Batman Day is around the corner to celebrate one of DC Comics’ biggest superhero icons, and there are plenty of comics to read for fans familiar with his corner of the world. The Dark Knight is arguably one of the most accessible characters in the superhero genre, but many writers and artists have created storylines that are just as rewarding for invested fans.
Both in mainline and alternate continuities, many comic books delve into particular elements of Batman’s profound lore. The blockbuster Elseworld tale The Dark Knight Returns is best for those already versed in the hero’s conventional characterizations, while the sprawling Grant Morrison run practically requires extensive background knowledge.
10 The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns is perhaps the most iconic alternate-timeline Batman comic. The story follows a grizzled, battle-hardened Bruce Wayne as he comes out of retirement after seeing Gotham fall even further into destitution.
While The Dark Knight Returns is an excellent standalone story in its own right, Miller’s interpretation is best read after becoming familiar with the brooding, yet ultimately compassionate mainline version. This comic serves as a grimmer deconstruction of Batman, depicting him in a more cynical rendition of Gotham City that, in some ways, is bleaker than mainline DC continuity.
9 Batman And Son
Batman and Son is one of the most important Batman comics in writer Grant Morrison’s catalog, which introduces readers to Damian Wayne as Bruce’s biological son and new Robin. After returning to Gotham, the hero finds himself involved in Talia al Ghul’s scheme to create a legion of Man-Bat-infused soldiers, all while she reveals the young assassin Damian as their child.
Batman and Son comes off the back of Infinite Crisis, but the most crucial piece of lore to Morrison and Andy Kubert’s first consequential arc is how it expands on the 1987 comic Son of the Demon. It’s the first storyline in a sweeping seven-year-long odyssey pulling decades-old history from the Dark Knight’s past.
8 The Black Mirror
Scott Snyder’s crowning achievement in Batman’s sandbox is his mainline run with Greg Capullo during the New 52 reboot, but his prior Detective Comics arc is a worthy shoutout. Illustrated by Jock and Francesco Francavilla, The Black Mirror sees Dick Grayson’s Batman tenure tested, as he’s thrown into a series of murders tied to a supervillain black market.
An engrossing neo-noir story, The Black Mirror is a gruesomely captivating read for those wanting to see the hero in his sleuthing element. However, given that Grayson is under the cape and cowl, it’s especially rewarding for those following Bruce’s ventures from Morrison’s run and familiar with the checkered past of Commissioner Gordon’s estranged son.
7 No Man’s Land
Undoubtedly one of the longest overarching storylines from the ’90s, No Man’s Land brought cataclysmic changes to Batman’s world in Gotham. The cross-title arc revolved around Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the rest of Bruce’s extended Bat-Family trying to keep the city together following a devastating earthquake.
No Man’s Land is a grand and engrossing story, spotlighting Gotham’s various superhero vigilantes and villains alike in sub-stories varying in scope. That’s precisely why it serves veteran readers best, as the revolving cast of Batman’s family of heroes and adversaries juggles years’ worth of lore, in addition to the storyline’s expansive length.
Knightfall was another one of the excellent Batman comic book arcs from the ’90s, about as expansive as No Man’s Land. Written and illustrated by a variety of talent across several books, this storyline saw Bane orchestrate a mass Arkham breakout to whittle down the Dark Knight’s physical and mental faculties.
Comprised of several sub-arcs, Knightfall was one of Batman canon’s boldest stories for how it deconstructed the status quo and introduced genuine consequences. But like No Man’s Land, the sheer commitment to getting the complete picture complements well-versed fans best. From the extended Bat-Family, Azrael’s involvement, and the seeds of Bane being planted during Venom, Knightfall is packed with lore.
5 Under The Red Hood
Judd Winnick and Doug Mahnke’s Under the Red Hood marks one of the most melancholy periods in Bruce’s life. Inspiring the acclaimed animated movie, this arc centers around a resurrected Jason Todd returning to instill his grueling brand of justice in Gotham City.
Under the Red Hood‘s core premise is straightforward, but the full scope of the story’s emotional impact comes from decades of buildup. The second Robin was infamously headstrong, but Batman shoulders the blame for his brutal demise by Joker’s hand in A Death in the Family. Seeing the former Boy Wonder revived as a vengeful antihero hits hardest after knowing Bruce and Jason’s dynamic beforehand.
4 The Black Glove
Another critical piece in Grant Morrison’s lengthy adventure with the Caped Crusader, The Black Glove saw the titular shadowy organization creep into the hero’s world. The Dynamic Duo is called into action when a meeting between a team of international superheroes has a murderer in its midst.
Illustrated by Tony Daniel, Ryan Benjamin, and J.H. Williams III, The Black Glove involves several deep cuts from Batman mythos otherwise lost to time. From the Batmen of All Nations team to the group’s rich benefactor to the Black Glove’s role in it all, Morrison spun these obscure lore pieces into an inventive Agatha Christie-like murder mystery.
Like other Batman works by the duo, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal — and Death Metal, by extension — is a wild supernatural ride. These story arcs are sparked by the Caped Crusader discovering a link to the Dark Multiverse, leading to seven evil versions of himself being unleashed upon the world.
Dark Nights: Metal serves as a grandiose Justice League crossover event and the finish on Snyder and Capullo’s overall Batman stint. Naturally, that invites the most invested readers to follow along with it, as the saga dives headfirst into swathes of the cosmic mythos surrounding the backstory of these evil Batmen. Not to mention the dark multiversal gods orchestrating this universe-ending event.
Morrison’s run on Batman as a whole is described as an epic saga in three parts, with R.I.P. being its first overarching climax. Illustrated by Tony Daniel, this story arc reaps what was sown in The Black Glove, with the titular organization launching a full-frontal assault to dismantle the Dark Knight from the inside out.
R.I.P. can be whiplash-inducing even to veteran fans. Still, part of what makes this arc fulfilling is how these inherently zany concepts — like the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh — come together in a darkly entertaining thriller. There’s admittedly some needed research for the story to achieve maximum impact, but it’s a tale of triumph that’s quintessentially Batman.
1 Batman And Robin
Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin was the debut of a newfound staple series. It’s getting a relaunch this fall with Joshua Williamson and Simone DiMeo, but the former duo’s run saw Dick Grayson don the cape and cowl with Damian Wayne as the new Boy Wonder.
As with other arcs within Morrison’s run, the entirety of their Batman and Robin series is built on a foundation of established lore. On top of Dick Grayson serving as Batman while Bruce flying through time, a vengeful Red Hood tries to usurp the Dynamic Duo as Gotham’s protector. So much of the series’ emotional payoff is bolstered by R.I.P., Under the Red Hood, and even Final Crisis.
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