Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Art: 10/10

Art and story come together for a perfect blend which captures the time period

Younger readers might have find trouble associating with the '80s time frame of the story

Comic Info

Comic Name:  The Dark Knight Returns

Publisher:  DC Comics

Writer:  Frank Miller

Artist:  Frank Miller

# of Issues:  4

Release Date:  1986


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1

Reprints Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns #1-4 (March 1986-June 1986).  Bruce Wayne is old and tired.  As crime grows in Gotham and the threat of nuclear war increases around the world, Bruce decides he cannot give up and makes the decision to become Batman again after ten years of retirement.  Batman finds himself facing a gang called the Mutants in addition to old enemies like Two-Face and the Joker.  With the help of a new young Robin, Batman takes his increasing violent battle the streets of Gotham…but has the time for Gotham’s Dark Knight passed?  As society weighs in, a final showdown between Batman and his old ally Superman is inevitable.

Written and illustrated by Frank Miller (with inking by Klaus Janson), Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns is considered a classic of comic books which helped show the change in tone of comics from a children’s medium to something for adults.  The story was heralded by critics and made the transition to actual literary acceptance by scholars.

Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns represents everything about the change in comics.  While Watchmen took unknown characters (just reworked Charlton Comic characters), Batman:  The Dark Knight returned used “real” characters that were familiar with everyone and put them in the real world setting of the 1980s.

The move to 1980s created a big change in Batman.  Many really became familiar with Batman (and Robin) through the popular comedy action TV series and various cartoon versions.  The late ’70s and ’80s showed a transition to a darker time where vigilantes were the trend.  Characters like the Punisher became the in-crowd and edgy and Batman walked the line between vigilante and superhero.  How these characters would function and be received in the real world is the main thrust of the series.


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4

Miller took an idea that became common in comics of the ’90s and later.  The superheroes not only aged and suffered real injuries, but they were studied and examined by society.  Batman’s methods don’t work with the courts and human rights are contradicted by someone working outside the law.  Miller adopted a “talking head” TV function in the comic that has been imitated in everything from Spawn to Bendis’ recent Avengers run.  The characters actions sometimes become the background for real questions on the rights and wrongs of superheroes in general.

The showdown between Batman and Superman is also epic and not only what fanboys had dreamed of for years, it shows the clash of two ideologies.  Superman who follows the rules, and Batman who finds the rules cannot be followed for true justice.  These two ideals don’t work well together but they are flipsides of the same coin.  The cataclysmic crash at the end (with the help of Green Arrow) is a perfect way for the two to face off.

Visual, Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns also is pretty stunning…especially for the time.  Miller’s art, which he perfected in Daredevil, works great here.  The bulky Batman feels intense and menacing.  Add to it the nice contrast of the small and petite female Robin Carrie Kelley who is dwarfed by him.  The Joker, Two-Face and everything has a strange appeal and almost feels decayed (like the gross Superman after he’s caught in the explosion).

Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns is a near perfect comic book.  When combined with something like Watchmen, you have two great examples of how comics went from kids to adults in a quick span.  It is also a great example of the gritty ’80s which (unfortunately) led to the more art based ’90s.  Miller wasn’t finished with the Dark Knight.  He followed up Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns with Batman:  The Dark Knight Strikes Again in 2001 which…unfortunately…was a whole different story in terms of its effect.

Related Links:

Batman:  The Dark Knight—Master Race

Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns—Part 1 (2012)

Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns—Part 2 (2013)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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