation satellites in orbit.
During his absence, Sinestro wreaked havoc on other planets in the area, leading the Guardians to question Bruce’s role as a Lantern. He refuses to give up his ring, however, prompting the Guardians to contact three other worthy Earthlings – Clark Kent, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, and Barry Allen – to become additional Green Lanterns.
Some time later, Bruce is patrolling the city when four Lanterns, including Katma Tui, attack him and try to hold him back. Using his distraction, Sinestro directs his troops to attack Bruce’s Cave, injuring Alfred Pennyworth, and begins tampering with the power battery when the three new Green Lanterns appear and fight the bad guys.
Bruce is overwhelmed but senses that Alfred is in danger and wins his ring back as it responds to his will. When he rushes home, he finds Alfred dead and Sinestro has escaped. The Three Lanterns beg him to stay and teach them, but Bruce refuses and begs them to protect the earth while he tracks down Sinestro.
In Darkest Knight is a very interesting Elseworlds one-shot that showed us one version of the story of Batman becoming a Green Lantern. It is not on par with other crossover events such as Blackest Night and Brightest Day, but In Darkest Knight is certainly interesting enough to land a spot on our list.
13. Batman: Son of the Demon
Writer(s): Mike W. Barr
Artist(s): Jerry Bingham
The story centers around the eco-terrorist and the League of Shadows leader Ra’s al Ghul, who helps Batman solve the murder of Harris Blaine, one of Gotham’s most famous scientists. Batman and Ra’s al Ghul go out to the man known among the terrorists as Qayin. Qayin is an outcast assassin who killed Ra’s al Ghul’s wife and Talia’s mother.
Batman has had a tumultuous and uncertain romance with Talia over the years, despite ideological conflicts with her father. During the storyline, Batman can be seen courting Talia. When Batman asks her about the wedding ceremony, Talia replies that this has happened before. Her father earlier, trying to prevent Batman from interfering in his plans, had already performed such a ritual, based on the customs of his country, where only the consent of the bride is needed to declare a marriage.
Talia soon becomes pregnant, and the prospect of starting a family strongly influences Batman’s behavior, making his actions riskier and his views softer. He nearly destroyed the guards of the already pregnant (and still very dangerous in their origin) Talia, put in place to repel the attack of the mercenaries. Observing Batman’s overprotectiveness, Talia decides that she cannot let him continue like this because he will surely be killed.
To this end, Talia claims that she had a miscarriage. Broken by the news, Batman returns to his usual grim disposition as he and Talia end their marriage. Batman returns to Gotham, unaware that Talia is still carrying his child.
The born boy is sent to an orphanage, from where he is soon adopted by a married couple from the west. The only hint of its impressive origins is the pearl-encrusted necklace Bruce gave Talia shortly before Qayin’s attack on Ra’s al Ghul’s headquarters.
Son of the Demon is not among the best-known Batman stories, but it is certainly one of the best Ra’s al-Ghul stories ever told. Mike Barr managed to create an excellent blend of action and thrills, giving us a story that we can certainly enjoy on more than one occasion.
12. Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child
Writer(s): Frank Miller
Artist(s): Rafael Grampá
Published: December 2019 – February 2020
It has been three years since the events of Dark Knight III: The Master Race and the world is a very different place than it used to be. Lara spent her time learning to be more human and Carrie Kelley has adjusted to her new role as Batwoman.
But a terrible evil in the form of Darkseid arrives in Gotham City, and Lara and Carrie must team up to stop this growing threat – and they have a secret weapon: Young Jonathan Kent, “the Golden Child”, with a power unlike anything the world has ever seen and is about to be unleashed.
The most recent installment of The Dark Knight saga, The Golden Child is a very interesting one-shot that expands the original story and introduces some new characters. Frank Miller’s characteristic narrative style is once more present and the whole story is visually on par with the previous installments. The Golden Child is an interesting story and it certainly deserved a spot on this list.
