See the previous two installments (The Year of Batman: Part 1 & The Year of Batman: Part 2) for the first 40 books on the list of Batman titles that I read during 2020. Today, we’re looking at the next 20 spots, which includes a number of books worth reading for fans of the iconic superhero or just comics fans in general.
From Worst to Best…
#60 – Dark Night: A True Batman Story
by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso
Paul Dini is probably most famous for his work on the highly influential (and amazing) Batman: The Animated Series, where he helped create the character of Harley Quinn (among other things). Dark Night is quite different than any other book on this list, as it’s a comic about a Batman writer (Dini) rather than the Caped Crusader himself. One night after a bad date, Dini is mugged and severely beaten by two men. In the aftermath, he recuperates from his physical injuries but also suffers quite a bit of mental / emotional trauma — in which he begins to see manifestations of many Batman characters that represent different parts of his subconscious and his psyche. While Batman only plays a supplemental role in this story, it’s an interesting divergence from other “Batman books” by looking at the people behind the scenes.
#59 – Joker
by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo
Brian Azzarello penned a couple of villain-focused graphic novels — the other being Luthor, focused on Superman’s arch nemesis. True to its premise, this book really does focus almost entirely on Joker (as Batman appears only briefly near the end of the story), as seen through the eyes of a low-level recruit into the Clown Prince’s gang. Many readers regard Joker as one of the best explorations of the character, but the story rang a little hollow for me. And while Lee Bermejo’s artwork is certainly unique and impressive in its attention to detail, I didn’t really respond to it as much here as much as with one of his other books (appearing later on the “Year of Batman” list). If, for some reason, you were putting together a reading / viewing list of representations of the Joker, this would certainly have to be on there due to its influence, but it’s only a solid (but not great) book in my opinion.
#58 – Batman ’66, Vol. 1
by Jeff Parker, Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, et al.
I grew up watching the old Batman TV show. Its effect on the public’s perception of the character cannot be denied, as the campy and colorful tone became the predominant way that casual fans saw the Caped Crusader, until Frank Miller reinvented the character in the mid-1980s. Even though this version of Batman and Robin isn’t my personal favorite, I still have an affinity for the show — particularly with its casting of the rogues gallery, as Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), and Frank Gorshin (Riddler) all provide seminal representations of their respective characters. (For my money, Romero’s Joker is probably my second favorite Joker overall beneath only Mark Hamill’s animated version.) Batman ’66 is an obviously loving tribute to that show; and I could see it being ranked much higher depending on your own personal enjoyment of that version of the characters. But even if the campy/colorful Batman isn’t your favorite, it’s still a fun, engaging book!
#57 – DC Meets Looney Tunes
by Tom King, Steve Orlando, Bill Morrison, Kelley Jones, et al.
On its surface, the crossover between DC and Looney Tunes characters doesn’t make much sense, but that’s true of many/most of the best crossovers. [Oftentimes, it’s the team-ups that you don’t expect that end up being the most enjoyable.] DC Meets Looney Tunes is an anthology book that combines several sections — e.g. Wonder Woman & Tasmanian Devil, Martian Manhunter & Marvin the Martian, etc. In each section, there’s a main story that’s drawn in style more akin to superhero comics, followed by a mini story drawn in a more cartoony style. I’ve included it on this review because the section with Batman & Elmer Fudd is easily the best section, as the two characters search for the fate of a shared love interest (Silver St. Cloud) in a noir-like mystery story. This section will totally, totally change how you see Elmer Fudd, in particular, as he becomes a shotgun-wielding, tough-as-nails badass. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is because the Batman section is about 1/6 of the entire book.
#56 – Batman, Vol. 1 (Rebirth): I Am Gotham
by Tom King, David Finch, & Mikel Janin
Tom King’s first volume exploring Batman offers a lot of the kinds of things that King’s other work is know for — notably the focus on character psychology and what I see as the (potential) nobility of flawed “super” beings who must decide the kinds of people that they will be. [This is seen a lot in King’s excellent The Vision and Mister Miracle.] I think that this initial chapter of Batman has potential, particularly with its “twist” at the end of the first part that introduces a couple of new characters and changes the dynamic of Gotham City moving forward. That said, while I like many of the parts, the book just doesn’t quite click for me as a whole. I do wonder, however, if one problem was just when I read this books, as I read it after finishing Snyder & Capullo’s New 52 run on the character, which I consider to be the superior arc overall. If you like King’s other work, I do think that it’s worth checking out I Am Gotham to see what you think of it — though I also think that the books that follow this one show a general downward trend in narrative overall.
#55 – Batman Chronicles: Volume One
by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Gardner Fox, et al.
