In 2020, I set a goal for myself: to read 100 Batman graphic-novels in a year. That’s not actually true. Originally, I aimed to read about 10. 10 became 25. 25 became 50. Before I knew it, I was reading 100 Batman graphic-novels in a year. The next few blog posts will give you my (totally subjective) ranking of those 100 graphic novels in order from worst-to-best (in my opinion). If you don’t see your favorite Batman book here, check out the future posts to see if / when it shows up. Enjoy!
From Worst to Best…
#100 – Batman: KnightsQuest
by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant, Jo Duffy, et al.
With Bruce Wayne temporarily out of commission following the events of KnightFall (where Bane breaks Batman’s spirit and then also his back), protégée Jean-Paul Valley dons the cape and cowl — only to quickly succumb to his “program” of religious delusion, uber-aggression, paranoia, and madness. This is the 1990s XXXTREEEME!%#*! style taken to its logical (absurd) conclusions.
#99 – Batman & Robin: Batman & Robin Must Die!
by Grant Morrison, Frazier Irving, & David Finch
While I generally like Morrison’s Batman & Robin series, I detest the style of this volume visually and narratively. The artwork is truly displeasurable, and it made me nostalgic (surprisingly) for Frank Quitely’s earlier work in the series. Unfortunately, some of Morrison’s worst writerly tics are on full display — notably his tendency to fascinate over some of his own character creations, even when they’re uninteresting (see: The Black Glove).
#98 – Gotham High
by Melissa de la Cruz & Thomas Pitilli
I was intrigued by the idea of a Batman story set during high school, where we could explore a teenage Bruce Wayne in that young-adult time-period between the death of his parents and his adoption of the Batman persona. Unfortunately, the execution didn’t work for me. The book tries to much to fit every Batman character into the plot, which makes little sense and also feels unnecessary. [Do we really need a young, pre-Joker Jack Napier to be the young, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne’s rival?] The book really flops with its depiction of Selina Kyle (Catwoman) as well, as her motivations don’t really make much sense or have much continuity throughout the story. Not really a book that I would recommend to Batman fans.
#97 – Batman: R.I.P.
by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, & Lee Garnett
There’s going to be a lot of Grant Morrison on this list. He’s a pretty love-it-or-hate-it type writer for me. Here, as mentioned in the earlier review for Batman & Robin Must Die!, he spends too much time and attention on his own creations (i.e. The Black Glove, El Penitente, Dr. Hurt, Thomas Wayne, etc. — all of whom are the same person, I guess…*sigh*). At the end, I was really disappointed that *spoiler-alert* this guy “killed” Batman. This guy? Also, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh is just dumb masquerading as weird.
#96 – Batman, Vol. 8 (New 52): Superheavy
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, & Danny Mikki
The worst of the Snyder / Capullo “New 52” run by a mile, Superheavy tries to follow-up Batman’s disappearance (or death?) underneath Gotham City at the conclusion of Endgame. Jim Gordon steps into the role with a mech-Batman suit, which sounds like it could be fun; unfortunately, Gordon is transformed into a lean, mean, (mohawked) killin’ machine and, in the process, loses pretty much everything interesting about that character. I would be surprised if this wasn’t the least-favorite volume for most long-time Batman readers amid this acclaimed run on the character.
#95 – Batman: A Death in the Family
by Jim Starlin & Marv Wolfman
A Death in the Family falls squarely in the category of “more influential and (in)famous than actually good.” This is the issue where readers could call in and vote on the fate of the second Robin (Jason Todd); and, when given the chance, they voted to kill him. Ha ha! Also, Joker becomes a UN ambassador in this story for *reasons* that are less interesting than you’d think.
#94 – The Batman Who Laughs
by Scott Snyder & Jock
More than anything, The Batman Who Laughs feels like a cash-grab to take advantage of a legitimately memorable character design (even if, as some have pointed out, it’s similar to a Judge Dredd character). The Batman Who Laughs was cool when he was a supporting character within a bigger storyline (i.e. Dark Knights Metal), but the more time that you spend with the character, the more contrived it all feels. So wild it’s sorta…boring?
#93 – The Dark Knight Strikes Again
by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley
Regarded by many as the “worst Batman book of all time,” The Dark Knight Strikes Again is definitely not a good book, but I think some of the criticism is disproportionate — i.e. it suffers significantly from being a disappointing sequel to a much, much better book (The Dark Knight Returns). Some of the weaknesses of Miller’s other work can be found here, notably his lackluster representation of (most, not all) his female characters. I do think there are some prescient points to be made here about media and corporate dangers, but everything is turned up too much here. The artwork was really ugly to me and not in an interesting way. Bad but not quite as bad as its reputation.
