“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”
Author: Frank Miller
Artist(s): Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley
Published: 1986, DC Comics
Pages: 200 (paperback)
When did superheroes become so dark? What happened to the good old days with the “POW! BAM!, and ZOCK!?”
If you ever read the original appearances of superheroes such as Batman and Superman, you’ll find that they were originally pretty… intense in their battle against injustice. As shown below, Batman would have no problem brandishing a gun during his earlier adventures.
After Batman’s usage of guns was quickly dropped, he continued descending into camp and silliness, dropping the fearful, nocturnal elements that made him distinct from other, primary-color clad heroes.
This silliness served as the source material for the zany, “Batman” live-action series from the 1960’s starring Adam West. This unforgettable portrayal is what most older TV viewers have in mind when they think about Batman. Ask them for yourself!
As the years progressed, different writers and artists have slowly tried to introduce more depth to the character, but few stories have had as much of an impact on the comic-book medium, or as much critical acclaim, as Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” It set a new precedent for the 1989 Batman film, the 1992 animated series, and 2008’s "The Dark Knight."
The four part mini-series was released in 1986. It begins in a dystopian future for Batman, in which he has retired from crime fighting after the death of his sidekick.
Ten years into his self-imposed exile, Batman is considered merely a legend to a new generation beset by violence at the hands of a savage horde calling themselves “The Mutants.” An aged, mentally tortured Batman returns to a city, and a society, that no longer accepts him as a hero.
He joins forces with a new, female sidekick as he faces his old nemeses, Two-Face, and The Joker. The series culminates with an earth-shattering encounter with Superman that you’ll have to see to believe!
The story’s major strength is its accessibility. New and old Batman fans can be equally immersed. Miller uses news bytes throughout the story to give sufficient background information on plot points as they are presented. Though Frank Miller’s political leanings may seem heavy-handed at times through the story, it doesn’t detract much from the overall plot. The book was originally presented in a high-quality paper stock that complimented Lynn Varley’s well-toned painting over Frank Miller’s drawings. This remains unchanged for any known publication.
The story is still very grim, gritty, and realistic (or however realistic a super-hero comic can be). Though not especially gory, the book includes brutal violence, disturbing events, and crude language. If it were a movie, it would probably push the PG-13 rating.
At the time of its release, “The Dark Knight Returns” challenged the public’s expectations that Batman was a silly character. The concept of Batman is taken seriously in the story itself; opponents of his crusade denounce Batman as a “vigilante” or “sadist.”
Even disregarding its cultural significance, "The Dark Knight Returns" is an intriguing, unique, and exciting take on Batman. I highly recommended it to anybody new to comic books, Batman fans, or fans of Frank Miller’s work.
Within the story itself, and to his audience, the Dark Knight had truly returned!
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