Batman: Where Do I Start?

In a world of brightly colored superheroes flying and swinging around comic book stores, Batman sets a strong precedent of a different kind of super-hero. Dark, brooding, and willing to go to the extreme to get what he’s after. Unlike most other super-heroes Batman is without powers, relying more on his wits and ingenuity than paranormal powers be they magical or genetic. Although people point to Superman as the world’s most popular hero, if you look at comic sales, movie grosses or even their shared publisher’s origin of its name – “D”etective “C”omics – Batman’s the man behind the goliath.

But with 70+ plus years of history to comb through and multiple series coming out each month, where do I start? You don’t need Oracle to help you out in that regard… you’ve got iFanboy. Here’s five entry points into the world of Batman, Bruce Wayne and Gotham City that’ll cover the bases for a rewarding experience. No utility belt required.

Batman: Year One: Although Batman’s origins has been told numerous times, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli take on the costumed crusader’s first year as Batman and turn into a seminal street-level story that has cast a long shadow on every Batman story to come. Both the Christopher Nolan Batman films as well as Scott Snyder’s current run on Detective Comics have their roots in this 1988 four-issue arc, and it touches not only on Batman but also his extended family of Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon and the Wayne family itself.

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Although he didn’t become the chief Batman writer until over twenty years after this came out, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum (with artist Dave McKean) took Gotham’s super villain prison and made it a character unto itself in Batman’s carnival-like world. In this graphic novel, Joker and other inmates of Arkham take over the prison and carve out a list of demands beginning and ending with one thing: Batman. Gotham’s crusader delves into the haunted halls of Arkham to save the hostages and put a stop to the rampage of his rogue’s gallery, but not without putting his own life to the test.The Killing Joke:

Gotham Central: In The Line of Duty: To get to know the man, you must know where he lives – and the late 90s series Gotham Central does that to the hilt. This series by writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka explore Gotham City through the eyes of its Special Crimes Unit, as they take on Batman’s biggest villains … and on occasion, Batman himself. Both Brubaker & Rucka have gone on to extensive careers in crime fiction in and out of the world of super-heroes, and Gotham Central remains a keystone in both their – and Batman’s story.

Batman: The Killing Joke: They say every hero is defined by his adversary, and who more perfectly defines that than the Joker? This seminal story transforms the comedic cackling criminal into a stone-cold force we know today. With the pointless shooting of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s inventive story took both the reader and the franchise to a new place and set up stories that live to this day. Bolland’s art in particular made the mold for how Joker would be depicted in the future, from Jim Lee to Jack Nicholson and on to Heath Ledger.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Batman would be in a far different place had Frank Miller never come along, but fortunately for us he did. In This futuristic story sets up Gotham City as hell on earth, with street gangs roaming the city and Batman missing for the past ten years. Much like the epic Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven, Bruce Wayne is pulled back in for one last mission – to save the city, despite whoever comes to stop him. The aged Batman enlists a new, female Robin and goes after cultish street gangs, criminals and even Superman himself to bring his city back from the brink.

Comments

  1. Gonzo says:

    All solid choices.  I would add The Long Halloween and Dark Victory to the list.  Heck, I would even put Hush in there.  That was the first Batman comic I ever read and it got way more into the series and comics as a whole.

  2. NathanNicdao NathanNicdao says:

    These are pretty much it from beginning to “end”, great job. This is very tall order, indeed.

  3. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Hit all the essentials here, I think (not a Long Halloween fan). Batman Year One is the big one. That and Arkham Asylum are the character defining books in my opinion. 

    If people want to track the latest stuff, the Morrison era is a fairly straight line from Batman & Son.  

  4. RocketRacoon RocketRacoon says:

    I know it’s recent but the Morrison stuff deserves an honorable mention. I’d say the fiirst 3 B&R HC’s and the return of Brucea Wayne are good places to start.

  5. pyynk pyynk says:

    Wow. Good calls! The only other thing I can even think of tossing in is Batman: The Animated Series.

  6. homimich says:

    I’d suggest watching the Adam West Batman series for 72 hours straight and then reading Dark Knight Returns. This will give you a pretty clear example of just how amazing Miller’s work truly was.

