The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns (alternatively titled Batman: 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 an alternative 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. The story introduces Carrie Kelley as the new Robin and the hyper-violent street gang known as the Mutants. The story also features the return of classic foes such as Two-Face and The Joker, and culminates with a confrontation against Superman, who works on behalf of the government.
|Batman: The Dark Knight Returns|
|Publication date||February – June 1986|
|No. of issues||4|
|Written by||Frank Miller|
|Batman: The Dark Knight Returns||ISBN 1-56389-342-8|
|Absolute Dark Knight||ISBN 1401210791|
In the pre-Flashpoint DC Multiverse, the events of The Dark Knight Returns and its associated titles were designated to occur on Earth-31.
The Dark Knight Returns is set in a dystopian version of Gotham City in 1986. Bruce Wayne, aged 55, has given up the mantle of Batman after the death of Jason Todd ten years prior, and now lives as a bored bachelor. As a result, crime is running rampant throughout the city and a gang calling themselves "The Mutants" has begun terrorizing the people of Gotham. Upon being reminded of the deaths of his parents during a TV broadcast of The Mark of Zorro and watching news reports about the Mutants' crimes, Wayne returns to his role as a vigilante. On his first night as Batman he puts a stop to multiple assaults – including one on two young girls, Carrie Kelley and her friend Michelle. While attempting to foil an armed robbery on the same night, Batman learns that the men involved are working for Harvey Dent. Dent, previously known for his criminal acts as Two-Face, underwent extensive therapy and plastic surgery financed by Wayne to reemerge into society. Batman informs Commissioner James Gordon that Dent may be planning a larger scheme. Soon after, Dent hijacks the television sets of the city and announces his intention to hold the city to ransom with a bomb. When Batman defeats Dent and his goons, he realizes that Dent's mind has completely warped into his Two-Face persona.
Inspired by Batman's rescue, Kelley buys herself an imitation Robin costume and searches for him, seeking to help him. She learns that Batman will be at the city dump and follows the Mutants there. Although Batman defeats the Mutants with his advanced weaponry in the ensuing battle, the Mutant Leader ends up goading him into a hand-to-hand fight. During their brawl, Batman, despite being able to match the Leader in strength, is rusty and slightly slower due to a decade of inactivity, which results in him getting seriously injured. Kelley creates a diversion, allowing Batman to immobilize the Mutant Leader, and the two of them escape. At the Batcave, Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth tends to his wounds while Kelley admires the Robin costume that belonged to Todd. Wayne decides to keep Kelley as his new sidekick. Gordon allows Batman to defeat the Mutant Leader (whom he had arrested) on his own terms. The two engage in a fight at a sewage run-off pipe surrounded by members of the Mutant gang. Batman, leveraging the mud from the sewage to slow him down, deals the Leader a brutal defeat. Seeing Batman defeat their leader, the Mutants disband and some rename themselves the Sons of Batman, using excessive violence against criminals.
At the White House, Superman and current president Ronald Reagan discuss the events in Gotham, with the latter suggesting that Superman may have to arrest Batman. Superman informs the president that he may only be able to talk to Wayne. He is then deployed by Washington to the Latin American country of Corto Maltese where he fights Soviet combat forces in a conflict that may ignite World War III.
Gordon hands over the role of commissioner to Captain Ellen Yindel, who issues a statement declaring that Batman is a wanted criminal for his vigilante activities. At the same time, Batman's return stimulates the Joker to awaken from catatonia at Arkham Asylum. With renewed purpose, the Joker manipulates his caretakers to allow him onto a television talk show, where he murders everyone with gas and escapes. With the help of Selina Kyle, Batman and Robin track him to a county fair while evading a police pursuit led by Yindel. There, they realize that he is already making attempts to kill fairgoers. Batman defeats the Joker in a bloody confrontation, which ends when the Joker commits suicide by breaking his own neck to incriminate Batman for murder. After another confrontation with the Gotham police, Batman escapes with the help of Robin and a citywide manhunt begins.
