It is Batman Day. And what better way to celebrate the existence of the Caped Crusader in our lives than to read the best stories featuring him? For, no matter how good Christopher Nolan’s films were, the Dark Knight’s REAL residence is in the comic book world. So if you are looking to add a little bit of Batman to your lives on the day devoted to him, we would suggest grabbing one of these ten masterpieces of storytelling featuring the Caped Crusader:
Batman: Strange Apparitions (1977)
Perhaps the first really great long running Batman storyline, Strange Apparitions set a new dimension for the Batman universe by making the Dark Knight truly vulnerable in both his avatars. His secret identity is discovered by the evil Doctor Hugo Strange, who tries to auction it. In personal life, he finds himself being increasingly drawn to the beautiful Silver St. Cloud, so much so that he almost considers unmasking himself in front of her. And adding to the fun is the Joker who has managed to poison the city’s fish supply. The stuff of dreams…and nightmares.
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
Gotham in state of disorder. Corrupt politicians obsessed with their own goals. The police helpless. And a gang of mutants running riot. The Batman is missing and has not been seen for a while. And then he returns. But can a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne inspire the same awe that he did in his youth? Or has age caught up with the caped crusader? There are some phenomenal fights in there, a villain who almost eats someone alive and a female Robin. There are many who believe that it was this storyline that inspired Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series. We think this is way better than the film.
The Killing Joke (1988)
Brilliant? Sick? Perverted? Genius? The adjectives surrounding one of the most spectacular clashes between the Batman and his bête noir, the Joker. We get a glimpse into what made the Joker the person he is. But any sympathy you have for him will evaporate when you read the extremely disturbing manner in which he tries to drive Jim Gordon insane. Of course, standing in his way all the way through is the Batman. Which paves the way for an epic ending in which both Batman and the Joker end up laughing together. What happens after that? They are still debating different interpretations when we last checked. One of the most critically acclaimed Batman stories, it is also one of the most disturbing.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989)
The eighties seemed to be a time for Batman to encounter some of the most twisted plots of his career – enough to drive a man, well, Batty. And one of the most insane (literally) was Arkham Asylum in which Gotham’s (in)famous sanatorium for the criminally and mentally unstable falls into the hands of its inmates. And they demand Batman in exchange for those they hold hostage. Of course, he wades right in. Of course, he has to deal with hell in the form of some of his most vicious enemies. With a remarkable narration and an insanely predictable storyline, this remains one of the most memorable Batman tales, and keeps getting special editions – we hear of a 30th anniversary issue coming in 2019.
This is the series that is perhaps the most traumatic for many Batman followers. It was the one in which a drug infused Bane methodically tires out the Batman, beats him to a pulp, breaks his back and then throws him into the street below, inflicting perhaps the biggest defeat the Caped Crusader has ever suffered. Of course, the story does not end there. Of course, Batman comes back (pun intended). But the path is a twisted one – a substitute Batman steps in and he has no qualms about killing criminals, and Robin is confused…and much much more. It is not just about Batman vs Bane. It is about Batman and the idea of the Batman, and how someone tries to change it.
Knight Out (1997)
Easily the smallest storyline of all those mentioned in this list, this one is remarkable for the simple reason that it features Bruce Wayne who is out on a date with a stunning model. And ends up having to fight crime without having the option to slip into his caped crusader avatar. Can Bruce Wayne fight crime as well as the Batman? We find out in perhaps one of the most hilarious adventures featuring Batman. Or make that, NOT featuring the Batman.
No Man’s Land (1999)
A massive earthquake devastates Gotham City. Things get so bad that the government orders the city evacuated and removes all access to it. But not everyone leaves the city. There are some who refuse to leave their homes. Others who cannot afford to. And they are the mercy of just about every criminal in Gotham because Arkham Asylum has been opened, and running wild on the streets are the likes of the Penguin, Two-Face, Scarecrow…and of course, there is the little matter of the man who laughs, the Joker. And even as a defiant Commission Gordon tries to restore sanity (staying back against government orders), guess who is missing in action? Well, Batman. For a while at least. No series has perhaps as wide a canvas of characters – from Batman’s sidekicks including a new Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman to just about every villain in the DC Universe, and even Superman puts in an appearance. The plots and sub plots will leave you dizzy and the death of a character in the end will leave you in tears. It is long, it is epic…and perhaps in terms of depth, the greatest Batman story arc ever written.
Dark Victory (1999-2000)
What would have happened if Raymond Chandler had been asked to script a Batman story? Well, the result would be something like the Dark Victory. The story revolves around a clash between Two-Face, the notorious Falcone family and Gotham’s legal team, with the caped crusader flitting in and out of the tale. There is as much politics and plotting as action on the menu, but what is most remarkable is the presentation, which is dark noir at its best with gothic overtones. The illustrations are minimalistic but there are few Batman stories that capture the grit of Gotham like this one does.
A new criminal in Gotham City. One who seems to be actually out thinking the Batman himself. And as things get complicated, just about every major Batman character floats into the fray, from Killer Croc to the Joker to Poison Ivy to Two-Face. And if that isn’t enough, this is also the storyline where Superman and Batman end up going at each other (Batman with that famous Kryptonite ring). In spite of all this, the series is best remembered by many for laying the foundations of the Batman-Catwoman romance (they have actually been married in one of the arcs).
Night of the Owls (2012)
An old society called the Court of the Owls are trying to get control of Gotham City by killing a number of key people. And their assassins, called Talons, are the closest thing to immortal that anyone has seen. If anyone can stop them, it is Batman? Or can he? Especially when the Talons manage to invade the Wayne Manor and even get into the Batcave. With a storyline that twists and turns, and amazingly dramatic, this is perhaps one of the most spectacular Batman stories of recent times.