Caped Crusader Classics: Essential Batman Stories for All Readers

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Batman, the Caped Crusader is one of my favorite superheroes of all time. He fluctuates between the number one and number two spot with Wolverine depending on my mood. If you told me I could only read one title for the rest of my life I’d pick Batman. So maybe he is number one.

I’ve complied a list of Batman stories for the new and seasoned reader alike. If you want to know more about Batman, his friends and his enemies below is a list of stories to explore.

They are listed in a ranked order from least to best. However, all of the stories are worth reading.

Batman: Tales of the Demon (1991) & Son of the Demon (1987)

Caped Crusader Tales of the Demon

I lumped these two together because they could be (and should be) in the same Trade Paperback.

Tales of the Demon is a collection of Batman stories that focus on one of Batman’s biggest foe, Ra’s al Ghul. Most of the stories also feature Talia al Ghul, Ra’s daughter. She plays an important role in these early stories and in Batman’s life.

All stories in this collection are by longtime Batman writer Denny O’Neil. The stories are all from the 70s, during a time when O’Neil was overhauling Batman’s image from the campy 60s TV show and the kid friendly Superfriends cartoon.


These stories are a darker, more adult version of Batman, pitting him against Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins. It has great art and storytelling.

It’s a good collection to read for new Batman fans or longtime readers as it establishes Batman’s relationship with Ra’s al Ghul, Talia and the League of Assassins.

Son of the Demon is a story focusing on the relationship between Talia and Batman. They end up married and Talia is pregnant with Batman’s baby. The story is considered non-canon but it is a great story and is a fitting conclusion to the Tales of the Demon book.

The trade paperback includes Detective Comics #411, #485, #489-490, Batman #232, #235, #240, #242-244 and DC Special Series #15.

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989)

Caped Crusader Arkham Asylum

This one won’t be for everyone. I enjoy it but will admit some (many?) will not. The artwork by Dave McKean blends his signature style of painting, photography and artwork, mixed together in a collage of surrealism and madness.

The story, written by Grant Morrison, is Morrison’s first Batman title. The inmates at Arkham Asylum have taken over on April Fool’s Day and Batman is called in to stop the riot and capture the inmates.

As Batman ventures into the Asylum he endures the personal torment of the Joker, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter and many other inmates. Fighting for his own sanity along the way. As he gets deeper into the Asylum he uncovers the origins of Arkham Asylum and it’s founder Amadeus Arkham.

The eclectic artwork is a good fit for the story as Batman delves into the psychotic world and minds of the asylum inmates.

From the artwork to the story to the lettering the entire book is an uncomfortable trip inside the demented, deranged mind of a psychopath. While this title may not be for everyone, if you want to know more about Arkham Asylum and why it was created than this is the book to read.

Batman: Knightfall (1993)

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The Knightfall story line changed the entire perception of Batman in the eyes of his allies and friends.

The build up to Knightfall started with Batman: Sword of Azrael, which introduced Jean-Paul Valley as Azrael. Azrael is an assassin for an ancient religious order. The Sword of Azrael miniseries is a great story and worth reading but I don’t consider it essential reading.

The other title building up to Knightfall was Batman: Vengeance of Bane, introducing the super-soldier Bane to the DC Universe.

In Knightfall Bane is intent on ruling Gotham City and ridding it of Batman. Prior to facing Bane Batman fights multiple escapees from Arkham Asylum leaving him emotionally and physically weak. During the fight between Batman and Bane, Batman is drained and Bane breaks his back over his knee, paralyzing Bruce Wayne. In order to keep up appearances, Wayne chooses his apprentice Jean-Paul Valley to carry on as Batman.


After an encounter with Scarecrow and getting infected with fear gas, Valley turns into a dangerous fighter who’s ancient training ‘The System’ takes over. Valley fashions a new mechanical Batsuit to fight Bane. When the battle is complete Valley is victorious and Bane is left beaten. Valley struggles with killing Bane or letting him live, ultimately deciding to let him live.

Knightfall was a trilogy of story arcs that ran for over two years in Batman, Detective Comics, Robin and more. Knightfall being the first part, followed by Knightquest and Knightsend. The entire arc is worth reading.

The impact of Knightfall was seen right away. Commissioner Gordon no longer trusted Batman. Gordon had no idea it was actually Valley, not Wayne as Batman. Valley’s violent behavior, including murder, made Gordon lose any trust in the Caped Crusader.

