With over 80 years of Batman comics to navigate, it can be a bit confusing for new readers to explore the Dark Knight’s history without a guide.
The Batman comics first debuted back in 1939’s Detective Comics #27 before moving on to also star in his own self-titled series that would lead to decades of storylines that have made Gotham City’s costumed crime-fighter one of the most popular literary characters in the world, though a number of reboots and retcons have made his lengthy timeline confusing to new readers.
As a new version of the Dark Knight heads to theaters with Matt Reeves’ The Batman, new fans will be looking to the comics to explore the character and his extended family, though searching through over 80 years of continuity can definitely be daunting without a handy chronological road map to help move through Batman’s comic history.
10 Batman: Year One
While Batman’s mythology had been developed for many years prior to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One four-issue storyline from 1987, it has become the definitive origin story for Bruce Wayne’s evolution into the Dark Knight.
Year One also details future police commissioner James Gordon’s first year in Gotham as well as other Gotham City characters like the Falcones and Catwoman. Year One also partially inspired Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, making it a must-read for fans of the previous film franchise.
9 The Long Halloween
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale teamed-up for a few connected series that explored the early days of Batman’s mission in Gotham City while also exploring his allies and enemies in 1996’s The Long Halloween and 1999’s Dark Victory.
The Long Halloween featured important moments in the development of Batman’s rogue’s gallery as he investigated the mysterious Holiday Killer, while Dark Victory serves as a direct sequel and highlights the new partnership between Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin.
8 Son of the Demon
One of Batman’s greatest enemies is Ra’s al Ghul AKA the Demon’s Head, the centuries-old leader of the League of Assassins whose relationship with Batman is unlike any of his other villains, as Ra’s originally chose Batman to be his successor.
While the origins of Ra’s al Ghul weren’t revealed until 1999’s Birth of the Demon by Denny O’Neil and Norm Breyfogle, it was 1987’s Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham that explored his complicated relationship with Talia al Ghul that would go on to have a major impact on Batman’s mythology
7 Death In The Family
Batman’s extended family includes a number of costumed allies that play a large role in his storylines over the years, and there are a couple of essential storylines that not only affected the Bat-family but also had a lasting impact on Batman.
1988’s Death In The Family and The Killing Joke showcased the tragic loss of Robin and Batgirl, respectively, at the hands of Batman’s greatest enemy. Batman would stay in a dark place until 1989’s A Lonely Place of Dying introduced Tim Drake as the new Robin, launching a new era for the dynamic duo.
6 Knightfall – No Man’s Land
Batman would experience one of his greatest losses when he first encountered Bane during the Knightfall storyline from the 90s, which first broke the Batman before introducing a new character to don the mantle of the bat.
After Bruce Wayne was able to recover and take back both his city and his cowl, he nearly lost his allies to plague in 1996’s Contagion and Legacy before 1998’s Cataclysm destroyed Gotham. No Man’s Land followed Batman and his allies as they fought alongside the GCPD to save and rebuild Gotham City from the villains who had taken control.
5 Hush – Under The Red Hood
Batman’s past would come back to haunt him a number of times in storylines like 2002’s Batman: Hush or 2005’s Under The Red Hood, both of which were adapted into feature-length direct-to-video animated movies.
Hush introduced a brand new villain who manipulated some of Batman’s biggest enemies into taking down the Dark Knight in an extremely personal attack that explored Bruce Wayne’s past while the return of the villainous Red Hood (a former costumed identity of The Joker) completely shook up Batman’s world and re-examined one of his most tragic moments.
4 Batman And Son – Batman, Inc.
When Grant Morrison took over the core Batman titles, he took inspiration from classic stories to help bring them into modern continuity while further developing Batman and his family with the introduction of his son Damian Wayne in 2006’s Batman And Son.
2008’s Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis led to huge changes and a brand new Batman and Robin following 2009’s Battle For The Cowl. 2010’s Batman Incorporated further evolved Batman’s organization before the entire DC Universe was rewritten by the Flashpoint event.
3 New 52
While Batman and his related characters weren’t given a full reboot like the rest of the DC Universe, the New 52 did serve as a good jumping-on point for new readers while still embracing most of Batman’s established history.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo introduced readers to the mysterious Court of Owls before an epic showdown with the Joker in Endgame. Batman’s early days were also given a modern overhaul in Zero Year while the Super Heavy storyline introduced yet another brand new armored Batman.
2 DC Rebirth
Tom King took over Batman following the 2016 DC Rebirth event that provided a soft reboot to the DC Universe, which led to Batman teaming-up with Barry Allen/The Flash to investigate during The Button storyline.
Batman and Catwoman’s romantic relationship that was first made official in Hush would be further developed over the course of his run. His rivalry with Bane would also be taken to new levels with City of Bane which would lead to one of the biggest tragedies in Bruce Wayne’s life that the Bat-Family is still recovering from in current issues.
1 The Dark Knight Returns
While Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns was released in 1986 and helped usher in a new darker era of the Batman, it does take place in the future as retired Bruce Wayne is forced to return to his role as a costumed crimefighter.
The Dark Knight Returns features a few of Batman’s most popular villains alongside a dangerous new army to fit the time period. Batman gained a new Robin in young Carrie Kelley as he renewed his mission to protect Gotham City in a storyline that was adapted to a two-part animated direct-to-video release.
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