Comics Spotlight On Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Geek Culture

Happy Comics Release Day!

This week I went with the iconic.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is often credited, along with Watchmen, as heralding the grim and gritty “realistic” trend in comics. Frank Miller“s book definitely set the tone for the future DC Universe, thought he doesn’t deserve full credit for bringing Batman back to his noir roots. He only completed a transition first begun by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.

I re-read this book recently and decided that while some of the references to pop culture are dated, the story holds up beautifully.

Frank Miller's BatmanFrank Miller's Batman

Interior Page from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns copyright DC Comics


Batman has gotten old and Gotham is falling apart. The rest of the world isn’t in much better shape, with Superman seemingly the pawn of a conservative American government. Batman is told he’s not longer relevant. He doesn’t take this very well.

In the course of making a last stand, Batman not only fights his greatest foe, the Joker, but becomes locked in mortal combat with the Crusader for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

What Kids Will Like About It:

This is a dark book. Batman gets beat up. People die. Gotham looks like a war zone. However, it’s not a depressing book or dispiriting story. In the end, it’s about what makes a hero, soemthing that all good superhero stories are about. Depending on your own parenting scale of what’s appropriate, this book could be for ages eleven and up though I think it’s more suitable for teenagers and adults.

Carrie Kelly makes for a great Robin and younger readers may well love the ending, as Batman becomes a mentor to a next generation.

What Parents Will Like About It:

This is a great story, well told, with art by Miller that captures the tone perfectly. Lynn Varley’s work as colorist provides the perfect finishing touch.Despite its grim reputatiom, I always found this book refreshingly hopeful. Even in the fight with the Joker in which the Joker dies, Bruce doesn’t go completely dark. While the message of Watchmen seems to be that superheroes in real life could never be heroic or alter events for the better, the message of The Dark Knight Returns seems to be that while things are bad, there’s still a need for knights to tilt against windmills.

Miller even gives Commissioner Gordon a happy ending. No such luck for the Jim Gordon in currently continuity, where the character of Sarah Essen has been killed off. (I always thought it was a shame that one of the few well-rounded female Miller characters was tossed aside so quickly.) To me, it’s not a good thing when Batman stories in the current comics are grimmer than Frank Miller’s classic book.

Favorite Panel:

The hopeless romantic in me adores the panel where Gordon embraces his wife Sarah after she’s survived the destruction of their home. She’s also the same Sarah who appears in Miller’s Batman: Year One as someone hopelessly out of Gordon’s reach. It’s strange to think of Frank Miller as a hopeless romantic but….

About the Creators:

My first exposure to the name “Frank Miller” was, strangely enough, in a 1970s Captain America comic in which a little boy on a bus is reading a comic and exclaims with glee “Frank Miller’s back drawing Daredevil!”

Miller made his name writing Daredevil: Born Again, also a story where the hero suffers horrible losses but continues to go on. If pressed, I’d say that Batman: Year One is my favorite of his Batman stories but this comes in my personal top five Batman stories.

Miller is best known to movie audiences as the writer of 300 and Sin City. Unfortunately, his most recent work on Batman, All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, reads as if it’s self-parody. Though it did give rise to the oft-quoted “Are you dense? Are you retarded or something? I’m the goddamn Batman.”

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