Batman is one of the most beloved superheroes of all time, with a legacy that stretches back so many decades. Even scratching the surface of Batman’s legacy as a character, as a series, as a franchise, would take a long time.
What’s important to know when digging into and exploring the best Batman comics is the sheer diversity of his world and his stories. Writers of all walks of life have reinterpreted Batman time and again over the years, emphasising different aspects of his character and his world.
The Best Batman Comics Ever Written
Batman is so many things to so many people, as is the city of Gotham, and as are his villains.
The best Batman comics are either ones that focus on the gritty realism of Gotham; that give us noir tales of crooked cops, dangerous gangsters, and Batman as a detective, or they’re the ones that emphasise the nightmarish, gothic, surreal, and fantastical world of Batman and his rogues gallery of monstrous and eccentric villains.
And here, you’ll find the best Batman comics of all time, written and drawn by some of the most talented and dedicated writers and artists in the world of comic books.
Batman Comics for New Readers
A great way to get into the character of Batman and the world of Batman comics is to read the non-canon stuff. These are the Batman comics that exist outside of the established and ongoing canon narrative, and they’re also many of the best Batman comics, full stop.
If you’re new to Batman as a comic book and a franchise, start with the non-canon works, because they require little-to-no background knowledge about the character and the world.
You can jump right into this selection of non-canon stories and you’ll be fine, and you’ll also be reading some of the best Batman comics of all time.
Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Created in the mid-nineties by powerhouse pair Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, The Long Halloween remains the peak of Batman storytelling.
This writer/artist duo built a legacy of writing fantastic non-canon stories across both DC and Marvel (including the masterpiece Spider-Man: Blue), and this remains their best work.
Set across thirteen issues (chapters), The Long Halloween behaves like a tour across Batman’s life, and through his rogues gallery.
It’s also a Batman comic that manages to blend the gritty detective noir side of the Caped Crusader with the more fantastical and gothic side of his world.
Mobsters like Carmine Falcone, as well as eccentric villains like the Joker and Two-Face make an appearance and a disturbance in this year-long tale.
The Long Halloween is a fantastic jumping-on point for new Batman fans, but is also a cherished story and remains one of the best Batman comics of all time.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison & Dave McKean
Like The Long Halloween (above), Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum is a tour through the life of Batman, but one with a vastly different tone and setting. Reading these two non-canon books back-to-back presents the perfect evidence of the sheer diversity of Batman comics.
While The Long Halloween is a year-long story of crime-fighting, Arkham Asylum is a singular nightmare.
Taking a minimalist approach when it comes to plot and writing, Arkham Asylum simply and beautifully tells the story of Batman entering the infamous asylum after the inmates have broken loose and taken it over.
Through the dark and nightmarish art of Dave McKean, we see Batman’s villains at their most frightening and twisted. We also get one of the best comic book titles of all time and a book that opens with a deliciously dark quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
This is Grant Morrison delivering some powerful, poetic writing in a deceptively simple premise and plot. Remarkable and infinitely re-readable, Arkham Asylum is easily one of the most celebrated and best Batman comics ever written and drawn.
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland
The Killing Joke is an interesting comic for many reasons. The most obvious is its place within the canon.
While Alan Moore’s masterpiece can be read and enjoyed outside the canon, the events which transpired within were made canon and had a devastating effect on the greater Batman narrative.
Another fact that makes The Killing Joke stand out is that its author, genius writer Alan Moore, is no longer proud of it. He doesn’t like or agree with the comic. And while I have bottomless respect for Moore’s writing, his ethos, his imagination, and his politics, I (and countless others) still adore The Killing Joke.
This Batman comic presents readers with the idea that one bad day is all it takes to push someone over the edge and twist them into something that cannot be saved. It’s a short comic book that presents us with a possible origin story for the famously mysterious and unknowable Joker.
The legacy of The Killing Joke is enormous, and the Joker’s acts in this story sent rippled through the DC universe.
