on 10 July 2009
This is probably the best Batman story ever written - it reinvented and renewed the character, made the Dark Knight a more frightening and frighteningly real person and made the graphic novel into a modern art form. Not bad comic book...
Miller's writing here is excellent (unlike the bizarre angry, sweary, trying-so-hard-to-be-gritty-it's-just-funny style he seems to be stuck in post Sin City) and the story moves along excellently. At first, things look a little to 'episodic' to really come together, but the more you read the better it seems to get. The art work itself seems a little odd to start with - it's a lot less 'comic book' like than most - but the style shouldn't put you off as it really suits the atmosphere of the story (something that becomes obvious on the Caped Crusader's first full page appearance).
If you've got no previous knowledge of the Batman, this is not the place to start. Try Miller's also excellent 'Year One' instead. But make sure you DO get round to reading this gem. Just quit before you read 'All Star's Batman and Robin'...
on 4 January 2002
Despite all the talk of a vital adult comic scene there are actually only two creators really pulling it off: Alan Moore and Frank Miller who together pretty much started it all off with Watchmen and Dark Knight respectively.
Rereading Dark Knight now it still reads very fresh having lost none of it's intensity or originality either in technique or narrative. The only thing that dates it as a product of it's time are Miller's pot shots at 80's American politics and the Cold War.
It's a pity Miller never hit these heights again but with the sequel, Dark Knight Strkes Again, in the shops there's never been a better time to revisit this revolutionary comic. Truly excellent.
The 'sixties Batman TV series was fun and enjoyed popular re-runs, it's light-hearted tone was family friendly and the camp portrayal of Batman become the de-facto image of the Gotham City vigilante. Although it brought the character into the mainstream, it also meant that he was generally not taken very seriously. Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns provided an alternate way of viewing Bruce Wayne's alter-ego by showing him twenty years later in his mid-fifties, the main feature of this different portrayal wasn't his advanced age however, it was the grittier more mature tone. Miller made the Dark Knight dark again, violent and grim, Miller's Gotham City is a place to genuinely fear - but hope wears a cape in this true reboot of one of the world's most well known heroes.
In the future we see Bruce Wayne reminiscing about the old days with Commissioner Gordon who himself is about to retire, now in his fifties Bruce is starting to reflect on his life and the state of Gotham City which seems under a reign of chaos from a violent gang. The TV news programmes report on the brutal assaults and tell children that there was a time when a masked crime fighter helped to make the city safe, the Batman really did exist, he isn't just folklore.
There's something missing from Bruce Wayne's life, a spark of passion which he once had and he can almost feel his alter-ego wanting to break free. And when it does, it's a liberating moment. He feels guilt over the death of the friend Jason Todd who was better known as Robin, but his desire to make a difference once again re-energises him and makes him feel young again. It isn't just Bruce who's matured over the years, seeing older versions of Batman's nemeses reminds us that they are human too rather than shallow caricatures, and that makes them feel even more twisted and unpredictable.
Miller's artwork here shows Batman as an intimidating figure, he looks powerful but we also get to see him during more vulnerable moments. The book is very media-centric and a large chunk of the story is delivered via news reports and talking-head interviews, it was a curiously apt prediction of the 24 hours news culture we now have. The artwork showing the TV footage is quite basic at times and many of the newspots look so similar (barring the text) that they almost look like re-used images. The full page art is incredible though, and whether the Dark Knight is riding horseback or crashing through a window, the mood is captured brilliantly.
Other well known faces from the DC universe are included in this story. In this version of events superheroes have either retired or become shadows of their former selves, and the biggest hero of them all is now merely a tool for US foreign policy. A lot of people aren't happy with Miller's playing with established history and characterisations, especially around well loved and well known heroes - but comic books are a medium where creativity has no limitations and I enjoyed his darker (and more realistic) portrayals, he makes them seem somehow more tangible and Batman himself has real substance.
The Dark Knight Returns is dated by cold war references - but there's no need to suspend belief as you can feasibly imagine the future where the events take place is in the midst of a second cold war, although Reagan regaining presidency was probably stretching it! This is a firm fan favourite but it seems very fractured but it's something which would make sense from a work which originally released in four stages. This definitely benefits from a repeat read as sometimes there is a brief mention of something which is easy to miss but it proves essential to the story, I must admit I found that the story moved from event to event with no real transition and I flicked back to re-read parts in case I'd accidentally skipped a page. There are some incredible moments in the book but they seem to be added purely for fanservice and don't always fit well into an overall story. One thing which works very well is the debate over the ethics of Batman's actions, the reader is asked to question the moral issues around vigilantism.
After the actual comic book story we get full page illustrations showing the artwork for the original release front covers. It also contains the original text plot for the final book of the four which make up this collection. This version differs from the final version but it does help to make sense of a lot of the plot and provides a good alternative version of the story. Although it is text, it also contains sketched conceptual art which help bring the story to life and give a good idea of how such a graphic novel is developed.
