The TOP 13 BATMAN Countdown — #1: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

And as we wind on down the road…

In celebration of Detective Comics #1000 and Batman’s 80th anniversary this week, we counted down the 13 GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER — from all media — as selected by a panel of 16 experts, including such luminaries as former DC publisher Paul Levitz, legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and comics writers Ron Marz, Tom Peyer and Fred Van Lente. For a complete rundown of how the vote was conducted and the full list of panelists, click here.

PICK #2 was BATMAN: YEAR ONE (Click here.)

Next up on the countdown:

1. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

Written and pencilled by Frank Miller. Inked by Klaus Janson. Colored by Lynn Varley.

Growing up in the New York area, a radio staple was WNEW-FM’s countdown of the Top 500 rock songs. Inevitably, the winner would be Stairway to Heaven.

That’s sort of how I felt going into this TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN project. I knew that in all likelihood, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns would take the day.

It’s a masterpiece that not just gave readers a new perspective on the Caped Crusader, it helped – along with Watchmen – radically alter the comic-book industry.

But you know that.

So rather than belabor the obvious, let’s bring in the insights of the panelists who put Miller’s magnum opus – inked by Klaus Janson and colored by Lynn Varley – at the top of their ballots:

— Paul Levitz, the former head of DC Comics: “The comic that smashed the glass ceiling — this was the one that made the general public aware that comics could be smart and challenging fare for adults, that Batman wasn’t simply the goofy guy Adam West had played, and established the format for the American graphic novel.”

— Comics writer Ron Marz: “Yes, The Dark Knight Returns is an obvious choice, but I don’t think there’s a comic that had a bigger effect on me. The story, the art, the format, everything about it blew my mind when it came out. Probably more than any other story, it made me want to write comics. I return to it often, and it still makes me want to write comics.”

— James Tucker, producer of Batman: The Brave and the Bold: “The ultimate Batman story, bar none.”

And then there are those who may not have put it at #1 but put it on their lists and commented, as well:

— Chris Franklin, co-host of Batman Knightcast: “What can be said about this groundbreaking series that hasn’t been written already? Not much. Despite its detractors, who cite what its cynical, adult viewpoint did to comics, it stands on its own merit as a comic worth putting on your bookshelf. Its portrayal of the character has superseded all others.”

— Mark Reinhart, writer of The Batman Filmography: “It might have seemed like no Batman comic work could have ever been as momentous as The Case of the Chemical Syndicate and Batman #1’s Joker debut were — but The Dark Knight Returns was every bit as influential as those stories.”

— John Morrow, head of TwoMorrows Publishing: “The anticipation waiting for each new issue was hard to bear, but it was worth it. I could take issue with a few things Miller did in the series, but they’d be minor quibbles. It was a tour de force for him (and Janson as inker and Lynn Varley as colorist) that I don’t think he’ll ever rival again. But I sure hope he keeps trying.”

Now, we’ve spent a lot of time on The Dark Knight Returns over the years. So click here for interesting commentary by comics pros like Greg Capullo, Mike Allred, Mark Waid and the late Darwyn Cooke.

Meanwhile, that wraps up THE TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN — but we’re not quite done.

Click here for THE ULTIMATE BATMAN READING AND VIEWING GUIDE, which features every single Batman story cited by our panel. There were a lot of great — and surprising — picks that didn’t crack the TOP 13 and I really think you’ll get a bang out of what’s in there.

Dig it.

MORE

The Complete TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN. Click here.

The Complete BATMAN WEEK Index of Features and Tributes. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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10 Comments

  1. And, just like that “Jim A” nails it.

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  2. I eagerly bought Batman DKR when it was released originally in it 4 volume “prestige format.” Volume 1 blew me away – it’s was one of the greatest comics I ever read. Volumes 2 & 3 did not disappoint. But, IMO, Volume 4 was an absolute train wreck that prevents it from being in my personal “Top 13” favorites

    There is no question in my mind that “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” is one of the 5 most important comics ever published. It changed everything – nothing in comics was ever the same. With the exception of Bill Finger, no writer has had a greater impact on shaping the character of Batman and it’s still impacting the character today – over 30 years later. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

    Thanks to Miiller, Batman is now often portrayed as a borderline psycho. Thanks to Miller, Superman, the character that built DC, is now often portrayed as either a naive rube or a clueless Government stooge. Batman DKR begat Death in the Family; the reprehensible “Killing Joke;” The Dark Knight Strikes (with Dick Grayson as a psycho – at least they had the decency to kill off Jason Todd as a hero); the ridiculous All-Star Batman & Robin; and the movie “Batman v. Superman.” Thanks to Miller, superheroes are no longer heroes – they’re ticking time bombs of insanity.

