Another sequel’s coming, like it or not. Either way, it’s time to praise the original …
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.
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.
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.