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert
Written by one of the most prolific authors of comics and novels, the man behind The Sandman and American Gods, this is a remarkable Batman story.
Inspired by Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader tells the story of the death of Batman.
This is a short two-part tale that begins with Batman’s funeral. The mourners filter in and are divided: allies on one side, villains on the other.
We are then treated to words, goodbyes, and stories about the Caped Crusader from Catwoman, Superman, Robin, Joker, Clayface, and more.
No other author could have told the story of Batman’s end like Neil Gaiman.
Fortunately, this is a non-canon story, and both Batman as a character and Batman as a franchise continue on. But canon or not, this is a powerful tale and easily one of the best Batman comics ever written, despite its brevity.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker & Doug Mahnke
Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (not featured on this list because it’s been talked about to death) is considered the definitive first year of Batman’s career as the Caped Crusader. And The Man Who Laughs is considered to be “Batman: Year Two”.
Named after Paul Leni’s 1928 silent film of the same name — which itself was an adaptation of a novel by French author Victor Hugo — The Man Who Laughs tells the story of Batman’s first encounter with his arch-nemesis: the Joker.
In fact, the Clown Prince of Crime owes his entire appearance to that film; and Brubaker and Manhke’s comic book is an extension of that long legacy.
While The Man Who Laughs can be fully enjoyed by newcomers to the Batman comic book franchise, it does make allusions to Year One, as well as Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.
This is a curious comic, written and drawn by a legendary writer/artist pair, that offers readers a fresh but also definitive beginning to Batman and the Joker’s long and complicated history as nemeses.
Brubaker is known for his thriller-esque stories — both through his original works and his legendary run on Captain America — and you can see here why that thriller-esque narrative flair serves the World’s Greatest Detective so well, and makes for one of the best Batman comics of all time.
Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee
Batman: Hush is not actually a non-canon Batman comic book. However, it is one of the few canon story arcs that can be enjoyed on its own, much like Loeb’s other book on this list: The Long Halloween.
This is a legendary Batman comic, written by an industry great and drawn by the man who is often touted as the greatest comic book artist of all time.
Jim Lee has risen through the ranks on both the artist and the business side of DC Comics, and was also a founder of Image comics at the start of the new millennium. For any writer to collaborate with him is a dream come true.
Unsurprisingly, the brainchild of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee is an impressive one. Hush is a Batman comic that introduces a brand-new threat to the Caped Crusader: the titular Hush is a mysterious strategist, bound in bandages, who weaves a complex web with the ultimate outcome: tear down the Batman.
Across this epic tale, Batman will encounter many of his most famous villains: Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Joker, and Poison Ivy, and we even get a visit from Superman.
This is a Batman comic on a large scale, with a lot of characters and moving pieces. In spite of that, it remains a great comic book for new readers of the Batman comic book series.
It’s also the book that really pushed the idea of a romantic relationship between Batman and Catwoman. Their playful flirting is very much established by now, but this comic lays heavily into the romantic potential of their relationship.
Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison & Klaus Janson
Grant Morrison is a legacy writer of comic books (and novels). His works Arkham Asylum (above), All-Star Superman, and creator originals The Invisibles, Nameless, and many more are, at this point, the stuff of legend.
But early in his career with DC, Morrison penned Batman: Gothic, with art by Klaus Janson, who has had a storied career as an inker of beloved comic books from both DC and Marvel, including The Dark Knight Returns and World War Hulk.
Batman: Gothic established Morrison’s interpretation of not only Batman himself, but also the city of Gotham. It tells the story of Mr. Whisper, who has somehow returned to Gotham after his supposed death twenty years ago. And now, he’s wreaking havoc in the city’s underbelly.
Whisper is killing off crime lords, and he has a bigger picture in mind. Something even darker and more sinister than these actions alone. Morrison has a personal and professional history with magic and the occult, and that is explored even in his writings from the early ‘90s.
