The one thing every great Batman writer agrees on is that the DC hero is versatile. “You can do the comedy Batman,” Grant Morrison said in 2013, “You can do the camp Batman. You can do the super-serious, dark, existential Batman. You can do the adventure Batman. You can do the detective Batman. You can do the street crime Batman. You can do the fantasy Batman. You can do the superhero Batman. The character bends and is able to do it all.”
And if Batman works in any kind of story, there must be a Batman story for every person. As Polygon’s Batman expert, I wanted to prove the theory.
Six Polygon staffers volunteered to serve as test subjects by telling me what they, personally, would like to see come to the fore in a Batman story. From those questions, I have crafted seven bespoke bat-recommendations.
Maybe there’s even a book in here … for you.
A much more human Batman
Tasha Robinson: OK, Susana, I admit I’m mostly a sucker for an iconic creature-of-the-night Batman who barely ever seems to pry himself out of the costume, and who seems to represent some primal aspect of Gotham more than actually being a man. I’m thinking of things like Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum here, or Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls arc, or Batman on Young Justice, where he just hovers in the background being inscrutable and the Ultimate Adult in a show mostly about younger heroes figuring themselves out.
But there’s so much of that out there, and it seems to be the mode he operates in throughout the biggest and most popular comics stories, as well as in a lot of the movies, including The Batman. I’d like you to point me to a comics arc that’s much more interested in the human side of Bruce Wayne — especially if it isn’t primarily a romantic story, because I just don’t care Who Bangs The Bat anymore. Give me a story that does actually care about what Bruce does or who he is when he isn’t punching people, or only vaguely pretending to be human so he doesn’t blow his secret identity. Can you recommend something that gives Batman internality beyond the usual broody/moody ponderings over crime-fighting methods and the need for vengeance?
Susana: Tasha, what a gift you’ve given me! Right out of the gate I can recommend one of my favorite Batman series ever, the elusive Batman: Gotham Knights (2000). The book is beloved by a certain kind of early ’00s Batman fan and basically no one else because the series was only collected for the first time in 2019.
Gotham Knights came on to the scene in an era where there were several concurrent series of which Batman was nominally the lead, each with its own bat-flavor. Detective Comics was for detective stories, and often featured a short backup feature to honor the title’s venerable origins. Batman was for the mainline “plot” of Gotham City. Legends of the Dark Knight were for stories set in the past or outside of traditional canon. Gotham Knights was the book about Batman’s interpersonal relationships.
Now, I’m of the opinion that the whole series is great, and while it’s never as self-serious as to become parody, it does include a lot of general brooding and parent-mourning. So, I’ll actually recommend a specific string of issues.
They have still never been put in a collection but are available in single issue format on Comixology and DC Universe Infinite — and what are you really here for if not the truly deep cuts, right? Read Batman: Gotham Knights #32-#45. #32 is, in my opinion, the most perfect single issue Batman story ever made, and the rest of this selection spools out and knits together several ongoing threads, culminating in an issue in which Gotham’s social services investigates Bruce Wayne for child abuse. I realize that sounds like a joke, but trust me.
A Batman mystery with, like, actual mystery
Matt Patches: Dear Susana, I was ultimately let down by the promise of The Batman. Everyone said this was the movie where “The World’s Greatest Detective” got to flex his sleuth muscles. But like many actual Batman comics, it was more about sniffing out the “where?” and “when?” of an established villain. The Batman of The Batman is more like “The World’s Greatest Escape-Room Solver.” As a hardcore Murder, She Wrote fan (sorry, Sherlock Holmes), I am looking for a Batman story where Bruce Wayne really needs to piece the evidence together to solve a case. (And please note that I have read The Long Halloween so gimmie something else.)
Susana: Patches, read Batman: The Last Arkham, originally published as Batman: Shadow of the Bat (1992) #1-4. One of the odd things about Batman detective stories is that his villains generally announce themselves — turning “who done it”s into “when’s he gonna do it again”s. Last Arkham is a rare “I know he did it… but how?” and a riveting debut for a brand new villain who has actually stuck around.