Knightfall was published immediately following the Death of Superman story. Seeing another major hero brought down was devastating. Would Batman die too? Is this the end of Bruce Wayne as Batman?

Knightfall Story Arc Issues: Batman #492 – #500 & Detective Comics #659 – #666

Lonely Place of Dying (1989)

Caped Crusader A Lonely Place of Dying

Batman is reeling from the lose of Robin/Jason Todd and his his inability to save him from the Joker. Batman has turned reckless and Alfred is getting worried. Alfred turns to the first Robin, Dick Grayson who is now Nightwing, leader of the Teen Titans.

Batman is tracking down Two-Face to stop his diabolical plan and sends Nightwing a coded message asking for assistance.

Meanwhile, Grayson is visiting the local circus and meets Tim Drake, who is a big fan of Grayson since the Flying Grayson days. Drake is also a super sleuth and somehow figured out the true identity of Batman and Robin/Nightwing.

Nightwing receives the codes message from the Teen Titans and goes to help Batman. Together Batman and Nightwing confront Two-Face and fall into his trap.

Drake, who is with Alfred at the Wayne Manor knows Batman needs help and Drake puts on the Robin outfit. Two-Face escapes but Robin(Drake) saves Batman and Nightwing. Batman isn’t happy with Drake but agrees to take him in and train him as the new Robin.

A Lonely Place of Dying shows the emotional damage Batman is dealing with after the death of Jason Todd. He wasn’t able to stop the Joker and he falls into a well of despair.

The writing could be a little better but overall a Lonely Place of Dying is a great story. If only for introducing Tim Drake as the new Robin.

Story Arc Issues: Batman #440 – #442

Batman: The Long Halloween (1996)

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This is a follow-up to Batman: Year One, which we’ll talk about a little later. The Long Halloween introduces readers (and Batman) to the Rogues Gallery, the group of Arch-enemies Batman will spend a lifetime fighting.

Written by Jeph Loeb, art by Tim Sales, Batman works with Lieutenant Gordon to solve a series of murders that occur every holiday.

I could go on but I’d be repeating myself. During the Halloween season, I wrote an in-depth review of The Long Halloween. You should read it.

The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

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Frank Miller was coming off his popular re-imaging tour of the Daredevil when he wrote The Dark Knight Returns. DC hired Miller hoping he could revitalize Batman the same way he did Daredevil.

In The Dark Knight Returns Batman is retired, reeling from the death of Robin, Jason Todd ten years earlier. (This was published before the Death in the Family story arc)

Watching the news and the crime and decay of Gotham city Batman decides to come out of retirement to once again rid the city of crime. The first night is successful and he saves two girls from the gang The Mutants.

One of the girls, Carrie Kelley is inspired by the return of Batman and dons a Robin costume to help Batman. Batman’s second encounter with The Mutants doesn’t go as well. Due to Batman’s time off and lack of physical activity he is beaten, nearly to death, saved only by a distraction from Kelley.

Batman and Kelley are able to get back to the Batcave and he decides to make Kelley his new protegee. Batman’s return awakens the Joker’s inner demons and he escapes from Arkham Asylum after he murders a TV crew.

Batman and Robin/Kelley find the Joker and vow to stop him. Batman and the Joker fight and Batman paralyzes the Joker during the fight. Batman refuses to kill the Joker, disappointed, the Joker breaks his own neck and dies.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon retired and new Gotham City Police Commissioner Yindel declares Batman a criminal and puts a bounty on his head.

The entire story culminates with an epic Batman vs Superman battle (with a little Green Arrow thrown in) that is one for the ages. Forget the movie Batman vs Superman, this is the battle you need between the two heroes!

This story helped even more than the Tales of the Demon stories to update Batman as a dark, gritty Hero, separating him from the campy 60s TV show.

The Dark Knight Returns was a massive success and led to Miller and his Daredevil artist Dave Mazzucchelli writing another popular story arc, Batman: Year One.

The Killing Joke (1988)


This is an amazing story and a powerful Joker origin story.

In the Killing Joke we never learn the Jokers real name. The man quits his job at a chemical plant to be a stand-up comedian. As a comedian he is a complete failure. Trying to support his pregnant wife he agrees to lead two criminals through the chemical plant so they can rob the factory next door.