11. The Dark Knight III: The Master Race
Writer(s): Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello
Artist(s): Frank Miller, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson
Published: November 2015 – June 2017
Three years have passed since Lex Luthor’s death. No one has seen Bruce Wayne since. An unknown person breaks the window and takes Batman’s suit from the Bat-Cave. The story of a criminal is heard, who claims that when he ran away from the cops and was almost killed, the police were attacked by Batman.
In the jungle, Wonder Woman and the Minotaur meet in a deadly battle. Wonder Woman defeats the giant bull and returns with her son to the new city of the Amazons. Superman is mysteriously covered in ice in his own Fortress of Solitude. His daughter Lara is with him.
Commissioner Ellen Yindel is sitting by an abandoned floodlight when she is told that Batman has been found. In a frantic chase, Batman is surrounded and beaten to death by beastly cops. Commissioner Yindel removes the mask from him and, seeing that it is actually a woman, asks where Bruce Wayne is. To which he receives an answer from Carrie Kelly: “Bruce Wayne is dead.”
The Master Race is certainly the best installment in the franchise after the original The Dark Knight Returns and once again demonstrated why Miller is such a good storyteller. Brian Azzarello collaborated on the story and added his specific touch to this story, which has all the necessary Miller-esque elements, but also a dash of originality.
10. Batman: Damned
Writer(s): Brian Azzarello
Artist(s): Lee Bermejo
Published: September 2018 – June 2019
During a fight, seemingly the one from the end of Joker (see above), Batman and the Joker fall from the Gotham Gate Bridge. The Joker appears to die while Batman is knocked out and wakes up in an ambulance. Batman fights the paramedics and runs away, only to collapse in a street. John Constantine saves Batman and takes him to a hotel room.
There, Batman finds out what happened in the news. He fears he has killed the Joker and Constantine offers to form an alliance with him. Batman returns to the bridge to investigate, where a homeless man claims he saw the devil kill the Joker. The man disappears before Batman can question him further.
Flashbacks reveal that when Bruce was a child, his mother Martha discovered that his father, Thomas, was having an affair with another woman. While Bruce was playing outside the house, Thomas and Martha got into a fight, which led to Thomas walking away. Bruce pulled a toy gun at Martha’s face and she made Bruce promise never to point a gun at anyone ever again.
Batman’s memories of these events are haunted by the Enchantress, who implies that he was involved in the Joker’s death and offers a deal to rid him of the fear. In the present, Batman goes to his Cave and hallucinates that his costume is attacking him. As Batman observes the activity on Gotham’s streets, Deadman appears and warns him of the dark forces that are about to confront him.
Batman and Constantine meet up in a church where a statue of Jesus has been desecrated with the Joker’s smile. Batman begins to doubt that the Joker is really dead, as Constantine encourages him to seek information from Etrigan. Batman finds Etrigan in the Cavern and pushes his way through the crowd to approach him. Furious at being interrupted during a performance, Etrigan orders the crowd to point guns at Batman.
Suddenly, an explosion destroys the building and the Bat-Signal, also desecrated by the Joker’s smile, lights up the sky. Etrigan saves Batman, but tells Constantine that he only did it to make Batman suffer more. It turns out the bombing was organized by Harley Quinn, who cannot cope with the fact that the Joker is dead.
Batman confronts Harley, who hits him with a baseball bat, injects him with a drug that paralyzes him, and tries to rape him. However, Batman manages to gain the upper hand and, possessed by the Enchantress, strangles her against the Bat-Signal. Batman later wakes up trapped in an underground coffin, but is saved by the Swamp Thing.
Constantine arrives and talks to Swamp Thing before the Enchantress reappears and Batman defeats her. Constantine takes Batman to meet Zatanna at a club for magic-based clients, and she uses a spell to send him into a vision of the night when Bruce’s parents were murdered by Joe Chill, where it appears young Bruce has also been shot in that alley.