Batman Chronicles collects the first Batman-related stories from 1939 in early issues of Detective Comics (#27-38) and Batman (#1). As a historical document, it’s an insightful collection because many of the primary aspects of the Batman / Bruce Wayne character (e.g. the hero’s origin story) and many of the lasting supporting characters (e.g. Gordon, Robin, Joker, Catwoman, etc.) are all introduced in these first dozen or so issues. That said, in terms of the writing and artwork itself, it feels very dated in both style and tone. (For example, when Batman first catches Catwoman in disguise, he tells her to be quite or that he’ll spank her. Yeah…) Still, it’s pretty interesting to get an early glimpse into the character and to get a sense of what made Batman so appealing to comics readers of the time. Definitely a worthy read for those with a historical and/or academic interest in the Batman mythos and superhero comics, in general.
#54 – Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 1
by Jiro Kuwata
Due to the immense popularity of the 1960s Batman show (with Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo), a Japanese publisher hired Jiro Kuwata to create a manga-version of the caped crusader. The result is the “Batmanga,” a thoroughly campy but enjoyable homage to the style and spirit of the 1960s version. Batman and Robin are both present, but pretty much everything (and everyone) else is totally re-imagined. So we get new villains like Doctor Faceless, The Human Ball, and Lord Death Man (the latter of whom gets brought back by Grant Morrison, I believe) — each of whom is fantastically over-the-top. The best storyline is “The Man Who Quit Being Human” about a governor who, after learning that he’s slowly transforming into a mutant, decides to allow the transformation to happen for the betterment of science and to help prepare for a future where the human war against mutants might be unavoidable. (And, of course, he becomes a terrible mutant villain because…obviously.) It’s a fun time.
#53 – Batman, Vol. 5 (New 52): Zero Year – Dark City
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV, et al.
Dark City is a continuation of the “Zero Year” arc of the New 52 Batman (starting in Batman, Vol. 4 – Secret City), where we flashback and see Bruce Wayne’s earliest days as the Caped Crusader. I wasn’t much of a fan of that earlier volume, which I found to be far too colorful and sorta goofy for the narrative therein. (I also didn’t really like what they did with The Red Hood Gang in that volume, as it depicted the mysterious leader as a criminal mastermind even prior to his transformation into the Joker — which didn’t seem right to me for that character.) Thankfully, Dark City leaves The Red Hood Gang behind and focuses on Batman’s plight to retake Gotham City, which has been taken over by the Riddler. At his best, the Riddler works as a villain because he challenges Batman in a different, more intellectual way than many of the other rogues, highlighting the “World’s Greatest Detective” aspects of the character. In essence, ideally the Riddler works as a villain because he brings out the best in our hero. I definitely don’t think that Dark City is as good as either Court of Owls or City of Owls (or even Death of the Family), but it’s firmly in that mid-tier for New 52 and worth a read.
#52 – Batman: Gates of Gotham
by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, & Trevor McCarthy
A standalone story by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins, Gates of Gotham introduces a new villain who is targeting the descendants of some of Gotham City’s oldest families while also destroying architecture connected to these families. While the conclusion of the story is a bit forgettable, the majority of Gates of Gotham is pretty solid, and McCarthy’s artwork and costume-design for the Architect villain is memorably creepy in a steam-punk kind of way. Mostly, this book is interesting to me because we get a peek into Gotham’s history, which I always enjoy, and we see how the city rose to prominence and the various behind-the-scenes collaborations and competitions among its elite citizens. This very much connects to some of the themes that we see in Snyder’s Court of Owls & City of Owls storylines — it’s not as good as those two books but it’s of a similar type, if you enjoyed them and are looking for additional books to read.
#51 – Batman: Arkham Manor
by Gerry Duggar & Shawn Crystal
In the aftermath of the destruction of Arkham Asylum, Wayne Manor is converted into the new asylum. How convenient for Batman to have all his rogues living in his old house right above the Bat Cave! When murders start to happen within the new asylum, Batman goes undercover as an inmate to catch a new killer — the dangerous Spider, who seems to use the nooks and crannies of the great estate to his advantage. Crystal’s art-style is more cartoony than you might expect from a Batman book, but it actually works pretty well here; and the story by Duggar, while a pretty quick read, is still fun. (In particular, we get to see a nice team-up between the in-disguise Bruce Wayne and the imprisoned Victor Freeze, and there’s some nice character development for Freeze within the book.) Just an underrated, rock-solid graphic novel that pretty much any age could reasonably pick up and enjoy. A good lazy day read.
#50 – The Batman / Judge Dredd Collection
by John Wagner, Alan Scott, Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry, et al.
