15 Essential Batman Graphic Novels: The Dark Knight Reads! - Rolling Stone
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The Dark Knight Reads: 15 Essential Batman Graphic Novels

If you want to know who he is, how he came to be and where he’s headed in the future, these 15 Bat-books belong on your bookshelf

batman dark knight rises

Ron Phillips/Warner Bros.

The Dark Knight Rises may mark the end of director Christopher Nolan’s preposterously successful movie trilogy but, in the comic book world, Batman’s battle never ends. Over the course of his 83-year history, the Dark Knight has racked up one of the strongest assortments of stories in all of supercomics and become the world’s most popular hero. The 15 titles below are essential to understanding why.

The list includes undisputed classics and offbeat personal visions, old-school adventures and state-of-the-art superheroics. Some are practically perfect, some are deeply flawed, but put them together and a complete picture of the Dark Knight emerges.

the killing joke

™ & © DC Comics


3. ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’

Watchmen writer Alan Moore has disavowed this nasty little number about the Joker's origin, centered on his attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by crippling and sexually assaulting his daughter Barbara (a/k/a Batgirl). That didn't stop Heath Ledger from citing Moore's Batbook as a touchstone for his performance in The Dark Knight, nor prevent artist Brian Bolland's cackling portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime from becoming the character's most iconic image.

batman year one

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2. ‘Batman: Year One’

In retrospect, it's an unlikely collaboration: the operatic grandeur and bombast of Frank Miller in a writer-only role, wedded to the stylishly minimal art of David Mazzucchelli, who'd soon retire from superheroes entirely and reinvent himself as an alternative-comics trailblazer. But their definitive account of both Batman and Jim Gordon's earliest days as crime-fighters is the perfect blend of pulp and poetry; Nolan all but used it as proof of concept for his franchise reboot, and many fans and critics consider it the best superhero comic of the modern age. (Note to Marvel movie fans: Miller and Mazzucchelli's Daredevil: Born Again is arguably modern Marvel's best book, too.)

dark knight returns

™ & © DC Comics


1. ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’

There's no competition. Frank Miller's grim but ultimately celebratory vision of a dark, depraved future Gotham City and the grizzled old Batman who comes out of retirement to save it made Miller a legend. In tandem with Watchmen, it transformed the landscape of superhero comics forever. Forget Chris Nolan or Tim Burton, cartoon or comic book or video game – without the original TDKR, Batman as you know him would not exist.

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