Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might be the ninth live-action Batman movie released in theaters, but the character’s source material has a larger pool. There are, quite literally, thousands of comic books featuring the Dark Knight as the lead or a supporting character, and that doesn’t even count his cameos. With such a wide selection, it can be intimidating for new readers to pick just where to start, and what is friendly for someone just wading into the waters. That in mind, here are the 10 best comics for Batman beginners.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: Year One
In 1987, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli offered the ultimate retelling of Batman’s origins in the stellar Batman: Year One. Though everyone on the planet is familiar with the tale, it’s primarily the Miller and Mazzucchelli version that people know. The comic not only shows the first workings of Bruce Wayne as Batman but plants the seed for versions of Jim Gordon and Catwoman that would become staples of the characters for decades. If you want to start at the beginning, there’s no better place.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: The Long Halloween
A spiritual sequel to “Year One,” The Long Halloween is a year long mini-series focusing on Batman’s hunt for the Holiday killer, a madman that ends his foes based around the particular holidays in a month. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s opus is a taut thriller and perfectly-plotted story that puts the detective back in Batman. Featuring an extensive roster of characters like Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, The Joker, and The Riddler, The Long Halloween also offers a new telling of Harvey Dent’s transformation into villain Two-Face. The comic also was highly influential on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight both in terms of plot, and visually.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: Court of Owls
Back in 2011 when the entire DC Universe relaunched with the “New 52,” Batman began with a simple enough story that laid the groundwork for the character for the entire reboot. Set in Batman’s prime, Batman: Court of Owls tells of an extensive conspiracy in Gotham going back hundreds of years and forces Bruce to act both with and without his mask. It also introduced the most iconic villain of the New 52 with the Talons. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo bring the Dark Knight full circle in more ways than one in the series, including a mind-bending issue with upside-down and backwards paging.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: The Man Who Laughs
With his most famous foe being The Joker, it’s only fitting to read his “first” encounter with the clown prince of crime. The characters tangoed for decades beforehand of course, but this one shot story by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke imagines their first meeting in a modern setting but with still very-Joker like plot threads, from slow acting poisons to bombs and clown-dressed goons with guns.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: The Killing Joke
If you’re going to go for the first encounter between Batman and The Joker, you can’t go wrong with what many interpret as their final encounter too. Another prestige format comic, the controversial “Killing Joke” allows The Joker to tell a version of his origin while mirroring that with his own attempts to prove anyone can break bad, by inflicting his most sinister plan on Commissioner Gordon himself. Alan Moore might think it’s one of his weakest stories, but it’s still in a league its own especially with Brian Bolland’s exceptonal artwork. The book has been in constant reprints for years, but track down an original copy if you can for John Higgins’ original psychedelic color scheme.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: War on Crime
One of Batman’s most lauded writers is Paul Dini, executive producer of Batman: The Animated Series and creator of Harley Quinn. But Paul’s work isn’t limited to the animation medium as he’s written several comics featuring the Caped Crusader, though the most poignant and hard-hitting is Batman: War on Crime from his The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes collection of stories. Featuring flawless art by Alex Ross, War on Crime presents a simple version of Batman involved in an all too familiar story, a young boy who watches his parents get murdered.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman and Son
Writer Grant Morrison took Batman and weaved the most intricate and inspiring tale of the Dark Knight that lasted over seven years and weaved in all manner of Batman continuity into one web. The true beginning though is Batman and Son, offering the introduction to Bruce’s son Damien. Trained by his mother Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins, the series adds a new dynamic between this new Dynamic Duo as Damien ascends into the role of the new Robin. It’s also a great jumping on point.
Best Superhero Comics: Batman: Black & White
The beauty of Batman is in the simple stories. Any writer can bring their own stamp to the character and duo to his durability he can fit into most any type of story. With Batman: Black & White, you’re an all you can eat Bat-buffet featuring work from the likes of Bruce Timm, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Matt Wagner, Bill Sienkiewicz, Warren Ellis, Jim Lee, and countless others. It’s a Who’s Who of A-list comic book talent that will not only familiarize you with the Batman but with creators whose work should be further explored.
Best Superhero Comics: The Dark Knight Returns
Before Frank Miller brought the ultimate take on Batman’s origin to the world, he went to the back of the book and told the ending. The Dark Knight Returns paints a picture of a future where Bruce Wayne hung up the cowl, but the voice in the back of his head never quite left. After decades of retirement, and now an old man, he puts the tights back on and takes to the streets to control his city again. The story, however, is a deeper than a simple “return to arms,” as Returns offers parody and subtext about superhero comics, politics on both sides of the aisle, and the media at large. Though the story plays with the iconography of Batman’s whole history, it being a later chapter in the character’s life should put it lower on your reading list.
Best Superhero Comics: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
The Dark Knight Returns might have finality to it, but Neil Gaiman’s two-issue story is the true “last” Batman story. In the comic, Batman has passed and his friends and foes all gather to eulogize the Dark Knight in the way that only they can: telling stories of their encounters all ranging from plausible to completely outlandish, but then again that’s Batman in a nutshell. In just two parts, Gaiman breaks down what makes Batman who he is and shines a light on why he’s so timeless.