Things go horrible wrong and the Joker is born. I’ll let you read the story to get the full details on how he becomes the Joker.

In the present day Batman goes to Arkham Asylum to talk to the Joker, only to discover he has escaped.

The Joker is looking for revenge against Commissioner Gordon and goes to his house. He shoots Barbara Gordon and kidnaps the Commissioner.

The Joker takes Gordon to an amusement park and forces him to look at pictures of his wife, stripped naked and bleeding from her wound.

Batman is finally able to find the Joker’s location and Gordon insists that Batman do it ‘by the book’ to show the Joker their way is correct.

At the end of the story the Joker shares a joke with Batman who laughs at the punchline. They both are laughing as the police take the Joker away.

This story, along with the Death in the Family story establish the Joker as a psychotic villain.

The shooting of Barbara Gordon would have a far reaching impact on Batman and the DC Universe.

The Killing Joke won the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Novel.

Death in the Family (1988)

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Death in the Family was a huge event back in the 80s. Written by Jim Starlin and art by Jim Aparo.

Longtime Batman writer and editor Denny O’Neil suggested the storyline and writer Jim Starlin was all for it as he wanted to get rid of the Robin character.

The story takes place over four issues. The new Robin, Jason Todd is an impetuous young man and during one encounter with criminals almost gets himself and Batman killed. When they return to the Wayne Manor Bruce/Batman reprimands Robin and tells him he won’t be fighting crime alongside Batman for awhile.

Batman learns the Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum and is trying to sell a nuclear bomb to terrorists. Batman tracks the Joker to Lebanon and follows him to stop him.

Jason Todd, meanwhile discovers a new clue into his real mother and uses the bat-computer ot track her down. He narrows the search to three women and one leads him to Lebanon as well.

Batman and Jason/Robin are reunited and travel to Ethopia and discover Jason’s real mother, Sheila, is an aid worker. However, she’s not an upstanding woman and has been embezzling money from the agency. Oh, and she is being blackmailed by the Joker.

As a way to get the Joker off her case, she hands over Robin, her son, to the Joker. The Joker restrains both Sheila and Robin in a warehouse. Then he beats Robin with a crowbar, barely leaving him alive. The Joker sets a bomb next to the two and leaves.


And this is where the reader plays an active role. DC put the life of Robin in the readers hands. They held a contest to see if Robin should live or die. Call a 1-900 number to save Robin and call a different 1-900 number to kill him.

Jason Todd was hated by most readers. Editor Denny O’Neil wanted him gone, writer Jim Straten wanted him gone and most importantly the fans wanted him gone. And that’s how they voted. In a surprisingly close vote, 5,343 to 5,271, a 72 vote margin, Jason Todd was sentenced to death!

Killing Robin was a monumental and controversial decision. Robin is an iconic part of the Batman lore and he is a child. Seeing the Joker beat Robin to a bloody pulp with a crowbar, while the Joker laughs and is covered in Robin’s blood was upsetting to a lot of readers.

The Death in the Family story along with The Dark Knight Returns and the 1989 Batman movie all moved Batman into a darker, grittier direction. It also shaped the character of Batman for years to come, as he struggled emotionally with the death of Jason Todd and his inability to save him. (See A Lonely Place of Dying above)

Caped Crusader Robin

The story also solidified the Joker as a maniacal killer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Death in the Family is an excellent story and a must read for anyone wanting to understand the Batman mythos.

Story Arc Issues: Batman #426 – #429 (also available in Trade Paperback)

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (1989)

Caped Crusader Venom

This is one of my favorite Batman titles. Maybe because I got in on the ground floor. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight was the first new solo Batman title in decades. I was able to get the first issue and collect the series. Unlike Batman or Detective comics which was beyond issue 300 by the time I started collecting comics.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight is an anthology series featuring different stories. Each story arc was five issues and featured a different creative team. All the stories focused on the early years of Batman, “Year One” stories.

The first 20 issues are essential reading to understand the Caped Crusader and his journey into the Batman we all known.

The first story arc issues #1-#5 titled ‘Shaman’ is a retelling of Bruce Wayne’s initial adventures as ‘Batman’ and how he choose his outfit.

Issue #6-#10, ‘Gothic’ is written by Grant Morrison and beautifully drawn by Klaus Janson.