It's great to see a comic book which isn't scared to carve a new niche rather than tread old ground. There are weaknesses here but the strengths it has were unique and allows the reader to really connect with Bruce/Batman. Interestingly, Batman has grown up along with his readers, many fans who read Batman comics as children can now re-acquaint themselves with a mature character they can identify with.
In a nutshell: Flawed at times, but also quite brilliant. Dark Knight Returns wrestled Batman from those who had made him a camp figure of ridicule and made him dangerous again. The grittier, edgier Batman has been with us since in graphic novels, animated series, and of course the Tim Burton and Chris Nolan films (with a slight return to camp with the Joel Schumacher movies!). The modern day Batman was introduced with this book. I was going to give this 3 stars because I don't think it flows particularly well, but I've opted for 4 stars based not only on the content, but also on the influence it has had since.
on 12 August 2009
The Dark Knight Returns was recommended to me by a friend who suggested that without it, there would be no cinema Batman as portrayed by Michael Keaton and Christian Bale (let's leave Val Kilmer and George Clooney aside!)
In it, Batman is ageing and bitter, and has suppressed the Dark Knight to live full time as Bruce Wayne. But looking around an increasingly liberal and permissive world, he finds that he cannot stand by and do nothing.
Batman is portrayed as the real man, for whom Wayne is a mask, and he is an unapologetic right-wing militant. Whilst I disagree with Miller's portrayal of a liberal world as an inherently wrong one, it is an exemplary study of what drives Bruce Wayne.
on 26 June 2007
I have to admit, I was pretty hesistant about buying this graphic novel. Being very inexperienced in reading such a genre (had only read Sin City 1-6 graphic novels previous to this one) I didn't really want to branch out to anything vastly different from what I had already experienced. With that in mind, I thought Frank Miller would be a pretty good bet. From his Sin City series, I had grown a certain respect for his art and storytelling so was eager to find something by him. After finding Batman: Dark Knight Returns and seeing its average of 5 stars, I was pretty reassured that this was the right graphic novel to buy. Thankfully Miller reproduces his gritty images and language to give a whole new perspective to the life of Batman. Throughout the book you see the darker side of the 'Dark Knight' and the troubles he has to cope with in such a plagued city. The whole story is excellent, both in the polictical aspects as well as the action sequences. I would seriously recommend this to an inexperienced graphic novel reader.
“The Dark Knight Returns” is a seminal contribution to graphic novel fiction – and was hugely influential both within the comic book industry generally and upon the characterisation of Batman in particular. This is, perhaps, Frank Miller’s most famous and important work. It consists of a four-issue mini-series, first published in 1986.
The story concerns an aged Bruce Wayne who, after a decade of retirement, returns to crime-fighting as the masked vigilante known as Batman. He faces opposition from much of the Gotham City police force and the US government. Yet, with the aid of the new Robin, he is able to re-establish himself as the Dark Knight and fight for justice.
The story is set in a dystopian society, an alternative reality to our 1980’s. Wayne, having given up being Batman, drifts aimlessly through life as a drunk. Yet, with crime on the rise – and a new group of villains known as mutants stalking the city – so Wayne is inspired to once again become Batman. And as he does so, some major super-villains of the past reappear … first Two-Face and then, in spectacular fashion, the Joker. In dealing with the gangs, the corrupt authorities, and finally the Joker, so the US government decides to take action against Batman … and it sends Superman to stop the Dark Knight. And so we get an all-out battle between these two titans: Batman vs Superman. Of course, the Man of Steel has all his powers … but Batman happens to be someone who prepares for all eventualities.
This is a portrayal of the Dark Knight that exists at the opposite pole of the campy 1960’s TV show. This is a gritty, menacing and serious Batman. And the world he lives in is equally dark and complex. And so Miller presents us with – what was in 1986 – a highly original conception of Batman, which has influenced many of the subsequent interpretations of this fictional character.
This is the trade paperback edition, about 225 pages in length. It comes with limited ‘extras’. Nonetheless, it’s a good read. However, if you want something more deluxe then I recommend the new hardback edition (over 500 pages long, with lots of extra content). Either way, this is an enjoyable graphic novel.
on 5 June 2013
I really enjoyed this comic; I keep wondering why it took me so long to read it. I finally got around to reading it after being blown away by Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (Region 2) and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Part 2 [DVD]. I thought it was finally time to get round to the source material. I am glad I did.
I quick recap of the story. Bruce is no longer Batman. There has been no Batman for 10 years. To curb his urges Bruce has become something of an adrenalin junkie study. Gotham has become a darker and more lawless place. On the 10 year anniversary of the last Batman sighting Bruce's subconscious "Batman" fights back telling him Bruce he is just the shell and he is not done with him yet.
