I woke up this morning to write an entirely different post on comics. Sitting down at my desk, I put on my Legend of Zelda Astro headphones and began to listen to “Batman Evolution” by The Piano Guys and suddenly my heart was racing and I was re-living my passion for the Batman comic franchise with an exhilaration that I haven’t felt in years, especially not where comics are concerned. As I sat there, utterly enveloped in the brilliant composition of pianoforte and stringed instruments, I realised that talking about comics is great, but what’s better is chatting about my own origin story. The one that shoved me headfirst into a universe that is as fabulously dark, twisted, and fuck-up as I am, to certain degrees. A character and the myriad number of stories surrounding him that had the biggest impact on who I am as both a content creator (author and artist) and comic lover. His influence has shaped my passions from reading to watching cinema to even crafting D&D campaigns. The one person that is so beautifully insane and the only one that I can never ever get enough of, especially if the tales are darker and more sinister than ever.
I’m talking about the gloriously mad yet quite human as they come superhero, Batman. He is the reason that I love comics with every ounce of my flesh and heart and soul.
If I were to talk to you about all of the reasons why I love Batman, y’all would probably be sitting through a dissertation of thousands of words. Rather than write up an essay on my obsession for Batman, I figured it would be better to share the very stories that ignited this fixation to begin with. The list crafted here was done so with great care for people who may not be familiar with Batman’s comic origins. People who may only known him through the films and television cinema that has been spawned by the very source materials I shall be sharing herein. So, if you’ve never read the comics (or have read very few of them) but find yourself an avid Bat-Fan, then this concoction of reads is for you, my friend. Prepare to be mind-fucked. (Clicking titles will take you to their DC pages.)
Fresh off the incredible run of Daredevil, Frank Miller was brought in to completely reimagine the beginning glories for The Dark Knight and what he managed to accomplish is nothing short of mastery. Year One focuses entirely on Bruce Wayne’s return to good ol’ Gotham after some international training. Once he lands on US soil, he realises that all the skills he obtained doesn’t mean shit if he doesn’t have strategy to go with it.
The beauty of this story lies in his shortcomings. He’s not the perfect ass-kicker that we all know and love. He’s new and soft and gets his ass pounded time and time again. Coupled with a young, headstrong copper named James Gordon, the twosome clash quite a bit while simultaneously forming one of the best friendships that Bruce shall ever have.
Story notwithstanding, the artistry—courtesy of immensely talented David Mazzucchelli—was unusual for its time. It’s minimalist and so bare. There aren’t any sidekicks, or badass utility tools to help naïve ol’ Bruce. All he has is a cheap costume and an unyielding determination to be a crime-fighting force of nature. This creates a truly grim yet tenacious tale, making Gotham and all of its fucked-up issues feel real and genuine, especially the sorrow and the suffering. Even after decades, it’s still one of the best Batman re-imagining’s out there.
When I first picked up Hush, I wasn’t expecting to like it. The cover art (read as a trade paperback rather than individual issues) was kind of average to me and the premise didn’t wow my heart. Yet, after cracking open the spine and coming upon the first action sequence, my reservations totally vanished.
One of the things that make Hush so brilliant is that while it can be cinematic in many respects, the vividness works as a superb complement to the villain’s methodical creepiness. Hush knows how to keep the tension tight. Claiming to know the secret identity of Gotham’s beloved crusader, Hush formulates an atmosphere of disturbing mystery and suspense, which has a domino effect that unleashes revelations of sombre secrets that even Bruce was unaware of.
My one-sitting read-through of Hush was filled with enraptured curiosity. I ended up really liking Hush quite a bit as a villain, and I adored the impact that it had on Batman as a character, as well as the force with which it influenced others around him.
Arguably one of the best comics of all-time, The Dark Knight Returns is a masterpiece for so many reasons and an absolute must-read for any who loves the iconic detective of the night. Honestly, this is the story that made me become a humongous Frank Miller fan.
It’s the best written comic in existence. Following an aging Bruce Wayne amid a futuristic Gotham, Miller’s crowning achievement is at once a contemplative social commentary of the era while illustrating the emotional prowess of the hunter becoming the hunted and the expiration date on romanticised ideals of justice.
The Dark Knight Returns is legendary with its supreme dialogues, seedy visuals and extraordinary action segments. Plus, the epicnes of so many familiar DC legends making an appearance such as The Joker, Two-Face, and even the Green Arrow. Then there’s the Man of Steel himself, Superman, who has been tasked with taking down the Bat for good. All of it accumulates in an epic climax of strong feelings, powerful pain, and a plethora of jaw-dropping moments.
If you were a fan of the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight films, then this is an undeniable must-read as it was the graphic novel that inspired those titles. Many people believe that The Long Halloween is the best Batman comic ever produced, and in many ways, I would agree.
