The previous installment (The Year of Batman: Part 1) featured a few “important-but-not great” books and was, for the most part, full of Batman narratives that the casual comics fan could probably skip. In this installment, we’re looking at twenty more Batman titles to see which, if any, are worthy of reading.
From Worst to Best…
#80 – Batman (Rebirth): Night of the Monster Men
by Tom King, James Tynion IV, Steve Orlando, et al.
Part of Tom King’s run on Batman involves a convoluted trade that happens between villains Hugo Strange and Bane (involving Psycho Pirate, the venom serum, etc. etc.). Well…here is the terrifying results of Strange’s handiwork, as he modifies the venom serum to create giant, Godzilla-like monsters that tear Gotham City apart. Yep, Strange with his typical mad-scientist vibe and his monster men. What are you gonna do? As a huge horror fan, this sounded like the kind of storyline that would be right up my alley; however, while it’s moderately weird and enjoyable to watch some of our beloved heroes transform into monsters, the story was just missing…something. Everything here is adequate but nothing feels revolutionary or, really, important. So I was a bit disappointed exiting the book. I wonder if this is just the Hugo Strange phenomenon — he’s a character who often seems to have potential that never really goes anywhere (see the Arkham City videogame for example).
#79 – Batman: Heart of Hush
by Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen, & Derek Fridolfs
Heart of Hush sees the return of Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Tommy Elliott — a world-class surgeon and strategic genius who has adopted the villainous persona (Hush) to seek out revenge against Bruce/Batman. This time, Hush surgically modifies himself to look like Bruce in an attempt to replace the billionaire. Oh, also…he surgically removes Catwoman’s heart as a kind of collateral, so there’s also that. To be honest, I’ve not read many of the Hush stories, so I’ve never felt much connection to the character — though I do feel that his first appearance (which appears much later in this “Year of Batman” list) is far superior to what we get here.
#78 – Batman: The Widening Gyre
by Kevin Smith & Walter Flanagan
Smith and Flanagan’s follow-up to Batman: Cacophony (#91 on my “Year of Batman” list), The Widening Gyre sees Batman undergoing a sort of mid-life crisis, where he strongly considers leaving his crime-fighting days behind him. This is mostly due to a new, promising hero on Gotham’s scene (i.e. Baphomet) and the return of an old, fan-favorite love interest from Bruce Wayne’s past (i.e. Silver St. Cloud). The Widening Gyre is, I think, a clear improvement over Cacophony; and I do think that there are some potentially interesting and very human ideas that Batman is forced to confront here — basically, whether he’s finally earned the right to retire and be happy. But Smith’s writing still doesn’t really “fit” for Batman, and the big twist/reveal in the book’s final pages left a sour taste in my mouth.
#77 – Detective Comics, Vol. 3 (Rebirth): League of Shadows
by James Tynion IV
Tynion does some interesting things on his run of Detective Comics, and it’s clear why he was subsequently given the reins of the main Batman book after Tom King’s departure. In particular, I think Tynion has a knack for exploring and developing his characters a bit more than we might expect. All that is to say that, while I liked this book, I feel like I should’ve liked it even more than I did. Here, Tynion really explores the character of Orphan and her family — notably, her mother, Lady Shiva. But both characters feel a little shallow afterwards, which surprised me. I wonder if this storyline would’ve been better stretched over the entire run (here-and-there) rather than getting squeezed into a few subsequent issues? Solid book that could have been even better.
#76 – Batman, Vol. 9 (New 52): Bloom
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, et. al.
Bloom effectively closes out the multi-volume story arc (Endgame, Superheavy, & Bloom) that features the death of Batman, Jim Gordan’s adoption of the Batman mantle in mechanical form, the rise of a new supervillain powered by boutique “seeds,” and Bruce Wayne’s difficult decision to return as his alter-ego. There are parts of Bloom that I enjoy. For example, I like the character design for Mr. Bloom, although I feel that his power-set is poorly defined, as he seems to be able to do whatever is called for by the writers at that particular time. Furthermore, while Bruce’s encounter with the amnesiac ex-Joker is a bit heavy-handed and serendipitous, I am interested in what feels like a genuine tug-of-war between Bruce’s desires to be happy and his compulsions toward vigilantism. Unfortunately, Bloom loses me when it degrades into the “bigger is better” mantra with the final battle, which loses all sense of scope and narrative / visual interest. (This is a recurring weakness in Snyder & Capullo’s collaborations.) A story with wasted potential.
