Today’s article is going to be about comic books, or – to be more precise – about a very specific group of stories featuring Batman. The stories in question are his detective stories and we are going to bring you a list of the best among them. So be sure to check out the 10 greatest Batman detective stories.
DC Comics, for those of you that are not familiar with the story behind the comics, is a major American comic book publisher founded back in 1934. Along with Marcel Comics, it is the most popular comic book publisher in the United States. DC Comics is a major player in the comic book business and is the “home” of many famous comic book characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and many others.
Batman is probably one of the most famous (if not the most famous) comic book character in history. The stories about Gotham City’s Dark Knight have been popular for decades now and have created a multimedia franchise consisting of movies, TV shows, video games and a lot of other merchandise. But, who is Batman?
Batman is the secret superhero alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a billionaire playboy based in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is the owner of Wayne Enterprises, a successful company based in Gotham City and is the heir of the Wayne estate. He lives alone in Wayne Manor, on the outskirts of Gotham, with his butler and trusted friend, Alfred Pennyworth.
Wayne’s life has been defined by a tragedy he had witnessed as a child. Namely, one night Bruce went to the movies with his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne.
His father decided to take a shortcut through an alley after exiting the theatre, but he did not know that an unknown mugger was standing there, waiting for his prey.
The mugger attacked and ultimately killed both Thomas and Martha Wayne, but spared the life of young Bruce, who was left to the care of Alfred Pennyworth.
The mystery of his parents’ murder played an important role in Bruce Wayne’s life and was a key fact in his decision to become the vigilante Batman.
Believing that criminals are a “a cowardly and superstitious lot“, Bruce Wayne decided to put on Batman’s cowl, taking inspiration for the name and the design from a childhood experience with bats.
Frank Miller’s important Batman: Year One comic book depicts Batman’s beginnings as a vigilante in Gotham and since that moment, he has become a symbol of Gotham City and a name used with fear among the city’s criminals.
While fighting regular villains and members of his Rogue’s Gallery, Batman has also tried to solve the murder of his parents, ultimately finding out that they were killed by a street criminal named Joe Chill.
The Batman mythos has grown with time and with it also Batman, who has evolved from a solitary vigilante to the leader of the Batman family (or Batfamily), which includes several other superheroes like Batgirl, Batwoman, former Robins Nightwing, Red Robin, Spoiler and others. Currently, Batman is aided by his son Damian Wayne (his mother is Talia al-Ghul, Ra’s al-Ghul’s daughter), who is also the fifth and incumbent Robin.
Batman has been present in other media, as well as in the comic books. The first major adaptation was the 1960s camp TV show starring Adam West, after which there have been several animated adaptations.
An important event was Tim Burton’s 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton, which launched a film series during the 1990s. In the same period, Paul Dini created Batman: The Animated Series where Batman was voiced by Kevin Conroy; the show gained a cult following and is generally praised as one of the best adaptations of Batman ever.
Christopher Nolan revitalized the movies with his Dark Knight trilogy. Batman is currently a part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s response to the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Batman as a detective
Batman is primarily known as a superhero vigilante (although he actually doesn’t have any inherent superpowers, he’s just a man with a lot of sophisticated technology), but there is one – often forgotten – side to his persona that is as important as the other ones, because Batman would not be a successful crime fighter without it, even thou he knows a lot of martial arts.
So, what is this all about?
Well, whether you knot this or not, Batman is, among all the nicknames, known as The World’s Greatest Detective! He has a genius-level intellect and is great at logical reasoning, which is why he is able to utilize his detective skills with great success. This is not surprising, as one of the major influences for Batman was none other than the great Sherlock Holmes, arguably the greatest literary detective ever.
Batman’s detective skills have been of use on many occasions and although most of his stories would fall into the superhero genre of comics, there are several notable narratives that could be easily described as crime stories; a list of the best ones is the main topic of this text.
His detective skills are unmatched in the fictional universe. Along with the above mentioned nickname, Batman is also given the honorific title “Detective” by none other than Ra’s al-Ghul; this is actually a sign of great respect by one of his greatest foes. The only other character who received that same title from Ra’s is Tim Drake, the third Robin.
Along with his intellect and deduction skills, Batman relies heavily on the help of the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), most notably James Gordon, his allies (most notably Barbara Gordon while in the role of Oracle) and on his Batcomputer, which is a highly advanced system and a large database full of all sorts of data.
Now that we have explained everything, let us see the best Batman detective stories.
