LATEST IMAGES
View all 25 images »

Batman is the greatest comic-book character ever created. We say this with confidence, because it seems every writer has at least one Batman story to tell. No other character has more graphic novels and trade paperbacks. It's not even close. The list we initially compiled, which certainly missed at least a few out of print prestige-format books, rang it at more than 150 titles. That kicks Spider-Man, Superman and every other comic-book characters ass big time.

With so many Batman tales out there, it's tough to determine which you should read -- or at least which you should read first. We've read them all. That's right, we've gone through well over 100 Batman books to compile our list of the 25 best.

Putting together the list became a real challenge. To be honest, the top 20 came rather easily. There are certain books that really stand out. But the bottom five, which we reveal first, were really difficult. We had a dozen books we wanted to include and only five spots. Some of our favorites didn't make it, some great books of merit didn't get on the list. And for that reason we'll be including a list of honorable mentions, of other recommendations, when we reveal the Top 5 this Friday.

This list should not be seen as the only 25 good Batman books around. In fact, this is just a starting point. We hope you'll debate this list, come up with your own and, ultimately, give some books you've never read a chance. None of this is scientific and if you agree with all 25 books and the order we've placed them, you've got some issues that need working on.


Criteria


When making our selections, it became necessary to set up some ground rules. After all, Batman's adventures go beyond his own books. Do we count the JLA? What about something like Robin: Year One? Books were weighed against four criteria.
  • Format - Though we call this list "The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels," it's in a loose sense. Prestige format books (such as The Killing Joke), graphic novels (Son of the Demon) and trade paperbacks (Tales of the Demon) are all eligible.

  • A Batman Story - Batman needs to be involved in the story as a vital character. We love books such as Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood and Batman: Birth of the Demon, but these great tales are origins of other characters that scarcely utilize the Dark Knight. A JLA or any other story is eligible, provided Batman is in the lead role.

  • A Good Read - Sometimes too much importance is placed on the significance of a story rather than the quality of the storytelling. A story needs to be compelling beyond just the plot twists.

  • Indelible Mark - Great stories are unforgettable. It's not enough just to be a good read, each of these books must linger in our memories. Every book on this list has stayed with us even after the last page was read. These are books you tell people, "You just have to read this, if not your life will have less meaning."

#25 - #21


#25 Batman: Venom
Written by: Dennis O'Neil
Art by: Trevor Von Eeden & Russel Braun

Admittedly, Venom isn't the best-written tale around. Let's just say Batman literally jumps the shark towards the end. That being said, the images in this book have stayed with us for over a decade. Though the execution may not have been perfect, the concept is one of the best from the Legends of the Dark Knight series. Having found himself incapable of saving a little girl from drowning due to his all-too-human strength, The Batman falls into despair. Batman clings to grief and it's that remaining scrap of humanity that leads him down this dark and desperate path.

He finds a solution to his physical limitations through some experimental pills nicknamed "Venom." The pills, however, turn out to do more than boost Batman's strength. This is a superhero on steroids and yes, The Batman experiences 'roid rage. Ultimately, Batman must overcome his dependence and exact his revenge on his white-collar pusher.


#24 Batman: Knightfall Part One - Broken Bat
Written by: Chuck Dixon & Doug Moench
Art by: Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan and Jim Balent

Few events have been as traumatic as the breaking of Batman's back. While some were shocked that it was not the Joker, Two-Face or the Riddler who finally cracked Batman's will, the entrance of a newcomer seemed almost inevitable. After all, Batman learned long ago how to handle his regular crop of insane foes. Bane proves himself a brilliant adversary -- at least in this trade paperback.

What makes Knightfall Part One so memorable is not the actually snapping of Batman's back. It's the quick fall into despair that proves most shocking. The ending is a foregone conclusion as Batman is worn down both physically and mentally. The Batman's spirit is broken before his vertebrae and that's a feat you'll never see accomplished anywhere else.


#23 Batman: Nine Lives
Written by: Dean Motter
Art by: Michael Lark

Superman can't do noir, neither can Wonder Woman or Spider-Man. Batman, however, is a perfect fit for hard-boiled crime. In this Elseworlds tale, Dean Motter imagines a post WWII Gotham City rife with corruption, filled with no good hoodlums and championed by a man dressed like a bat. Nine Lives casts classic Batman villains as gritty noir crooks. Two-Face doesn't have the acid scars, but he's still a betrayer. Joker is a manic, card-playing, trigger-happy hustler. Despite the alterations, the bad guys stick to their personalities, which makes it all work brilliantly.

It turns out that everyone's been in bed with Catwoman -- everyone. From the two-bit hoods to private eye Dick Grayson to Bruce Wayne. So when Selina turns up dead, everyone becomes a suspect and the streets of Gotham explode in violence. While the ending falls a little flat,Nine Lives is one of the most unique and pleasurable Batman books ever written.


#22 Batman: The Man Who Laughs
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Doug Mahnke

Everyone knows the story of how the Joker came to be -- He fell into a vat of chemicals while running from The Batman. However, Brubaker examines the first time the Joker and Batman every battled after the accident. This is Batman's first taste of the madness that would strike Gotham City on a repeated basis and he is not prepared. As the Dark Knight notes, he was ready for pimps and thugs, not madmen.

This year one tale makes for a perfect companion to Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. It is not an examination of the Joker and his methods or motives. Instead, this is a look at the most critical moment in Gotham's history. From this point forward, the city and its citizens would never be the same and neither would The Batman.


#21 Batman: Thrillkiller
Written by: Howard Chaykin
Art by: Dan Brereton

Elseworlds stories are known for throwing preconceived notions about DC heroes and their world out the window. Chaykin's Thrillkiller is far more surprising than most. It stars Batgirl and Robin, with Bruce Wayne as one of the only good cops on the force. The Joker's an eccentric (and insane) lady and Catwoman's a bump-and-grind dancer at a popular nightclub. Nothing is quite what it should be and yet everything feels right.

This steamy noir thriller, set in the early '60s, is among the best Elseworlds stories ever told. The role reversals keep you on your toes. While everyone seems familiar -- Dick's family died at the circus, Bruce witnessed his parents' murder -- no one is quite what they are in continuity. This is what Elseworlds were mean to be, beyond just the situational gimmick.

#25 - #21
#20 - #16
#15-#11
#10 - #6
#5 - #1
Honorable Mentions
Email Your Thoughts
Discuss On Our Message Boards