Superman diverts a Soviet nuclear warhead which detonates in a desert, nearly killing himself in the process. The United States is hit by an electromagnetic pulse as a result and descends into chaos during the resulting blackout. In Gotham, Batman realizes what has happened, and he and Robin turn the remaining Mutants and Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal vigilante gang. He leads them against looters and ensures the flow of essential supplies. In the midst of the blackout, Gotham becomes the safest city in the country. The U.S. government sees this as an embarrassment, and orders Superman to remove Batman. Oliver Queen predicts to Wayne that the government lackey Superman and the maverick Batman will have a final confrontation. Superman demands to meet Batman. Knowing he may die, Wayne chooses Crime Alley, where he first became Batman. He relies on Superman's weakness caused by near-death in the nuclear blast (Superman only just managed to survive by absorbing the energy from the sun, but he is still vulnerable to attack).
Superman tries to reason with Batman, but Batman uses his technological inventions and mastery of hand-to-hand combat to fight him on equal ground. During the battle, Superman compromises Batman's exoframe, but Queen shoots a kryptonite-tipped arrow to greatly weaken Superman. Batman reveals that he intentionally spared Superman's life by not using a more powerful kryptonite mix; the fight and near-death experience was meant as a warning to Superman to stay out of Batman's way. Before he can fully defeat Superman, Batman suddenly has a heart attack, apparently dying. Alfred destroys the Batcave and Wayne Manor before dying of a stroke, exposing Batman as Bruce Wayne, whose fortune has disappeared. After Wayne's funeral, it is revealed that his death was staged using his own chemical concoction that can suspend his vital life signs. Clark Kent attends the funeral and winks at Robin after hearing Wayne's heartbeat resume. Some time 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.
- 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 more common not just in Gotham City but also the world, he feels a strong desire to return as Batman and emerges from his depression.
- 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 wishes.
- 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 perceives both sides of his face as scarred.
- The Joker: Batman's archenemy who, now 50 years old, 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.
- The Mutant Leader: The cunning, brutal, and albino 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 when the Joker floods a television studio with poisonous gas; Wolper's neck is snapped by the robot Bobbie.
- Ellen Yindel: James Gordon's successor as Commissioner. A captain in the Gotham City Police Department, she is a critic of Batman, but begins to doubt herself after the Joker's crime spree.
- The Mayor of Gotham City: The unnamed mayor of Gotham City. He tries to negotiate peace with the Mutant Leader at the time he was in police custody only to be killed by him.
- Deputy Mayor Stevenson: The deputy mayor of Gotham City, who later becomes the new mayor after the former mayor is killed by the Mutant Leader. He states that Commissioner Ellen Yindel will make the decision of how to act with Batman.
- Ronald Reagan: The president of the United States. He instructs Superman to deal with Batman in Gotham City.
- Oliver Queen: After superheroes are outlawed, Queen, now in his late fifties, undertakes a clandestine rebellion against government oppression, including the sinking of a nuclear submarine. He lost his left arm after an encounter with Superman. Despite this disability, Queen is still a highly skilled marksman.
- Kal-El/Clark Kent/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. Appearing in his thirties, because of his Kryptonian physique, his aging process is slower than his former allies', which is one of the reasons of why he is no longer able to hide his secret identity. In the final climax, Superman battles Batman in a final attempt to rid the government of his opposition, but is weakened by a Kryptonite arrow fired by Queen, allowing an armored Batman to stand up to him.
- Selina Kyle: No longer Catwoman, Selina Kyle, now in her early fifties, runs an escort business.
- Lana Lang: The managing editor of the Daily Planet who is an outspoken supporter of Batman, appearing on a series of TV debates in which she argues with others over his methods and influence.
- Dave Endochrine: A late night talk show host who invites the Joker and Dr. Wolper on his show; he and his audience are later killed by the Joker's poisonous gas. He is a characterization of David Letterman.
- Bruno: The leader of a group of Nazi-inspired criminals. Working for the Joker, she battles Batman and Robin but is caught by Superman.
- Abner: Joker's hulking henchman. He builds two robotic dolls, Bobbie and Mary, to kill the Joker's TV audience; he later attempts to kill Robin at a funfair but is decapitated by a roller coaster instead.