#92 – Batman: Death by Design
by Chip Taylor & Dave Taylor
With its focus on architecture and design, Death by Design has an opportunity to be really interesting (in theory) because it’s ripe to explore Gotham as a place and to give more time/space to this longtime Batman setting / character. However, the narrative quickly ignores Gotham’s design elements for its human designers. The art style — which looks like black-and-white pencil sketches with the occasional splash of color — is different for the Batman books that I read and a welcome addition, but the lettering and the book’s production values don’t seem to fit the style and become distracting.
#91 – Batman: Cacophony
by Kevin Smith & Walter Flanagan
Director Kevin Smith — best known for his very 1990s film Clerks — takes aim at the Caped Crusader. In this story, Batman faces a new vigilante foe (Onomatopoeia), who is a mercenary and a killer of other vigilante figures (like Batman). Unfortunately, the Onomatopoeia gimmick — i.e. that the character’s dialogue is phonetically guided — gets tiresome very quickly. Others have criticized Smith’s writing here for making Batman too “talky,” which is an assessment that I agree with. [I could see how Smith’s verbose style might work for someone like The Flash or Green Arrow, but it doesn’t fit for Batman.] But one of my biggest complaints is his depiction of Joker, who ends up seeming like nothing more than a generic angry psychopath. That said, if you do like Smith’s writing, you sorta need to read this in order to understand the follow-up, The Widening Gyre (more on that story later).
#90 – Batman: Son of the Demon
by Mike W. Barr, Jerry Bingham, et al.
Part of a larger trilogy (I think?) centering on Batman’s struggle against Ra’s al Ghul, the twist here is that Batman teams up with Ra’s and his League of Assassins to fight a shared foe. Along the way, Batman hooks up with Talia al Ghul and, nine months later, a baby (Damian) is born. All of this gets retconned later to various degrees and sometimes retconned again, so it is a bit murky. Belongs in the “more-important-than-good” line of Batman titles because of the later, better storylines that it sets up in a roundabout way.
#89 – Batman: Battle for the Cowl
by Tony Daniel
With Batman “dead” following the events of Batman R.I.P and Final Crisis, everyone’s wondering who will fill those black leather boots. Of course, it’s going to be Dick Grayson, but he takes some convincing. Crazy Jason Todd shows up and causes all sorts of problems for everyone with his shooting shooting shooting before Grayson finally accepts the job / burden of being Batman. The story had potential, but the action just becomes white noise after awhile, and the art-style is functional if unremarkable. That said, this does (re)introduce the Grayson-as-Batman arc, which works well in later titles.
#88 – Batman: Last Knight on Earth
by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Snyder and Capullo reunite to tell their “final” Batman story — one that takes us into the near-future, where an old Batman has devolved into a tyrant and the U.S. has spiraled into chaos, and it’s put to a young cloned Batman to take on the mantle and overcome…himself? Reading like an Elseworlds title, there are some fun visuals here — the most obvious is Joker’s decapitated, yet still chatty, head serving as the young Batman’s Virgil-like guide through the future inferno. Buuuut…it ultimately feels like all-style-no-substance and is a bit disappointing from the acclaimed (deservedly so) New 52 Batman team.
#87 – Batman, Vol. 4 (New 52): Zero Year – Secret City
by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
After the great-to-excellent opening trio in their New 52 run (i.e. Court of Owls, City of Owls, & Death of the Family), Zero Year Secret City was the first of the Snyder & Capullo books that just didn’t work for me. Not only did the flashback to Bruce Wayne’s early crime fighting days feel unnecessary from a narrative standpoint, the characters — especially The Red Hood and The Riddler — land with a thud. If I’m remembering correctly, Snyder mentions in the liner notes that he wanted a brighter, more colorful Batman origin — different than Miller’s seminal Year One — but the art-style here goes a little too far and drifts into a garish cartoony-ness that doesn’t mesh well with Snyder & Capullo’s strengths. You could probably skip this one and be fine.
