My Favorite Batman Stories
I’m not usually one to try and talk about Batman, both as a franchise and as a character, because enough already gets said about Batman. What sort of expert opinion or analysis do I have to offer? Even more so, these types of lists are incredibly redundant, ham-fisted and way overdone. It’s the buzzfeed equivalent of making a top ten list of “Why Seinfeld is the greatest show ever” (Which it is). Yet, in honor of Batman’s 75th birthday from creators Bill Finger and (term applied loosely here) Bob Kane, I thought I would share my personal picks for the five greatest Batman stories out there. I like to consider myself pretty well-read on Batman books, even though there is always room to strive for more. Also, just to be clear, there are going to be non-comic selections on this list, simply because they provide some of the best Batman stories told outside of the medium. There are some notable omissions here, namely stuff by O’Neil, Adams and Englehart, but those would probably be in the top 10-20 for me. With that being said, let’s get to it.
“Zatanna” – Batman: The Animated Series
“Almost Got ‘Im” – Batman: The Animated Series
“Batman: Prey” – Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin
“Dark Knight, Dark City” – Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer
“The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” – Batman #251 by Dennis O’ Neil and Neal Adams
Now for the list
#5 – “Heart of Ice” – Batman: The Animated Series (Paul Dini and Bruce Timm)
–Batman: The Animated Series contains some of the finest Batman stories not told in comics, but it also contains some of the worst such as “Tyger, Tyger” or “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” (which I actually legitimately enjoy but critically it’s awful). I was only going to pick one episode from the series, and there were a lot that could occupy this spot but for me, “Heart of Ice” is the culmination of everything great about this show rolled into one package. Fluid, stylized animation, gorgeous backdrops, and an origin story for a usually boring villain that just makes me want to cry my eyes out. It is the first and last Mr. Freeze story, but it’s also a great Batman story in that it presents Batman as a relatable figure rather than some grim force of nature. It manages to be dark without being gritty and pushes the boundaries of storytelling in animated TV shows. If anything seriously makes the case for Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as the two best people to get their hands on the Batman franchise, this would be it.
#4 – “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” – Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
–Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is one of the best long-form graphic-novel length Batman stories told, essentially because it is a typical Batman story tempered with layers and layers of dense symbolism and deeper meanings. This means that every time I go back to it, I find something new to uncover or a new angle of interpretation of which to look at the story. I’m not a fan of Grant Morrison’s later extended run on the character, although I am a fan of some of the ideas placed within. It’s just the execution was a bit of a letdown in my opinion. To me, this will be the best Morrison ever does on a Batman story. The edition I have comes with a full script showcasing some of the denser pieces of symbolism, and McKean’s interpretation of the script has got to be one of the best parts of the story, often bringing these pages to life in the form of macabre, off-kilter collages of manic horror. This is always worth a re-read
#3 – “The Black Mirror” – Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla
-Much of the comics audience is sour on Scott Snyder’s Batman, primarily because of his tendencies towards writing lengthy stories (10-12 issues at a time) with anticlimax endings. Even though I am a fan of his work on the series, I’ll admit I was sour on the entirety of Death of the Family and the ending to Court of Owls, even if the first 9 issues are some of the finest storytelling in Batman to boot. What makes Scott Snyder’s first Batman epic so good is that it’s pretty much unlike any other Batman story before it. It also connects to #1 on this list in a number of ways I won’t get into here, but that it works in continuity whilst simultaneously being a standalone venture makes it one of the best Batman stories ever. It’s also one of the most memorable which is amazing simply for the fact that a good chunk of the modern stories have been forgettable. It reinvents an old villain and introduces a few new ones with James Gordon Jr. being at the top of the list, it shows how Dick Grayson is different than Bruce Wayne as Batman in a number of ways, and it comes out a great horror-noir tale with art by the great Jock and the noir king, Francesco Francavilla. I could go on and on about this, but the best thing to do is just pick it up yourself and read it cover to cover.
#2 – “Up Against the Wall” – Suicide Squad #10 – John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell
-Ironically, what I consider to be the second-best Batman story of all is a story not even from an issue of Batman, but it’s also one where Bruce gets called out and is beaten at his own game. The premise is that Batman infiltrates Belle Reve to prove the existence of the Suicide Squad and to out Amanda Waller, but Waller’s got him all figured out. If I remember correctly, she finds out (or has ways of finding out) who Batman is, and threatens to use every resource she has to bring Batman down. I’m a fan of stories where Batman loses/gets put in his place, because it shows him as a fallible character and that other people can match him at his own game too. Not only is it one of the best Suicide Squad tales, but it’s also one of the best Batman tales, and it’s one where he doesn’t win. How great is that?
#1 – Batman: Year One – Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli
-Here it is. The obvious choice and the story that got me into Batman comics, so it’s partly here because of sentimental value, but also because it is one of the finest origin stories ever told, compacted into 4 issues of pure greatness. I’m a fan of the Early Batman years, where he’s fighting mob crime as opposed to super-villains, and I always want to see more stories set in this era. Frank Miller defined the way Batman would be characterized for over two decades, and wrote this as a reactionary comic against the street crime of 1980s New York. Coupled with art by Mazzuchelli (who all of the great artists are still aping to this day), they both really capture that gritty, urban essence of decay that is so compulsory to the laws of Batman comics that it is just really the gold standard. Sure, it’s an obvious, predictable choice, but it’s obvious and predictable because it deserves this spot.