- Sons of Batman (S.O.B.): A group of teenagers who were formerly part of the Mutants. They have become followers of Batman since the defeat of the Mutant Leader, although they are too unruly and corrupt, taking severe measures to control the streets and even Batman. They end up following Batman for good intentions instead of bad.
Background and creationEdit
Since the 1950s, when the Comics Code Authority was established, the character of Batman had drifted from his darker, more serious roots. It was not until the 1970s when the character began to feature in darker stories once again; however, Batman was still commonly associated with the campy theme of the 1960s Batman TV series, and as a father figure to Robin rather than the vigilante he was introduced as.
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 agreed. 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. The series employed a 16-panel grid for its pages. Each page was composed of either a combination of 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". More than 1 million comics in print were issued.
Retrospectively, the series is today widely considered one of the greatest works in the comics medium. IGN Comics ranked The Dark Knight Returns first on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels 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.
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) 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, and 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.
Sequels, prequels and spin-offsEdit
A three-issue sequel written and illustrated by Miller, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was published in 2001. A nine-issue third installment, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, co-written by Miller and Brian Azzarello, was published approximately bi-monthly starting in late 2015. As of 2019, Frank Miller has released the name of the 4th chapter of the series, a prestige format one-shot entitled Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, released under DC Black Label. In addition, a 64-page prestige format one-shot co-written by Miller and Azzarello, Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade, which serves as a prequel to the original series, was released on June 15, 2016. Additionally, Spawn/Batman was released in 1994 as a companion to The Dark Knight Returns, and, according to Miller, the series All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder can be considered as a prequel.
In 1994, this version of Batman appeared in the Zero Hour: Crisis in Time crossover event playing a small role.
In March 2018, he would also appear in a brief cameo in the sixth and final issue of the Dark Nights: Metal event.
The 3-issue miniseries Superman: Year One was revealed by Frank Miller to be set in the same universe as the Dark Knight Returns series.
In other mediaEdit
- In the episode "Legends of the Dark Knight" of The New Batman Adventures, a scene is 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.
- Two members of the Mutant gang are shown throwing snowballs at an elderly Beast Boy in a cage in the episode "How Long Is Forever?" of Teen Titans.
- The Batman episode "Artifacts", set in a future Gotham, mostly references Miller's work, with the future Batman depicted as a tall, muscular man and Mr. Freeze going so far as speaking the sentence "The Dark Knight returns" upon meeting his nemesis.
- There are some references in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In the season 2 episode "The Knights of Tomorrow!", the Mutant gang is seen robbing a bank in a future where Bruce Wayne's son, Damian, is the new Batman. The battle between Batman and Superman is featured in the season 3 episode "Battle of the Super-Heroes!", where Batman wears a similar armored suit as well as some moments of the fight appearing like how the comic was drawn.
- In episode 31 of Girl Meets World ("Girl Meets the New Teacher"), the new English teacher Harper Burgess gives out copies for her class to study, which creates controversy with the principal who disapproves of the comic.
- Stephen Amell appears as an older Oliver Queen in the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Star City 2046", with a grey goatee and missing his left arm, a nod to the portrayal of the character in The Dark Knight Returns.
- In the television series Gotham, a young Bruce Wayne confronts Jerome Valeska (a character created as a homage to the Joker) in a house of mirrors after the G.C.P.D. raid Jerome's carnival populated by his cultist followers which pays homage to The Dark Knight Returns.
- In the episode “Play Date”, from Justice League Action, the Batman entrance uses the iconic cover pose.
- Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman takes influence from the third book in the series, when Batman and the Joker have a fight to the death in the climax.
- In the 1995 film Batman Forever, director Joel Schumacher uses some references of the comic: when Bruce remembers falling into the cave as a kid, and in a deleted scene when GNN News makes a bad reputation of Batman after his fight with Two Face in Gotham Subway and before when he follows Two Face in a helicopter.
