Top 10: Batman Stories

The seed for this article was planted during a conversation I was having during which I made an off-hand comment about the best Batman stories. It began life as the “Top Ten Batman Stories of All Time”, but after Dark Knight Returns and “Year One” I had trouble ranking my other picks in any kind of order. It stuck in my head until I had to write it.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized my best of isn’t going to be someone else’s best (and some of my choices are a bit wonky and even wonkier is what DIDN’T make the list). So, I settled for the Batman stories (single issues or multi-issue storylines) that I personally find the most memorable.

With sixty plus years of Batman stories to choose from here is what I whittled it down to:

Batman The Dark Knight Returns1. Batman: Dark Knight Returns
Writer: Frank Miller
Art: Frank Miller & Klaus Janson
Date of Publication: June 1986

Best. Batman. Story. Ever.

While I don’t like Frank Miller’s take on Bats in general, this story is my all time favourite. Inside you’ll find warped humour, iconic imagery, and apocalyptic battles. There has been forests of appreciation dedicated to Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and I don’t think I can add anything to the mountains of words already written.

top10batman-22. Batman #404-407: “Year One”
Writer: Frank Miller
Art: David Mazzuchelli
Date of Publication: February 1987

Batman: Year One is the final step in Bruce Wayne’s journey to become the masked vigilante, Batman. Frank Miller strikes again with David Mazzuchelli in tow. Gotham’s a dirty city and it falls to three men to clean it up: Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent. It won’t be easy but the broom comes out in this series. This was a dark and realistic take, more a crime / police corruption story than traditional super-heroics.

Given my trouble ranking the final eight, I decided to reveal them in chronological order. I fudged my list a bit so all decades would be represented in this list:

top10batman-33. Detective Comics #31: “Batman vs. the Vampire” (aka Batman vs. the Monk)
Writer: Bob Kane
Art: Bill Finger
Date of Publication: September 1939

This story hits all the right notes; it’s historically significant AND a great tale to boot. The cover of Detective Comics #31 is iconic and, to this day, remains one of the most memorable covers ever, with Batman looming over a castle and the villain known as the Monk. Also, this issue has the first appearance of the batarang and the bat-gyro, plus it’s the first two-part Batman story with the first super-villain to face the Bat. Even by the relatively primitive standards of the late 30’s early 40’s this is good Batman.

top10batman-44&5. Batman #47: “The Origin of Batman”
Writer: Jerry Robinson
Art: Jim Mooney
Date of Publication: June / July 1948

Detective Comics #235: “The First Batman!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Art: Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris
Date of Publication: September 1959

These two books are thematically a two-part story where Batman finally solves the mystery of his parents’ killers and brings them to justice (well, they meet their just ends).

Batman’s origin is finally told in expanded form in Batman #47 via flashback. Batman and Robin encounter Joe Chill who Bruce recalls as shooting his parents. However, Chill has amnesia and only Batman unmasking restores his memory in one of the most memorable pages in Batman history.

In Detective Comics #235, we discover that mobster Lew Moxon hired Chill to ice Thomas and Martha Wayne. The issue also reveals that Thomas Wayne wore a prototype Bat-costume to a party. This fills in the gaps of Bats’ origins and collectively these two issues should have been left as the definitive versions.

top10batman-66. Batman #74: “The Crazy Crime Clown”
Writer: Jerry Robinson
Art: Dick Sprang
Date of Publication: July 1956

As an avowed Joker hater, this is my favourite Joker story of all time. The Joker pretends to be crazy to get locked up in the nuthouse (huh?). Bats follows him in undercover to find out what he’s up to. One of the inmates of the asylum embezzled and hid $1,000,000 and Joker wants to find out where it’s stashed. The climax with switching faces and identities had me laughing the first time I read it and it’s still amusing.

top10batman-77. Batman #237: “Night of the Reaper!”
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
Date of Publication: December 1971

Given the volume and quality of Neal Adam’s contributions to the Bat-canon, I had trouble holding his contributions to two stories.

Here we see another iconic cover, followed by Robin discovering a dead Batman in a field at Halloween. The baddie turns out to be an ex-Nazi but it’s a great story with great imagery from Adams. In my never so humble opinion, this is one of the best stories Neal Adams did.

top10batman-88. Batman #251: “The Joker’s 5-Way Revenge”
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
Date of Publication: September 1973

This one almost didn’t make the list because as Joker stories go this one was basic.

Yes, the Adams art automatically puts it in the upper echelons, but the story was nothing special. It’s on the list for two images: the cover and the panel of Batman running across the beach, the latter of which has been merchandised to death (most recently as a Batman: Black & White statue). No real surprise there– it’s a GREAT image.

top10batman-99. Detective Comics #471-479: “Strange Apparitions”
Writer: Steve Englehart
Art: Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin
Date of Publication: August 1977

To me this is still THE definitive depiction of the character and his world.

Rogers’ art was appropriately moody and Englehart had the characterizations of Bats, Robin, Alfred and the villains note perfect. The Joker trying to patent his “laughing fish” was utterly brilliant. And the re-imagining of Hugo Strange was a master stroke. “Strange Appariations” is a must read for all fans of the Batman.

top10batman-1010. Batman #608-619: “Hush”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Art: Jim Lee & Scott Williams
Date of Publication: December 2002

Jim Lee, Jeph Loeb, Batman, Robin, Nightwing, a deck full of classic villains, a new bad guy, Catwoman unmasks Bats, AND a fight with Superman. This storyline had it all. It’s probably the best story of the 2000’s so far. Among the best written and best drawn Batman from the last eighteen years.

Honourable Mentions:
“Batman vs. the Joker” (Batman #1); the Joker’s origin finally revealed in “The Man in the Red Hood” (Detective #168).

“Robin Dies at Dawn” (Batman #156), which almost made it on the strength of the cover alone.

Detective #404 and Batman #234: “Ghost of the Killer Skies” (Batman vs. Enemy Ace) and “Half an Evil”, two more Neal Adams classics.

A couple different looks at Batman’s origins in “No Hope in Crime alley” Detective #457 and “To Kill a Legend” Detective #500.

And finally, Batman: The Long Halloween by Loeb and Sale. (Ken Boechler)

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About caperaway

I’m a publisher writer of graphic novels and short fiction. Published works include Acts of Violence: An Anthology of Crime Comics, The Grim Collection, Black Salt, and Psychosis.

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