The Dark Knight Returns
|The Dark Knight Returns|
|Publication date||February – June 1986|
|Number of issues||4|
|Batman: The Dark Knight Returns||ISBN 1-56389-342-8|
|Absolute Dark Knight||ISBN 1401210791|
The Dark Knight Returns is a 1986 four-issue comic book miniseries starring Batman, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson, and published by DC Comics. When the series was collected into a single volume later that year, the story title for the first issue was applied to the entire series. The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Bruce Wayne, who at 55 years old returns from retirement to fight crime and faces opposition from the Gotham City police force and the United States government.
A sequel written and illustrated by Miller, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was published in 2001.
The Dark Knight Returns is set in a dystopian near-future version of Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is 55 years old and has retired as Batman; and levels of crime are rising. Wayne, finding his retirement difficult, becomes Batman again. He first faces Harvey Dent, who was believed to have been cured, after successful plastic surgery. Dent holds the city for ransom with a bomb. When Batman defeats Dent, he discovers that Dent's evil "Two-Face" persona has returned.
Batman saves 13-year-old Carrie Kelley from an attack by a gang called the Mutants. Kelley buys herself an imitation Robin costume and searches for Batman, seeking to help him. She finds Batman at the city dump where he fights an army of Mutants. Though Batman defeats the Mutant army with his weaponry, the Mutant leader beats him in combat. Kelley distracts the leader long enough to allow herself and Batman to escape. With the help of retiring Commissioner James Gordon and the new Robin, Batman defeats the Mutant leader on his own terms. The Mutants disband and some rename themselves the Sons of Batman, using excessive violent force with good intentions.
Batman's return stimulates The Joker to awaken from a catatonic state at Arkham Asylum. With renewed purpose, The Joker manipulates his caretakers to allow him to appear on a television talk show; he murders everyone in the television studio and escapes. Batman and Robin track him to a county fair, where he has already murdered many people. Batman defeats The Joker in a violent confrontation, almost killing him. To incriminate Batman for murder and thus defeat him, The Joker snaps his own neck. After another confrontation with the Gotham police and a citywide manhunt is begun, Batman escapes.
Superman diverts a Russian nuclear warhead which detonates in a desert. The United States is hit by an electromagnetic pulse and descends into chaos during the resulting blackout. In Gotham, Batman realizes what has happened and he and Robin turn the remaining Mutants and the Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal fighting force, leading them against looters and ensuring the flow of essential supplies. In the midst of a nuclear winter, Gotham becomes the safest city in the United States. The U.S. government sees this as an embarrassment and orders Superman to remove Batman. Oliver Queen (the former Green Arrow) predicts to Wayne that the government lackey Superman and the maverick Batman will have a final confrontation. Superman demands to meet Batman. Knowing that Batman may die, Wayne symbolically chooses Crime Alley— where he first became Batman. He relies on Superman's weakness caused by his near-death in the nuclear blast.
Superman tries to reason with Batman, but Batman uses his technological inventions and mastery of hand-to-hand combat to fight him. During the battle, Superman compromises Batman's exoframe, and Queen wields a kryptonite-tipped arrow to greatly weaken Superman. Batman suddenly has a heart attack, apparently dying. Alfred Pennyworth destroys the Batcave and Wayne Manor and dies from a stroke, exposing Batman as Bruce Wayne, whose fortune has disappeared. After Wayne's funeral, it is revealed that his death was staged using chemicals that can suspend his vital life signs. Clark Kent attends the funeral and winks at Robin after hearing Wayne's heartbeat as he leaves the cemetery. Sometime afterward, Bruce Wayne leads Robin, Queen, and the rest of his followers into the caverns beyond the Batcave and prepares to continue his war on crime. He plans to assemble an army to bring order back to the world.
- Bruce Wayne/Batman: Bruce Wayne is 55 years old and has been retired from his Batman persona for a decade. When he sees violence becoming a common occurrence, he feels a strong desire to return as Batman.
