The Dark Knight Returns

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By now I am sure you have heard of Batman The Dark Knight Returns. Perhaps you had seen the Dark Knight movie with Christian Bale, or had seen the animated version. But most likely you had heard of Batman:The Dark Knight Returns because it was the groundbreaking graphic novel by Frank Miller. Originally a comic series, the Dark Knight Returns had made such a big splash with the comics industry that to this day remains to be one graphic novel that nearly every comic fan owns as a badge of honor.

Once upon a time, Batman had a reputation of being a bit of a loser. During the 60s, there was an incredibly dumb Batman television show that took all the respect away from any thought of Batman. But when Frank Miller came out with this story, a new tune was sung. Batman was dark, gritty, ruthless, and cool. His crime fighting nights were relentless and violent, and fans ate it up. Frank Miller’s efforts had redefined Batman, and became the bases for all Batman comics in the future.

The story, arguably, was a major contributor to repairing the comic book industry during the infamous 90s crash. After a string of lame stories and over-saturation of comic books, people began to stop reading comics and graphic novels. The industry was in trouble. When the market began to rise again, there was one story in everyone’s hands. You guessed it: The Dark Knight Returns.

Not only do we get a glimpse of Batman in the future, but we get to see the outcome of other classic characters as well, such as Selina Kyle. We see that she gained a lot of weight and now runs an escort business. Joker, of course, makes a major appearance, and we see a side from him that hadn’t been seen before. Perhaps the most interesting, though, is that we get to see a side-plot of a new Robin emerging. Out of all the Robins throughout comic history, this one happens to be a girl.

Carrie Kelley

Many movies were influenced by this new vision of a darker, more violent Batman. The 1989 version with Michael Keaton helped repair the character’s cheesy reputation, and it’s easy to see that director Tim Burton may have been influenced by this story. The movie Batman v Superman from 2016 is much more clearly influenced by this story, since not only is there an epic fight scene between the two characters that mirrors the comic story, but Batman’s armored power suit with glowing eyes looks almost identical.

One criticism that I must point out is that the artwork is terrible. What is strange is that Frank Miller is not a bad artist, because we’ve seen his great work in Daredevil and Sin City. But for some reason, his sketchy and (intentionally?) sloppy artwork makes the story difficult to interpret at times. There could be a good reason for this. For example, the author could have been overwhelmed with having to write and illustrate it at the same time.

If you had already read the novel, you may be interested to know that there is an animated version (affiliate link) that is very faithful to the graphic novel. The fight scenes had been extended, and some minor scenes were altered. The ending has also been lengthened and expanded. The scenes with Batman fighting Superman, though, are the best among the expanded scenes. Also, Batman is voiced by Peter Weller. Yes, the actor who played Robocop in the original film. This choice is perfect, and captures the aging Dark Knight’s persona beautifully.

Some people have been confused by the ending of The Dark Knight Returns. It is simple. Here is the ending explained: Batman is an old man. Gotham City needs a successor to Batman. He recruits a gang to watch over Gotham like an invisible hand. Batman is not a person, but a symbol, as well as a legend. With the gang taking his place, Gotham will remain safe forever.

As mentioned, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is the only graphic novel this is so monumental and important to the history and industry of comic books that is relentlessly read by fans across the world to this day, despite its age. Any serious comic book fan or collector will have read this, and most own a copy as if a rite of passage. Anyone who will see this book on your shelf will know: yes, you are a serious comic fan. You are one of us, and have earned my total respect. This way of thinking is for good reason, which you will know once you read the story (if you haven’t already!)