However, fret not, for this is not just a standard top 10 list rehashing Dark Knight Returns, Long Halloween, Year One and every other cliched and well known Batman story from the past 70 years or so.
No, what I intend to do is spotlight some of the lesser known, but equally as awesome stories, that fall short of most people's top 10 lists. Hopefully this will introduce people to some off the beaten path Batman stories that typically get passed over in favour of the DKR's most people are accustomed to being recommended.
As always, feel free to throw out your must read Batman stories or comment on my list.
Written by Doug Moench
Art by Kelley Jones
Related Stories include Batman: Bloodstorm, Batman: Crimson Mist
Pff, Batman and Dracula? What kind of cheap gimmick is this, you ask? Well, let me set you straight. Red Rain is one of the best Batman stories ever written. Period.
This Elseworlds tale is to Batman what many consider Red Son is to Superman. It's simply fantastic and boils down the character to what makes him so beloved to this day and shows the lengths to which the Batman will go to protect his city, even it costs his immortal soul.
Jones' art is dark and moody and the story probably would not be nearly as effective with any other artist's work and is a true testament to how underappreciated Jones' art has been over the years.
Don't let DC's constant diluding of the Batman franchise with the numerous, pointless tie-ins over the years turn you off from picking up a book that features Batman and Dracula, of all things, as its premise. Otherwise, you'll be missing out on one of the best Batman stories ever written.
BATMAN: 10 NIGHTS OF THE BEAST
Written by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo
Collects Batman #417-420
Hard to believe as it may be, the KGBeast was one of Batman's most dangerous and threatening villains when he first debuted in the 10 Nights of the Beast storyline that ran through Batman #417-420.
During the storyline, the KGBeast was sent to America to kill 10 key members of the US Star Wars program, including the then-president, Ronald Reagan.
Of course, this takes him to Gotham where he brutally and efficiently takes out target after target, despite Batman's best efforts to stop him, and even goes so far as to kill an entire banquet hall's worth of people, over 100 in total, to ensure he killed his target.
Further showing his prowess, the Beast even holds his own against Batman one on one. In their final battle, Batman manages to ensnare the Beast's arm, ensuring his eventual capture. However, the KGBeast shocks everyone, even by today's stands and especially when you consider the era when this comic came out and the affect the Comic's Code Authority had on the industry, by cutting his own hand off and escaping.
Sadly, the Beast has never really been portrayed as he was in this opening arc and has even suffered defeats at the hands of Robin over the years. But don't let that stop you from picking up one of the most thrilling and deadly encounters the Dark Knight has ever had with this storyline.
Written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Alan Grant
Art by Mike Gustovich, Lee Weeks, John Cleary, Phil Jimenez & Bret Blevins
Collects Batman #512-514, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #32-34, Detective Comics #679-681 & Robin #11-13
Quite often overlooked and forgotten when compared to the story that preceeded it, the Knightfall trilogy, Prodigal features the prodigal son, Dick Grayson, stepping in and taking over as Batman immediately after Bruce had returned and taken back the mantle of the bat from Azrael at the end of Knightsend.
This is a rare opportunity to see someone deserving, other than Bruce, under the cowl and it was a real treat to see Dick finally step up and fill his mentor's shoes. Seeing the doubt, the enormous amount of pressure and expectations placed upon him and the way he deals with the huge responsibility, which he doesn't even know if he wants, and, most importantly, the differences between how Bruce and Dick handle these things makes this a oft-remembered classic in my eyes and almost makes me wonder if Bruce would have ever returned if Dick had taken over for him instead of Jean Paul during Knightfall.
Not surprisingly, this low print run trade is one of the hardest to find and more expensive Batman trades to purchase in recent memory and for good reason.
BATMAN: DEATH AND THE MAIDENS
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Klaus Janson
Collects Batman: Death and the Maidens #1-9
I don't know what possessed DC to retcon one of the greatest Ra's al Ghul stories of all time and the new status quo established by Rucka in this storyline, but the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul was definitely not worth it and what DC did is a travesty when you take into account how amazing this series was.
Death and the Maidens introduced Ra's al Ghul's estranged daughter, Nyssa. Rucka combines a look at Bruce Wayne's past and how he carries his guilt over his parent's death and the way he perceives how his parents view him with the flashbacks detailing Nyssa and Ra's' storied past in a deep, thought provoking and powerful story that shows how the past shapes people differently and the affects one's parents and the way we try to live up to them affects us.
In the end, it is as much a tribute to Ra's al Ghul as it is his swan song as Nyssa kills her father and, thus, becomes her father's daughter, casting away the idealic principles she once had and inheriting his vision along with his empire.
While what this story set up has been all but wiped away with the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul storyline, that does not rob Death and the Maidens of the emotional impact the story entails nor does it alter our perception of the portrayal of Batman and his internal struggle with avenging his parents and trying to live up to their memory.
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BATMAN: THE CULT
Written by Jim Starlin
Art by Bernie Wrightson
Batman: The Cult is the drugged out / brainwashing of Batman: RIP done right. Starlin tells a tale of an abducted Batman who has been captured and broken, both mentally and physically, at the hands of the mysterious cult leader, Deacon Blackfire.
Considering the year in which this comic was published, 1988, The Cult holds up miraculously well by today's standards and it probably has a lot to do with the fact DC released this as a prestige format comic, which helped them by pass the Comic's Code Authority and the suffocating affect it had on comics of that time period.
The lack of the CCA approval did not go unnoticed and The Cult is one of the most controversial Batman comics ever released. It depicted the lengths to which Deacon Blackfire went to break the Bat and the subsequently brainwashed Batman picking up a gun and killing someone he mistook for the Joker. If that wasn't enough, there were graphic depictions of decapitations and other acts of violence that were only made possible by the lack of the Comics Code.
