So on Monday, I watched the Gotham series premiere with about 8 million of my friends. I started writing a column about the show and what it says (accidentally and/or purposefully) about the role of Batman in pop culture right now. But working on that column got me thinking more generally about Batman: A character who has been around for 75 years, a figure in my cultural consciousness since before my memory begins. The next thing I knew, I was making a list of my favorite Batman things–the movies, the TV shows, the vividly recalled comic book story arcs and standalone issues, the characters who stand out in my memory as defining aspects of the greater Bat-mythology.
The list that follows is entirely subjective and completely stream-of-consciousness. As with my Disney and X-Men top 100, I tried to avoid Internet searches, depending on memory as much as possible. (I looked up the titles of comic books and TV episodes I couldn’t remember, under the assumption that just writing “The One Where Batman Meets The Old Lady” wouldn’t prove particularly helpful.) Batman is one of those characters where the sheer breadth of creative history is astonishing–there are great “realistic” Batman stories, great supernatural Batman stories, great Batman stories where he punches aliens and great Batman stories where he punches Aliens. Here are my favorite Batman things, for one reason or another:
1. “Robin Dies at Dawn!” by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff
The Caped Crusader wakes up without any memory on an alien planet that looks like Edgar Rice Burroughs crisscrossed with H.P. Lovecraft, gets saved by Robin, watches Robin die. Then it turns out it was all just a nightmare-experiment for NASA. But then Batman keeps hallucinating. One of the great tales from the Loopy-Weird school of Batman storytelling.
2. No Man’s Land
A year-long saga that played out across the late-’90s Batman books. Long story short: Earthquake half-destroys Gotham, the US government declares it a dead zone, the city turns into a feudal nightmare with every neighborhood ruled by a different supervillain. If nothing else, read the kickoff saga “No Law and a New Order,” drawn by Alex Maleev a few years before his legendary run on Daredevil. Sort of the inspiration for Batman: Arkham City and the best parts of The Dark Knight Rises.
3. “Heart of Ice”
Mr. Freeze seeks vengeance for his wife’s death, and the result is a slow, sad, basically perfect little tragedy that lasts maybe 22 minutes without commercials. The best episode of Batman: The Animated Series and a good example of how, throughout Batman’s history, ridiculously talented creative types can take even the goofiest Bat-baddie and hyperbolize them into Shakespeare.
4. The Dark Knight Returns
The most famous Frank Miller Batman story.
5. Batman: Year One
The best Frank Miller Batman story.
6. The Dark Knight Strikes Again
The weirdest Frank Miller Batman story.
7. This moment from All-Star Batman & Robin.
Inadvertently, the saddest Frank Miller Batman story.
8. Gotham Central
Essentially Homicide: Life on the Street set in a world where the Joker occasionally swings by to kill people. Written by Ed Brubaker, mostly drawn by Greg Rucka, pure police-procedural pulp set in a gritty nightmare world populated by the most believable non-costumed characters in Batman history.
9. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Grant Morrison’s first go-round with the Caped Crusader, a dark and weird crazyhouse saga. Arrived three years after The Dark Knight Returns and might actually be more influential in the long term, insofar as every story that throws together all the Batman villains feels a little like Arkham Asylum now.
10. Batman: Arkham City
The greatest superhero game ever and the most successful attempt yet at reincorporating Christopher Nolan’s stripped-down innovations into the kookball tapestry of Batman mythology.
11. The Ra’s Al-Ghul reveal from Batman Begins
Before Batman Begins, “origin stories” were usually the first acts of superhero movies–the boring part before the story really kicked in. After Batman Begins, origin stories were usually the entirety of superhero movies. But no origin-story movie has ever even come close to Begins. Nolan is all about structural misdirection, and so Begins initially seems to be two very different movies: The story of how Bruce Wayne learns all his cool fighting moves from Liam Neeson, and the story of how he returns to Gotham and becomes Batman. Then Liam Neeson shows up at Wayne Mansion, and you realize that those two separate stories were actually the same twisty saga. Even more impressive because it adds symbolic heft to the whole ludicrous “immortal” aspect of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s comic book incarnation.