Though it isn’t talked about as often as Morrison’s masterpiece Arkham Asylum, or his canon stories, Batman: Gothic remains a gem of classic Batman. A dark and seething tale of murder and the supernatural, and one of the best Batman comics.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola
Back in the day, DC Comics ran a series of non-canon comic books known as the Elseworlds: stories about familiar heroes like Superman and Batman placed in alternate timelines and histories.
One of the most famous of these was Brian Augustyn’s Gotham by Gaslight, drawn by the iconic and influential Mike Mignola — creator of Hellboy.
This one-shot Elseworlds story places Batman in a Gotham city of the late 19th century, and puts him on the heels of the most famous yet enigmatic serial killer of all time: Jack the Ripper.
Gotham by Gaslight is a fantastic comic book that carries the vibe and atmosphere of the gothic and science fiction stories of the era in which it is set, inspired by Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stephenson. This is a grim and seedy pre-modern world of murder and paranoia.
Gotham by Gaslight is one of the most memorable and best Batman comics; a fun romp in an imagined alternate history, where Batman has at his disposal only the tools and knowledge of the time; a time before he himself was even conceived of.
Batman & Dracula: Red Rain by Doug Moench & Kelley Jones
Another fantastic Elseworlds tale: Red Rain takes the dark, eccentric, gothic side of Batman to its furthest possible point, transforming Batman into a vampire and pitting him against Bram Stoker’s monstrous invention.
In this alternative Gotham, Dracula is plaguing the city, and Batman chooses to become a vampire in order to stand against, and hopefully defeat, Count Dracula. Taking the tone even further, Red Rain also features a “werecat” version of Catwoman.
Red Rain (along with its two sequels, Bloodstorm and Crimson Mist) was a massively popular Elseworlds Batman series when it was published in the early ‘90s, and it remains one of the most original and best Batman comics ever written.
Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy
Though the Elseworlds label is no more, it has been reimagined in recent years as DC Black Label: an offshoot collection of non-canon comic books that feature iconic DC Comics heroes and offer readers darker, more adult themes and tones.
The most famous of these DC Black Label comics is Batman: White Knight, written and drawn by contemporary comic book legend Sean Murphy (who created the Punk Rock Jesus comic and drew the fantastic Tokyo Ghost original series, written by Rick Remender and published by Image).
In this non-canon Batman story, a Caped Crusader who has been pushed to the edge of calm and sanity aggressively tails and brutally attacks the Joker, and uses an experimental medicine to turn the Clown Prince of Crime sane.
This newly lucid Joker returns to his original self and uses his birth name — Jack Napier — to run for Gotham councilman, while the city’s public lose faith in Batman and his crusade.
White Knight is a fantastic original story; one of the most unique and best Batman stories written in years.
Batman: Earth One by Goeff Johns & Gary Frank
Goeff Johns is a huge name in DC Comics, having written for both The Flash and Green Lantern for decades, rekindling audience love and respect for both of those characters. He has also written some excellent Superman comics, but has rarely touched the Caped Crusader.
But with Batman: Earth One, Johns teamed up with long-time collaborator Gary Frank (infamous for always drawing Superman to look like Christopher Reeve) to present us with a fresh alternative origin story for Batman, set in an alternate universe known as Earth One.
There have been several Earth One stories; fresh and uniquely reimagined origin stories of various DC heroes for the 21st century, including Superman: Earth One (by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis) and Wonder Woman: Earth One (by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette).
This is a more rugged approach to Batman’s iconic origin story, placing the Penguin in the role of Gotham’s mayor, reimagining Alfred Pennyworth as a hardened security officer, and following Bruce Wayne’s gradual growth through adolescence.
Every familiar character, whether they be ally or villain, has a slightly different personality, appearance, and role, adding plenty of originality and freshness to the story. This is Bruce Wayne and Batman like you’ve never seen them.