He apparently sold his soul to the Enchantress to become Batman. The Enchantress tries to seal her deal with Bruce, but Constantine shoots and kills the Enchantress with Chill’s gun. Constantine explains that the dead Bruce represents Batman’s past, which he begs Batman to let go of.
Batman and Constantine go their separate ways when Batman enters the morgue where the homeless man from the beginning of the story, an incarnation of the celestial judicial figure known as the Spectre, reveals the truth about the incident on the bridge: Batman was fatally stabbed by the Joker and deliberately allowed the Joker to fall to his death for fear of what would happen to Gotham if he wasn’t there to stop him.
Batman, realizing he has been dead the entire time, switches places with the corpse in the morgue and dissolves. A living Joker then emerges from the river under the bridge, while Constantine suggests it’s the start of a new chapter.
As we are going to see later on this list, Azzarello and Bermejo are a truly brilliant team. Azzarello’s writing skills and Bermejo’s art have reached their peak in this controversial title that also brought us a full-on nude Batman, which was later retracted by DC Comics. Be that as it may, Damned is still an amazing story and it had to be on our list.
9. Batman: The Last Knight on Earth
Writer(s): Scott Snyder
Artist(s): Greg Capullo
Published: July 2019 – February 2020
Twenty years into the future, Bruce Wayne wakes up in Arkham Asylum. Young. Healthy. And – he was never Batman. To unravel the mystery of his past, the Dark Knight sets out on a long journey through this unknown world and meets futuristic versions of old friends and foes, including a horrific traveling companion – the Joker’s Head.
Somehow, still alive, Joker’s decapitated head becomes Batman’s chilling guide through the landscape of the devastated DC Universe. But to decipher the cause of this terrible future, he must hunt down the unspeakable power that has destroyed the world he has known. This could be the last Batman story ever told.
Scott Snyder’s horrifying future where Batman walks around with the Joker’s head in a lantern is another example of Snyder’s narrative ingeniosity and Capullo’s brilliant art. This is a dark and depressing story set in a not-so-distant future, but it is one of the most intriguing views on the future of Batman’s world that we have ever had the pleasure of reading.
8. Batman: Noël
Writer(s): Lee Bermejo
Artist(s): Lee Bermejo
Published: November 2, 2011
A cold winter on the streets of Gotham shows us young Bob taking on a job for the city’s biggest criminal, Joker. He did all this for his sick son, Tim. All he had to do was give someone a bag and then bring the money he got for it to the Clown. He hands over the bag, brings the money, but his plans are filed by Gotham’s hero, Batman.
Batman is not interested in Bob, his son, or the money; he just wants to know where the Joker’s hiding. Bob can’t answer his question, stating that he has never met him before, as they just communicated by letter. Batman lets him go, but decides to use him. He plans to have the Joker come to him because of the money he didn’t get and then apprehend the criminal.
The narrator sees Batman as the old, unloving Mr. Scrooge from Dickens’ story, a man who has lost all love because of his past and has become a soulless man who lives alone with his butler in a colorful villa. Batman was just watching Bob through the tracker he had put in his scarf before releasing him when he recalled the past.
He first remembers the time he spent with his former sidekick, Robin. This happy period in Batman’s life didn’t last long, as the psychopath Joker blew up the teenage Robin. But then, his relatively calm thoughts were disturbed by a vision in which the dead Robin told him that three ghosts would visit him that night and try to make him understand why he had to change.
Batman receives a call from James Gordon. He told him that Catwoman was planning another robbery. Batman prefers to deal with the Joker, but eventually goes where to the place of the presumed robbery, hoping Selina Kyle knows something. The robbery takes place and Catwoman is just about to leave the crime scene when she sees Batman.
At the sight of her love, she taunts him. Batman doesn’t want to play, as he is still focused on the Joker. As it turns out, Selina doesn’t know anything about Joker, so Batman prepares to leave the field when Catwoman tries to kill him. Batman thus began to chase his old adversary, who also evokes old memories in him.