12. Danny Elfman’s Batman score
Puts all our modern imitation-Zimmer anti-hummable soundtracks to shame.
13. The opening credits sequence of Adam West’s Batman TV show
A convincing argument that every TV show should have a credits sequence and a theme song.
13. Mask of the Phantasm
A slice of life for a nerd circa Nineteen Ninety-Something: I somehow never saw the Animated Series spinoff movie, but I can vividly recall reading the novelization. (I also read the novelization of Men in Black before seeing the movie. The ’90s were weird.)
14. Neil Gaiman’s “A Black and White World”
A meta-story where Batman and the Joker are actors on the set of a Batman comic book. A head-turner.
15. Brian Bolland’s “An Innocent Guy”
Like the Gaiman story, a short little ditty from Batman Black and White about a normal, average, everyday dude who has the perfect plan for killing Batman.
16. Speeding Bullets
In the ’90s, DC started to release a whole series of “Elseworlds” stories set in alternate realities, and the most popular subgenre was basically “What if Batman was also [insert another superhero here]?” In Speeding Bullets, it’s: “What is Batman was also Superman?”
17. In Darkest Knight
“What if Batman was also Green Lantern?” Coincidentally one of the best Green Lantern stories ever.
18. Batman: Red Rain
“What if Batman was also a vampire?”
19. “Black Masterpiece”
“What if Batman was also the apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci?” Essentially Assassin’s Creed plus Da Vinci Code, a decade early.
20. Batman: Shaman
“What if Batman: Year One was also all the Native American hallucinations in The Doors?”
In another corner of the ’90s, DC decided that they would start killing and/or maiming all their most beloved superheroes, often replacing them with cyborg versions of themselves. This was a shameless grab for attention and sales, and as with most shameless company-wide cash grabs, they tried it with Batman and it actually kind of worked. Arkham Asylum gets blown up and every criminal escapes; tracking them all down wears Batman down, until he’s too exhausted to fight back. The first and last time Bane was a good character.
22. This scene from Adam West’s Batman show, sans context.
23. Batman Returns
My favorite Batman movie and my third-favorite Christmas movie.
24. The opening scene from The Dark Knight
My brother and I purchased tickets to see I Am Legend in IMAX mostly so we could watch the extended Dark Knight prologue. I don’t know what we were expecting; I know for a fact that I didn’t think I’d be witnessing the splinter moment of the history of pop culture in my lifetime. The bank heist is Meth Nolan: A thriller-in-miniature, complete with a final-act twist (it was the Joker all along!)
25. The “Court of Owls” saga by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
The best running Batman story sequence in years, and one of the best arguments that the lead character of the whole Batman mythology is really Gotham City.
26. The moment in Zero Hour when Batman gets imploded by a time bubble.
Horrifying if you happened to be 9 years old. And evidence of just how little Batman did in the ’90s: There was a massive universe-wide crossover, and Batman mattered less in the final battle than freaking Wave Rider.
27. “Two of a Kind” by Bruce Timm
Another short story from Batman Black and White, this one from Animated Series patriarch Bruce Timm. The best Two-Face story ever.
28. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Frank Miller influenced the portrayal of Batman in a lot of ways, many of them positive. But Miller also contributed to a de-emphasis on one of the most fun parts of the character: The idea that Batman is a Sherlock Holmes-level detective. The Long Halloween is great for a lot of reasons–its influence is all over The Dark Knight–but what I love most about it is how it’s first and foremost an old-fashioned mystery, complete with a cast of conniving characters. The ending is confusing in the best way, as crazy as any of Batman’s villains.
29. Batman vs. Predator by Dave Gibbons and Andy Kubert
A potentially goofy crossover that Kubert draws like a film noir boxing match. Pulp perfection.
Not as good as Superman/Aliens, but that’s just because nothing can really beat a scene where Superman kills an alien embryo using super-regurgitation.
31. Batman Beyond
A.K.A. “The Legend of Kid Batman in the Future!” Considered by some to be equal to or greater than Batman: The Animated Series.
“What if Batman were A MOTHERF—ING PIRATE????”