Greatest Batman Detective Stories
We have decided to bring you a list of the 10 best detective stories involving Batmand and here they are:
1. Batman: The Long Halloween (1997)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Plot: The plot is set during Batman’s early days as Gotham’s Caped Crusader. A mysterious serial killer calling himself Holiday is killing people in Gotham on holidays, one victim each month; the murders are always holiday-themed in some way. Batman has to work with James Gordon and DA Harvey Dent to track down the Holiday Killer, while balancing the power games involving Carmine Falcone and Gotham’s other criminals.
Significance: The Long Halloween is not just one of the best Batman stories of all time, it is a pivotal story in the development of his character. Unanimously praised, this comic book has gained a large following and has influenced both Christopher Nolan and Matt Reeves in their directorial approaches to Batman. As far as the detective aspect is concerned, The Long Halloween is a true-crime thriller with very little “supernatural” or “superhero” elements and it could easily be presented as a real-life crime with some “weird” characters, like those you’ll find in David Lynch movies. Although the case was not solved in a classical Sherlockian manner, Batman’s detective skills were really put to the test.
2. Batman: Dark Victory (2000)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Plot: Set several months after the events of The Long Halloween, Dark Victory is actually a direct sequel to the afore mentioned story. It follows Batman and Robin in their quest to track down a new serial killer in Gotham, The Hangman, whose methods are very similar to Holiday’s, with his gimmick being the famous word game, instead of holidays. Alongside this, Batman has to deal with Two-Face’s plot to take revenge on Gotham for turning him into a monster.
Significance: Although not considered as good as The Long Halloween, Dark Victory has still received positive reactions and is considered a must-read for Batman fans. This comic is the conclusion to the main arc of the Loeb-Sale series (Catwoman: When in Rome is a tie-in story set outside the main arc, even outside Gotham) and gives an even better insight into Batman’s early days. It is still a very realistic story and makes good use of Batman’s advanced detective skills.
3. Batman: Hush (2003)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Jim Lee
Plot: Batman is stalked by a mysterious new supervillain calling himself Hush, like the children’s lullaby. He seems to know everything about Batman and can predict his every move, which is why the Dark Knight is having much trouble coping with him, while simultaneously dealing with his other foes, a lot of which seem to be – in one way or the other – connected to the mysterious Hush.
Significance: Hush is a pivotal Batman story from the modern area and yet another masterpiece written by Jeph Loeb. The character of Hush debuted in the best possible way and became one of the most interesting and dangerous members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Although not your classical detective story, Hush features a lot of detective elements and the mystery of Hush’s identity is truly great. If you happen to come across an animated movie with the same name, don’t get your hopes up – it’s just a rough adaptation and it’s actually pretty bad, so don’t bother unless you’re a die hard fan.
4. Gotham by Gaslight (1989)
Writer: Brian Augustyn
Artist: Mike Mignola
Plot: This story is set in 1889 in a Victorian-era inspired Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is once more the masked vigilante Batman and has to deal with the British serial killer, Jack the Ripper, who has arrived in Gotham City from London. As Bruce Wayne is framed and convicted of being a murderer, Batman, with the help of James Gordon, has to solve the case, clear the name of his alter ego and discover Jack the Ripper’s true identity.
Significance: Although the official banner appeared two years later, Gotham by Gaslight is the first official Elseworlds story, which is enough to prove its historical importance. But it is on all accounts a truly great story which is a must-read for all Batman fans and a great vision of Batman as a historical persona. The comic is today still very influential and it even had a lesser-known sequel, Batman: Master of the Future, that released in 1991 and was set in 1892, three years after the original story. The comic book was also adapted as an animated movie in 2018, but the movie differs a lot from the original story (it even includes elements from both books), which is why we don’t recommend it as a good reference point to understanding the story. After the revamp, this story was allocated to Earth-19.
5. Batman: The Black Mirror (2011)
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Jock, Francesco Fancavilla
Plot: The plot revolves around Dick Grayson, wearing Batman’s cowl instead of Bruce Wayne, as he tracks down several super villains connected to a complex weapons-dealing plot. At the same time, he must confront James Gordon Jr., Commissioner Gordon’s son-turned-serial-killer.
Significance: Scott Snyder’s first important work on Batman was so good that it was described as the prototype Batman story for the 21st century. The dark and gritty atmosphere, the bizarre narrative and the general composition of the comic book place Snyder’s Black Mirror among the best Batman stories of the modern area. This is especially important because it’s actually a Dick Grayson (Nightwing) story, i.e., a story where Dick Grayson wore Batman’s costume as a replacement for his mentor, Bruce Wayne. This story also features a lot of detective work and although we don’t actually see The World’s Greatest Detective (i.e., Batman), Grayson has still proven a worthy successor.
