There’s one very good reason why of all the characters in the DC Universe, Batman has the greatest number of fans. It’s not necessarily his backstory, or his personality, or even his iconography. No. The secret sauce of Batman is his versatility. Whether you want a mind-twisting detective story or a deep exploration of the psyche, Batman’s your man.
Sometimes, however, all you really want out of a comic is blood-pumping, whiz-bang action. Guess what? Batman’s got you covered there too. Now available as a hardcover graphic novel, acclaimed Batman artist Jock turns that action dial all the way clockwise with his DC Black Label limited series Batman: One Dark Knight. But be warned! Once you’ve finished the book and your adrenaline’s pumping, you’re going to need more. More action! More suspense! More skull-rattling punches to the jaw! So, specially curated for the bravest and boldest of readers, here are ten full-throttle selections that should be just what the Crime Doctor ordered.
Tales of the Demon
In the 1970s, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams changed Batman’s world forever. While granting the Dark Knight a depth of character the likes of which he’d never before been afforded, O’Neil and Adams heightened the drama and intrigue further still by granting Batman a nemesis who would consistently take him beyond Gotham’s city limits and permanently raise the stakes: the global ecoterrorist, Ra’s al Ghul.
Taking heavy cues from contemporary spy movies, Batman’s globetrotting campaign to thwart the League of Assassins presented a new kind of action for longtime Batman readers, and it still holds up to this day. These stories were first collected in hardcover in the 1990s, but you can follow this Seventies Saga yourself in Detective Comics #411, Batman #232, #235, #240, #242-#244, and Detective Comics #485 and #489-490.
Just as Batman: One Dark Knight takes place during a single, taxing night of Batman’s career, this first part of the eponymous “Knightfall” trilogy similarly pushes the Bat to the brink. When the new super-villain Bane arrives in Gotham, he tests his chosen foe by orchestrating a massive Arkham Asylum breakout—one which takes Batman hither and yon across Gotham to handle simultaneous threats from each of his most notorious foes. As dawn approaches, Batman learns the hard way that even he has his limits…and, infamously, breaks.
Brotherhood of the Fist
The ’90s and early 2000s were a prime period for martial arts action in the DC Universe, and no writer relied as heavily on the art of the fight scene to bring the action home than the prolific Chuck Dixon. In 1998, Dixon weaved together all of his writing duties at the time—Detective Comics, Nightwing, Robin and Green Arrow—to tell one interconnected story of a martial arts cult conspiracy, resolving in a climactic battle between two of DC’s most legendary fighters: Connor Hawke and Lady Shiva.
Selina’s Big Score
For one of the action genre’s most delectable flavors, you have to seek out Catwoman. We speak, of course, of the heist. The assembly of the crew, the delightfully clever plan, the erupting chaos when it all goes sideways and the improvised bolt to the finish with whatever you can grab. It’s a formula that never really gets old, and nobody in the DC Universe does it better than Selina Kyle. It’s a story you’ll find throughout all of the Catwoman titles, but the gold standard remains Darwyn Cooke’s 94-page Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score. It’s an almost elemental story which has provided a blueprint for every Catwoman writer and artist since, getting the art of the steal down to a science. We have no idea why this comic isn’t a movie yet.
Meet Cassandra Cain, the neurodivergent child of assassins, trained from birth to be the deadliest fighter on the planet. But after just one mission, Cassandra learned for herself first-hand the lesson that her father never taught her: what it means to kill. Cassandra runs from her old life and gets taken in by Barbara Gordon to use her talents to serve a greater purpose—as the new Batgirl.
With a script by martial arts enthusiast Kelley Puckett and the highly kinetic art of Damion Scott, this twenty-year-old volume remains one of the most action-oriented books under the shadow of the bat. In Batgirl, Cassandra Cain proves every issue that she may not kill, but she does not lose.
Red Hood: The Lost Days
The tale of Jason Todd’s revenge in Batman: Under the Hood sits near the top of every list of essential Batman stories. But this companion piece by the same author is a heroic effort in filling the gaps, taking us from Jason’s resurrection to his return to Gotham City. Here, the revived Jason embarks on a dark reflection of Bruce Wayne’s own journey to becoming Batman, rife with love, loss, revenge, motorcycle chases, gunfights and explosions—lots and lots of explosions—all of which serve to illustrate how this street kid with a heart of gold could become one of Gotham’s coldest killers until later stories would show him a way back.
While Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams made the spy film inspirations for their Batman stories no secret, Tom King, Tim Seeley and Mikel Janín’s Grayson is a straight-up spy comic. This 2014 series enlists a dead-to-the-world Dick Grayson as Batman’s mole in Spyral, an international super spy organization with clandestine goals. All the romance, intrigue and suaveness you’d expect from a spy story are here on display for daring readers, with a lead somewhat out of his depths who may be at times shaken, but never stirred.
Coming off a five-year run exploring the depths of Bruce Wayne in 2011’s Batman, Scott Snyder was ready to cut loose and have a little fun. Such was the dictum for All-Star Batman, a series which always put action and adventure first at a visually eye-popping scale. The debut story, which took Batman and an attempting-to-reform Harvey Dent on a deadly road trip, sets up the unlikely pair against a cadre of killers under contract from—who else?—Two-Face’s own worst half. As the trucks roar and the bullets fly, an emphasis on spectacle emerges here which would come into full bloom in Snyder’s later action-heavy opus, Dark Nights: Metal. The thematic missing link between the Court of Owls and the Batman Who Laughs lies here.
Deathstroke vs. Batman
Ask most hardcore DC fans about their dream bouts—the two characters they most want to see go head-to-head—and it won’t be long at all before two names in particular rise to the top: Batman, the world’s most prominent martial hero, and Deathstroke, the world’s greatest assassin.
Right in the middle of an epic fifty-issue Deathstroke run, writer Christopher Priest indulged this desire with his Deathstroke vs. Batman “series-within-a-series.” With a question of Damian’s parentage catalyzing the event, Batman and Deathstroke clash over and over in a way that only true equals of the highest caliber can bring out in each other, while exploring what makes each an inverted mirror of the other. Priest asks us, does Deathstroke operate with impunity only because Batman allows him to? Or is it the other way around?
Written by Joshua Williamson with art by Gleb Malinkov and Roger Cruz, the recently wrapped Robin series represents the fullest return to DC’s action-heavy ’90s era that we’ve seen to date. But more so than spy stories, heist stories, or even martial arts stories, Robin’s influences are clearly drawn from Japanese battle manga like Dragon Ball, Naruto and My Hero Academia.
In the story, Damian Wayne finds his way to an island governed by the “League of Lazarus” where the dead are instantly brought back to life. What better way to use such a resource, then, than to hold a consequence-free, no-holds-barred tournament to the death between the world’s greatest fighters? This bona fide, unashamed tournament arc of a comic gives the youngest Robin some new friends, new enemies, a new girlfriend and the most exciting battles he’s ever faced. Believe it!
All that should be enough to satiate even the most desperate of adrenaline hounds. But if it’s still not enough, never fear. While the stories of DC superheroes may be diverse, it’s never too long before another unabashed action-packed roller coaster hits the stands. See you in the comic shops, thrill junkies.
Batman: One Dark Knight by Jock is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.