33. Tim Drake as Robin
Technically the third Robin in the official canon–or anyhow, he was the third Robin the canon I grew up with, which I think has been rebooted about three times since I stopped regularly reading comics. What I loved about Tim-Robin is that he was the rare figure in the Bat-mythos who wasn’t an agonizing orphan archetype; if anything, he was a weirdly well-adjusted kid who just wanted to do the right thing. Eventually they killed off his dad, because everyone has to become an orphan sooner or later in Gotham City.
34. Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever
In many ways, Forever is considerably worse than the more-despised Batman & Robin, if only because the later movie is aggressively stupid instead of passively stupid. But Kilmer’s the best Batman outside the suit: A completely believable playboy with a minor weirdo inflection.
35. Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” video
36. JLA #3
Of all the many reasons to check out Grant Morrison’s Justice League comic book, the best is Morrison’s portrayal of Batman. At a time when most Bat-creators were refocusing on the character as a man-of-the-streets “realistic” superhero, Morrison paired Bats up with the most powerful heroes in the DC universe–and constantly proved that Batman was the coolest man in the room. That comes through strongest in this early story, when a villainous group attacks the League and handily defeats more powerful characters like Superman and Wonder Woman–until Batman uses old-fashioned smarts to strike back.
37. Tower of Babel
And now for something completely different. Morrison loves Batman, but fellow journeyman comic book writer Mark Waid has always seemed a bit more skeptical of the character. (Batman’s barely a factor in Waid’s majestic JLA: Year One.) That skepticism comes across strong in Tower of Babel, when a criminal mastermind takes down the Justice League–and specifically, takes them down using information stolen from Batman, who it turns out has a whole elaborate plan in place to eliminate any superhero just in case.
38. Nightwing’s Original Costume
It’s like the ’70s and the ’80s had an incest baby.
39. The Nighwing spinoff by Dixon and Scott McDaniel
Wherein Nightwing moves to Blüdhaven, essentially the Newark to Gotham’s New York.
40. The “Knightquest Batman” Action Figure
In the ’90s, every superhero had like fifteen new costumes, and no new costume was cooler than this one.
A simple and weirdly effective illustrative visual tic.
42. The Minstrel episode of Adam West’s Batman TV show.
A villain so villainous that he doesn’t just do bad things…he sings about them! With bad rhymes!
43. The rejected Batman costumes from Batman: Brotherhood of the Bat.
Pure ’90s-style alternate-universe superhero-costume porn. I call the big one Bitey.
44. “The Deadshot Ricochet,” by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers
Everyone goes through a Deadshot phase sooner or later. He’s like Deadpool without the quote marks.
45. The Batman arcade game
So many quarters, wasted.
46. Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises
Seems beamed in from a very different, vastly more playful movie.
47. Bane’s voice in The Dark Knight Rises
The best silly thing to happen to the Bat-franchise since the Minstrel.
48. Batman fighting Captain America in Marvel vs. DC #3
In maybe the single most ’90s moment of ’90s comic book history, Marvel and DC staged a cashgrab crossover wherein major Marvel characters fought major DC characters. The most interesting fight was between Batman and Captain America. It’s a weird fit–it’s hard to think of any two superheroes who present differently than bleak-dystopian Batman and jingo-bright Cap–but the weirdly poignant climax argues that the two characters are the defining figures in their respective universes because they’re both striving to achieve something fundamentally impossible.
49. Dark Claw
Marvel vs. DC climaxed with one of the first corporate-sponsored mash-ups: A flood of one-off issues that featured combined versions of DC and Marvel characters. The most famous/infamous of these meta-characters was Dark Claw, a mash-up of Wolverine and the Batman, which is like the comic book equivalent of combining Stallone and Schwarzenegger.
50. The very first Joker story, from Batman #1
A million years later, the first version of the Joker still looks freaky.
51. “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley!” by Dennis O’Neil and Dick Giordano
Considering that Gotham just killed the Wayne Parents for the thousandth time, it’s worth revisiting this quiet little classic story, which laser-focuses on how his parents’ death haunts Batman.
52. “Perchance to Dream”
The episode of Batman: The Animated Series that I remember the most vividly: Batman wakes up in a world where his parents never died.
