Okay, so there's good news and bad news. The good news is that ComiXology is having a massive sale on Batman comics, and has knocked a bunch of them down to 99¢ each, which means that you can grab some great stories on the cheap. The bad news? Since this whole thing is in honor of Batman's 75th anniversary, they've put 750 comics on sale, plus a handful of graphic novel collections. All things considered, that's a pretty good problem to have, but still, that can be pretty overwhelming.
Fortunately, we're here to help. As the World's Foremost Batmanologist, I've sifted through the sale to bring you safe bets for what you should be grabbing during the sale. Assuming you've got the obvious ones -- like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One and the recent runs by Morrison, Snyder, and Capullo -- here's what to grab next!
Batman #251: The Joker's Five-Way Revenge
Writer: Denny O'Neil
Artist: Neal Adams
I almost skipped over this one because it's one of the most well known and widely read Batman stories of all time, by one of the most famous creative teams that's ever worked on the book. Still, grabbing "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" for a buck is an offer too good to pass up. It's got beautiful iconic imagery from Adams, who's at the top of his game drawing Batman in a fistifght against a shark and the Joker murdering his way through some old compatriots, and O'Neil's story holds up even today.
The only problem, such as it is, is that it has the recoloring from the Batman by Neal Adams hardcover, which gets a little too lurid for a lot of tastes. It's nowhere near as bad here as it was in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, though, and this is the kind of story that could be colored in highlighter and sharpie and still be worth a buck.
Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity #1 - 3
Writer/Artist: Matt Wagner
Trinity isn't my favorite Matt Wagner Batman story -- unfortunately, neither Batman and the Monster Men nor Batman and the Mad Monk, in which Wagner recreates actual Golden Age stories during Batman's "Year One" timeline, didn't make the cut -- but it's still a pretty great story. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman team up during their early careers to face a villainous triumvirate of Ra's al-Ghul, Bizarro and Artemis. There's a lot of overcoming differences, but it's a great adventure, and the villains in this one aren't the usual bad-guy team-up.
Also, Bizarro calls Ra's al-Ghul "Racer Cool," which is the best.
Detective Comics #475 - 476: The Laughing Fish
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: Marshall Rogers
This is another one that I almost skipped over because there's a pretty good chance you've already read it, but there are very few perfect Batman stories out there, and getting one for under two bucks is a deal nobody should be passing up. Englehart and Rogers' run on Detective Comics is one of the cornerstones of modern Batman stories, and while the whole thing is worth reading -- and sadly out of print as the Strange Apparitions paperback -- this is easily the best part of the run, with the two creators doing a modern take on the Joker's first appearance, with the added weirdness of the Joker attempting to copyright poisoned fish thrown in for good measure.
"The Laughing Fish" was famously adapted into one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, but if you've never read the original, get it.
Detective Comics #569 - 570: "Catch As Catscan" and "The Last Laugh"
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Artist: Alan Davis
Jeepers, there sure are a lot of great Joker stories, aren't there? This one comes from one of the most criminally underrated runs of all time, Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis's amazing year on Detective Comics. As a team, they specialized in classic adventure stories that were inspired by the feel of Golden Age tales but still feel distinctly modern, and they ended up producing some of the greatest single issue stories of all time. "Fear For Sale," where Scarecrow doses Batman with a toxin that takes away his fear and causes him to become reckless, is one of my all-time favorites, but it sadly didn't make the sale. Still, it's worth it at pretty much any price.
This story, though, is one of the best stories based around the simple plot of "The Joker Ruins Everything." When Catwoman attempts to reform and work alongside Batman and Robin, the Joker brainwashes her back to a life of crime, putting Batman in the position of having to fight the villains while also deprogramming one who's hell-bent on killing him.
Detective Comics #757: "Air Time"
Greg Rucka's entire run on Detective Comics, starting in #742, is amazingly solid and well thought-out, and it's worth picking up during the sale since almost all of it's on sale. If, however, you want a sample of just how good it is, though, you can find out in this single issue. Rucka and Burchett set up the story with Batman chasing a gang of crooks through the highways of Gotham City. What Batman doesn't know, however, is that the crooks knocked a family off the highway and into the water below, where they're running out of time and air. It's a simple question of whether the Dark Knight can catch the bad guys and save the family, but the way it's done is beautiful.
This story was also included in the recent Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years hardcover, and it's definitely one that should be there.
Detective Comics #758 - 760: "Unknowing"
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Shawn Martinborough
Buy on ComixologyRucka, Brubaker and Lark's Gotham Central is often regarded (quite correctly) as one of the best Batman books of the 21st century, but a lot of people overlook this story by Rucka and Martinborough, which is almost a prototype for what would happen later. It's a story of cops suddenly going crooked, but things get complciated when it turns out to be a plot by the Mad Hatter, all done in that stylish post-No Man's Land style. If you like GC, pick this one up.
If you don't like Gotham Central, then cousin, I don't know how to help you.
Detective Comics #777 - 782: "Dead Reckoning"
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Tommy Castillo
It blows my mind to this day that Ed Brubaker's run as the writer of Detective Comics remains largely uncollected. The whole thing is worth grabbing if you haven't read it, but while "Made of Wood" (a fantastic team-up between Batman and the Golden Age Green Lantern) was reprinted alongside Brubaker and Mahnke's "The Man Who Laughs," "Dead Reckoning" has never been put in a paperback. And that's bananas, because it's amazing.
I usually refer to this story as "The good version of Hush," because it has everything that people like about that story -- a huge cast of villains, a mystery villain with ties to Batman's past, the Joker being a small but crucial part of the story -- only done perfectly. Seriously, I can't oversell you on this story -- it's likely the best thing you can buy during this sale that you can't easily find elsewhere.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jock, Francesco Francavilla
Scott Snyder's first Batman story is available on the sale, and it's great, but while they've got the ten issues of it up for a dollar each, they also have the collected edition for $2.99. So, you know. Go with the collection instead, and enjoy an amazing story of Dick Grayson's time as Batman and some pretty awful secrets from Commissioner Gordon's past.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #6 - 10: "Gothic"
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Klaus Janson
Folks, when 1990 Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson deliver a Batman story called "Gothic," you can best believe they are going all in with the darkness. That's exactly what happens here, too, with a special bonus helping of even more childhood trauma for Young Bruce Wayne than he already had, but it ends up being really great.
Morrison would, of course, go on to be one of the most important Batman writers of the modern era, and this early story is compelling and engaging in an entirely different way than what he'd eventually be known for.
Also, if you enjoy Legends of the Dark Knight's take on Batman's early career, "Blades" by James Robinson and Tim Sale from #32-34 is definitely worth snagging too, since three bucks can get you Batman facing off against the Cavalier, a swashbuckling crook that will essentially be the closest thing we get to Batman vs. Zorro.