#75 – Batman Detective Comics, Vol. 1: Mythology
by Peter J. Tomasi & Dough Mahnke
I’ve admittedly not read much of the Tomasi run on Detective Comics, but my early impressions are that these books are generally solid, if somewhat unspectacular in the narrative. Mythology falls under that category for me. The story starts interestingly (wildly) enough but soon devolves into some territory that we’ve seen before in earlier and better Batman stories — i.e. his obsessiveness, his intense nostalgia, his inability to cope with trauma, etc. Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed this story more if we as readers had been taken in a different direction or if some new aspect of character had been explored in the story’s conclusion. Again…overall solid story that you won’t regret reading once but might not return to for subsequent readings.
#74 – Batman, Vol. 3 (Rebirth): I Am Bane
by Tom King & David Finch
I was initially excited to hear that Tom King was going to be writing Bane because I feel like King generally does a pretty good job of getting at the inferiority of his (male) characters — e.g. The Vision, Mister Miracle, etc. And while there are some interesting character moments here for Bane and while I do think that King probably has an appreciation for the character, when push comes to shove we’re left with the mindless beast again in the story’s climax, which is disappointing. So…why is this book higher on this list than some others? Because it features two great shorts tacked on at the end: The Brave and the Mold (with a partnership between Batman and Swamp Thing) and Good Boy (which explores how Bruce got his dog) — both are really, really enjoyable, particularly The Brave and the Mold.
#73 – Batman: KnightsEnd
by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Mike Manley, Bret Blevins, et. al.
The third and final installment of the KnightFall storyline, KnightsEnd is really comprised of a few different story arcs: The first involves Bruce Wayne’s training to return as Batman, as he’s physically and mentally tested by Lady Shiva and a band of assassins. The second involves a team-up of Batman, Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman to take down Jean-Paul Valley (i.e. the new, uber-violent Batman). The third involves Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham again, which results in Dick Grayson and Tim Drake partnering as the new Batman and Robin. Many of my complaints about the KnightFall storyline still apply here — i.e. waaaaaay too much filler and stories stretched ridiculously thin in service of that $$$$$. Still, KnightsEnd is a definite improvement over KnightsQuest. Jean-Paul’s defeat (bathed in light) and his subsequent wrestling with his future is surprisingly moving at times, and the Prodigal part of the narrative (i.e. when Batman leaves Dick in charge) is pretty solid and helps to flesh-out both Dick Grayson and Tim Drake as they fight against Two-Face.
#72 – Batman, Vol. 7 (New 52): Endgame
by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
I seem to be in the minority because, from what I can tell, a lot of folks like Endgame, which marks the Joker’s return (with a twist). But I thought that it went too far in the absurdity of making Joker literally unkillable (i.e. maybe immortal?). This feels like a story that would’ve benefited from pulling back on the reins somewhat — a little less would be a lot more in this regard, as it falls into the same absurdist territory that Snyder & Capullo would again explore with Last Knight on Earth. Make no mistake: Endgame is, I think, a better tale than that one but not by as much as you might imagine.
#71 – Detective Comics, Vol. 2 (Rebirth): The Victim Syndicate
by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, & Alvaro Martinez
Batman and his updated team of Batwoman, Orphan, Clayface, Spoiler, etc. are confronted by a new team of villains terrorizing Gotham — this time, the villains have powers related to (but not exactly the same) as some of the Caped Crusader’s classic rogues. It turns out that each of these individuals were innocent bystanders of previous battles between Batman and various baddies, resulting in their current mutated states. It’s a genuinely interesting premise — i.e. a group of villains acting out of an understandable desire for revenge against those who ruined their lives — but the plot’s pacing leaves much to be desired. In a world where comics storylines are often stretch waaaay beyond their optimal length in order to bide time, sell books, and make money, this is one of the few titles that would’ve actually benefited from slowing down and giving the narrative and characters more time/space.