    It’s also one of the reasons that I no longer read most current titles, including Batman. The only current comic that I do read is Astro City because Kurt Busiek understands that his flawed superheroes are still heroes.

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  3. And so ends Batman Week here at 13th Dimension. But Batman’s 80th anniversary will continue until the very end of this year. 🙂

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  4. I thought this would probably be number 1, although I was hoping for something else.

    For the most part, I agree with matte41. A few other thoughts:

    I didn’t live near a comic shop at the time and had to wait for the trade paperback. I wasn’t just disappointed with the ending, but the entire book. I thought the constant TV commentators was Miller beating readers over the head with his ideology because he wasn’t skillful enough to weave it into a narrative.

    I also hate what the book did to Superman. Even if Miller doesn’t like him, Superman is responsible for EVERY other Super-Hero. Superman deserves respect.

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    • I agree with matte41 and Joseph Holmes. DKR was “epic” in many ways. The art was unique and…interesting. The story was a cool departure in many ways of the more traditional Batman, more like an ELsewhere story. But it has forever cast a much darker shadow over Batman and even Superman, and that is a direction I don’t really like.

      I’ve ALWAYS liked the grittier, darker, moody Batman. Unlike Clark, Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered right in front of him as a boy. Clark may have lost his entire planet and nearly every one of his kin, but with no tragic memory of it other than maybe a recreated memory. So Batmans “attitude” is understandable.

      Yes Batman SHOULD be a darker angrier character, but he’s not as vindictive as the Punisher or as crazed as Lobo. DC needs to return him to his post Robin roots during the O’Neill and Adams period, but not make him anything like the Adam West character. To me that was always like if Benny Hill was the Shadow.

      So I disagree with the #1 choice.

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  5. as much I like both The Killing Joke and Year One better , it is hard to argue, with this being #1…this series influenced not just, nearly all future Batman stories , but the entire “comic book genre” …this story , the other 2 I mentioned , Watchmen , “Crisis” and a couple of other things…if they didn’t happen , the comic book genre would have probably gone the way of the “pulps” and no longer exist..

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  6. At the risk of starting an argument…while I respect it’s significance, I’m not a fan of The Dark Knight Returns. I’ll use Mr. Levitz quote that it was the exact opposite of Mr. West’s The Bright Knight. Most comics from the ’50’s and ’60’s were silly and goofy. So were a lot of the cartoon adaptations. Here’s where the argument starts: I like my comics to be fun, silly and goofy. Not mature or grown up. I can get that from work or the television or print news. Comics give me a break from that. If you like grown up comics and super-heroes, great. Let’s coexist.

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  7. Well, as expected, Miller’s flawed story takes the #1 spot. Sorry, but no, not in my opinion. I’m thankful the Englehart-Rogers-Austin “Strange Apparitions” run was mentioned, but quite dismayed that the stories by Mike Barr and Alan Davis have been overlooked. The best version of Batman’s origin was told during their run in Detective. Seeing the Wayne murder through Bruce’s eyes was heartbreaking. And then there was that OTHER story Barr wrote that was drawn by Michael Golden, “The Player on the Other Side.” It’s criminal that that story didn’t make the cut. While not perfect, its Batman is not as “distorted” as Miller’s, and it gives our hero a villain worthy of him.

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  8. I know I’m in a small minority but I consider the DKR series to be one of the worst Batman tales ever published. Extremely hard to follow, gore for gore’s sake, shock in replace of plot, etc. It was, in my opinion, the beginning of the end for fun Batman stories in comics.

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