- Alfred Pennyworth: Wayne's trusted butler, medic, and confidant; now in his eighties.
- Carrie Kelley/Robin: A 13-year-old girl with absentee parents, who later becomes Batman's sidekick, Robin. Throughout the story, she is frequently mistaken for the former "Boy Wonder". After she saves the Dark Knight's life, the aging Batman places his trust in her, against Alfred's objections.
- James Gordon: The retiring Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, who retires on his 70th birthday. He is aware of Batman's true identity.
- Harvey Dent/Two-Face: Now in his 50s, and having spent 12 years in Arkham Asylum, Harvey Dent has been treated by Doctor Wolper for three years and his face has been repaired with plastic surgery. Dent's doctor gives him a clean bill of mental health, but he is still Two-Face in his mind. Dent terrorizes the city with his face swathed in bandages. As he now sees both sides of his face as scarred.
- The Joker: Batman's archenemy who awakens from a catatonic state upon learning of Batman's re-emergence. He plans a brutal crime spree to draw out Batman, setting in motion the events leading to a final confrontation with him.
- The Mutant Leader: The cunning, brutal head of the Mutants who seeks to control Gotham and kill anyone who opposes him.
- Dr. Bartholomew Wolper: Two-Face and Joker's psychiatrist and opponent of Batman's "fascist" vigilantism. Wolper is convinced that the Joker and Two-Face are both victims of Batman's crusade. He is killed after the Joker slashes his throat with the shards of a coffee cup on live TV.
- Ellen Yindel: James Gordon's successor as Commissioner. A captain in the Gotham City Police Department, she is a critic of Batman, but doubts herself after the Joker's crime spree.
- Oliver Queen: After superheroes are outlawed, Queen undertakes a clandestine rebellion against government oppression, including the sinking of a nuclear submarine. He lost his left arm, for which he blames Superman. Despite this disability, Queen is still a highly skilled marksman.
- Kal-El/Superman: Superman is now an agent of the U.S. government and his secret identity as the former Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is publicly known. In his inner thoughts he despises being a government tool, but he believes it is the only way he can save lives in this day and age.
- Selina Kyle: No longer Catwoman, Selina Kyle now runs an escort business.
Background and creation
In the early 1980s, DC Comics promoted Batman group editor Dick Giordano to editorial director for the company. Writer-artist Frank Miller was recruited to create The Dark Knight Returns. Giordano said he worked with Miller on the story's plot, and said, "[t]he version that was finally done was about his fourth or fifth draft. The basic storyline was the same but there were a lot of detours along the way." During the creation of the series, fellow comics writer/artist John Byrne told Miller, "Robin must be a girl", and Miller complied. Miller said that the comic series' plot was inspired by Dirty Harry, specifically the 1983 film Sudden Impact, in which Dirty Harry returns to crime-fighting after a lengthy convalescence. Miller also said his own increasing age was a factor in the plot. The series employed a 16-panel grid for its pages. Each page was composed of either a combination of either 16 panels, or anywhere between sixteen and one panel per page. Giordano left the project halfway through because of disagreements over production deadlines. Comics historian Les Daniels wrote that Miller's idea of ignoring deadlines was "the culmination of the quest towards artistic independence".
Despite the cost of the single-issue packaging, The Dark Knight Returns sold well. Priced at $2.95 an issue, DC Comics promoted The Dark Knight Returns as a "thought-provoking action story". Time said the series' depiction of a "semi-retired Batman [who] is unsure about his crime-fighting abilities" was an example of trying to appeal to "today's skeptical readers".
IGN Comics ranked The Dark Knight Returns second on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels, behind Batman: Year One, and called The Dark Knight Returns, "a true masterpiece of storytelling" with "[s]cene after unforgettable scene." In 2005, Time chose the collected edition as one of the 10 best English language graphic novels ever written. Forbidden Planet placed the collected issue at number one on its "50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels" list. Writer Matthew K. Manning in the "1980s" chapter of DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle (2010) called the series "arguably the best Batman story of all time." It was placed second in a poll among comic book academics conducted by the Sequart Organization.
