Batman has a huge amount of history stretching across over 75 years of comic books. For some, it can be a daunting task. How does one filter through what to read at first and what to avoid until one reaches a better grasp of the character? Thankfully, we at ComicsVerse have put together a comprehensive list for anyone wanting to dive into Batman comics.

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Essential Batman Comics: BATMAN: YEAR ONE 

The Dark Knight’s alpha. The beginning of who Batman is and how he came to be. Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli not only created a modern-day origin story for Batman that has yet to be topped but they also helped shape what Gotham is today in the span of only four issues.

READ: For another look at YEAR ONE, check out This Week in Comic Book History!

YEAR ONE follows Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon as they first enter Gotham City. It tells the tale of how their first year shaped who both men would eventually transform into. Gordon deals with corrupt politicians and his family demons. In addition, Bruce Wayne decides he shall become a bat to battle the Falcone crime family. YEAR ONE explores the necessity of people like Batman and Jim Gordon. The story feels simplistic in its structure, but beautiful in its execution. No better place to learn how Batman and Gotham City transformed into their current form exists aside from BATMAN: YEAR ONE!

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The spiritual successor to BATMAN: YEAR ONE, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN follows Batman in his second year under the cowl. A new killer has arisen in Gotham City and is murdering criminals every holiday. More than a simple murder mystery though, THE LONG HALLOWEEN is a look at one of Batman’s greatest failures. Much of the story focuses on the fall of Harvey Dent from district attorney to Two-Face. Batman  fails to save one of the rare people he considered a true friend to devastating consequences.

Loeb and Sale followed up the phenomenal THE LONG HALLOWEEN with DARK VICTORY. Unable to cope with the loss of Harvey Dent, Batman begins to lose control of himself. Meanwhile, another serial killer is on the loose in Gotham, this time known as the Hangman Killer. While not a perfect followup to THE LONG HALLOWEEN, there are some large story threads that remain unexplored, DARK VICTORY shows Batman finding redemption. Not in the form of finding peace with himself, but in the search for a greater purpose in helping another child who witnessed the murder of his parents directly in front of them, Dick Grayson. This tells the tale of the origin of the original Robin retold for modern times. DARK VICTORY shows exactly why Robin is so important to who Batman is.

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If DARK VICTORY shows the importance of Robin’s role in keeping Batman stable, DEATH IN THE FAMILY shows the fragility of that relationship. Jim Starlin and Jin Aaparo tell the tale of Jason Todd, the second person to wear the Robin mantle. He finally has a chance to discover the identity of his mother. He follows multiple leads. Eventually, he finds his mother in the Middle East. There, she works for the Joker. What comes next is possibly Batman’s greatest failure. Unable to arrive in time to save Jason from the Joker, Batman must watch as the Joker’s bomb kills the boy wonder. This powerful story shows the dependent relationships between Batman and his extended Bat family. We experience how much losing a member of that family impacts him.

READ: For current stories of Batman and Robin, check out our review of BATMAN AND ROBIN ETERNAL #22!

Marv Wolfman and George Perez followed A DEATH IN THE FAMILY with A LONELY PLACE OF DYING. Overcome with grief, Batman vows never to take on another Robin. Unbeknownst to him, another person has noticed his erratic behavior and is slowing piecing together who Batman is and why his behavior has changed. This person is Tim Drake, the third Robin. His eventual discovery of who Batman is and the realization that Batman needs a Robin to function becomes a core idea of the character for years to come. Batman cannot function without a Robin beside him to be a light in the world of darkness he has created for himself. No better saga demonstrates this idea better than A DEATH IN THE FAMILY and A LONELY PLACE OF DYING.

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Essential Batman Comics: BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE

One of the most polarizing stories ever written about Batman, Alan Moore and Brian Bollard’s THE KILLING JOKE looks at the Joker in his most brutal and coldest form. Much of the dissension from the book comes from the unnecessary violence towards Barbara Gordon. The violence is hard to overlook. However, the narrative contains one of the best stories in understanding Batman and the Joker’s relationship.

