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Holy List, Batman!

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Illustration: Ming Doyle

As The Dark Knight soars into theaters this week, we’ve combed through the lengthy archives of Batman lore to create our list of the caped crusader’s finest moments. Someone fire up the Bat Signal!

Detective Comics No. 38 (1939): Batman gets his first teen sidekick, Robin, the one who would become the sidekick against which all others are measured, paving the way for the expansion of the “Batman Family” and kicking off almost 70 years of people wondering about Batman’s sexuality and his creepy relationship with the young man in the short pants. –J. Caleb Mozzocco

Batman No. 1 (1940): Batman’s first battle against the Joker, one of the first recurring comic book villains, who would go on to become probably the greatest and best-known supervillain of them all. He’s been fighting Batman in every medium since then, and he established the template for all of Batman’s other many colorful villains. –JCM

TV’s Batman (1966-68): There are few pop-culture moments more indelible than Adam West and Burt Ward, clad in brightly colored nylon, grabbing hold of a rope attached to the Batarang and slowly, deliberately climbing up whatever nondescript building they had to scale to save the world. Makes me long for the pre-CGI era, when all special effects required was a little imagination (or, in this case, tilting the camera sideways). –Ken Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986): Probably the most important Batman story of them all. This possible future story by Frank Miller is often cited as one of the trio of comics responsible for the medium growing up (along with Watchmen and Maus). It helped obliterate the classic, campy version of the character established by the pervasive TV series; set the tone for all future Batman stories in all media; had a pretty detrimental effect on superhero comics (as most imitated the violence and adult nature of the story while missing its message that superheroes as a genre were dead and had nothing left to say at the climax of the Cold War); and even lent the new Batman movie its title. –JCM

Batman: The Killing Joke (1988): Heath Ledger reportedly was given this comic as a character reference. Penned by the infallible Alan Moore, the plot revolves around the Joker’s origin, and his attempt to drive Commissioner James Gordon mad. The result is probably the most personal interaction between Batman and his archfoe. The punchline of the story is the realization that our hero and our villain have more in common than not. –Brent Holmes

Batman No. 428 (1988): In the late ’80s, Batman was on his second boy sidekick, DC having let Dick Grayson, the original Robin, grow up. This new Robin, Jason Todd, was immensely unpopular, and the company set up a storyline that culminated with Robin being caught in an explosion. Fans were given two phone numbers to call in and vote to decide if Robin should live or die, and they chose the latter, garnering a lot of media attention back when that was pretty rare. Later, Batgirl would be similarly ill-treated, and Batman went solo for one of the longest stretches of his career. –JCM

Batman (1989): As far as I’m concerned, Michael Keaton is the best movie Batman, with just the right combination of menace and emotional vulnerability. His best moment in Tim Burton’s film is out of costume, as his Bruce Wayne struggles to tell girlfriend Vicki Vale about his secret identity. Keaton’s defeated uttering of “I’m Batman” to empty space as Vicki heads to answer the door encapsulates everything about the character’s tortured soul. -Josh Bell

Batman Returns (1992): The best way to portray brooding is with a stare, and early in the film, Michael Keaton essays it perfectly. As the Bat Signal shines over Wayne Manor, we glimpse Keaton inside a vast and dark study, alone and lost in thought, then stirred to action. No shot in any of the movies better captures both the density and the scale of Batman’s loneliness and his grim determination to fight it. –T.R. Witcher

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995): The Emmy-winning series took off from Tim Burton’s Batman, but added a more retro-futuristic feel, as well as layers of psychological and dramatic depth to Batman, bringing the dark hero to a wider audience. Oh, it also gave us bizarrely hot villainess Harley Quinn. –Aaron Thompson

Batman Returns for Super Nintendo (1993): I’ve been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600, and I can say with certainty that I’ve never played a game based on a movie—or a superhero—that’s more pure pick-up-and-play, thumb-numbing, cathartic fun than this masterpiece. You move Batman around, you kick and punch bad guys ... and that’s about it. –KM

All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder No. 2 (2005): This ongoing series by Frank Miller and artist Jim Lee is Miller’s gonzo piss-take on the character, the modern comics industry and Miller himself, grafting the self-conscious excess of his Sin City comics onto the DC superheroes and reveling in the completely ridiculous results. When young Dick Grayson first meets Batman and asks who he is, Batman asks Grayson if he’s retarded, and tells him he’s the goddamn Batman. “Goddamn Batman” immediately became a running gag within the book, and gave us the first real 21st-century version of Batman—a crazy, violent self-parody played deadpan-straight. - JCM

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