Most of what I though was great about the movies holds true to the comic, with a couple of exception. I have to say I prefer the animation of the movies, but I think at the time of the comic and for what is trying to be portrayed it does work. Meaning Batman strikes from the shadow leaving his opponent incapacitated and confused as to what just happened. A couple of the panels like when Batman takes out the pimp in the back of the taxi I it took me a while to see what happened from the art work. Like I said these were surgical strikes and it does put me in the mind of the pimp with a broken hand, thinking my hand is broken what just happened. When Batman decides to show himself the art work reflects that by drawing bigger more detailed pictures of him. The main thing I did not like about the comic was I thought there was too much of the talking heads. The media discussions of Batman, I can understand why this was done e.g. the Arkem psychologist taking an anti-batman stance to sell more of his book and make a name for himself, but I think it was a bit overdone. I mean all together this probably makes up half the contents of the book. The best think about the comic and it major advantage over the movies is the internal dialog Batman has with himself. In the movies they make Batman talk more to explain his methods. Whereas if you look at the comics there are very few speech bubbles while he is Batman and most of these are orders or threats. The rest of them it is Batman analysing everything in his head. I think that is what makes his scarier, (like when a magic trick is explained it is not as impressive), having the unknown factor is what Batman his edge. An example of this is in the second fight with the Mutant Leader, the Leader cannot understand Batman is targeting nerve clusters and showing him shallow cuts in the "just the right" places can be effective. I also like the way he keep thinking lucky with every near miss, and the explanation of why he paints a big bright target on his chest. I also like the way Batman has evolved, he is not above using guns, will kill to protect given no other option, and lacing his smoke bombs with a watered down version of the scarecrows fear gas is genius, not only does he appear in front of his victims, he appears in front of them as their "worst nightmares"!
The others, Commissioner Garden is still Batman's biggest supporter but is facing retirement it is not really until he is gone that Batman man realises how much Garden protected him. Garden is the same tough but fair cop he always was. The Joker is just as evil as ever he comes out of his coma with the return of Batman and makes one last mass murdering run at Gotham. Unlike in the movie the Joker is not a physical match for Batman, but is a master of psychologically pushing his buttons. He knows this is his last chance if you will and he wants to die at the hands of Batman. Superman has become a tool of the establishment. Batman says it is because of Clarks respect for people in authority, but he also says to Clark nobody could force Clark to do something he did not want to do. Strangely Oliver and Clark share the same opinion on Batman he is too loud, he plays things mysterious but a loud kind of mysterious. Clark in his thought also says Batman need to work more in secret like he is force to do. This could be why he does not let anyone see him when he comes to Gotham. Maybe he should do something about his costume if he is trying to keep a low profile. The only thing I do not like it the relationship between Bruce and Alfred. Alfred is still the dutiful servant, but that is what Bruce seem to treat him like in this story a servant, someone to tell what to do and expect it to be done nothing more nothing less. Having said that Alfred does manage to get in some verbal barbs of his own, and though Bruce values his opinion probably more than anyone else's but there is a clear line saying Bruce/Batman is in charge live with it.
I great comic , very detailed excellent as a standalone or as a companion to the movies to fill in extra details. A true classic for Batman fans. Enjoy reading it repeatedly over multiple sittings it is a lot to take in. All good!!!
on 1 May 2009
...I think would be the result.
It doesn't get much grittier than this. Right from the off it's a great story and doesn't let up with the action. Embittered and forced out of a self-enforced retirement, Bats rocks up with a lot to do. Again, I'm a shameless fan of the big, black bat but this should serve as a great read to anyone interested to see what happens when superhero's grow old.
There's more than a few faces from his past that show to help and hinder in varying measures in a bleak situation.
on 12 January 2016
Without meaning to rock the boat, I didn't enjoy this graphic novel. It was good to read about Batman again and his characterisation was pretty solid, but for me, the art style was practically illegible. The drawings were vague and some in some panels it was simply impossible to understand what was going on. There wasn't enough dialogue to describe events and I felt that I was meant to have a read a prequel to this novel beforehand in order to truly understand what was going on.
I really wanted to enjoy it, but I became increasingly frustrated, especially in part 4 (the last part of the novel) because events were moving fast without needing to. It's a graphic novel and it doesn't need to be rushed - it's not like it's a timed reading... I get the impression that this was a great novel for the time - 1986 - but now, other novels are above and beyond in story telling. I would recommend the Watchmen and V for Vendetta for quality comic book reading. Perhaps these 2 particular novels have spoilt me and left me snobbish towards this one, but honestly, I am (regrettably) dissatisfied with the experience.
on 18 July 2002
'Comic' just doesn't apply to some of the mature and intelligent graphic novels available on the market today. Dark Knight Returns is a prime example. Here Frank Miller brings his gritty, gothic, noir style and stamps it all over the franchise. With an aging Bruce Wayne slowly going round the bend as he battles to lead a 'normal life', fighting against his conscience to turn the other cheek, the Joker is released from jail after a 'full mental recovery'.Gotham City is plagued by a new breed of criminal and soon the Batmans voice will have to be heard.
This graphic novel is a landmark in the comics book industry, being one of the biggest and longest selling novels ever. With appearances from old flames, brothers in arms and the perfectly handled appearance of a new Robin, this is familiar territory in a futuristic Gotham on boiling point. Add to this the ultimate showdown between the All American Boyscout (Superman)and the Dark Knight himself (yes, the movie question on everyones lips today was answered years ago) and you STILL haven't scratched the surface.