Memories of an earlier, much more naive and playful Batman. But this Batman is different. This Batman was a broken, tired man who couldn’t even chase Catwoman for a long time, and after a while, he fell off the roof. Then appears his old friend, Superman, who helps Batman, who is apparently struggling with pain.
He helps Batman get to his car, but before that, he shows him how others celebrate Christmas. For example, he shows how Commissioner Gordon talks to a fellow police officer about Batman; as it turns out, the police don’t have much confidence in the Dark Knight, anymore. James, on the other hand, trusts him, but is afraid he will cross his own boundaries one day.
Batman leaves with Superman, who puts him down in his car. Superman leaves and Batman tries to get in his car, but then a huge explosion happens and Batman faints. The blast was caused by Joker, who immediately takes Batman’s unconscious body to the cemetery, where he throws him into a grave and buries him alive.
Batman is then tormented by visions in which the events following Batman’s death are embodied before him. A future in which everyone who helped the vigilante is condemned, Bruce Wayne’s house and all its belongings are sold and no one remembers him the way he wanted – like a hero who fought for the truth.
Batman then wakes up from his fainting and digs himself out of the grave. Joker, meanwhile, goes to Bob’s place and tries to kill him and his son. But then, Batman arrives and apprehends the Clown Prince of Crime and takes him back to the mental hospital. The next day, Bruce Wayne begins a new life, the first step of which is to give Bob a Christmas tree.
Lee Bermejo’s gritty retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was a truly amazing story with a great atmosphere and even better art. Although primarily known as an artist, Bermejo has told a truly brilliant tale in Noël and we cannot deny that it is one of the best graphic novels featuring Batman ever.
7. Gotham by Gaslight
Writer(s): Brian Augustyn
Artist(s): Mike Mignola
Published: February 1989
It’s 1889 and Bruce Wayne is on a visit to Europe. His journey through Europe ends in Vienna, where he has gone to learn from Dr. Freud. Bruce tells Freud of a recurring dream he has in which he recalls the murder of his parents and decides that he must return to Gotham City.
On the return trip, Bruce meets Jacob Packer, an old friend of his family whom he knows as Uncle Jake, who was also returning from a trip to Europe. Shortly after arriving, Inspector Gordon informs Bruce about the criminal gangs currently operating in Gotham. Gordon also shows Bruce the case of a man who poisoned his wife and tried to commit suicide with the poison, which left him alive with a permanent smile.
Bruce dons the Batman mantle to fight criminals on the street. At the same time, a series of murders of women take place and some people begin to suspect that Batman is the murderer. It is soon discovered that Jack the Ripper has arrived in Gotham, as the murders in Gotham City are reminiscent of the Ripper murders from London.
After a search of Wayne Manor, a bloody knife is found under Bruce’s bed and Bruce is arrested. A trial is held in which Uncle Jake acts as Bruce’s defense attorney. After the trial, Bruce is found guilty of being the Ripper and sentenced to hang for his crimes. Bruce is imprisoned pending execution at Arkham Asylum.
Once in prison, Gordon passes him all the documentation on the crimes and Bruce toils day and night trying to figure out how to catch the Ripper. Just one day before the execution, Bruce finds out the identity of the Ripper by discovering that he had the skill of a surgeon and that the knife used belonged to the medical group that he collaborated with his father.
He finally escapes from prison with the help of Alfred and heads straight for the Ripper. Batman bursts in just as the Ripper is about to claim his next victim. Batman chases the Ripper through Gotham and the two end up in front of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s grave, where Jacob Packer is revealed to be the Ripper. Packer had been trained in medicine and law on Thomas Wayne’s money, but had been driven mad by Martha Wayne’s rejection of her advances.
Since then, he has been killing women who looked like Martha to silence Martha’s laughter that he had been hearing in his head. Also, Packer reveals that he hired an assassin to kill the Waynes and Bruce discovers his identity. At that moment Gordon appears with the police and Batman tells them to arrest Packer.