Perhaps due to his popularity and his longevity, Batman has frequently been paired with other unexpected characters — often in a collaboration / competition type capacity. [We’ve already seen the Batman & Elmer Fudd team-up a few spots earlier in this list, and there are more team-ups coming later on in future “Year of Batman” installments.] At first, Batman and Judge Dredd struck me as an odd pairing; however, it actually makes some sense — the former a masked vigilante and the latter self-proclaimed judge, jury, and executioner. Both characters have a pretty…um…intense sense of justice and aren’t terribly self-reflective in terms of the pros/cons of their role within the legal system. It’s actually sorta fun to see Batman run into a character like Dredd, who has an even more skewed and screwed-up vision of society. Anyway, there are actually a few mini-stories contained here that mix these two comics universes — the most memorable to me being one involving the heroes on the hunt for Judge Death and Scarecrow. A pretty bonkers crossover with a unique artistic style that is fun enough, if you don’t think too much about it.
#49 – Batman: Europa
by Matteo Casali, Brian Azzarello, Jim Lee, Guiseppe Camuncoli, et al.
When Batman and Joker both become mysteriously infected by the same deadly virus that leaves them only a week to live, the two enemies form an unlikely alliance to unravel the mystery and to locate the cure. Europa is more or less a Batman-Joker road-trip across Europe, which allows the two characters to work with/against each other within a different, non-Gotham location. The art changes pretty dramatically from chapter to chapter, which is a nice idea in theory but does leave the book feeling a little visually disjointed. The reveal of the “big bad” here is disappointing and the story wraps up way too quickly, but a solid book overall.
#48 – Dark Nights Metal: Dark Knights Rising
by Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Peter J. Tomasi, & Francis Manapul
The whole Dark Nights Metal storyline is a little TOO over-the-top for me overall — it would fit pretty neatly into extreme 1990s comics, of which I’m not necessarily a big fan — but that’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of the larger story that I didn’t find enjoyable. Dark Nights Rising goes into the origins of the various evil Bat-versions of superheroes and supervillains from other dimensions — e.g. Red Death (Bat-Flash), The Drowned (Bat-Aquawoman), Dawnbreaker (Bat-Lantern), The Merciless (Bat-Wonder Woman), Devastator (Bat-Doomsday), Murder Machine (Bat-Cyborg), and The Batman Who Laughs (Bat-Joker). It really feels like a “What If…?” type story shoehorned into the main DC continuity, and it’s the kind of thing that appeals to the younger parts of your brain (if you ever imagined what would happen if Superhero X had Superhero Y’s powers, etc.). A quick and entertaining read, which is what you want sometimes.
#47 – Batman & Robin: Batman vs. Robin
by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke, Cameron Stewart, et al.
The second volume of Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin run, Batman vs. Robin continues the odd-couple teamwork between Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. It took me awhile to get into Batman vs. Robin because, at the time, I had not yet read Morrison’s Final Crisis book. [Personally, I’m not a fan of Final Crisis, which is a little too bonkers on the Morrison scale for my liking; however, it does help to read it before reading Morrison’s Batman & Robin run.] Morrison gets a little too bogged down in some of his own mythology-making here, but his Oberon Sexton character remains enigmatic and interesting at this point (though that quickly falls apart), and it was interesting to see some character complexity with the incorporation of Deathstroke, who has a complicated relationship with both Grayson (from the Teen Titans days) and Damian (as his “is he or isn’t he?” biological father). Not as good as Batman & Robin Vol. 1 — still, the wheels haven’t fallen off yet at this point in the storyline.
#46 – Tales of the Batman
by Len Wein, Jim Aparo, et al.
The first comics that I ever remember reading were small reprints of Len Wein & Jim Aparo’s Tales of the Batman. I don’t remember exactly how I got these comics, but I do remember that there was some kind of product tie-in where the child-version of me sent in proof-of-purchase of a certain type of cereal or pudding or Jello, etc. (This was back when comics were distinctly seen as “for kids” and DC was happy to pair with companies on these kinds of giveaways.) Anyway…I’ve always had a bit of a nostalgic fondness for this series and this time-period of Batman; and, in many ways, this artistic rendering of the character feels the most “classic” to me. Wein, who is probably most famous for creating both Swamp Thing and Wolverine, does a solid job with the writing in these issues, but it’s Aparo’s artwork — and especially the covers by various artists — that I come back to the most. Depending on the version of Batman that you first encountered, your mileage may vary, but this one’s totally a trip down memory lane for me.
#45 – Batman: The Killing Joke
by Alan Moore & Brian Boland
Surprised? For a lot of readers and on a lot of “best of Batman” type lists, you’ll see Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke way up in the Top 3-5 Batman stories of all time. I think it’s a solid book but also woefully overrated. I’m never able to quite get into Boland’s artwork in this comic, and the tone feels just needlessly cruel and masochistic. Moreover, the ending that so many people have debated, while OK, isn’t worth the amount of conversation that it’s generated (at least in my humble opinion). That said, it’s undoubtedly an influential book that has had huge impact on depictions of the Joker, Jim Gordon, Barbara Gordon, etc. in the years that followed — see: Joker (the movie), The Three Jokers, most anything involving Batgirl / Oracle pre-New 52 era, and so on. The older that I get and the more that I read this book, the further down the list it moves for me; but I would be hard-pressed — despite all its problems — to move it out of the Top 50, and that probably speaks to the strength of the Top 50 Batman titles. A “must-read” in terms of the Batman lore, although a book that I’m ultimately lower on than most comics critics.
