While not as well-known as the others on this list, this early comic from modern-day Batman writer Grant Morrison was one of the first Batman graphic novels I read - and it's rather stuck with me. The story starts with Gotham's mobsters being picked off by a mysterious stranger called Mr Whisper. As Batman investigates, he finds out this Mr Whisper, a man without a shadow, may be something more peculiar than the Penguin, more curious than Catwoman, something altogether more... gothic.
With allusions to the Faust legends and Matthew Lewis' classic novel, The Monk, this is a graphic novel that stands out for the strength of its literary illusions, taking the Bat from his usual superhero habitat and putting the Goth firmly back in Gotham.
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Batman is dead and every one of his friends and foes has gathered in Crime Alley for his wake. And so has Batman. With a ghostly guide for company, Batman watches as various stories are given as to how he died. But which is the real one? Or is he even dead?
As strange and as lyrical as anything Neil Gaiman writes, this was intended to be a bookend for all the different versions of the Batman across the ages. Rather than pitting the Bat against a scheming villain, this sees Batman face up to his own subconscious, or maybe its something else. As a touching testament to the endurance of the World's Greatest Detective, WHTTCC? cannot be beaten. Much like the Dark Knight himself.
Batman: The Killing Joke
The Joker is far and wide the greatest comic book villain, a raging lunatic who's popularity has sustained as long as the Batman's own. As you would expect for such a popular character, he's featured in dozens of strips over the years but Alan Moore's The Killing Joke is certainly the definitive Joker story.
Detailing the two-sides-of-the-same-coin nature of Batman and his arch-enemy like never before, Killing Joke gives us a potential origin for the clown (but even the man himself isn't sure if its real), his most despicable crime (poor Barbara Gordon...) and the only time he's ever made Batman laugh (what does that ending mean?). An influence on both Nicholson's and Ledger's portrayals of the character, this is a deeply psychological, often grisly, look at what makes the usually-unfathomable Joker tick.
Batman: The Long Halloween
The Long Halloween is most probably my favourite story in a Batman comic. A proper whodunnit, it spans a year-long investigation of the serial killer known as 'Holiday' by the triumvirate of Batman, Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. As that name may have suggested, aside from an engaging mystery featuring appearances from all your favourite Bat-villains, TLH also details the fall of Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face, one of the most interesting of Batman's rogues gallery. An expert blend of classic Hollywood film noirs and traditional Batman detective work, this is actually a sequel of sorts to another Batman storyline. I wonder which one...?
Batman: Year One
While it may be sacrilegious not to include Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns in a 'Best Batman stories' list... it's what I've gone and done! As previously stated, while TDKR is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work, an ultra-violent, tank-driving version of the Caped Crusader is just not my preferred idea of the character. Conversely, the quality of Miller's follow-up Batman: Year One, which details how the Batman came to be, is much harder to argue with. In a Gotham corrupt to its core, Year One follows its two true heroes, the fledgling Batman and rising cop James Gordon, as they attempt to clear up their beloved city, eventually coming together in an alliance. Year One is a perfect summation of what makes Batman so enticing a character; due to his terrible past, Bruce Wayne gives his life to guarding over the people of Gotham City. It's not just an act of pure vengeance but a dedication to a bigger purpose. Unlike many of his comic counterparts, Batman shows you don't need to be super to be a hero.