Packer confesses that he is the Ripper and tries to kill Batman, but Gordon shoots Packer killing him at the last moment. Batman disappears into the shadows, leaving Gordon to take over the body of Jack the Ripper.
Gotham by Gaslight is much more than a great alternative history Batman tale, it is also historically important as the first Elseworlds story ever. This imprint had given us some of the best Batman stories ever and although they’re not canon, we can still thoroughly enjoy them, just as we have done with Gotham by Gaslight.
Writer(s): Brian Azzarello
Artist(s): Lee Bermejo
Published: October 17, 2008
Johnny Frost, a Gotham City resident, volunteers to pick up the Joker, who has managed to be declared mentally healthy, at Arkham Asylum from where he came out. The latter immediately takes him under his wing and takes him as a driver.
Frost then takes the Joker to Killer Croc’s lair, and together they go to a strip club, the “Grin and Bare It”, where they meet Monty, a former employee of the Joker. With the help of Harley Quinn, the Joker peels of his skin and makes him appear on the stage, shocking the assembled guests; he asks if anyone wants to help him reclaim his territory, that his former associates have sold.
The next morning, the Joker robs a bank and kidnaps the Penguin with Killer Croc, then asks Killer Croc to invest the money he just stole so he can get more money back. Subsequently, the Joker engages in a series of murders, perpetrated by himself, to punish the criminals who stole his territory and his money.
Informed by the Penguin that Harvey Dent, leader of the local underworld, is angry with him, the Joker tries to call him, unsuccessfully, and in anger destroys the phone, kills one of Croc’s men and burns the striptease bar down. Soon after this event, Frost is captured by Dent, who warns him that the Joker will kill him, after which Frost participates in a meeting between Joker and the Riddler, presented as a lame arms dealer, who gives the Joker a briefcase containing something said to be “impossible to steal”.
As they leave, the Joker’s team is attacked by off-duty police hired by Dent, and Frost saves the Joker from being killed. Joker then engages in a turf war against Dent, asking him to meet. During this meeting, at the Gotham City Zoo, Joker gives Dent the briefcase, and announces to him that he knows Dent has two wives (one per personality) and threatens him to reveal this information.
The encounter escalates, and the Joker, along with Harley Quinn, shoots down all of Dent’s men, then whispers something in her ear before leaving. After helping Frost get his ex-wife, Shelly, back from Dent’s hands, the Joker rapes her to punish him for not revealing his meeting with Dent.
Later, Harvey paints Batman’s symbol on a projector, and asks Batman to stop the Joker, because the Joker has told him he knows a way to kill one of his personalities. When the Joker and Frost return to the apartment building they live in, they find the broken window and go to Killer Croc’s lair, but Batman has already neutralized them all.
In a final attempt to escape, Joker and Frost flee to Gotham Bridge, where Batman awaits them. The Joker, taking Frost hostage, argues with Batman, and provoked by him, shoots Frost in the neck. As they fight, Frost crawls to the edge of the bridge and drops into the void.
Azzarrello has established a name for himself thanks to his dark and gritty retellings of Batman’s lore. Joker is a brilliant graphic novel that demonstrates just how good of a narrator Azzarello is, but also how well he works with Lee Bermejo, whose amazing art made this story even more special.
5. Batman: Earth One
Writer(s): Geoff Johns
Artist(s): Gary Frank
Published: 2012 (vol. 1), 2015 (vol. 2), 2021 (vol. 3)
Bruce Wayne is an eight-year-old son of Gotham City millionaire and mayoral candidate Dr. Thomas Wayne, and Martha Arkham-Wayne. After receiving death threats, Thomas calls his friend Alfred Pennyworth to head up security at Wayne Manor.
Refusing Alfred’s recommendations, the Wayne couple take their son to the movies and are killed in a dark alley. Bruce remains under Alfred’s guard. When he grows up, Bruce suspects that the mayor, Oswald Cobblepot, was the mastermind behind the crime.
