When I started putting together this list – a ranking of the best Batman graphic novels – I quickly found out that it’s one F’n tough endeavor. Trying to compromise one’s personal likes and loves with the historical significance of the MANY Batman GN’s is, quite frankly, damn near impossible.
My list started out as a Top 10, then was lengthened to a Top 20, and then expanded yet again to a Top 25! At that point, I had to bring a bit of exclusivity into the equation and decided to cut it down to about half and make it a Top 12.
Trust me, I excluded SEVERAL GN's I personally love, such as Lee Bermejo's JOKER for example, as I simply couldn't find a way to add 'em based on my criteria: Historical significance and my personal opinion.
Let the nitpicking and debates begin!
12. BATMAN R.I.P. (2009)
When it comes to Grant Morrison’s take on Batman, I’m not much of a fan. He's a grifted and fantastic talent, no doubt about it. It's just that his Batman stuff and my personal Batman sensibilities don't jibe often. However, his BATMAN R.I.P. (with art by Tony S. Daniel) is so good, that it almost made me forget who was writing it!
Chill out Morrison fans, I’m kidding…sorta.
I will say this: R.I.P. features one of the most badass Batman moments in comic book history.
The only negatives when it comes to reading this story as a stand-alone GN are 1) BATMAN AND SON and THE BLACK GLOVE must be read prior to R.I.P., and 2) The story ends in a cliffhanger of sorts that not’s ultimately resolved by Morrison in his ridiculous FINAL CRISES, THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE, BRUCE WAYNE: THE ROAD HOME, and issue #16 of BATMAN AND ROBIN (Vol. 1) stories. Ugh!
11. THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (2005)
Penned by Ed Brubaker (with art by Doug Mahnke), THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is a sequel to Frank Miller’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE and focuses on the first meeting between The Batman and The Joker. It is an updated take on The Joker’s very first appearance in Batman comics which came in 1940 in BATMAN #1. If you like Batman/Joker stories as well as tales featuring a rookie-ish Dark Knight, this one is definitely right up your alley.
10. BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN (2005-2006)
Authored by Matt Wagner (who also provides the art), BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN is another story that takes place during Batman’s early career. Like #11 on this list, it’s an updated take from a story in BATMAN #1 (Vol. 1) and depicts Batman’s first encounter with Dr. Hugo Strange. Of course, the “Monster Men” are depicted more “realistically” than their original 1940 incarnations with a steroid created by Strange is the cause of their abnormal grown and strength.
9. BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK (2006-2007)
BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK is the sequel to #10 on this list and both combined make up what is known as writer/artists “Dark Moon Rising” series. Yet again, this tale is an updated version of an early Batman story and provides readers with a cool and “realistic” take on The Batman’s encounter with a “vampire.” Whether or not The Mad Monk (his name is actually "Niccolai") is really a nosferatu or simply a charismatic cult leader is totally open to interpretation by readers.
Honestly, I probably could've combined MONSTER MEN and MAD MONK and listed them together as "BATMAN: DARK MOON RISING" to get another title on this list. But that's probably cheating, don't you think?
8. BATMAN: YEAR 100 (2006)
Man, I wanted to rank this one a bit higher on this list, but simply couldn’t do it based on what’s ahead of it.
Unlike the three previous GN’s listed above, this Batman tale actually takes place in the future – though it’s unclear whether or not this Batman is an older Bruce Wayne, and ageless Bruce Wayne (for whatever reason), a decendent of Bruce, or another man altogether. “Commissioner Gordon” here is Jim Gordon’s grandson and Batman’s Robin is an African-American, tech-savy mechanical genius - as well as being The Dark Knight’s covert partner in justice.
Paul Pope does double duty here by providing both the writing and the artwork. It’s one of my personal favorite Batman stories and winner of two Eisner Awards in 2007. I'd SO love to see a sequel to this GN, but, you know, it's got a great ending that might be best left alone.
Animated film interpretation? Yes please!
7. THE KILLING JOKE (1988)
Many would probably rank this a bit higher than me, but I consider it both great and overrated at the same time...you know what I'm sayin'?
THE KILLING JOKE is authored by eccentric British writer Alan Moore (WATCHMEN) and depicts an amusement park showdown between Batman and The Joker after the latter has kidnapped Jim Gordon and shot his daughter Barbara – leaving her paralyzed from the waste down and ending her career as Batgirl (until "The New 52" pulled a retcon.)
TKJ also features a Joker origin story that may or may not be true. As The Joker says in the GN, even he can’t remember exactly how he came to be and prefers his creation to be “multiple choice.”
True story. David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan used a bit of TKJ in THE DARK KNIGHT. How do I know? I asked them personally back in 2008 and they both were amused that I was the only member of the press that got it. "You wanna know how I got these scars?"
6. BATMAN: COURT OF OWLS (2012)
Folks, this story is nothing short of a modern classic by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capulio.
As Batman (and Bruce Wayne) takes on a mysterious organization known as the “Court of Owls,” I don’t know if I’ve ever read a story arc that had me on the edge of my seat every month! The conclusion is one of the most awesome Batman momments - EVER - in comics.