With The Batman bringing the Dark Knight back to the big screen, now is a great time to discover the comic book stories behind the legendary caped crusader.
But given that the character has been around for nearly 85 years, has been worked on by numerous creative teams, and has gone through a number of continuity reboots… where do you begin?
Well dear reader, (boy) wonder no more. This is your guide to the best Batman comics for new readers!
To keep things simple, I’ve only listed the comics you’ll want to read to get started. These books will teach you a lot about who Batman is, how he operates, his closest allies, and, of course, the worst of his rogues gallery.
So sharpen your Batarangs, load up your utility belt, and fire up the Batwing. Let’s start things off right back at the beginning…
Batman: Year One (1988)
When it comes to superhero origin stories, there are few better in the history of comic books.
Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, two masters at the height of their craft, Batman: Year One chronicles Bruce Wayne’s debut year as the Dark Knight of the corrupt and crime-ridden Gotham City.
Batman: Year One is a gritty, noir-ish journey into the dark heart of Gotham’s criminal underworld. Intertwining Batman’s arrival with that of new-in-town Lieutenant James Gordon, Miller and Mazzucchelli’s story skips over the famous costumed villains of Batman lore to instead focus on the evil of organised crime.
Don’t be put off by the fact that this book helped define the “grim and gritty” comics of the 1980s. Both the outer world of Gotham City and the inner world of Bruce Wayne are dark spaces by necessity, and Batman: Year One is rightfully unapologetic about diving headfirst into this. The comics landscape as a whole is richer for it.
This is why now, over three decades later, Batman: Year One remains a cornerstone of the Dark Knight’s story.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs (2005)
This list just wouldn’t be right without making special mention of the Joker. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a prestige format comic that shines a spotlight on the clown prince of crime – and it’s a worthy addition to the Dark Knight’s history.
The Man Who Laughs, written by Ed Brubaker and beautifully illustrated by Doug Mahnke, picks up where Batman: Year One leaves off and chronicles the Joker’s first assault on Gotham.
It’s a gruesome tale. The Joker’s scheme is as horrifying as anything we’ve come to expect from the character, from the GCPD discovering mutilated bodies at a chemical test lab to his indiscriminate killing spree. Batman has to push himself to extremes to stop the menace – which is just a sign of things to come.
The narration by Jim Gordon does a good job of contextualising Joker’s appearance: this is a whole new level of insane. Batman: The Man Who Laughs nicely bridges the gap between Batman: Year One and the next comic on this list…
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996)
Despite the diverse cast of characters in Batman: The Long Halloween, a 13-part mystery thriller from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the tragedy of District Attorney Harvey Dent takes centre stage.
Batman: The Long Halloween is set in the second year of Bruce Wayne’s tenure as the Dark Knight and tells the story of “Holiday,” a mysterious serial killer who strikes every holiday.
Batman, Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon work together to try and catch the killer. But as events unfold around the trio, something far worse is unleashed upon Gotham – the terror of Two-Face.
Blending the organised crime focus of Frank Miller with the incredible depth of Batman’s supervillain rogues gallery, and all crafted with the exquisite illustrations of Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween would be an endearing story even if it didn’t feature Dent’s transformation into Two-Face. As it is, the maxi-series earns its classic status by delivering a brilliant origin story for one of the most beloved – and feared – criminals in Gotham City.
Batman: Dark Victory (1999)
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale follow up The Long Halloween with this direct sequel, another 13-part mystery. As a new District Attorney unravels the conclusion of The Long Halloween, a new spate of Holiday-style killings grip Gotham City.
Still grieving the fall of former DA Harvey Dent, Batman becomes more violent and brutal in his methods. Meanwhile, the new Commissioner Gordon struggles to balance the realities of his work with his moral compass and unravelling personal life. As events reach their bleakest, the acrobat parents of a young Dick Grayson are killed – leading Bruce Wayne to take on an unusual ward.
Batman: Dark Victory is, well, dark. It’s also dense, complex, and beautifully illustrated. If you’ve ever wondered why Batman needs a Robin, this story is for you.
Batman Chronicles: The Gauntlet (1997)
If you’re going to start reading Batman comics, you’d better get ready to meet the whole family.
To prove he’s worthy of working alongside the caped crusader, the first Robin (Dick Grayson) must make it through a whole night in Gotham City without being hunted down by Batman. Yet before the sun has even set, the Boy Wonder finds himself caught up in a plot involving criminal gangs, pornographic playing cards, and an undercover GCPD operation.
Written by Bruce Canwell and gorgeously illustrated by Lee Weeks, Batman Chronicles: The Gauntlet is a charming slice of pulp storytelling that reads like a modern take on the golden age of comics. Coming straight off the back of Dark Victory, this story will remind you that Batman can be fun without having to cross the line into camp.
Coming in at a breezy 47 pages, Batman Chronicles: The Gauntlet won’t take you long to get through. But by the you’ve read it, you’ll have a much better idea of how the Batman and Robin dynamic works.
Robin: Year One (2000)
If the tonal shift from Dark Victory to The Gauntlet was a bit too sharp for you then Robin: Year One will even out the transition.
Written by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, this four part collection tells the story of Dick Grayson’s first year working with Batman. Yet Batman himself is more of a peripheral character; Dixon and Beatty give us much of the story from Alfred’s point-of-view, allowing us to question along with the butler as to whether or not Dick should be fighting Batman’s crusade.
The artwork by Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin is absolutely stunning. It evokes strong Batman: The Animated Series vibes; a cartoon pulp aesthetic that helps this Golden Age story feel that little bit more modern.
Once you’ve read Dark Victory, The Gauntlet and Robin: Year One, you’ll have a better understanding of why Batman needs a Robin – and why Dick Grayson was the right young man for the role.
Batman: Hush (2002)
Many of the stories on this list focus on the early years of the Dark Knight’s crusade. Batman: Hush instead shows us an older, more accomplished Bruce Wayne.
Jeph Loeb isn’t necessarily the greatest writer to leave his mark on Batman throughout the years. Yet the fact he has three stories on this list is testament to how well his work captures the essence of Batman.
Even then, Loeb isn’t the main draw (pun very much intended) of the book. That would be the work of the legendary comic book artist (and DC head honcho), Jim Lee.
Other artists are better at capturing a gothic Batman, but Lee makes him look like the AAA superhero he is. Bats looks like he’s been carved from stone, while Catwoman (heck, every woman) like she just stepped off a catwalk. Then there’s the fun that Lee clearly has drawing the iconic rogues’ gallery, from Killer Croc to Joker. This is the work of a comics legend firing on all cylinders.
Batman: Hush is a full-power crime adventure that adds new layers to the mythos.
These Are The Best Batman Comics For New Readers
So there you have it. Covering everything from Batman’s origins through to his status as a legend of Gotham City, this selection of comics will give you a great introduction to Bruce Wayne’s crusade against the criminal underworld.
Just keep in mind that these are some of the best Batman comics for new readers. There are literally hundreds more truly great Batman stories in the DC catalogue for you to enjoy, each one delving into a different aspect of the Dark Knight Detective.
All that said, did this guide help you at all? Are there any other great Batman stories that you believe I should have included? Drop a comment below and let me know!