Using the fighting and acrobatic techniques he learned from Alfred, he wears a bat disguise and crashes his enemy’s party looking for incriminating evidence. As a result, he clashes with the city’s corrupt police and reluctant detective James Gordon, who does not investigate the mayor’s crimes for fear of threats against his daughter, librarian Barbara Gordon.
In the first volume of the story, the young Batman manages to unmask Cobblepot and his plot to eliminate Thomas Wayne. Cobblepot has been running the town like a criminal organization and has ordered the elimination of dozens of political opponents. Batman manages to crack the case but before Cobblepot could be brought to justice, he was shot by Alfred and later replaced by Jessica Dent, Harvey Dent’s sister.
In volume two, a new serial killer, calling himself the Riddler, appears in Gotham and targets people sought after by Jessica and Harvey Dent. With an unlikely ally in Killer Croc, Batman manages to subdue the Riddler, all in the wake of the fact that Bruce Wayne himself was suspected of being the serial killer.
In the end, though, Sal Maroni, a former associate of Cobblepot’s, stabs Harvey Dent and attacks him with acid. With half his face burned, Harvey is embraced by Jessica, whom the acid also affects, burning half of her face as well. Bruce visits Jessica – the two of them have admitted their mutual love to each other, with Jessica also confirming she knew he was Batman – in hospital but she has changed, now becoming much darker.
Volume three explores the consequences of these events in a mystery that also includes the appearance of a new burglar, called Catwoman.
Geoff Johns’ Earth-One Batman became one of the best versions of the characters from the whole Multiverse. Johns opted for more realism in these stories, which was brilliantly complemented by Gary Frank’s amazing artwork. This series of graphic novels is certainly amazing and that is why we put it so high up on our list.
4. Batman: The Man Who Laughs
Writer(s): Ed Brubaker
Artist(s): Doug Mahnke
In Gotham City, the police, led by Captain James Gordon, are investigating a shed full of corpses, all characterized by a strange pale complexion and an abnormal muscle contraction of the face, which forms almost a grin.
Batman suspects a strange weapon and that these victims could be some kind of guinea pigs; he speculates that this could be the beginning of a series of similar crimes.
During a television news report on the latest renovations of Arkham Asylum, a character dressed in purple, smiling, with white skin, green hair and scarlet lips, after killing cameraman and reporter with a chemical weapon, threatens to kill a wealthy chemical industrialist, Henry Claridge, who will die at midnight that evening.
In addition, in an Arkham cell, the insane criminal leaves the inscription: “”One by One, they’ll hear my call. Then this wicked town, will follow my fall.” Claridge, guarded in his mansion by both the police and Batman, dies anyway at the stroke of midnight, poisoned by a slow-release gas that changes his skin color and leaves a strange grin on his face.
That same evening, the Joker, nicknamed so by the mass media, frees some psychotic inmates on the streets of the city, wreaking havoc that the Dark Knight tries to neutralize. The next victim, announced and then killed, is another chemical industrialist, Jay W. Wilde, and Batman suspects a link between the murders.
Investigating the same old chemical plant where Red Hood once fell into the sewage (actually the Joker before he became what he is now), Batman suspects that he and the new criminal are the same people.
When the Joker threatens Bruce Wayne himself, who gets infected but is saved thanks to an antidote, Batman understands the meaning of his stanzas: as the criminal has “fallen”, so must the whole city follow him. Batman thus travels to the Gotham Reservoir, where he prevents the Joker from poisoning drinking water and delivering the criminal to Arkham Asylum.
Brubaker’s one-shot, The Man Who Laughs, is one of the Joker’s most important stories; it also filled the narrative gap between some elements in Batman’s early career. While not an artistic masterpiece as the titles in the top three, The Man Who Laughs is certainly interesting enough to merit a high spot on our list.