#44 – All-Star Batman: My Own Worst Enemy
by Scott Snyder & John Romita Jr.
This might be my second-favorite Two Face story, behind only The Long Halloween (which will appear much, much later on this list). In My Own Worst Enemy, Batman takes Two Face / Harvey Dent on a journey across rural America searching for a cure to Harvey’s psychosis. The big problem, however, is that the Two Face part of the persona has hired, blackmailed, etc. various people (most notably KGBeast) to keep Batman & Harvey from reaching their goal. While the road-trip premise is similar to the aforementioned Batman: Europa, there are more emotional stakes here because of Bruce Wayne’s friendship with and feelings of responsibility toward Harvey Dent. Solid story but the star might be Romita Jr.’s artwork — which is usually pretty hit-or-miss with me but is very memorable within this book.
#43 – Batman: Haunted Knight
by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Part of the Loeb & Sale Batman trilogy (including The Long Halloween & Dark Victory), Haunted Knight differs from the other two installments because it’s not a cohesive story but, rather, an anthology of shorter Batman tales that utilize a horror / supernatural element. Here, we get a Scarecrow story, a Mad Hatter story, and a riff on The Christmas Carol — which is surprisingly an oft-repeated allusion within the Batman mythos. Of the three short stories, I probably enjoyed “Fears” (the Scarecrow story) the most due to the art-design of the villain. However, although each of these stories was enjoyable in its own right, all of them paled in comparison to the superior Long Halloween and Dark Victory storylines. Still, this is a rock-solid book and definitely one that Batman fans should read at some point — a quick and easy read.
#42 – The Dark Knight: Master Race
by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, & Klaus Janson
The third installment of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight sequence (well…the fourth installment chronologically, if you count The Last Crusade), Master Race represents a definite improvement over the poor The Dark Knight Strikes Again and is actually a pretty worthy sequel to the iconic The Dark Knight Returns. In Master Race, Ray Palmer (The Atom) successfully rescues the citizens of the Kryptonian city of Kandor, who have long been shrunken and imprisoned in a glass jar by the villain Brainiac. Unfortunately, as the heroes of earth soon discover, the citizens of Kandor differ quite drastically from The Man of Steel and have weaponized the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman against the planet. If you’re a longtime reader of Superman, Miller’s book does an interesting job of injecting some complexity into the jar-city of Kandor and, in turn, adds complexity to Superman; in fact, in many ways, this feels more like a Superman book than a Batman book, even if The Caped Crusader is the main character. Worth reading if you enjoyed the dynamic between Batman and Superman depicted within The Dark Knight Returns.
#41 – Batman: Incorporated
by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, Michael Lacombe, et al.
As I’ve said previously, there are very few comics writers who inspire my admiration and my frustration as a reader like Grant Morrison. The man is unquestionably a genius within the genre of superhero comics and has written some of the most influential superhero comics ever. I wasn’t a fan of Morrison’s Batman R.I.P. or Final Crisis and his Batman & Robin storyline was very hit-or-miss for me, so I didn’t have high expectations for Batman: Incorporated, as it includes many of the uniquely nutty aspects of Morrison’s previous Batman books. However, I was pleasantly surprised here and mostly enjoyed the incorporation of the global Batman figures within the main DC continuity, and I also really appreciated how Morrison incorporated some elements from the aforementioned Jiro Kuwata Batmanga into some of the story, which was a fun touch for Batman fans. It’s also fun to see Talia al Ghul play a larger, more important villainous role, though her motivation is never quite sensible to me within this story. This book is a nice balance between some of Morrison’s more surrealistic instincts and more mainstream narrative storytelling.
We’ve officially reached the part of The Year of Batman, where I’d recommend pretty much every title on this section of the reading-list. There are books here for comics historians (e.g. The Batman Chronicles, Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, etc.), books for crossover fans (e.g. DC Meets Looney Tunes, Batman / Judge Dredd, etc.), books for those who like some wackiness in their Batman stories (e.g. Batman ’66, Dark Knights Rising, etc.), and books for those just looking for a standalone title (e.g. Gates of Gotham, Arkham Manor, etc.). With the next installment of this series, we’ll get into the Batman books that are must-reads in my opinion, eventually working our way towards the very best of the best. Thanks for reading!