There’s an endless amount of material to love in Batman’s 75+ year history. With that said, it can also be overwhelming to find a place to begin! Chances are, if you pick up a random Batman comic book or graphic novel you’ll find yourself lost in the middle of an ongoing story line.
Fortunately, there are tons of “stand alone” stories in the Dark Knight’s corner of the DC Universe that don’t require months (if not years) of reading to enjoy. These stories are largely self contained between the front and back covers so they can be enjoyed individually.
Please note that I’m deliberately going to omit THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS as it rightfully frequents Batman “best of” lists. My hope is to point out some ones that you might overlook on a bookshelf.
Here are my choices for the Top 5 Batman Stand Alone Stories:
#5 – Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison
Chances are you’ve seen this one before since it’s been around for over two decades. In that time it has become a very important part of Batman/DC lore. I’ve placed it on this list because even if you’ve read it in the past, ARKHAM ASYLUM is worth another go as it tends to strike a different chord as you get older. While Dave McKean’s art captivates, Grant Morrison’s story can get delightfully twisted. I do recommend getting this one in print as the style doesn’t translate as well in digital mediums.
#4 – Batman: Dark Victory – by Jeph Loeb
DARK VICTORY is a sequel to the praised BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN. I can still include it in this list of self contained stories because you really can safely read this without checking out its predecessor. Many Batman fans were disappointed in this entry yet I enjoyed it more THE LONG HALLOWEEN. It took a while for me to read it, so I had seen Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT several times already. Perhaps having that cinematic comparison fresh in my mind allowed me to better appreciate the tragic downfall of Harvey Dent and the failed triumvirate comprised of Gordon, Dent, and the Batman. Regardless, this is essential reading!!
#3 – Batman: Year One by Frank Miller
Frank Miller knocked it out of the park once again while kicking also off the “origin story” craze we still can’t seem to escape from. This is a fantastic read as it find Bruce Wayne in the very start of his caped crusading. It’s far more grounded in its approach to the Dark Knight showing him as tremendously flawed/inexperienced. After you read the book then you should definitely check out the animated film. Bryan Cranston kicks ass (as always) voicing Jim Gordon.
#2 – Batman: Under the Red Hood by Judd Winick
I flippin’ love this story. It is brutal, funny, tragic, and action packed. The book wonderfully portrays Batman as the tortured soul he really is. It’s so easy to forget that he’s a man under the cowl yet this story drives the point home. Artwork by Doug Mahnke is very complementary to fluid dialogue drawing out the tale. The book is different enough from the animated film that both deserve to be enjoyed in their own right. Speaking of the animated film, it is one of my absolute favorites for a multitude of reasons. It’s an adaptation that is a true credit to its source material.
#1 – Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
TECHNICALLY, this is taken from the pages of Detective Comics. However, it’s a self contained story that can be fully enjoyed on its own so I’m counting it. It helps this this book is absolutely incredible. Scott Snyder is a damn wizard and Jock’s art is a trippy masterpiece. These two powerhouses of today’s comic book scene deserve their place at the top. BLACK MIRROR is unique because Batman isn’t Bruce Wayne, but rather Dick Grayson filling in for Bruce in his absence. The story is incredibly dark and will most likely haunt your thoughts long after completion. I hope DC/Warners makes an animated (R-Rated) adaptation of this one in the future like they did with KILLING JOKE.