Really putting a spotlight on the drastic ways the climate of Gotham shifted, the story basically follows a new generation of glamourous criminals that have dethroned the ruling mafia families. A promising district attorney named Harvey Dent rises out of the cloud of gauzy costumes to clean up the streets of Gotham, not realising that he would eventually become one of the most dangerous criminals in the city.
Aside from watching the mutation of Dent into Two-Face, what makes The Long Halloween so fabulous is that it’s one of the few that actually follows a whodunnit progression, for the most part. There is an irresistible seduction to showcasing the bad guys amid the chaos of devastating crimes. But to have a story where said villain is a mystery all its own is what truly sets this graphic novel apart. It’s profoundly captivating and wickedly engrossing, which leads to great satisfaction when all the pieces fall in place, or shatter completely in Dent’s case.
The artwork is also astounding. Between the panel composition and double-page splashes, with character designs that induce delightful artistic nostalgia for other Batman media—it all further enhances the ominous beauty that is The Long Halloween.
Following one of my favourite Batman villains ever, Mr Zsasz, how could I not put this on the bloody list? Oh, and did I mention it’s written by one of my favourite comic writers ever? Alan Grant is a fricking genius.
There are many reasons why people may not like this. Bruce isn’t running around solving a multitude of cases. He’s just focusing on one. No one important dies and there aren’t any flashy costumes going around. Yet, the story that takes place here can be so terrifying and chilling that the lack of everything else more than makes up for it.
Seemingly, Mr Zsasz is going around and murdering people in Gotham. The only problem is that Mr Zsasz is safely locked up at Arkham Asylum, so it can’t possibly be him. In order to solve this enigmatic case, Batman goes off the deep end and kills some innocent people (or makes it seem that way), which causes him to get locked up in Arkham as well. With a fresh opportunity at plundering the secrets of this creep-tastic institution, Batman gets to work fast. However, he doesn’t tell anyone about his genius plans, causing them to prepare a rescue mission, one that could jeopardise everything Bruce is doing.
Alan Grant is so fucking underrated, and more people need to scream about his work. What he does with The Last Arkham, the dramatics that he crafts coupled with Breyfogle’s talents at inducing razor sharp ambiance of terror, is exceptional. It concocts a truly sublime story that does wonderful justice to the malevolence that is Zsasz.
This one may be a surprise for many folx. I’ve noticed that it’s not typically on Batman recommendations lists, which is a shame because it’s a remarkable work. It’s one of the first comics that brought my attention towards Brian Azzarello.
The Joker is released from Arkham Asylum and is pretty pissed to discover how much his criminal empire as devolved. Getting swept up in the rage that follows this revelation, he spends a night ravaging the town in a way that only this madman can accomplish. All of it is told via one of the minions who joins him on this adventure of murder and mayhem. A few franchise familiars also make an appearance here.
This chilling graphic novel essentially works to dissect the complex psyche of the one of the most ruthless villains in existence, and what makes this one so damn fascinating is that it’s told from a completely different perspective. This allows The Joker’s unpredictability to radiate as the focal point of the narrative. We see someone who wishes to aspire to everything that his boss stands for with no fucking clue just what that means.
The night of savagery is supposed to provide insight into the madman, but all it does is further cement that The Joker is someone that can’t be figured out, at least not entirely. If you look deep enough, you may find some small strands of the man he was before he became who he is, but in the end, even that may just be another joke itself.
Another underrated comic writer, Ed Brubaker crafts a truly magnificent portrayal of The Joker’s jaw-dropping perverse nature and with The Man Who Laughs, it’s a gut-wrenching experience that you can’t stop reading. Anyone who is interested in The Joker, must read this because it captures everything he is so exceptionally.
What I personally loved about this was how unapologetically brutal it is with so much stunning violence and action. There are twists and turns that had me astonished and speechless throughout the whole gig. Also, Brubaker’s tendency for creating hard-hitting dialogue to churn the stomach shines spectacularly here, so much so that I was surprised to see it in a franchise addition.
Even though there is such a vast amount of savagery, the morbid humour that makes The Joker everything that he is doesn’t get abandoned in lieu of a psychotically unnerving narrative. Rather the playful edge of the villain’s persona brings his entire identity full circle, which is elevated to masterpiece level with Mahnke’s bold and disconcerting aesthetics. There’s attention to detail and precision to the artistry that, while setting it quite a bit apart from typical Batman works, also helps to keep it connected to its counterparts.
Probably one of the truly horror additions to the franchise, Death of the Family is a story that is powerful anguished and unfathomably riveting in scope.