#86 – Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade
by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson
I could be wrong about this, but my understanding is that The Last Crusade serves as a preface to Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns storyline by showing us Batman’s initial physical decline and the events that lead him to hanging-up the cape and cowl (before coming back out of retirement in The Dark Knight Returns). Miller and Azzarello thankfully reimagine the fate of Robin / Jason Todd in ways that definitely improve upon Death in the Family, but the writing, in general, feels somewhat uninspired. The biggest problem with The Last Crusade is that it feels unnecessary — i.e. do we really need to know exactly how/why Bruce Wayne retires from being Batman?
#85 – Batman, Vol. 10 (New 52): Epilogue
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV, et al.
The final issue of the Snyder & Capullo “New 52” Batman run, I was pretty surprised to see how short this book is and the fact that it doesn’t really do any building off the previous volume (Bloom). Instead, we just get some shorts about Batman — the main one being a future where we see various clones of Batman. [This is an idea that Snyder and Capullo would return to later with their Last Knight on Earth.] For me, Epilogue wasn’t “terrible” but it didn’t feel necessary or particularly interesting either. A not-great ending to the overall very good New 52 run, though the final three volumes were pretty forgettable.
#84 – Batman Beyond, Vol. 1: Escaping the Grave
by Dan Jorgensen, Ryan Sook, & Bernard Chang
I never really got into Batman Beyond, but I know that a lot of people really like that animated show. I decided it would be fun to read at least one of the Batman Beyond books to see how it stacked up against the other Batman fare. Overall, most of the characters — particularly the heroic characters — are pretty likable and interesting, though the villains were pretty lackluster. Unfortunately, the art style wasn’t really my favorite, and the “twist” of the story could have been less telegraphed. I could see it working perhaps as a setup for the rest of the comic in the series though.
#83 – Batman vs. Deathstroke
by Christopher Priest & Diogenes Neves
The premise of this story is that Talia al Ghul is playing the paternity game with both Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Slade Wilson (Deathstroke): Who is the true father of Damian Wayne? There is some enjoyment in seeing the master detective and the master mercenary outsmart and outmaneuver each other. However, the book just never reached its full potential in my opinion. Really, it’s not about Damian at all but, rather, a struggle between two (or, in the end, is all just one) competing masculinity’s: Who is the better man? But the book doesn’t really push this idea far enough and is never as fun and over-the-top as it probably ought to be.
#82 – Batman / The Flash: The Button
by Tom King & Jason Fabok
The Button leads into the larger DC Doomsday Clock storyline, featuring the characters from Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’s seminal Watchmen. Although I like the idea of a Batman-Flash collaboration, as their respective methods and personalities play well off each other, this just feels a bit “empty” since it’s clearly just prelude to a much larger comics event. (If it only exists to set up the next thing, how invested can we really be?) The scene where Reverse-Flash Eobard Thawne confronts Batman is pretty great, though.
#81 – Batman: Cataclysm
by Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench, Devin Grayson, et al.
So…in the mid-to-late 1990s, DC ran a series of long Batman story arcs where it seems like the whole point was: What terrible thing can we subject the citizens of Gotham to? Cataclysm is sorta nestled in the middle of those arcs — a story where, this time, Gotham City suffers a catastrophic earthquake. I know that lots of readers have a certain fondness for this story because it sets up the No Man’s Land arc afterwards, where Gotham is left for dead by the U.S. government (following the earthquake), which leads to all hell breaking loose. [Unfortunately, I never got to read No Man’s Land for myself, though I did read and really enjoy the follow-up to No Man’s Land — i.e. New Gotham…more on those volumes later.] Anyway, I think the idea of a natural disaster hitting Gotham is potentially interesting; however, the art-style in this volume just didn’t resonate with me, and the storyline dragged on for what seemed like forever. This is another book that, if you liked No Man’s Land or New Gotham, you should probably read for context to those later storylines. Otherwise, you may be able to skip it.
Most of the books on this particular list (#100-#81) are ones that the casual Batman fan could probably skip. That said, there are a couple seminal texts on this list that I think are “important” though not necessarily “good” — notably, A Death in the Family and Son of the Demon — because those two storylines have had serious ripple-effects in the years of Batman narratives since then. And there are also some other setup-type books here, too, like The Button (if you’re interested in Doomsday Clock) and Cataclysm (if you liked No Man’s Land or New Gotham) that provide some useful contextual stuff, though those often feel like just filler for a later, more important story. Overall, most of these Batman books can be skipped altogether. Fortunately, with the next range (#80-#61), we start to get into some stronger and more memorable Batman stories.