In 2008, Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Dark Knight,” and the film quickly earned over $1 billion, eight Oscar nominations, and a newfound respect among those who decried the superhero genre on the screen. But there would be no “Dark Knight” or its sequel, “The Dark Knight Rises” (opening July 20) without these great DC Comics’ books, many of which inspired the movie franchise’s serious shift in tone.
There’s no better place to start than Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s “Batman: Year One,” where you’ll get acquainted with our favorite caped crusader and Catwoman, who’s played by Anne Hathaway in “Rises.” For a deeper cut, I like “The Dark Knight Returns,” also by Miller, which tells the grim story of an older Batman. (TIME named it one of the 10 greatest graphic novels of all time back in 2009.)
For my money, though, there’s no better Batman story than the epic that writer Grant Morrison began in 2006 with “Batman and Son”—it’s got a lot of heart, plus comic book craziness aplenty, from a big battle in a museum’s Lichtenstein-esque exhibit to nefarious “Ninja Man-Bats.” Best of all, these reads aren’t much more than the price of a movie ticket.