Robin Dies At Dawn (1963)
"Robin Dies At Dawn" is one of the single best Batman stories ever printed. In a lot of ways, it's also the perfect Bill Finger story, capturing so much of what he brought to Batman, so much of what I've been celebrating in this list, in a single story. The psychology, the strangeness, the unexpected twists, the relationship between Batman and Robin. If you can only read one Bill Finger story, this is the one.
That might seem like a weird recommendation when you consider that it has so much of the stuff that Batman fans have actively avoided in the years since it was published. It's one of the last epics of the "Sci Fi Batman" era that saw the Caped Crusader traveling to alien worlds, and it's full of the weirdness of the Silver Age. There's a panel where Batman dresses up as a gorilla, for instance, because he's fighting a gang of robbers who also dress up like gorillas. In that respect, it's undeniably silly, but that only enhances the heart of this story rather than detracting from it. Besides, are you going to tell Bill Finger that Batman shouldn't be weird sometimes?
The premise involves Batman undergoing a hallucinogenic isolation experiment designed to simulate space travel (he did that sort of thing back then), envisioning himself on a hostile alien world where everything turns against him, climaxing with a vision of Robin dying at the hands of a monster. It's such a psychological blow that Batman loses his edge, too concerned with the well-being of his partner to fight crime, deciding that he'll retire before he gets either of them killed, only to be forced back into action by a crime wave.
It's no accident that Finger, the man who wrote Batman's origin and defined him as someone motivated by the loss of his family, would return to that theme again for a story where Batman was almost defeated by the idea that he could lose the family he'd built as an adult. While the origin is the fear of a child, the fear that mom and dad could be taken away and leave you alone, "Robin Dies At Dawn" is the fear of an adult, of a parent who dreads nothing so much as outliving his child. For all the gorilla suits and alien planets, that's the heart of this story, and it's harrowing. The simple line "I must put away my Batman costume and retire from crimefighting," lifted and twisted into a sinister refrain by Morrison 40 years later, is brutally effective. It's everything great about Batman, and everything great about Bill Finger.