Gotham mobsters are getting murdered by a man from their past and turn to Batman for help. Batman’s investigation unearths a deep secret of Graham City and the Gotham Cathedral.

My favorite of the story arc is ‘Venom’ issues #16-#20. In the opening Batman is struggling to move a Boulder to save a little girl from drowning. As the water rises Batman tries with all his might to move the boulder with no luck. He’s too weak and all he can do is watch as the little girl drowns.

Her death haunts him and he’s determined to get stronger. In his bid for strength he turns to a new experimental steroid called Venom, made by the girls father.

The drug works all too well and Batman becomes addicted and tries to balance his addiction with his desire to be stronger.

‘Venom’ is a great story about how far Batman is willing to go to save people and stop crime. It’s also about how he handles his addiction and the repercussions.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight volume 1 ran from 1989-2007 with over 214 issues.

Batman: Year One (1987)

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Batman: Year One is one of the best, if not the best Batman story arcs.

It’s simply the story of Batman during his first year as Batman in Gotham City. It also focuses on the new Gotham Police Detective, Lieutenant Gordon.

Batman: Year One was written by Frank Miller, with art by David Mazzucchelli. The prior year (1986) Miller wrote the 4-issue series The Dark Knight Returns.

The Miller\Mazzucchelli team was coming off a successful turn on Daredevil, reinvigorating the hero and comic for Marvel. Miller and Mazzucchelli teamed up again to revitalize Batman.

In this story arc Miller is instrumental in redefining Batman’s origin and his first year as Gotham’s vigilante crime-fighter. Miller also explores the life of Jim Gordon as he finds himself in a highly corrupt police department.

Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after a twelve year absence determined to rid Gotham City of crime. Bruce isn’t confident in his ability to fight crime and goes out on a surveillance mission to Gotham’s red light district.

Bruce gets into a brawl with several prostitutes, one named Selina Kyle, he’s shot and then arrested. He escapes the police and returns to Wayne Manor bleeding badly and barely alive.

Bruce, battered and beaten, sits in front of his father’s bust asking for advice for his war on crime. Then a bat crashes through the window and sits on the bust giving Bruce an idea, he’ll fight crime as the Batman.

In the police department Gordon is dealing with the corrupt Commissioner Loeb and his minions. Gordon’s wife Barbara is at home pregnant while Gordon is on the verge of an affair with his partner Sergeant Sarah Essen.

Ultimately Batman and Gordon have the same goal in mind, rid Gotham City or crime and corruption. When the mob targets Gordon’s family, Batman is there to help forming an alliance between the two men.

The story ends with Gordon meeting Batman to discuss a new criminal called the Joker.

If you’ve seen Batman Begins you know some of the Batman: Year One story. While the movie isn’t a direct adaptation, it draws heavily on the Batman: Year One story.

Batman: Year One is a fantastic look at the early years of Batman and Lt. Gordon and an essential story arc for any Batman fan.

Story Arc Issues: Batman #404 – #407

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That will end our look at the essential Caped Crusader stories. Some of them have made their way into various Batman movies, while others have been turned into animated features. The Killing Joke, Batman: Year One, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns are all great animated movies adapted from the comics.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is an adaptation of Death in the Family and the 2005 storyline Under the Hood. It’s a good movie that explores the life and death of Jason Todd.

Whether officially canon or not, all the stories above have influenced and shaped the last 35 years of Batman lore. Grant Morrison drew heavily from the ‘non-canon’ Son of the Demon story as inspiration for the 2006 story arc Batman and Son.

If you’re a new reader to Batman this list will give a head start into the Batman mythos. If you are an established fan re-read these stories to solidify your Batman expertise.

What are your favorite Batman stories? Let me know in the comments below or on X(Twitter). The main Geekster channel is @TRNSocial and I’m @MileHighSamurai

Don’t forget we want to hear YOUR comic stories too. Get some inspiration from this post and then click the ‘Submit a Post’ button. There’s some great prizes waiting for the best submission.

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About Pitfall Gary 126 Articles
Just your average Gen X'er. Born in the 70s and raised in the Decade of Decadence! I rode my bike without a helmet and was home when the street lights came on. I love to reminisce about the good ol' days; Movies, TV, music, if it happened in my childhood I'll share it with you.

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