The series also garnered some negative reviews. In April 2010, Nicolas Slayton from Comics Bulletin ranked The Dark Knight Returns second in his Tuesday Top Ten feature's Top 10 Overrated Comic Books behind Watchmen. Slayton wrote, "[t]here is no central plot to the comic, leaving only a forced fight scene between Superman and Batman as an out of place climax to the story." "Gone are the traits that define Batman," also citing "misuse of the central character." The New York Times gave the 1987 collected release of the series a negative review. Mordecai Richler felt that The Dark Knight Returns was not as imaginative as the work of Batman creator Bob Kane. Richler commented, "The stories are convoluted, difficult to follow and crammed with far too much text. The drawings offer a grotesquely muscle-bound Batman and Superman, not the lovable champions of old." He concluded, "If this book is meant for kids, I doubt that they will be pleased. If it is aimed at adults, they are not the sort I want to drink with."
The immense popularity of The Dark Knight Returns served both to return the character of Batman to a central role in pop culture, but also (along with Watchmen (comics)) started the era known as the Dark Age of Comic Books (also known as the Modern Age and the Iron Age). The grim, seedy versions of Gotham and Batman successfully updated the character's identity from the campy Adam West version remembered from the 1960s Batman TV Series), which proved critically and commercially successful enough that a new wave of 'dark' superheroes were either created, repopularized, or revamped altogether to fit this new trend.
In other media
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2013)|
- An episode of The New Batman Adventures, entitled "Legends of the Dark Knight" depicted a scene directly based on both of Batman's fights with the Mutants' leader, who was voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Michael Ironside voiced The Dark Knight Returns version of Batman.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, the head psychiatrist of Arkham Asylum is named Dr. Bartholomew, a reference to Bartholomew Wolper.
- Two members of the Mutant gang are shown throwing snowballs at an elderly Beast Boy in a cage in the season 2 episode of Teen Titans entitled "How Long Is Forever?".
- The Mutant gang is seen robbing a bank in Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "The Knights of Tomorrow!", in a future where Bruce Wayne's son, Damian, is the new Batman.
- Along with Batman: The Killing Joke, Tim Burton has cited The Dark Knight Returns as an influence in his first film adaptation of Batman. References to the comic series are made in the films, with Vicki Vale taking photographs of the devastated Corto Maltese. In Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever, the third chronological entry in the series, Batman is shown as not having found peace by killing his nemesis, trying to teach Robin that killing Two-Face won't help him find peace.
- At the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, film director Zack Snyder expressed his love for The Dark Knight Returns in a response to a question about the maturity of comic book adaptations. Batman film franchise producer Michael Uslan also expressed interest in a possible adaptation.
- Elements of The Dark Knight Returns appear in the film The Dark Knight Rises, particularly the central concept of Batman returning to Gotham City after a long absence. Other elements include Bruce Wayne becoming a recluse after retiring from being Batman, Batman's first public reappearance during a high-speed car chase between police and criminals, and a remark by an observing veteran policeman to his young partner ("You are in for a show tonight, son."). Wayne uses a mechanical brace to enhance his out-of-practice body. In The Dark Knight Rises, he uses a leg brace to support and strengthen an injured knee, whereas originally Wayne used a mechanical arm brace. The film also involves Batman faking his own death, and subsequently passing his mantle onto a handpicked successor.
- DC Universe Animated Original Movies produced a two-part animated version. Part 1 of this two-part animated film was released on DVD/Blu-ray on September 25, 2012. Part 2 was released on January 29, 2013, with Peter Weller voicing Batman and Michael Emerson voicing the Joker.
- The sequel to Man of Steel titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is currently filming, and it will feature Superman and Batman meeting each other for the first time in a live-action film. Zack Snyder stated although the film is partly inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, it is entirely original and not based on the comic.