#70 – Batman: Contagion
by Chuck Dixon
Gotham City is ravaged by an apocalyptic plague (known as “The Clench”), which seems to kill everyone that it infects. When Robin, too, becomes one of the infected and is given only hours/days to live, Batman, Catwoman, and Azrael race to find a cure, which may rest in the blood of a woman rumored to have survived an earlier outbreak. There are some interesting moments of class commentary here, particularly with a group of wealthy Gothamites barring themselves in their luxury tower (which ultimately doesn’t go well), and a few of the sections — notably the sub-plot involving Batman teaming up with Deadman in search of an Incan artifact — are interesting. However, in the end, the Contagion storyline just overstays its welcome and feels somewhat bloated as a result with a lot of false leads and failed attempts in order to stretch out the narrative.
#69 – Batman: KnightFall
by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jim Aparo, et al.
For a lot of casual non-comics folks, their image of the villain Bane is likely either the mindless, hulking Schumacher version in Batman & Robin or the weirdly accented, whipped Nolan version in The Dark Knight Rises. It really is a shame because, as we see in KnightFall, the character was always meant to be Batman’s equal and opposite mirror, physically and intellectually. The book is most famous for its splash page of Bane breaking Batman’s back, which is certainly an iconic image. Unfortunately, despite some of the good character development and potentially interesting conflict, the pacing is over-stretched here — resulting in a book that outstays its welcome in what was clearly DC’s attempts to milk the storyline for all its $$$. But this book did grow on me as I continued my reading project and ended up being higher ranked than I originally thought.
#68 – Batman, Vol. 6 (New 52): The Graveyard Shift
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Andy Kubert, James Tynion IV, et. al.
If you read the New 52 Batman run in volume form (as I did), then The Graveyard Shift comes at the midway point — right after the Zero Year flashback arc and right before the larger Endgame-Superheavy-Bloom arc that closes the run. Narratively, The Graveyard Shift is composed of smaller, unrelated Batman stories. There are some interesting ideas here — e.g. the fight against Clayface exposes Bruce’s grief regarding Damian’s death, and a story about a serial-killer targeting patients of Dr. Leslie Thompkins asks some difficult questions about the crimes, criminals, and victims that Batman pursues and/or ignores. I also like that a couple characters (e.g. Bluebird, Alfred, etc.) get fleshed out more. However, some of these stories would benefit from being in different volumes; and, overall, though I understand why this volume might serve as a palate-cleanser between larger story arcs, it does feel a little inconsequential as a result.
#67 – Batman and Son
by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, & J.H. Williams III
Morrison’s addition of Damian Wayne — while initially disliked by longtime Batman fans — proved to be a welcome addition to the myths, and the first part of Batman and Son benefits from Damian’s interactions with Bruce and other members of the Bat-family (notably Alfred and Tim Drake). Sadly, the book too quickly removes Damian from the plot and, immediately after, the story sags as Morrison transitions into his larger (and less interesting) Black Glove story-arc. This is a frustrating book because it could’ve been so much better, but the writer’s own interests betray the best interests of the story.
#66 – Batman, Vol. 2 (Rebirth): I Am Suicide
by Tom King & Mikel Janin
As mentioned earlier with the connected Night of the Monster Men, this storyline involves Batman putting together his own suicide squad to break into Santa Prisca (i.e. Bane’s home / prison-island country) to kidnap Psycho Pirate, who Hugo Strange (after betraying Amanda Waller) has traded to Bane in exchange for the venom serum to modify into a monster-making formula. Or…something. There’s a lot of busy busy busy going on here narratively, and Tom King sorta out-Tom-Kings himself with an excessive amount of interiority and attempts by Batman to explain his own (masculine) psychology and trauma. [This is a pretty common tactic in King’s work, which I often like. But I don’t think it works so smoothly with the Batman run.] All that said, while the narrative of I Am Suicide wasn’t particularly compelling to me, Mikel Janin’s artwork — especially as seen in a memorable and evocative spread of Batman fighting through a crowd of Bane’s sycophants — is wildly gripping work.
#65 – Batman: The Dark Prince Charming
by Enrico Marini
When a woman shows up at Wayne Manor with a daughter that she claims is the billionaire’s offspring from a one-night stand years ago, Bruce Wayne has to deal with more than just the usual baddies. (Hello, paternity tests!) But of course, as we learn, nothing with Bruce Wayne is ever as straightforward as it seems, as the Joker and Harley Quinn kidnap the young girl for reasons that we only later learn. Though I don’t care much for Marini’s Joker design, most of the other artwork is effective and aesthetically pleasing. But the best part of the reading experience for The Dark Prince Charming is the oversized, quasi-tabletop format of the book, which really allows you to slow down and explore all the artistic details of each page. I wish more graphic novels were in this big format!
