Authors: Frank MillerIllustrators: Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley
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It was tough work, carrying 220 pounds of sociopath to the top of Gotham Towers — the highest spot in the city. The scream alone is worth it.
Frank Miller’s take on Batman in 1986s The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new style and era for the long-time caped crusader. Gone are the never ending onomatopoeia’s, the campy one-liners, and the silly humor. The darker, morally conflicted version of Batman reached its prominence with this comic, and it certainly delivers one of the most thoughtful superhero stories out there.
At age seventy, Commissioner James Gordon is four weeks away from retirement, and Bruce Wayne hasn’t donned the mask in over ten years. As crime begins to run rampant, and some of Batman’s most notorious enemies are set free from prison, he picks up the uniform one last time.
Comics like this are the reason why I love Batman. A lot of the story focuses on the question why does Batman fight? Facing his own mortality, it becomes clear that Bruce can’t live forever. What’s to become of all his hard work? Over time Bruce reflects on what he’s seen, and whether or not he should compromise his values as a hero. The temptation to “kill evil,” is always lingering, and it suspensefully draws the reader in. The social commentary is bitter, the inner-torment is painful, and the aches and pains of an old man who’s watching everything he fought for unravel makes for an emotionally draining, but no less enticing, story.
Batman battles long-time nemesis’ Two-Face and Joker in decisive battles. Each of these villains add new memorable repertoire to their long lists of sociopathic crimes. Batman also meets the “Mutant Leader,” a new villain created by Miller that leads a vicious gang of mutants that plague Gotham’s law enforcement and citizens. The role of Robin is taken on by a thirteen-year-old girl named Carrie Kelly whom Batman saves from a mutant gang early on in the story. Robin never degrades into being the annoying side-kick, but rather turns into a useful and competent ally. Superman also makes a lengthy appearance. The Man-of-Steel now works for the US government, and naturally his less cynical views on how to treat criminals clashes with Batman’s more hard-edged approach. The long expected battle between two of DC’s greatest heroes is one that doesn’t disappoint.
The artwork envisions a very dysfunctional future perfectly. Jagged lines are everywhere, and it reflects a lot of the outer pain that Gotham is succumbing to, along with Bruce Wayne’s inner pain. Although Batman is still blue in this comic, he maintains a darker fixture, that still effectively captures the mood of the story.
Frank Miller is famous for writing the Sin City comics, and the noir-aspect of those stories can be found in the way Batman reflects upon his career. Don’t mistake my meaning though, this is a graphic novel that’s far better than Sin City. This is one of the essential Batman stories that any true of fan of Batman should have sitting on their bookshelf.