This book wasn't just about shock value violence. Far from it. Once free of the cult's influence, Batman comes to the realization of what he has done and we embark on a dark and forboding journey as the Batman struggles to come to terms with what he has done.
Truely one of the greatest Batman stories ever told and a comic many rarely mention when it comes time to roll out their lists. This deserves to be up there with the Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke and the myriad of other greats.
BATMAN: YEAR 100
Written by Paul Pope
Art by Paul Pope
Collects Batman: Year 100 #1-4
The only recent Batman story to make my list, Batman: Year 100 flew under many people's radar, despite the critical acclaim and positive reaction by just about everyone that read it.
Featuring a dystopic future where the government controls everything and personal information is a thing of the past, Batman is seen merely as a rumour, a myth, a legend that does not exist. Drawing on the title of the book, it's 2039, exactly 100 years since Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, and we see flashbacks to events in the past involving Batman corresponding to the actual dates the books were published.
Bucking the system, Batman is still a mystery to everyone and once he is found at the murder scene of a federal agent, he becomes a liability as he is outside of the government's sphere of influence and a sign that the system doesn't work and a symbol to others that they do not have to remain under the watchful and all seeing eye of the government.
It all comes together as one of the greatest Batman stories of the last decade, if not longer, as Batman is forced to solve the murder mystery while avoiding the federal agents hot on his tail all while giving us an engaging social and political commentary that is neither preachy nor overbearing and serves to elevate a mere story to a work of art.
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GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
Written by Brian Augustyn
Art by Mike Mignola
As the unofficial first Elseworlds story from DC, Gotham by Gaslight has a special place in my Batman loving heart. Add pencils by the incredibly talented Mike Mignola and words by the equally impressive Brian Augustyn and it's kind of hard not to like this book.
Gotham by Gaslight redefined how we thought about our heroes and sparked numerous Elseworlds tales featuring dozens of other variations on Batman and the rest of the DCU's myriad of characters.
So perfectly did Gaslight entrench Batman, and the reader, in the Victorian era with this Jack the Ripper murder mystery that it is hard to believe that there has never been a proper follow up to one of the most impressive Batman stories of all time.
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Written by Dennis O'Neil
Art by Trevor von Eeden
Collects Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20
While probably not the greatest Batman story ever told, Batman: Venom is still well worth reading and rarely gets the recognition it deserves, especially since a title that relies heavily on Batman: Venom's premise, Knightfall, is far more well known and praised in comparison.
Venom features a Batman confronted with his own mortality. For all his adventures and experience with the other super powered individuals over the years, Batman has never forgotten that he is still human underneath the costume.
When confronted with a little girl trapped under some rocks with water pouring in on top of her, Batman is forced to simply stand by and watch, helpless to do anything to save her, as the young girl's life is snuffed out in front of him.
Racked with guilt over his own failings, Batman turns to a new drug called Venom, which Bane eventually ended up using during Knightfall. Much like Bane, it increased Batman's strength, endurance and other physical attributes, but lead to Batman's addiction to the drug.
We follow Bruce's fall from grace as he becomes much like the monsters he has sworn to fight and see the changes in his character and the reactions from his closest friends, including Alfred and Jim Gordan, before he finally fights his way back from the edge.
The only complaints I have with Venom is the ending, which sees Batman following the trail of the drug back to some government experiments to make super soldiers, much like how Bane ended up being experimented on. The art is also fairly dated, by today's standards, and doesn't hold up quite as well as something like DKR or The Killing Joke's artwork. It's still good, but has a distinctive 70's or 80's feel to it.
However, for how cheap it is to pick up, it's hard to argue with such small gripes with the Batman: Venom storyline. And if you enjoyed Knightfall or anything with Bane in it, Venom is probably something that would reveal some much needed background on the drug and how it first became a part of the Bat mythos.
BATMAN: BLACK & WHITE
Written by Neil Gaiman, Walt Simonson, Chuck Dixon, Klaus Janson, Matt Wagner, Archie Goodwin, Bruce Timm and various others
Art by Bruce Timm, Joe Kubert, Brian Bolland, Katsuhiro Otomo, Simon Bisley, Robert Corben and various others
Collects Batman: Black & White #1-4
Hmm, let's see. Let's take a heaping helping of awesome writers, add a few scoops of kick ass artists and let them go wild with any story they want in a black and white anthology book that would make any comic fan kneel down and give thanks to whatever gods they worship.
It's hard to go into any details with a book like this, as there are upwards of twenty or more stories by an all-star cast of creators, including some of my all time favourites, such as Neil Gaiman, Joe Kubert and Bruce Timm, to name a few.
If you call consider yourself a Batman fan, you do yourself and your fellow fans a disservice by not owning this book.
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JLA: NEW WORLD ORDER
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Howard Porter
Collects JLA #1-4
The only non-Batman centric title on this list, many seem to overlook the opening arc by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter on their impressive JLA relaunch from the 90's. In fact, I see more people choose the Waid penned, Tower of Babel, storyline that features the "asshole / paranoid Batman" than the "preptime godmode Batman" that Morrison typically wrote.
For those curious as to why this JLA storyline makes a Batman Must Read list, all you need to know is that this story features the Hyperclan, a super powered team, arriving on Earth and curing disease, ending world hunger, stopping wars and, in general, upstaging the JLA at every turn.
It is quickly revealed that these Hyperclan "heroes" are actually evil White Martians in disguise, each possessing Superman / Martian Manhunter-like abilities, and they systematically take down each and every member of the JLA save one - Batman.
What follows is Batman being the goddamned Batman and exposing the White Martians weakness to fire, taking out several Hyperclan members and freeing his teammates before they all save the world. Who needs super powers when you've got preptime?
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