After the overwhelming success of Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight, Batman became more of a household name than ever before. Whether fans are praising the film’s realistic approach to the character or mocking Christian Bale’s outlandish growl, there is no denying that Batman has retained his status as a cultural icon.
To get in touch with Batman’s roots, there is no better place to look than comic books. Batman first appeared in 1939 as the featured character in Detective Comics #27, and DC Comics has published Bat-books ever since. However, modern Batman stories can be a bit complex, and getting on board with story continuity can be a daunting task.
Here is a list of the five best graphic novels that serve as great jumping off points for first-time Bat-readers:
Batman: Year One (1987)
The title says it all. Frank Miller’s influential and gritty portrayal of the Caped Crusader’s first year on the job just might be the single best introduction to the character. Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film, Batman Begins, lifted several plot points and memorable scenes from the pages of Year One. However, where the film begins while Bruce Wayne is overseas, Year One takes off from Bruce’s return to Gotham, ready to take on the criminal underworld. Frank Miller’s characterizations offer definitive takes on Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Lieutenant Jim Gordon, and David Mazzucchelli’s straightforward artwork and muted color palette help ground the story in realism. Don’t miss this one.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
While Frank Miller wrote and illustrated this classic one-year before his definitive origin story, The Dark Knight Returns is set in a dystopian future, ten years after Batman’s retirement. When retired life just doesn’t cut it, however, Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl to fight a new gang called the Mutants, while running into a few old “friends” along the way. The publication of this particular graphic novel helped transform Batman in the eyes of the public from a silly do-gooder to a down-and-dirty vigilante, paving the way for the dark take on the character found in the recent films.
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
Alan Moore, best known for graphic novels such as Watchmen and V for Vendetta, penned this short but unforgettable tale of Batman’s complicated relationship with his nemesis, The Joker. In preparation for his Oscar-winning role as The Joker in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was given The Killing Joke as essential reading. Batman fans should consider it essential as well.
Batman: The Long Halloween (1997)
A riveting murder-mystery and a detailed character study, The Long Halloween is an epic 13-issue graphic novel that works well as an introduction to the world of Batman and his many villains. A serial killer is committing murders on each major holiday, and Batman struggles to reveal his identity before he kills again. This enthralling story written by Jeph Loeb features the majority of Batman’s rogues gallery of villains, as well as the emotional original story of one of his greatest enemies, Two-Face.
Batman: Hush (2003)
Jeph Loeb is a writer who clearly understands the ins and outs of the Batman mythos, and Hush is a perfect example. The Batman in this graphic novel is savvy, unforgiving, and established among the Gotham underbelly as a force to be reckoned with. But when someone from Bruce’s past returns to Gotham, Batman must face one of his deadliest foes yet. The villain Hush is one of the most three-dimensional and emotionally engaging characters to come out of Batman comics in recent years, and he continues to be popular today. This book also offers a definitive take on the relationship between Batman and Superman, and Jim Lee’s vivid artistic style complements the story perfectly.
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