In 1996, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the graphic novel, DC released a new hardcover and a later softcover release. These included original rough script text for issue #4 with some sketches by Miller. There was also a limited edition slip cased hardcover that had mini poster prints, separate media review and sketch book by Miller. DC Direct released a limited edition statue of Batman and Robin designed by Miller. It was released in full size and then later as a mini sized statue. [unreliable source?] DC Direct released a series of Batman action figures based on The Dark Knight Returns in 2004. It included figures of Batman, Robin, Superman, and The Joker. Later, a Batman and Joker Gift Set was released, including both characters with new color schemes to reflect earlier points in the story, and a 48-page prestige format reprint of The Dark Knight Returns #1 was also released. An action figure of Batman as he appears in The Dark Knight Returns was released by Mattel in 2013, as part of their Batman Unlimited line of action figures.
The Batsuit featured in The Dark Knight Returns is available as a DLC (downloadable content) skin for the video game Batman: Arkham City. Its prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, also has the suit, though instead of DLC, it is unlockable through the game's multiplayer mode. Batman's The Dark Knight Returns version appears as a DLC (downloadable content) character in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham where he is designed as a Big Fugure.
- Members of the Mutants—who are enemies to a young Batman and Nightwing (who is Barbara Gordon in this continuity)—appeared in the comic book continuation of the television series Smallville.
- Carrie makes her first appearance in the main, canonical DC Universe in The New 52's Batman and Robin Issue 19 (titled Batman and Red Robin). She is a college student and the late-Damian Wayne's drama instructor. As a homage to The Dark Knight Returns, she wears an imitation Robin costume as a Halloween costume in her first appearance.
- Dr. Wolper makes an appearance at a younger age in Batman: The Widening Gyre by Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan.
- Daniels, Les. Batman: The Complete History. Chronicle Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8118-4232-0
- Daniels, p. 146
- Daniels, p. 147
- Daniels, p. 151
- Strike, Joe (July 15, 2008). "Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight' brought Batman back to life". Daily News (New York).
- Hitch, Bryan (2010). Bryan Hitch's Ultimate Comics Studio. Impact Books. p. 22.
- Daniels, p. 149
- Henry, Gordon M.; Forbis, Deborah. "Bang!". Time. October 6, 1986. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
- Goldstein, Hilary (June 13, 2005). "The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels". IGN.
- Goldstein, Hilary (June 17, 2005). "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Review". IGN.
- Grossman, Lev (March 6, 2009). "Top 10 Graphic Novels: The Dark Knight Returns". Time.
- 50 Best Of The Best Graphic Novels, forbiddenplanet.com
- Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "It is arguably the best Batman story of all time. Written and drawn by Frank Miller (with inspired inking by Klaus Janson and beautiful watercolors by Lynn Varley), Batman: The Dark Knight revolutionized the entire genre of the super hero."
- On Canons, Critics, Consensus, and Comics, Part 2, Sequart Organization
- Top 10 Overrated Comic Books, Comics Bulletin, April 27, 2010
- Richler, Mordecai (May 3, 1987). "Paperbacks; Batman at Midlife: Or the Funnies Grow Up". The New York Times. Retrieved August 18, 2009.
- Tasha Robinson. "Frank Miller interview". A.V. Club. December 5, 2001.
- Zack Snyder Interested in The Dark Knight Returns Movie? slashfilm.com, July 26, 2008. Retrieved November 24, 2009.
- Brendon Connelly (April 14, 2011). "Movie Version Of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns In The Works". Bleedingcool.com. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
- Comicscontinuum.com – July 23, 2011
- Batman vs. Superman’: Snyder Talks ‘Dark Knight Returns’ Factor & Affleck screenrant.com, February 10, 2014.. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
- 1996 Dark Knight Returns statue Under the Giant Penny (August 8, 2010). Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- Esposito, Joey (April 5, 2013). "The Dark Knight Returns' Carrie Kelley is Back". Retrieved April 6, 2013.
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