In Last Arkham, Batman is certain that serial slasher Victor Zsasz is committing a string of murders, but he has an unassailable alibi: He’s been locked up in Arkham Asylum the entire time. And so! Batman and Commissioner Gordon cook up a plan to get Batman admitted to Arkham Asylum (by staging the bat-murder of a police officer!) so he can investigate Mr. Zasaz from the inside.
Writer and artist team Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle are supremely underrated. The art here is snappy, the plot twisty, the humor on point, and there’s a cameo from just about every Batman villain who could possibly appear, as well as Nightwing and Robin, who Batman didn’t bother to tell that he was putting himself in Arkham on purpose. Whoops!
The Batman who smooches
Petrana Radulovic: Hi Susana. I really enjoyed Catwoman and Batman’s dynamic in the new movie. As someone who enjoys the occasional brooding bad boy romance — especially when pitted with a female lead who keeps him on his toes — what would you say is The Most Romantic Batman story? It’s OK if Batman winds up ending the relationship, but I prefer a bittersweet parting of ways instead of a “mwahaha you played into my plans all along and now i will end you!”
Susana: Petrana, after some determination I think you should read Batman: The Rebirth Part 3, originally published as Batman (2016) #33-44 and Batman Annual (2016) #2. It collects a whole slew of comics featuring Batman and and Catwoman in the period of Tom King’s Batman run after they got engaged but before she left him at the altar. (Eventually they got back together but decided not to get married married.)
The need for Batman stories to return to the status quo means that the vast majority of Batman romances are tragically doomed ones, and usually in service of pointing out how lonely the life of a driven vigilante must be. But with his Batman series, Tom King asks the question “What happens to Batman if you make him happy?”
Overall, I think the run is uneven, a collection of high highs and middle lows. But this stretch here is almost all bangers, and are almost all about Batman and Catwoman’s relationship and joint adventures. We get to see Bruce’s family (including his baby momma) react to their engagement. We get to see King’s version of the beginning of the Bat/Cat romance, as well as Old Bruce and Selina at its end. Batman and Catwoman go on a double date with Superman and Lois Lane. They save Poison Ivy from herself by reuniting her with Harley Quinn. It’s good smoochy stuff.
Batman made of bats. Bats-Man?
Nicole Clark: I know there is a Spiders-Man. This concept has intrigued me ever since. What other superheroes exist as a version of many creatures in a trenchcoat? Are there other comics where I can enjoy this weird twist?
Susana: Nicole, I spent a long time trying to think of a contained story about Man-Bat, the Batman villain who is a literal bat man, that was worthy of recommending, but I couldn’t, so I’m going to go with the spirit of the request more than the letter. I could recommend the Batman & Dracula trilogy, in which Batman becomes a vampire and kills Dracula and the Joker and stuff, but I don’t actually like it that much, I’m really just mentioning it so people don’t jump up my butt in the comments.
So here is my recommendation. I don’t know if you will like it — but it will scratch the itch for extremely weird alternate versions of Batman. Try reading Dark Nights: Metal: Dark Knights Rising.
What is Dark Nights: Metal: Dark Knights Rising about? Where do I start. Beneath the normal multiverse is a Dark Multiverse full of broken ideas for the DC Universe decaying down to fundamental atoms, and a bunch of the people in those worlds got tired of waiting to decay into atoms so they’ve all ganged up to beat up the main DC Universe. Also, all of those people are alternate versions of Batman. Also, they are lead by the worst alternate version of Batman, a Batman with the Joker’s moral compass known as the Batman Who Laughs.
This volume tells the origin stories of all of these alternate evil Batmans. Don’t expect it to make any sense. This is less a Batman story and more a tone poem by way of a heavy metal guitar solo. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but I can promise it’s what you asked for.
