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Batman: Dark Knight Returns Hardcover – 31 Jan 1997
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If any comic has a claim to have truly reinvigorated the genre then The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller--known recently for his excellent Sin City series and, previously, for his superb rendering of the blind superhero Daredevil--is probably the supreme contender. Batman represented all that was wrong in comics and Miller set himself a tough task taking on the camp crusader and turning this laughable, innocuous children's cartoon character into a hero for our times. In his introduction the great Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, the arguably peerless Watchmen) argues that only someone of Miller's stature could have done this. Batman is a character known well beyond the confines of the comic world (as are his retinue) and so reinventing him, while keeping his limiting core essentials intact, was a huge task.
Miller went far beyond the call of duty. The Dark Knight is a success on every level. Firstly it does keep the core elements of the Batman myth intact, with Robin, Alfred the butler, Commissioner Gordon and the old roster of villains, present yet brilliantly subverted. Secondly the artwork is fantastic--detailed, sometimes claustrophobic, psychotic. Lastly it's a great story: Gotham City is a hell on earth, streetgangs roam but there are no heroes. Decay is ubiquitous. Where is a hero to save Gotham? It is 10 years since the last recorded sighting of the Batman. And things have got worse than ever. Bruce Wayne is close to being a broken man but something is keeping him sane: the need to see change and the belief that he can orchestrate some of that change. Batman is back. The Dark Knight has returned. Awesome. --Mark Thwaite
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So what can you say?
Frank Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" is a comic book (a real, honest-to-goodness BOOK) that makes this point with every re-reading. All the familiar elements of the Batman character are there- Robin, the Batmobile, the Joker- but bolder and better than ever before- and ever since.
The story finds an aging Bruce Wayne restless, 10 years after Batman's retirement, in a Gotham City that has become increasingly criminal. Haunted by the memory of his parents' death, Bruce is unable to sit idle for so long and so, baptised with thunder, lightning and rain, the Batman is reborn, beginning the final chapter of his career.