Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is a seminal piece in comic book cannon. When it was published in 1986 it changed the landscape of the comic book superhero forever. With an aging Batman and a female Robin, both firsts for the series, The Dark Knight Returns explores the ethicality of vigilantism, mental illness and the dangers of obsessive behaviors. Most importantly it answers the age-old question that has been plaguing nerd-kind since the dawn of the superhero comic: who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?
This is the second book we are required to read in the graphic novel class I’m taking. I was super interested in diving into this as I am a fan of DC’s television shows (Batman and The Justice League were favorites as a child. The Flash and Supergirl are my adult faves). This is actually the first Batman comic I’ve ever read! And ho boy I was not dissapointed!
It takes place in a near dystopian Gotham. Batman has been retired for almost ten years, and crime is running rampant. After a series of disturbing news reports triggers Bruce Wayne’s post-traumatic stress disorder, his inner bat-demon thing awakens from its dark slumber and returns to reap vengeance upon Gotham’s evildoers. Batman takes on the likes of classic villains Two-Face and the Joker, as well as a gang of insane thugs known as “The Mutants” and eventually the Man of Steel himself. He does it all with the help of old friends like Commissioner Gordon and Oliver Queen, and new friends such as Carrie Kelley, the first female Robin.
Miller took a well-known character and completely turned it on its head. Having Batman depicted as an older man is unique in the Batman universe. Having an aging Batman makes him seem more human, more vulnerable: which is a stark contrast from Superman who hasn’t seemed to age a day. There are scenes where Batman struggles to keep up with the villains as well as a scene where he worries he is having a heart attack. What kind of superhero worries about heart attacks?
Miller also raises questions about the morality of Batman’s actions. Is fighting crime outside of the law actually helpful, or does it do more harm than good? Does Batman create just as much crime as he tries to stop? Never before has Batman’s actions been so harshly called into question.
I enjoyed reading The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s writing kept me engaged. I will admit, I liked the first part more than the other parts. The story was more riveting to me than the others with its underlying theme of mental illness and the question of whether Batman is responsible for enabling criminals such as Two-Face. I also enjoyed the last part, because who doesn’t love seeing Batman and Superman duke it out?
SPOILERS: THEY DUKE IT OUT
I didn’t really like Miller’s art style though. It was not very aesthetically pleasing to me: the small eyes and the big lips freaked me just a little bit. I also didn’t care for Lynn Varley’s coloring. It looked faded at times, like it didn’t print right or something. I don’t know if it was a problem with the printing process or if that was Varley wanted to do but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Huge lips aside, I really enjoyed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and would be interested in reading Miller’s other Batman novels.