6. Batman: Heart of Hush (2009)
Writer: Paul Dini
Artists: Dustin Nguyen
Plot: Hush returns in Paul Dini’s sequel to Batman: Hush and devises a plot to kill Batman before the Black Glove organisation. Knowing how to hurt Batman, Hush kidnaps Catwoman, his lover, and surgically removes her heart. He then leaves a series of clues for Batman to trace in order to find the heart and save Catwoman, or face his own tragic demise.
Significance: Although considerably less known than Hush, Paul Dini’s (creator of Batman: The Animated Series) Heart of Hush is an interesting and worthy sequel to one of the greatest Batman stories. This story successfully continues the Hush saga and presents a truly thrilling and gripping story. The fact is that, although not as famous, this story features a lot more detective work and resembles a classic detective story more than Hush, which is why it is definitely worth a read. Dini is known as a great and authentic storyteller, which is guarantee enough that this story will also live up to its presumed standards.
7. Batman: Broken City (2004)
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso
Plot: While investigating the murder of Elizabeth Lupo at the hands of Killer Croc, Batman pursues her brother, Angel, only to witness a scene where a mugger kills the parents in front of their child. Seeing the resemblance with his own trauma, Batman loses his mind in pursuit of Angel, interrogating almost every criminal in Gotham. He soon learns that things are not as they seem and that he might have to change his point of view.
Significance: The objective significance of this story is not that big, since it is only a part of a larger narrative published in that year’s Batman comic run. The story itself, though, is very interesting and demonstrates that Azzarello is a truly gifted writer. This story found its way on our list because it has a lot of detective elements and is one of the better examples of Batman’s deductive skills.
8. Batman: War on Crime (1999)
Writers: Paul Dini, Alex Ross
Artist: Alex Ross
Plot: After Bruce Wayne rejects a plan by corrupt businessman Randall Winters to replace the whole Bayside area, Batman finds a crime scene in that same area, where a young boy named Marcus witnessed the murder of his parents by a street thug – an event which mirrors his own childhood trauma. While helping Marcus overcome his trauma, Batman must also realise that he can help Gotham even without his cowl.
Significance: Also a lesser-known work, this collaboration between Paul Dini and Alex Ross is a very interesting piece of reading. Despite not being overly popular, it was a best-seller back in the day and has won three awards, which you could’ve expected from a collaboration between two legends like Dini and Ross. This is likewise a very realistic story with lots of detective elements and for those of you that prefer a less superhero-driven story, War on Crime is definitely a good pick.
9. Batman: Ego (2000)
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Plot: After stopping the Joker, Batman is exhausted, both mentally and physically. Having not been able to save one of Joker’s former thugs from committing suicide, Batman ends up having a psycho-existential crisis where his id, represented by the Batman persona, challenges his superego, represented by the Bruce Wayne persona. In order to continue his life as a sane man, Batman must dive deep into his psyche and resolve the conflicts that polarise his two extreme sides.
Significance: This psychological story has been praised by most critics and readers, although it is very much unknown within the Batman canon. This is a rare gem that certainly deserves your attention if you’re interested in the depths and layers of Batman’s psyche. Cooke has done a great job in sketching Batman and Bruce Wayne and all the great internal conflicts that make the Caped Crusader the legend he is today. This is far from a classic detective story, but the mystery of Batman’s psyche and the uncovering of different layers, reasons and explanations in this process are certainly worth your time.
10. Batman: Year One (1987)
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: David Mazzucchelli
Plot: Miller’s legendary story follows Batman’s first year as the Dark Knight of Gotham. It is a completely realistic story that follows his fight against Gotham’s criminal underworld long before the appearance of his Rogues Gallery, but also his first encounter with James Gordon and the development of their future alliance and friendship.
Significance: Miller’s Year One is without a doubt one of the most important and best Batman comics. Not only does it provide a canon story about the beginning of his career, it sets the tone and the setting for his later adventures. It has been adapted in the form of a great animated movie and has influenced Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy. As far as the story is concerned, due to the fact that this is a realistic story set long before Batman’s Rogues Gallery appeared, it relies heavily on Batman’s investigative and detective work, which is why it is on our list of the best detective stories featuring Batman.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!