Happy Batman Day, everyone!
The instructions on how one celebrates this new holiday are rather vague. I’m not about to go suit up and fight injustice on the streets of Toronto. Instead, it seemed to me that the best way to respect the Caped Crusader’s legacy was with a list of my favorite Batman stories across any medium: comics, animation, video games, you name it!
5. Batman: The Long Halloween (Comic)
In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sales’ acclaimed 1996 series, an early-career Batman unites with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent to uncover the identity of an elusive killer who murders only once a month on holidays. The story was incredibly influential; Christopher Nolan has cited the comic as one of the biggest influences for his Dark Knight Trilogy. Batman’s alliance with Gordon and Dent as well as Dent’s fall from grace in The Dark Knight were ripped straight out of The Long Halloween.
I’ve always loved the “early years” stories of any superhero. Serving as a follow-up in the timeline to Frank Miller’s Year One origin story, The Long Halloween marks the transition in Batman’s career from his biggest enemies being mob bosses and drug dealers, to facing full-fledged super villains like Two-Face and the Joker.
Above all, it’s a wonderfully written and beautifully drawn “whodunit” story. The Long Halloween keeps you playing the world’s greatest detective alongside Batman as you flip from page to page. Definitely check this one out!
4. The Dark Knight Returns (Comic)
The only thing I love more than an early Batman story is an aging Batman story. 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns was the first time readers got to see what a lifelong battle against crime could do to a man, and in many ways, the writers nailed the idea.
The story is a revelation that as hard as he may fight it, Batman will always be a part of Bruce Wayne. He comes out of retirement in search of “a fitting death” at a time when Gotham’s crime rate is worse than ever and no one else is willing to step in. Miller analyzes themes like the role of vigilantism, particularly in times of civil indifference. It also asks a sort of chicken or the egg question regarding Batman and his enemies: is the Dark Knight really there to stop these supervillains, or does his presence just attract these hyper personalities?
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Animated Movie)
Mask of the Phantasm was my go-to Batman story throughout my childhood. Clocking in at just over an hour and fifteen minutes, this film continuation of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series managed to do so many things right in so little time. In the film, Bruce tries to unmask and apprehend a new killer the police force and others have mistaken for Batman, the titular Phantasm. Narrative flashbacks throughout the movie reveal Bruce’s first love and the final tragic push that transformed an angry young man into the Dark Knight so many know and fear.
The movie is masterfully voice acted by the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill and there’s a higher (and more violent) production value than its TV counterpart. Mask of the Phantasm is truly the epitome of writer Paul Dini’s work on Batman throughout the ’90s and early 2000s.
2. Batman: Arkham Knight (Video Game)
Say what you will about the game’s frustrating tank battles, there’s no disputing that the stakes were never higher for Batman than in Batman: Arkham Knight. The game’s story dives deep into the psyche of Batman, forcing him to question himself in allowing the people he cares for most to get involved in his destructive crusade. Throughout the game, the fates of those who follow him– Oracle, Robin, Nightwing, and more – are put in serious jeopardy. We see him wrestle with his greatest fears and failures and feel a very real sense that Batman may finally be in too deep.
The cinematics, acting, and overall feel of the game were all so well polished that, despite a few hiccups like an over-reliance on the Batmobile and some predictable story beats, I’d say developer Rocksteady fully succeeded in letting me live out my lifelong dream of feeling like I am Batman.
1. Justice League Unlimited: Epilogue (TV Episode)
All of the previous entries on this list exemplify different elements of Batman’s persona. His detective skills, combat ability, and sheer resilience, But this final story truly shines for revealing the humanity of Bruce Wayne. While technically an episode of Justice League, the “Epilogue” acts as the spiritual finale to both Batman: The Animated Series and its sequel, Batman Beyond. In the finale, we learn the truth about Batman’s successor, Terry McGinnis – that he has Bruce’s DNA coursing through his veins, making him the true heir to the Batman mantle.
But that reveal isn’t even the most powerful moment in the episode. Amanda Waller tries to convince an infuriated Terry that Bruce is not as heartless as he believes by recounting Bruce’s final encounter with Ace, the leader of the Royal Flush Gang, twenty years ago. Ace, a young girl with immense psychic powers, is only hours away from dying from a brain aneurysm that will likely cause her to destroy the city. Batman is given the order by Waller to kill Ace before she loses control. When he meets her, he instead decides to sit with her and talk about their lives until her time comes instead.
It’s an incredibly human moment as the two characters share feelings of being cheated out of a childhood and hold hands while all of Ace’s psychic creations fade away as she calms down, until eventually passing. We get to see the heartbreak in Bruce’s eyes as he carries the lifeless girl out of the park. In that moment it becomes clear that Batman does all that he does not out of revenge, addiction, or hatred of criminals, but because he believes in and cares about the goodness in people.
It’s why Batman is a shining – err, dimly lit and dark – beacon of justice and will always be my favorite fictional character.
Now excuse me while I go play through Arkham Knight for the fourth time.
Like our picks? Let us know your favorite Batman moments in a comment!
Want more Batman fun? See our list of Top 10 Weirdest Batman Batsuits.