Following the first two volumes of The Court of Owls with The New 52, this is the duo’s first Joker story and it grasps the unbelievable levels of insanity that can come from a single individual and runs absolutely wild with it. The consequences of what happens here resonate for years to come. If there’s ever a comic that I would love a film adaptation of, this would be it, more so if it’s from Guillermo del Toro or Ridley Scott.
The most unique thing about this graphic novel is Capullo’s artwork. It’s just so meticulously detailed while also being fantastically vivid and prominent. Some pages, particularly at critical scenes, feels like it’s in your face, which when coupled with Snyder’s sensational horror-infused storytelling makes for a spine-tingling ride of reading. The seediness and the melancholy that emanates off the pages when there isn’t a segment of mind-fuckery unravelling is wholeheartedly impeccable. The veil of unease just wraps you up and when the big moment arrives, you’re left on the floor in shock. I live for shit like this and crave more sincere renditions of horror within the franchise. They don’t get much better than Death of the Family.
My second all-time favourite Batman comic to ever have been crafted, Knightfall is where we see The Dark Knight at some of his most vulnerable after he goes head-to-head with one of his toughest foes ever, Bane.
Who is the man that broke Batman’s back? The one who forces him to pass the mantle on to another to accomplish what the Bat couldn’t? Bane. He is another villain that I love to read about. He’s so damn fascinating and his relationship with Batman is even more so (which is why I was so fucking disappointed by the adaptation of him in The Dark Knight Rises). He’s also very intelligent, which isn’t expected from someone as humongous and intimidating, and seeing that brilliance shine as the world falls apart was absolutely amazing.
Seeing Batman getting shoved into an impossible position and the repercussions that it has on Gotham, Batman’s family and friends, as well as on his mental state of mind, was excellent. The arc also highlights the fortitude of Batman and how it can be equal parts hopeful yet disastrous.
As someone who loves The Joker probably above all other characters in the entire Batman universe, not putting this on the list felt like a complete travesty. It’s my favourite Joker tale yet. No one does madness like The Joker. His brilliance and his unpredictability make him fucking, well, brilliant. But who the hell is he? Where did he come from? What do you have to endure to become THE JOKER?
The Killing Joke is a graphic novel that follows the greatest villain of all-time as he beautifully fucks with Jim Gordon while providing teasing morsels into his past, highlighting the possible trauma that eventually propelled him completely over the edge of sanity.
What makes The Killing Joke such a fucking masterpiece isn’t that it finally shines a light onto a potential origin story for The Joker, but that it’s also a sharp and devastating exposition on what separates good guys from bad guys, and the bad guys from the batshit fucking insane guys. How does brilliance complement madness? Are they one and the same? Is there a line that the truly insane won’t cross?
When you take all of these things and couple them with Alan Moore’s flair for the incomparably exquisite portrayal of the fucked-up and the lonely, you have something that shall be emblematic and legendary decades down the road, maybe much, much longer.
Not only is this my favourite Batman comic in existence, it’s my favourite comic ever written. I don’t understand the hatred that this receives because it’s an absolutely astounding work of art. Nothing captures the essence of what Bruce Wayne is and what he stands for more than Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth. It’s perfect. Perfect.
The problem that I have with many people who adore Batman is when they can’t see beyond his strength as a crime-fighter. Because he’s the hero taking down the baddies, naturally he can’t be fallible. He can do no wrong. He can’t be insane. But here’s the thing: Batman is just as insane as the people he takes down. The only difference is the side of line that he walks. This is an argument that is brought up time and time again by The Joker and is why The Joker is such a compelling nemesis for The Dark Knight. He sees exactly what the rest of the world is blind to: Batman is just as batshit fucking nuts as the rest of them.
My review (slightly outdated) discusses the bulk of why I love this graphic novel probably more than life itself in detail. Exposition asides, Morrison’s analysis is marvellously on-point. There is a picture wheel of menacing flashbacks to Bruce’s parents’ demise, which plays parallel to the Asylum’s origins. The first time I read it, I got chills. The second time, my heart raced at the little details I missed initially, and ever time I’ve picked it up afterwards, the transcending elucidation of Bruce’s madness just takes my breath away from beginning to end.
The only thing that makes it even better is the outstanding illustrations courtesy of Dave McKean. The portrayal of what madness is like from the eyes of the insane was brilliant. Combining pencil sketch base with a painting-like aesthetic, it transports the reader into the almost unbearably uncomfortable world of Arkham Asylum, bringing the dark and Gothic essence of the universe to life. It’s just so damn phenomenal.
Those are all of my favourite Batman comics. I plan on plundering through my collection of unread comics soon (now that my intense passion for the franchise has been awoken and stoked), so I hope to chat more about my love of Batman with more depth in the near future.
If you would like me to do a full detailed review/discussion of any of the titles listed above, please let me know in the comments. I’d be oh-so-happy to oblige.