  7. JLA1 says:

    I believe if you really want to know THE Batman Year One, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are essetional and so are the O’Neil and Adams stories they actually revitalized THE BATMAN before Frank Miller even got his hands on him. Most people forget that fact along with the Englehart,Rogers, and Austin Era. I believe Mr.Montgomery you missed a few very key creative teams in this list ;)

  8. JLA1 says:

    Ooops I meant Chris Arrant

  9. Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Hush (and some other non Bat titles) were very critical for bringing me back into comics after a decade away. 

    Batman the Animated series is so great on its own. Completely essential for anyone who has any interest in the character.  

  10. Tork Tork says:

    In recent years, I’ve found Batman: Ego becoming one of favorite Batman stories and “Deju Vu,” the remake of “Night of the Stalker” that shows up in the TPB might seriously be one of the greatest Batman stories ever.

  11. Funcrusher Funcrusher says:

    Great list and all must-reads. I’m not sure Gotham Central is a ‘Batman’ book though, nonetheless it is a really great series and I’m happy it’s on the list. DKR was my first graphic novel and it is still my favorite. Also, I believe the Morrison run will be legenday when it’s done if it isn’t already.

  12. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    Arkham Asylum has my favorite subtitle of any comic ever. “A Serious Tale on Serious Earth”

  13. cahubble09 cahubble09 says:

    Year One, Killing Joke, and DKR are all favorites of mine. But I would also add the first two Batman Chronicles trades, which collect the earliest Golden Age books. Seeing Batman progress from an uber-violent vigilante gunning down monsters from his Batplane to a law and order character in the space of a year or so is really intriguing (agitation against violence in comics began far earlier than the 50s). I would also suggest O’Neil and Adams first collaboration in Detective Comics 395 as well as Englehart’s run collected in Strange Apparitions. For me, getting a sense of the grand arc of Batman–from the (literally) murderously dark and gritty tone of the early Golden Age, through the sci fi/family-friendly/campy inflected material of the fifties and sixties, and to the character’s renaissance in the late seventies and beyond–has been a lot of fun.

  14. JNewcomb JNewcomb says:

    Not easy to choose from so much content but this is a very well aimed list.

  15. Knarfenstein Knarfenstein says:

    @Gonzo  Agree The Long Halloween and Datrk Victory deserve a mention as well. 

    Also EGO was a terrific read! 

  16. whirlwindx whirlwindx says:

    Gotham Central is early 2000′s but otherwise good list. I’m enjoying these features.

  17. ericmci ericmci says:

    I think having someone Start with Morrison’s Batman
    would be the equivalent to having someone learn a language form scartch in a remote village with a very unique dialect then asked to teach that language at a proper university.

  18. What about “A Death in the Family?” That was pretty significant for many reasons. Felt like a bridge to modern times. Even though its prob a 2nd tier book, “The Cult” has always been a favorite of mine..just a weird story with cool art. 

  19. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    @wallythegreenmonster  Death in the Family was actually my first Batman.

  20. srh1son srh1son says:

    Batman: The Animated Series.  There’s immersing yourself in the world, and then there’s immersing yourself in the world.

  21. Meekrob81 Meekrob81 says:

    @RocketRacoon  While I think that Morrison’s work is great, I think it’s a hard place to start.  I know this from personal experience, as a semi-new comic reader.  I tried to start on it, and there are so many questions that never get answers.  I had to go back and read a lot of previous stuff in order to figure out what the heck was going on with the series.  Only after I read Final Crisis, Battle For the Cowl, and Batman R.I.P. did I really fully understand what was going on.  AND I use the word “fully” very loosly. 

  22. @josh –so did you vote?….or did you get the series later?

  23. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    @wallythegreenmonster  It was my first trade. I don’t think it was too long after the actual event. I didn’t vote.

  24. ctrosejr ctrosejr says:

    @Chris Arrant: I have to respectfully disagree with your choices.  While I would say that all of your recommended titles are important Batman works, if not the most important, they are not new reader friendly, with the exception of Gotham Central which fails on a technicality, as it is not really a Batman book.  

    I recently started reading Batman comics, and my experience was that Arkham Asylum and Killing Joke are really better left to readers who are familiar with both the Joker and Batman.  I could appreciate the quality of the books, but I did not find them satisfying.  The writing is dense and abstract, which is not a bad thing, per se, just not new reader friendly either.  I feel I would have appreciated these books more if I had more familiarity with the characters and their history beforehand.  

