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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Top 10 Batman TPBs

 As part of our month-long celebration of the Caped Crusader, here we present the top ten Batman trade paperbacks of all time!




10. Tales of the Batman
Written by various, Art by Tim Sale
 This may seem an odd choice to start with, but I would argue that this is one of the finest collections of short Batman stories you'll ever find.  Sale's Batman with his impossibly long gothic cape and long ears is one the world can never have enough of, and we get the unique opportunity here to see how Sale grows into the character and the medium through a very nice selection of stories.  Pair that with some top notch Batman scripts and you're cooking with gas.


 
9. Arkham Asylum
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Dave McKean
 The first of several Morrison titles (spoiler!) is one of his earliest works, but stands as one of the most unique titles on this list.  Morrison delves deeply into the psychology of Batman as he makes his way through his entire rogues gallery in a haunting gauntlet of psychoses.  McKean, on a rare interiors gig, renders perhaps the creepiest Joker ever seen, and manages to turn each of Batman's villains into dark metaphors.


8. Batman R.I.P.
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Tony S. Daniel
 Zur-En-Arrh!  Morrison's legendary run came to a head here, with perhaps the ultimate version of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Fans often use Batman as a joke for characters that are impossibly strong and prepared, and maybe here's the quintessential example: Batman is literally ready for being driven insane and has a backup personality that eliminates Bruce from the equation.  This story brings together a massive amount of Bat-history in a way that makes a surprising amount of sense, and has some of the most terrifying villains in The Black Glove and the Joker.  It takes some Batman-like pre-reading preparation, but the end result is more than worth it.


7. Hush
Written by Jeph Loeb, Art by Jim Lee
 One problem with superheroes is that it's difficult to tell a great story in continuity, but that's exactly what Hush does: it builds on a rich history and cast of characters while managing to add to the canon the first great new Batman villain in decades.  While it is arguably too episodic, I feel that Loeb and Lee told a great story that introduced me to a wider Batman world when most great graphic novels head straight for the origin or keep it non-canonical, and for that I think it deserves a lot of praise.


6. The Killing Joke
Written by Alan Moore, Art by Brian Bolland
Probably the shortest story on this list, The Killing Joke also might have had the most canonical impact.  Moore and Bolland create a Joker that is truly insane and made me understand how he is both the antithesis and mirror of Batman.  Many Batman stories in all mediums take ideas from this groundbreaking story where the Joker goes to great and brutal lengths to try and break Commissioner Gordon, and the last page is one of the most brilliant and debated in comics history.


 
5. Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely
Morrison left an indelible mark on the character with his long run, but my favorite of his has to be the first arc on Batman & Robin.  Quitely brings a colorful and dynamic edge that has yet to be matched--the above panel  is one of my favorites--as he and Morrison create a slew of new characters and ideas.  It was the first of a few great stories with the new team of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, and their pairing made for an absorbing foreground with a wonderfully weird backdrop of toads, pigs, and other awesomeness.


4. The Black Mirror
Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Jock, Francesco Francavilla
Speaking of Dick Grayson as Batman, here is without question his greatest story under the cowl.  For a year and a half Snyder created a fantastically twisted Batman story.  Typical of Snyder's later work, Gotham City acted as a major character, and Gotham has never been so dark.  It goes without saying that the two artists that worked together on the book are solidified as some of the best Batman artists of all time: Jock created a scratchy, modern look that worked perfectly for the dark mysteries that kept Dick up at night, and Francavilla burst on the scene with a colorful retro look that told a deeply disturbing personal story.  


3. The Long Halloween
Written by Jeph Loeb, Art by Tim Sale
My first Batman book sucked me in and never let me go.  Following in the footsteps of Year One, The Long Halloween focuses on the gangsters of Gotham and how Batman, Gordon, and D.A. Harvey Dent try to rid the city of them forever.  Over the dramatic backdrop of a holiday themed killer, Sale created the best work of his career in the shadowy noir crime tale.  Long Halloween is one of the most beautifully drawn Batman stories, but also one of the longest emotional arcs as we see Dent's corruption and Batman's growing into his role.



2. Year One
Written by Frank Miller, Art by David Mazzuchelli
Snyder's current Zero Year arc is pretty damn good, but Miller and Mazzuchelli's Year One will always be the definitive origin story for the the Dark Knight.  Miller tells a subdued but extremely affecting tale of Batman's first year in Gotham, but the real focus is on Gordon, who is new to the city as well.  It's a mature look at both characters and shows how they both came to be the men that we've always known.  Mazzuchelli's art is off-the-charts incredible, from his hard line and black & white look to the unique coloring.  If you're reading Batman for the first time, this is without a doubt the best place to start.


 
1. The Dark Knight Returns
Written by Frank Miller, Art by Frank Miller
It always had to be this, right?  Miller's Dark Knight, along with Watchmen, reinvigorated the entire medium, and for many a Bat-fan this is their Batman.  Miller brought Batman into a modern age, creating the grim and gritty hero that has been the standard ever since.  We get to see here Batman taken to the nth degree, the endpoint of his crusade against crime, and how that battle (and Batman) are truly endless, mythic, and symbolic.  The use of the media as a storytelling device, the celebrated battle with a government controlled Superman, the return and rebirth of comic's greatest hero--the list goes on and on for why this revolutionary, infinitely re-readable book deserves this slot.


Now, I'm sure you, loyal reader, are thinking: "Why is 'Batman: ______' not on the list?!? It's clearly a classic!!"  Well, I'll only say that these are my personal opinions and that I could only pick Batman books that I've read.  I'm always looking for more great stories featuring everyone's favorite nocturnal superhero, so Let us know on Twitter or Facebook what I missed!
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