More gadgets, please
Charlie Hall: Susana, I get that the Bat-Men are angry. I understand that they are also quite physically fit. Some of them even go to great lengths to hone their martial arts skill sets, allowing them to both punch and kick with great effectiveness. But what I’m really missing from my Bats-Mans of late are the gadgets.
I need more gizmos, Susana, and not the kind that are just black boxes that magically do a thing because reasons. No, I want the fiction of this world to support these gadgets without much hand-waving. Please fill my utility belt with recommendations.
Susana: Charlie, read Batman: Hush. Now, I’ll give this a caveat, as I don’t think I’ve revisited it since college, so it’s possible the story has aged in certain ways that have been left to the dust of my memory. But Batman: Hush is a bombastic sorta-mystery that pulls in just about every Batman ally and villain to cameo at some point. It’s colorful and dramatic and has a final twist that I love.
I wouldn’t say it’s focused on Batman’s tech, but from the opening panels it’s clear that writer Jeph Loeb looooves a Batman internal monologue about poison darts, acid lockpicks, the thickness of the Batmobile’s reinforced tires, and the specific composition of the tensile line on a grappling hook. Artist Jim Lee looooves to draw cars and high tech surgery bays and special belt compartments and a new bat-paratrooping suit and a new bat-plane and Batman’s HUD display. This will scratch that itch.
A Batfamily adventure
Pete Volk: Hi, Susana. I’ve always enjoyed Batman stories that sprawl out into the larger Batfamily. Solo Batman stories can be fun, but I’m itching for something that involves the whole crew. Bonus points if there is some thoughtfulness around the complicated nature of a crime-fighting family (especially when some of those family members were raised to fight crime since they were children). Can you give me something good with many different Bat- and birdpeople working together to solve a mystery? An additional note: I have a soft spot for Nightwing.
Susana: Pete, drop what you are doing and read Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive! No joke, this is the arc that made me stop waiting for the trade and start visiting a comic shop weekly because I had to find out what happened next. It is also maybe the best contained introduction to the Bat-family and its web of drama.
Plot-wise, the story is: Someone does a murder-frame-job on billionaire Bruce Wayne so good that even the Bat-family starts to doubt his innocence, and he is arrested and thrown in Blackgate prison pending trial. Then Batman makes a quintessentially Batman decision: If being Bruce Wayne is a liability, he’ll just stop being Bruce Wayne. He disappears from prison and resumes vigilante-ing. His family, who have been trying to clear his name, hate this.
For one of those crossovers where the story is spread across multiple ongoing series from different creative teams, Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive is a shockingly well-coordinated symphony of family drama, played by a pack of exemplary writers and artists. It’s a rare story that says “It is exhausting to know Batman on a personal level, and he needs to do better.” I love it to death and I think you will, too.
A Batman that is basically Green Lantern sci-fi nonsense
Patches: Dear Susana, I am back because I am THE JOKER!!!! Actually I’m just indulgent and want something completely different than my first request. I love grounded Batman stories, but I also love the cosmic side of DC’s universe. Big fan of zipping over to Apokolips for a bit of New Gods shit. One of my life goals is meeting Mogo. So did Batman ever embrace science fiction and figure out how to propel Bruce into the weird and wonderful without losing sense of what made him Batman? (And without jumping ahead to the Batman Beyond timeline?)
Susana: Patches, I’m going to allow this because I have a perfect answer: Batman: Universe by Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington. To paraphrase Bendis’ own descriptions of this graphic novel, it’s the victory lap the long time Marvel Comics writer took once he was handed the keys to the DC Universe.
Batman visits Gorilla City, and Hawkman’s home planet, and hangs out with Green Lantern on Dinosaur Island. Sure, there’s a plot — something about a Fabergé egg and Vandal Savage — but really it’s a story about Batman uncontrollably teleporting through space and time.
Also, it’s got Jonah Hex. And I know how much you love Jonah Hex.