In praise of a classic on Frank Miller’s birthday…
UPDATED 1/27/21: Frank Miller turns 64! I wrote this for The Dark Knight Returns’ 30th anniversary and in anticipation of Dark Knight III. My sentiments remain exactly the same, so I present this again. Dig it. — Dan
Today, we kick off DARK KNIGHT WEEK, celebrating one of the greatest comics ever — including interviews with an all-star array of comics talent about the landmark work that’s coming up on its 30th anniversary. (Click here and here to see what the likes of Greg Capullo, Mike Allred, Mark Waid, Darwyn Cooke and others thought of the classic.)
But to start things off, here’s 13 QUICK THOUGHTS on just why the original Dark Knight Returns was — and remains — magnificent.
1. I read The Dark Knight Returns when it came out in issues and right away, I could feel that this was a seismic shift. I was 19 but I was extremely well versed in Batman lore. As much as I loved O’Neil and Adams and Englehart and Rogers, I knew this was something else entirely. This was a story of heavy weight.
2. Yet it was incredibly entertaining, with one dynamite set piece after another. The alternating use of tiny panels and stunning splash pages gave The Dark Knight immediacy, intimacy, import and power all at the same time.
3. The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One are the omega and alpha of Batman stories. Apologies to all others who have tried, but there is no need for anyone to do an origin story or last story again. Everything else should be about what came in between.
4. When I say last story, I include The Dark Knight Strikes Again and DK III in this. The former was unrepentantly terrible and the latter is wholly unnecessary. But that’s not going to stop me from reading it because I am a sucker.
6. I find the Batman vs. Superman aspect of the story to be among its weakest elements and am kind of disappointed that it’s the element that drove DK2, is driving DK III and will drive Dawn of Justice. Even if done well, Batman always exists best in his own world. (UPDATED 1/27/18: DKIII turned out OK. BvS? Not so much…)
7. Which is why I think the best part of the entire story is the final battle between Batman and the Joker. That chapter built on the foundation of all that came before, with a suitably devastating body count and climactic confrontation. Hunt the Dark Knight is a brilliant study in flamboyant chaos.
9. I read The Dark Knight Returns every few years now and each time I find something new to chew on. People talk about the layers in Watchmen. The Dark Knight may not be quite as intricate but there are many levels of storytelling going on at the same time. Batman: Year One is a noir crime drama but Dark Knight is an opera.
10. This page turn.
11. I had a friend at the time it came out who thought Bruce Wayne should have been played by Sean Connery, who was in his mid-50s — in other words, exactly the right age. I told him you couldn’t have Batman with an accent. He disagreed. It’s an academic point, obviously, but the debate always stayed with me.
13. My son said to me that if you gave The Dark Knight Returns to someone who doesn’t read comics, it’s the only Batman story you’d need to give them. As much as I love so much of Batman lore, I think he’s probably right.
— THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: A Celebration. Click here.
— Creators Pick Their Favorite HELL YEAH! Moments. Click here.
December 15, 2015
DK2 is underrated – miller’s treatment of the JLA heroes is very well done.
February 16, 2019
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” is one of the most important comic books in the history of the medium – it’s impact can not be overstated. It changed everything. That being said, it definitely would not make my top 5 Batman stories, and likely would not make my top 10. Books 1 -3 are fabulous, but Book 4 is a dud – a failed political commentary which badly dates the book, and includes the ridiculous Batman vs. Superman finale. I didn’t like it back in 1986, and like it less now. Further, Miller’s interpretation of Batman & Superman negativily affected those characters for decades – future writers would pick up Miller’s threads and turn Batman into a psycho and Superman into a clueless stooge.
By the way, my top 5 Batman stories are (in no particular order):
Strange Apparitions (Englehart & Rogers)
The Long Halloween
Batman Year One
“The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne”
“There’s No Hope in Crime Alley”
January 27, 2021
This was a good article, so I’ll forgive your diss of BvS.
I think the entire DC Universe can be distilled into three books which make up a surprisingly tight informal trilogy.
Batman: Year One
DC: The New Frontier
The Dark Knight Returns
Darwyn Cooke’s art style in DC: TNF is the perfect bridge between the simpler, more realistic, more understated approach of Mazzucchelli’s artwork in Year One, and the more operatic, bombastic art style in TDKR. If I was going to try to explain what exactly it is that I like about the DC characters, I’d hand them those three books.
January 28, 2021
Like much of popular culture, the “normies” who make the decisions in popular MASS entertainment always come away with the wrong aspects of what makes this book great, like Snyder’s latching onto the fight between Supes and Bats. I remember the Burton Batman movie ( *I spit in disdain*) made a point of mentioning Corto Maltese, which was such a minor point in the book. The book itself is a work of art. I remember all the fuss about the Batman The Dark Knight movie, and it’s “intellectual” story. My reaction at the time (and today): “Hrmph… I’ve read better.”
Meanwhile, Dark Knight Strikes Again is an abhorrent pox on comics that should be stricken from the record. I remember the big PR push before its publication (or its production) where it was told that Miller and Varley were going to get paid a total of ONE MILLION dollars for the mini-series. And he couldn’t even be bothered to use a pencil. And she used it to practice Photoshop. The whole thing looks and reads like a college assignment done the night before it was due. I don’t think it’s misunderstood, or overrated. I think it’s understood and rated just fine.
February 3, 2021
I’ve seen pages of Lynn Varley’s hand painted work on The Dark Knight Returns. She was not practicing Photoshop.
February 3, 2021
He was talking about the Dark Knight Strikes Again.