    Further, these titles also seem to be more of an ending rather than a beginning.  Really, what do you read after reading one of these titles?  What’s the next logical progression for the reader? Similarly, as I mentioned above, these are probably the best Batman related works out there.  As a reader, you have nowhere to go but down from here if you are a Batman fan.

    Instead, I would suggest that readers pick up Batman and Son and go forward from there, like Paul recommended, or jump forward past R.I.P. storyline and go directly to Batman and Robin, Vol. 1 – 3, like RocketRacoon recommended.  Of the all the Batman trades that I read over the last year (which is in the double-digits), the more recent Morrison run has been the most enjoyable to me.  

  25. ctrosejr ctrosejr says:

    I would also recommend Hush for new readers.

  26. Kory Kory says:

    Batman Year One was the comic that got me reading comics full time.  Not only is it my favorite Batman story, it’s my favorite comic period.

  27. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    @ctrosejr  I would disagree with your disgreement. I’d never give anyone Batman and Son or Hush over the books listed above. As a kid, books like Batman: Year One, Arkham Asylum, and The Dark Knight Returns were all entry points to Batman for most of my friends. If kids in the 80s/90s can handle that stuff as entry points, adults certainly can.

  28. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Here’s the thing. Batman is such a cultural touchstone, that if there’s a person out there who wants to read Batman, but hasn’t, I find it highly unlikely that they lack the fundamental understanding of the character required to take on Arkham Asylum or Killing Joke. 

    I wasn’t recommending people start with Morrison’s Batman & Son in advance of these titles. I meant that people who’d already read the essentials (Chris’ list) and wanted to get into modern continuity after time away from the ongoing story, could feasibly track the new stuff.  

  29. @PaulMontgomery  –yeah i totally agree with that. Unless they have been culturally isolated for their entire lives they get the idea of Batman. If they have any interest in starting reading some comics, there is a VERY HIGH chance that they’ve at least seen the Nolan Movies so really the idea would be getting em the best stories. I see what you’re doing here….

  30. flakbait flakbait says:

    The JLI has lots of fun Batman moments, for anyone interested in Bats in the larger context of the DC U.

  31. RocketRacoon RocketRacoon says:

    @ctrosejr  agreed on starting with Batman & Son, and go forward from there.

    Also, I don’t think someone diving in lacks the basic idea of what Batman is at heart. While I certainly appreciate, some of the titles mentioned here, I’d still recommend that a new reader start with Batman & Son. Morrison’s run like @ctrosejr said, is a beginning, and again probably the best point to begin for a new reader. If you give someone Batman & Son, and they are interested enough in it to read through Return in Bruce Wayne then you’ve probably made a reader for lie.

    While the other books, namely the Killing Joke, and Year one, don’t give you a greater sense of the character, and his continuity.

    Again, just my two cents, but still firmly believe that Morrison’s run is the place to start.

  32. Great list. Agreed that Long Halloween should most definitely appear. That was the first comic i ever read, and i freakin loved it!

    Probably not an essential, but worth a mention… Batman Year 100 by Paul Pope. And what about Gotham By Gaslight? The elseworld titles really help round off the mythos of the Batman

  33. I love Long Halloween. It might even be my favourite Batman story. But I wouldn’t say it’s a good starting point. Not moreso than the titles mentioned above anyway.

    And if somebody wanted a jumping on point for the modern run, I’d give them the first Batman & Robin trade and hope it didn’t blow their mind too much.

  34. Funcrusher Funcrusher says:

    @PaulMontgomery  I agree as well, Year One may technically be the best book on the list (I like DKR), but it doesn’t really tell anyone things they don’t already know about the charachter. Batman and Son is an excellent starting point to modern day Batman. Many of my friends ask me who is the little kid….

    Also, the Batman and Son contains the prose issue “Clown at Midnight” which is AWESOME.

  35. Vuk Vuk says:

    Me thinks this list would require a part two of storylines to track down once this very core group of books has been covered.

  36. JasonB35 JasonB35 says:

    I really like this list. Dark Knight Returns is what got me really into Batman.  I agree Long Halloween would be a good addition but rather than the Morrison stuff, I would hand someone the No Man’s Land trades and let them go from there.

  37. lawnbuddha lawnbuddha says:

    I completely agree with everything on this list. Arguments may be had over what would be 6-10…Those are pretty much the complete picture for someone new to the Bat

  38. Minion Minion says:

    I still haven’t read Killing Joke.