#64 – Superman & Batman vs. Vampires & Werewolves
by Kevin Van Hook & Tom Mandrake
I’m a fan of Batman stories with an overt supernatural-horror element involved, as I think the Dark Knight’s character just lends itself very well to exploring the monstrous genre. [Believe it or not, this isn’t the only time that we’ll see the Caped Crusader take on vampires within the “Year of Batman” list — more on that much later.] In Superman & Batman vs. Vampires & Werewolves, not only do we get those horror elements, we also get a classic team-up between DC’s favorite odd-couple, which actually works better than you might expect here because Superman has always had a weakness to the more magical / supernatural-based villains. While the narrative is a bit hammy and the artwork isn’t particularly memorable, this book was still a pretty enjoyable read because it seems to understand that the end goal, above all else, for a project like this is entertainment. Plus, eventually we witness a super-duper team-up (Superman & Batman & a Vampire & a Werewolf) to face a common threat, which is something I never thought that I’d see.
#63 – Detective Comics, Vol. 1 (Rebirth): Rise of the Batmen
by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Alvaro Martinez, Al Barrioneuvo, et. al.
When a highly trained and highly equipped covert military force shows up in Gotham looking to clean up the streets, Batman must put together a team of his own: Batwoman (Kate Kane), Robin (Tim Drake), Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), Orphan (Cassandra Cain), and former villain Clayface (Basil Karlo). Unlike a lot of teams, this one actually seems to “work” from a character-development standpoint, as each of these individuals brings something potentially interesting to the narrative — e.g. you’ve got the romantic relationship between Robin & Spoiler, the attempting-to-reform villain in Clayface, the mysterious but highly capable Orphan, etc. etc. But most of Rise of the Batmen focuses on Batwoman, and her relationship with her cousin (Bruce Wayne) and with her father (Colonel Jacob Kane); in fact, the development of the Batwoman / Kate Kane character is the strongest aspect of this volume, so it’s no surprise that she went on to become a bigger character in the books (and eventually with a TV show).
#62 – Batman Detective Comics, Vol. 2: Arkham Knight
by Peter J. Tomasi & Doug Mahnke
Whereas the better-known Arkham Knight videogame features (*SPOILER*) the usual suspect Jason Todd as the titular mysterious figure, Tomasi and Mahnke give us an all-new character as the Arkham Knight: Astrid Arkham, daughter of the psychiatrist who runs the famed asylum for the criminally insane. Astrid is driven by revenge against Batman for perceived wrongs against her and her family, notably an accident that greatly impacts her childhood. I was intrigued by Astrid’s relationship with the other rogues in Batman’s gallery. Raised in the asylum, she’s a bit of a surrogate “daughter” to many of these villains, and their relationship with her is often genuinely tender and moving. She’s a character that I would be interested to see more of among the usual cast of villains. This book’s a bit underrated in my opinion.
#61 – Batman: Venom
by Dennis O’Neil & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Venom is the story where Batman, failing to save a little girl from death by drowning, becomes addicted to steroids so that he’ll never fail again. As you can imagine, things go off the rails with Batman becoming addicted, turning into an absolute rage monster. Aside from being the book that introduced a drug that would later return with the introduction of Bane, Venom produces some of the most meme-worthy panels of the entire Batman oeuvre. Bruce’s drug-addled interactions with Alfred are truly hilarious. My favorite part is that we learn Bruce can grow a Grizzly-Adams beard in about 30 days. Ha ha! You’d never guess that the dark events that birth this storyline would result in such a fun, silly, over-the-top spectacle. It’s more entertaining than “good,” but it’s so entertaining that it sorta overcomes its shortcomings and pushes it higher on this list than it might otherwise be.
Some bonkers choices on here (e.g. Batman: Venom, Superman & Batman vs. Vampires & Werewolves, etc.) for those just looking for something fun. And several of these titles introduce important character / plot-points that impact the larger Batman mythos for some time (e.g. KnightFall, Endgame, Venom, Batman & Son, etc.). Most of the New 52 and Rebirth titles on this list are worth at least a cursory read in terms of quality, and the top 10 or so on this list are starting to get into those books that I would recommend to anyone. Overall, this grouping is, as expected, a step up from those titles on the previous list (#100-#81), and we’ll notice another jump in quality with our next installment (#61-#40). Hope you enjoyed!