53. The first issue of Infinite Crisis
Batman’s mad at Superman, and Superman’s mad at Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman’s mad at Batman, and these three mega-icons just spend a few minutes talking to each other. Fingers crossed, just a little bit of this gets into Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
54. Batman in The LEGO Movie
A lacerating parody of the Nolanist Batman, all the more impressive because it was an official sponsored Warner Bros. joint.
55. Batman: Mitefall
An in-universe parody of Knightfall, illustrated by nightmare artist Kevin O’Neill.
Paralyzed by a gunshot, Batgirl was transformed into the most badass hacker in comic book history–thus transforming the character into a bizarrely ahead-of-her-time emissary of the internet era.
57. This shot of the Joker in The Dark Knight.
58. Batman #667-669
From Grant Morrison’s epic run with the character. Batman visits the secret island where he used to hang out with other Batman-ish figures from around the world…and someone starts killing those other heroes off. It’s like Murder on the Orient Express set in a United Nations where everyone’s Batman.
60. The cover of Batman #500
Not just a cover that shows off Batman’s cool new cyborg-y costume; it’s a DIE-CUT DOUBLE FOIL cover that show’s off Batman’s cool new cyborg-y costume. The ’90s!
61. The series bible for Batman: The Animated Series
A fascinating bit of behind-the-scenes arcana–and one of the best pieces of Batman scholarship ever.
62. Batman: Dark Knight of the Round Table
“What if Batman was also Lancelot?”
63. “The Butler Did It,” by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire
A hidden gem released by DC comics digitally. The title has a few different meanings.
64. The Idea of the Riddler
In the last few decades, the character usually gets pitched as a less threatening Joker. (In the Arkham games, he’s just an annoying voice on the minigame telephone.) It doesn’t help matters that the only thing less threatening than all-green attire is covering that all-green attire with question marks. The Dark Knight movies never even approached the Riddler–which is weird, considering that Nolan’s brilliant The Prestige features two Riddler-esque protagonists constructing mysteries inside enigmas. We haven’t gotten a truly great Riddler story in years–which just means that the character is waiting there for some savvy young creative type to put his own “Heart of Ice”-esque riff on him.
65. Arkham Asylum: Living Hell
An average criminal dodges prison by pleading insanity. Instead, he gets sent to Arkham Asylum–and starts going insane. It’s like Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor mashed with Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always.
66. The last page of of Batman: The Killing Joke
Maybe the single craziest thing that has ever happened in a comic book about superheroes.
67. Alex Ross’ picture of Batman’s Back
68. Catwoman Annual #3 by Joan Weis and Michal Dutkiewicz
Catwoman and Batman are murderous thieves. Joker is the daring detective trying to stop their reign of terror, with a little help from supersmart sidekick the Riddler. A simple good-bad inversion that’s so fun, it deserves an entire alternate-universe spinoff series.
69. Batman Dracula by Andy Warhol
A film lost to time, and the first thing you should ask to see when you get to heaven or hell.
70. The Confessor in Astro City
Kurt Busiek’s brilliantly meta saga reimagined all the most famous comic book archetypes in a world where all the weirdness bubbling along the margins of superhero legends took center stage. That’s especially true in the case of the Confessor, Astro City‘s Batman-ish hero-of-the-darkness, a devout Catholic priest who’s also a vampire.
71. Taco Bell’s “Win Your Own Batmobile” commercial
Perchance to dream.
72. The page of 2011’s Detective Comics #1 when someone cuts the Joker’s f—ing face off.
Don’t look, but look.
73. Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin
So far beyond terrible that she becomes almost profound.
74. The Red Hood segment of Batman: Arkham Origins
The generally-mediocre video game prequel briefly becomes fascinating when you get to take control of the proto-Joker–and, in the process, experience the most famous supervillain’s origin story from the inside.
75. The death of Jason Todd, aka Robin #2
Hails from that brief period in the late ’80s when it actually seemed like some comic book characters would stay dead.
76. Superman & Batman: Generations
“What if Batman and Superman got old, and everything slowly went to hell?”
77. Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee
Every Batman character ever gets thrown together into a wild and raucous mega-story. Could’ve just been a stunt, but Loeb’s decision to focus the whole thing through the tormented Batman-Catwoman romance ties the whole thing together.
78. Prince’s “Batdance“
If there is a god, Prince will do the theme song for Batman v. Superman, and it will be called “Batdance v. Superdance: Dawn of Justdance.”
79. The moment during “Zero Hour” when Frank Miller’s Batman meets the Batman of the ’70s.
Bonus points for also featuring longhaired Superman.
80. Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Morrison’s run on Batman featured lots of outré twists and turns, nothing more effective than the conceit of this series: What if Batman was “the fun one” and Robin was the emotionless crime-stopper?
81. The Batusi
82. The Ambiguously Gay Duo
Funny because it’s true?
83. Batman in Kingdom Come
Mark Wait and Alex Ross created old versions of every DC superhero for this futuristic Revelations-inflected tale–none of them more fun than Old Bruce Wayne, an angry and conniving and hilarious old bastard in a neck brace.
84. 2011’s Batwoman series
Further evidence that the whole idea of Batman can extend in a million different directions: This post-reboot spinoff starring Kate Kane, a beautiful and badass military brat/out-and-proud lesbian. Disappointingly unfinished after the creative team departed over mildly offensive creative differences. With any luck will get turned into a movie starring Jessica Chastain.
85. Batman’s post-apocalyptic costume from “The Super Seven”
Aliens attack the planet, conquer; a decade later, Batman’s one of the last remaining rebels, and he has officially entered his Pouch stage. Looking over this list, I realize it’s filled with alternate-world versions of Batman, and I don’t entirely know why that is. Maybe there’s something so fundamentally interesting about the broad-stroke outline of the character that you can put it literally anywhere–in the future, on a pirate ship–and it works?
86. The brief shot of a Bat insignia in Christopher Nolan’s debut film Following.
Further evidence that Christopher Nolan may in fact be a time traveler from the future who came back to the past to create a new reality where Batman became cool again.
87. The moment at Comic-Con 2013 when Zack Snyder announced Batman vs. Superman
I was there, and I will always remember the sound of pure nerd ecstasy reverberating throughout Hall H.
88. The Giant Penny in the Batcave
Seriously, what the hell is that thing doing there?
89. Castle of the Bat
“What if Batman was also Frankenstein?”
90. The fact that at least one official bit of Batman canon claims Gotham is in New Jersey.
91. Renee Montoya
A beloved figure from the comic books who’s getting her most mainstream showcase yet in Gotham. Remains to be seen if the TV version can live up to the comics, where Montoya was sort of Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect and sort of the coolest Shonda Rhimes character that Shonda Rhimes never invented.
92. The fact that there are eight different Clayfaces.
Each more clayful than the last.
93. Harley Quinn
If there is any justice, the entirety of season 2 of Gotham will refocus into a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque love story about Joker and Harley Quinn.
94. Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Neil Gaiman’s attempt to write the last Batman story. A feast of fan service.
95. Batman’s Utility Belt
Theoretically, if you could pair the Utility Belt with the Junior Woodchuck’s Guidebook, you’d basically be God, right?
96. Psyba Rats #1
So there’s a group of hacker criminals who dress in identical jumpsuits and hang out with Robin. One of them gets attacked by an alien who gives her the incredible power of Knife-Arms. The hackers call themselves “Psyba Rats,” because ’90s, and they actually had their own limited series, because ’90s. I thought all of this was awesome at the time, and weirdly still kind of do now.
97. “The Visitor” in Batman #566
Set during “No Man’s Land” (see #2). Superman visits Gotham City, figuring that he’s going to use his superpowers to fix everything. Every positive action Superman takes has an equal, opposite, completely negative reaction. (He brings an electrical engineer to a power plant–and the engineer winds up as a fief lord, divvying up the power to local gangs.) One of the simplest demonstrations that heroic intentions can produce inadvertently devastating results.
98. Eartha Kitt as Catwoman on the Batman TV show.
99. Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock in Gotham.
The one aspect of the new show that feels completely, utterly spot-on, right out of the gate.
100. Patton Oswalt as the Penguin.
Almost as funny as the Bane voice.