  39. batman batman says:

    The Long Halloween is one of my favorites as well. I also particularly enjoy Lee and Miller’s “All-star” run, even though it was left unfinished.

  40. Thursday Thursday says:

    I actually think the mileage on DKR is limited depending on the age of the person. As somoene born the month the first issue came out, DKR is still a good read, but it feels a little…dated. While it takes place in the future, that view feels very 80s. My future Batman is Beyond.

    All of these others are classics, though I have some misgivings about Killing Joke, but not enough to discourage people from seeking it out (I just love Barbara too much). I think Long Halloween is fantastic, and Hush is actually what got me reading Batman in comics, as it hit a lot of the notes I loved from growing up with BTAS.

  41. Thursday Thursday says:

    I also would ad the Morrison-era JLA story Tower of Babel, where Batman’s plans to take down the entire League are stolen. Really good stuff.

  42. decoy decoy says:

    totally agree with all the main ones listed here, but the ‘Knightfall’ story arc is definetly worth a read – Bane releases everyone from Arkham with the aim of tiring Batman out as he apprehends them all.  Batman is exhausted by the time he’s taken them all down and Bane confronts him at Wayne Manor breaking his back and leaving Batman to pass on the mantle to Jean Paul-Valley, who as Batman, is out of control

  43. Multihuller Multihuller says:

    I also restarted reading Batman with “Batman and Son.” It ties into what is going on right now the character. Also would recomend the Greg Rucka run on Detective. Batman the Animated Series is a no brainer too. 

  44. k5blazer k5blazer says:

    What about “The Laughing Fish” from the Detective run by Marshall Rodgers? Or any of the Walt Simonson stuff? Batman 232, first Ra’s Al Ghul? The history of the character is too rich to seemingly limit it to the last 25 years or so.

  45. WheelHands WheelHands says:

    Good list, Chris.  And this is a hard one.  I think you hit all the essentials. I would probably replace Gotham Central with Long Halloween on a technicality, but I love GC so much that it really doesn’t bother me.

    @JLA1: I see what you’re saying, but I think the idea of these articles is to help people who want a better understanding of the current interpretations. O’Neal and Adams work is the stuff of legend, and you’re right they can be credited with “revitalizing” a suffering character, but Miller’s Batman has been the template since Year One and Dark Knight Returns.

    @RoiVampire: The subtitle to Arkham Asylum is actually “A Serious House on Serious Earth”, not Tale. Hope I didn’t just ruin your favorite subtitle ever. :)

  46. DuncanIdunno DuncanIdunno says:

    The crew of the IFanboy video – yesterday – brought up a good point about Batman and/or Spiderman (i’m def. Team Bruce over Peter). If you wanna read these books, you’re probably OK with only a month or two of backstory.
    Sure these character’s get thrown in the shit storm vortex from time to time, but at the end of the day – they’re essentially the same. I submit that as long as you know who the basic players are, and you’re not trying to discern a plot line from the middle – you can probably jump in anywhere…accepting/excepting Grayson wears a cowl now as well.

  47. kennyg kennyg says:

    @ericmci  I was thinking about this as I read the recommendations in the article. Do you realize what a shit-ton of stuff a new reader would have to read to get up to speed on what is happening right now? I mean, you could try and verbally tell them, “See, Darkseid shot Batman back in time, and…” but most people are gonna be like “Hunh?” or “That’s dumb.” Unless you read it, it doesn’t mean as much. Everything they know about Batman from TV and movies is utterly out of date.

  48. Tork Tork says:

    I are Serious House.

    This is Serious Earth.

    What?  Somebody had to do it.

  49. kmob181 kmob181 says:

    Excellent list.  I will get to Gotham Central one day.  Not quite essential but I also really liked Son of the Demon.

  50. ChuckMI4th ChuckMI4th says:

    Going Sane by J.M. DeMatteis. That story is often cited as a great Joker story. But the fact is that it was just as much of a Batman story as it was a Joker story.

  51. Not necessarily an essential but What Ever Happened to the Caped Crusader makes for a really nice coda for Batman. Gaiman showed what a great writer can do with a great character.

  52. claydawg9418 claydawg9418 says:

    Any Batman essentials list without Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams is incomplete. I suggest Batman: Tales Of The Demon, an omnibus that collects all of the Ra’s Al Ghul stories from the early ’70s to replace Gotham Central.