Based on the idea that everyone is one bad day away from being just as insane as him, the Joker looks to prove this by tormenting Jim and Barbara Gordon to their breaking points. In THE KILLING JOKE, Batman seems least impacted by the events involved. More so, the story looks at one potential way the Joker became Joker. In addition, it looks at the philosophy of what gives Joker his identity. We also bear witness to what makes men like Batman and Jim Gordon heroes in a city like Gotham. In Gotham, darkness and hate seem to envelop the city. Controversy aside, THE KILLING JOKE remains one of the most important Batman stories ever told. Whether in canon or not, the DC Comics universe still deals with the ramifications of this event.

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Essential Batman Comics: BATMAN: KNIGHTFALL

You know how everyone says Batman can beat anyone? KNIGHTFALL is the book that puts that theory to the test. After back to back to back incidents leave Batman physically and psychologically exhausted, the super steroid-enhanced Bane takes advantage of Batman and breaks his back. After the humiliating defeat, Bruce puts a newcomer into the Batman role, Jean-Paul Valley. However, Jean-Paul quickly becomes unstable, violent, and paranoid; proving his lack of fitness for the role, and Bruce must try to reclaim his mantle. This thrilling saga takes place over three huge arcs called KNIGHTFALL, KNIGHTQUEST, and KNIGHTSEND and answers the question, “Do fans want Batman to be a more ruthless hero?”

READ: For a closer look at all of Batman’s villains, check out our analysis of DC’s ongoing problem creating new Batman villains!

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Similar to KNIGHTFALL, MURDER/FUGITIVE are two books that fall in line with each other. In BRUCE WAYNE: MURDERER, Bruce Wayne gets accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild. Arrested and thrown in prison, Bruce begins to realize that maybe Bruce isn’t his real identity after all, and perhaps it’s Batman! Meanwhile, the members of the Bat-family work tirelessly to prove Bruce Wayne’s innocence even though every clue points toward guilt.

BRUCE WAYNE: FUGITIVE opens with a Bruce Wayne that thoroughly engrosses himself in the Batman identity. Batman appears to have no interest in proving Bruce got framed, so he works in the shadows deeper than ever. While hunting the providers of poisoned heroin, Batman stumbles across the clues and final pieces of the puzzle of who framed Bruce Wayne. The answer goes much higher than you’d expect. MURDERER/FUGITIVE is an in-depth look into the psychology of why Bruce/Batman doesn’t kill, and why he has so many people associated with him.

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Essential Batman Comics: BATMAN: HUSH

HUSH remains one of the few perfect books for the novice BATMAN reader. Jeph Loeb writes an intriguing story that weaves all the way through both of Bruce Wayne’s life. After an accident, Batman gets rushed into surgery under the talented knife of his childhood friend Thomas Elliot. As Batman gets back into action, he begins to realize that his rogues appear controlled by an unknown force — the villain Hush! Loeb’s story wraps action and mystery altogether in a unique way. It drives Batman’s inner monolog which details major turning points in his history. Jim Lee also creates iconic panels and presents all of the characters in costumes that even the least knowledgeable comics fan would recognize.

LISTEN: To learn more about Hush, check out our podcast on his origin!

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Essential Batman Comics: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD

Early in his career, one of Batman’s first rogues was a man in a helmet called the Red Hood. UNDER THE RED HOOD marks the return of a prominent figure from Batman’s past and a controversial addition to the Batman canon. In the midst of trying to take down the Black Mask, one of Gotham City’s reigning crime bosses, the Red Hood reappears in Batman’s life with a grudge. But who is the Red Hood and why does he seem to be an even match for Batman?  The story does dive a bit deeper into Batman lore than everything else on this list. However, it connects Batman’s past to his present as well while offering a look at the Bat-family from another angle.

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