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth
Writer(s): Grant Morrison
Artist(s): Dave McKean
Published: October 1989
Commissioner Gordon informs Batman of a riot in Arkham. Under the leadership of the Joker, the patients seize power in the hospital, but they are in no hurry to escape. In order to release the hostages, the inmates demanded Batman visited them in the Asylum.
After talking on the phone with his arch-enemy, the Joker lures Batman in Arkham: as soon as the Bat hints at a possibility of refusal, the villain begins to comment out loud how he knocks out 19-year-old Pearl, who works in the kitchen in the hospital, with a pencil. As soon as the hero is within the walls of Arkham, all entrances and exits are closed.
The Joker, as promised, releases the hostages (Pearl has both eyes on the spot – it was just a joke, since it was April Fools’ Day), except for the psychiatrists Cavendish and Adams, who remained voluntarily. The Joker begins a sophisticated torture, forcing Batman to pass the word association test arranged by Dr. Adams. Then, the psychopath decides to play hide and seek, giving the hero a little time and letting the whole Arkham pack on him.
The real hunt for the Bat begins. Batman’s desperate attempts to gain control over the situation would seem banal if not for the adjacent pages of the book with disturbing metaphors and subconsciousness, strange and impressive visual images, and reflections on the line between sanity and insanity.
The authors give a short but vivid psychological portrait of each of the residents of the hospital. Among them: Two-Face, in a difficult situation – the doctors took the fateful coin from him and gave him a fortune-telling tarot deck, so now the poor man is forced to choose not from two, but from 78 options, and cannot even decide whether to go to the toilet or not; Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Clayface, Maxie Zeus, and Doctor Fate, dreaming of getting even with the offender and looking forward to the Joker toying with the Batman.
Finally, the Clown himself – the Prince of the Crime, whose obsession with getting the Dark Knight takes on a particularly ugly form here: the lines spoken by the maniac are painted in blood red, and his smile seems absolutely inhuman.
Wanting to prove that Batman is as insane as any patient in Arkham, a grinning demon leads him through all the circles of hospital hell. In the final, Two-Face is entrusted with the decision on Batman’s ultimate fate. Tossing a coin, he says that Batman is free; only he and the reader know that in fact, the coin fell on the “evil” side. Observing the agreement, the Joker escorts the arch-enemy to the door, joking in the end that there is always a place for him here.
This non-canon story is absolutely mesmerizing in every possible aspect. Grant Morrison crafted a brilliant, ingenious story, and with Dave McKean’s truly majestic artwork, Arkham Asylum entered comic book history as one of the best and most intriguing Batman stories ever written.
2. The Killing Joke
Writer(s): Alan Moore
Artist(s): Brian Bolland
Published: March 1988
A psychological fight ensues between Batman and his nemesis, the Joker. The latter has escaped from Arkham Asylum and plans to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. All of this, he’s doing in order to prove that the perfect citizen can go insane after having a really bad day. To prove his theory, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, crippling her. He then undresses her, takes pictures of her and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon to take him to an abandoned amusement park.
With the help of his accomplices, the Joker undresses Gordon, takes him on a merry-go-round, and forces him to look at photos of his injured daughter. Thereafter, Gordon is put in an animal cage where he is humiliated by the Joker and his accomplices who are found in “freak shows”. Batman arrives at this point, and after a short duel against the Joker, the Joker escapes inside another merry-go-round.
James Gordon is released and despite the hardships he has gone through, he has not gone mad. After making sure Gordon is okay, Batman chases the Joker into the clown’s house. After a fight, Batman captures the Joker and offers to help him in order to cure his madness. The Joker refuses, because according to him, it is too late for a cure.
Afterward, the Joker tells Batman a joke and, at the end of the joke, the Joker and Batman laugh together as the police arrive to apprehend the dangerous criminal.
Along with the main story, we are told one of the possible origins of the Joker (the latter claiming to have in fact several versions, which casts doubt on the one presented in this story). He was initially an engineer who quit his job in a chemical factory to become a comedian. But he totally fails in this new job.