  53. jaiss1k says:

    For the potential Bat-thusiast, the listed books are a great starting point.  As far as getting into the Morrison, it might be “too much” for a new reader, but if you give them The Untold Legend of the Batman first, they’ll probably have a great time reading Morrison.  And it all depends on the individuals tastes beforehand.

  54. Sorry, late to the party on this.
    Loved the list Chris and bravo for putting Gotham Central on it. The city itself is such a fantastic character. Rucka and Brubaker gave us a series that puts the reader in the heart of Gotham. From the perspective of the cops, their families and friends, we are able to see what this world would be like to live in. For this reason alone, there is no better book to read. Batman the Myth? the Legend? You’ll really understand why by reading this.
    I currently have 2 friends (test subjects) new to Batman. There seems to be a “Batman” for everyone these days. One guy loved the 2 most recent films a lot. Never read much comics before. Wants to have go from the beginning, but the beginning has to be a modern update. Kind of how he loved these films.
    So far, he has been on a path of Year One, Batman: Dark Moon Rising (both Monster Men and Mad Monk),  and the Man Who Laughs. He is beginning this Joker story now. From here, I might suggest the Loeb/Sale collections and Arkham. Seems to be working for him. He purchased Year One soon after reading mine.
    The other guy is a 10-year Marvel fan with very little DC knowledge. He loved Grant Morrison’s run on X-Men and All Star Superman. He appreciates reinventions and new interpretations on the old. Basically, he is more open to change because he has no attachment to anything pre-2000s  He started with Batman & Robin about a month ago. He purchased the first 2 collections and loved it. He couldn’t wait for the 3rd volume to come out (this is the week it does!). He has since gone back to Batman & Son to catch up on everthing Morrison has done on Batman. He is now on board for Batman Inc. in issues and he won’t shut up about it. He is clearly more sold on this discovery of Batman for himself than the first guy I mentioned. I should also add that #2 tried Pope’s Year 100 soon after the first 2 volumes of Batman & Robin. A quick skim in the shop and he was sold on it.
    Everyone wants to dive into this stuff in their own fashion no doubt. Thanks for the article Chris.

  55. chaz chaz says:

    Overall, an impressive list.  But, I totally agree with claydawg9418.  The O’Neil/Adams era is fantastic.  In fact, all of the other works mentioned wouldn’t be possible if O’Neil and Adams hadn’t rescued Batman from the campiness of 60′s TV.  I guess it also depends on your view of the Dark Knight.  Is he the world’s greatest detective, outwitting his enemies with a razor-sharp intellect?  Or, is he a psychologically-troubled vigilante, narrowly falling on the side of good?  Most of us would agree he’s both (and even more), but any selections should try and represent as many facets of his character as possible.  The Leob/Sale selections would help balance things out.  Although sacrosanct to most, neither the Killing Joke nor the Dark Knight Returns do much for me.  I respect the material, and the choice to include them, but they’re not my Batman.  

  56. odare77 says:

    First, I don’t think there can be any argument about YEAR ONE.  It sets the groundwork for everything since.  It brought Batman into the modern world, defined Gotham ever since, started to realign the Batman/Gordon relationship more realistically and is essentially the best, most pure piece of writing Miller ever committed to paper.

    To add a suggestion I’d go for the sometimes overlooked Ten Nights Of The Beast, the trade of which might still be easily available.  Coming out around the time of the Tim Burton Batmania it’s one of the best straight up, uncluttered stories about Batman in his modern prime.  It’s primarily about a game of cat and mouse between Bats and new villain the KGBeast, a man almost as dangerous as Batman himself.  It’s somewhat of it’s time, ie the end of the Cold War, but still stands up as a brilliant straight up Bat tale.  And the art’s by Aparo, a man I foolishly never appreciated as a lad but now have come to realise defined almost an entire era of Batman.  Seek it out!

  57. Year One is the best comic ever for me, I’m still hoping one day they’ll Absolute it, I don’t care that it’s only 4 issues, I need a beautiful hardback version of it.  The Neal Adams stuff was brilliant, better than the Loeb/Sale stories, I think, by some distance.  Grant and Breyfogle’s run on Batman back around the issue 450 period was terrific as well; not sure if that’s ever been collected though.  I’d include the Gibbons & Rude World’s Finest miniseries as well as a great introduction to the Batman/ Superman relationship.