Discouraged, because he must financially support his pregnant wife, he is hired by professional criminals who want to steal money from a factory of playing cards, accessible only through the chemical factory. These criminals hire naïve people who have valuable information for their crimes and make them put on the Red Hood’s helmet, a large red helmet, as well as a purple costume, in order to pass them off as the leader of their gang.
On the day of the theft, the failed actor learns of the death of his pregnant wife. Although he no longer wants to do the job, he is forced into it by the criminals. Once inside the chemical plant, the trio are quickly spotted by plant security and the two criminals are shot and killed.
Thereafter, Batman appears to try to capture the Red Hood, but the comedian falls into an acid vat and ends up affected by the chemical; he still manages to make it out alive. When he sees his face colored and distorted by acid, he laughs, thus giving birth to the Joker.
As far as The Killing Joke is concerned, this controversial comic book is not just one of Alan Moore’s best works, it is also one of the most thrilling Batman stories ever written. An inconclusive version of the Joker’s origins, The Killing Joke has shocked readers back in 1988 and has continued doing so even today, which is why we placed it so high up our list.
1. The Dark Knight Returns
Writer(s): Frank Miller
Artist(s): Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Published: February – June 1986
The Dark Knight Returns tells a story that begins 10 years after the retirement of the masked vigilante Batman. The heroes of this world have been made illegal and Superman, the last one in action, is an American government agent and a super-weapon used in cases of international war or crisis.
The increase in crime in Gotham City, brought on by the gang called “Mutants” and combined with an unusual sense of justice from Bruce Wayne, makes the former vigilante return from the darkness of retirement and face the criminals of the city.
Batman is portrayed by Miller as a man traumatized and tormented by his past, who uses intelligence and strength to bring about justice in a much more brutal and violent way compared to his previous activities, with the limit, however, on the principle of never killing criminals. The vigilante’s rebirth sets the world in an uproar.
Batman arouses opposing opinions; while he is called an outlaw and is accused of violating human rights, he wins the support of countless admirers, who appreciate his struggle to restore order, peace and justice. A new and controversial Robin emerges, a teenager named Carrie Kelley who adds more fuel to the media fire. The Joker, catatonic at Arkham Asylum, awakens as he watches the Dark Knight return, feeling motivated to return to active duty.
He sets off on a wave of limitless crime and insanity: he schedules a television interview but murders the entire audience with his laughing gas; goes on the run, seeks out, manipulates, and beats up Selina Kyle, the former Catwoman (who now runs an escort agency), to get at a high-ranking member and instigate a nuclear attack; he goes around town injuring and killing people until he manages to meet Batman to make him lose control and break his principles.
Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, apparently freed of his psychopathy and physically cured through brilliant plastic surgery, resumes his criminal career when he sees Batman in action. The psychological link between Batman and his two main adversaries is brought to light by Miller.
That’s when the US Government puts the Man of Steel on the heels of the masked hero, leading to an epic fight between the two characters, with Batman using intelligence and wit to balance the confrontation with a superpowerful enemy with heat vison, extreme strength, and invulnerability.
Although Batman has never been as obsessive and powerful of a character as Miller portrays him here, his work has been tremendously influential; since it was originally published, Miller’s characterization of the character as a dark and obsessive figure has dominated most Batman projects always with some level of intensity.
The story is set in an alternate future of the DC Universe, so it is not considered canon. However, certain elements of Miller’s tale would eventually appear in the pages of DC’s stories, most notably the backdrop to the series. For example, Miller’s Batman is tormented by the death of the second Robin, an event that would later be incorporated with the death of Jason Todd, as is Miller’s explanation of how the Green Arrow lost an arm (although the continuity here was slightly diverted).
The Dark Knight Returns is undoubtedly the best Batman graphic novel and one of the best Batman stories ever written. Miller’s cult classic narrative marked the beginning of the Modern Age of Comic Books and in that aspect, we are absolutely certain that it deserved the first spot on our list.
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