- According to Schumacher, he proposed a film adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns when Warner Bros. commissioned him and writer Akiva Goldsman to create a sequel to Batman Forever, but the idea was shelved in favor of Batman & Robin. After the cancellation of Batman Unchained, Schumacher proposed an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, which Warner considered during their attempts to revamp the character. Michael Keaton (who portrayed Batman in Batman and in Batman Returns) and Clint Eastwood were considered to play Batman while singer David Bowie was considered again to play The Joker. However, the project was finally cancelled in favor of the also shelved Batman: DarKnight.
- The Tumbler in Batman Begins (2005) was inspired by the Batmobile in The Dark Knight Returns. Both Batmobiles are designed as large, military vehicles built for special purposes.
- The "copycat" Batman vigilantes in The Dark Knight (2008) were inspired by the Sons of Batman in the Dark Knight Returns. Like the Sons of Batman, the "copycats" are a gang who are inspired by Batman's actions and decided to follow his example by using violence against criminals.
- In the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan used a number of stories including The Dark Knight Returns as influence for the film. After the death of Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne retires from Batman and spends the next eight years in a depressed state caused by his experiences as a vigilante. Bruce decides to return as Batman when he realizes that The League of Shadows has returned to Gotham; Bruce uses a special brace for his arm to compensate his frail physicality. While in the film, Bruce uses a brace to support his damaged leg; During a police chase, two cops witness Batman's unexpected return. The older cop comments to his younger partner, "You're in for a show, kid"; The fight between Batman and Bane was influenced by the two separate fights between Batman and the Mutant Leader. Due to years of inactivity, Batman fails to beat the Mutant Leader and gets badly beaten. In the second time, Batman brutally fights the Mutant Leader while his followers watch in silence; After Harvey Dent dies in The Dark Knight, Batman is falsely accused for his death and becomes a fugitive. Similar to Batman's circumstances with the Joker in the graphic novel; When Gotham City is in chaos during the blackout, Batman brings together the Sons of Batman in order to stop the rioters in the streets. Similar to how Batman brings together the Gotham police to fight against Bane's army. At the end, Bruce abandons his personal life and persona as Batman by faking his death. So he can have a fresh start with his crime-fighting career. In the film, Bruce fakes his death so he can finally move on from Batman and start a new life with Selina Kyle in Florence.
- DC Entertainment produced a two-part animated adaptation. 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.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice features Batman and Superman meeting each other for the first time in a live-action film. Director Zack Snyder stated although the film is visually inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, with some elements borrowed, like an older and hardened Batman who lost Jason Todd in his younger years, the Batsuit closely resembling the one shown in the comic book and Batman wearing the armored suit in his battle against Superman shown in the comic, it featured an original premise. There are also a few shots in the film directly taken from the pages of Miller's work.
- The 2018 animated film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies had Robin dream up a sequence which seems to parody The Lion King, where he is lifted up by the Batman from the Dark Knight Returns continuity. Later on, Robin appears in a musical sequence where he parodies the iconic Dark Knight Returns cover where Robin poses against a lightning effect with the title: Robin: The Dark Hero Returns.
- The Joker's interview with the talk show host David Endochrine from The Dark Knight Returns is somewhat similar to his interview to Robert De Niro's character, Murray Franklin in Joker.
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.
- 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.
- Batman/Bruce Wayne and Carrie Kelley/Robin appear in a one-page article in Comics Collector #8 (Krause Publications, Summer 1985), predating their first comic book appearance.
- Manning, Matthew K. (2010). "1980s". In Dolan, Hannah (ed.). 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.
- Daniels (1999), p. 146.
- Daniels (1999), p. 147.
- Daniels (1999), p. 151.
- Hitch, Bryan (2010). Bryan Hitch's Ultimate Comics Studio. Impact Books. p. 22.
- Strike, Joe (July 15, 2008). "Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight' brought Batman back to life". Daily News. New York.
- Daniels (1999), p. 149.
- Henry, Gordon M.; Forbis, Deborah (October 6, 1986). "Bang!". Time. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
- "DC Comics Publishes Frank Miller's Batman Sequel To The Legendary Dark Knight Returns". Business Wire. Berkshire Hathaway. December 5, 2001. Archived from the original on January 24, 2002. Retrieved June 21, 2019 – via Yahoo.com.
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- "Artifacts". The Batman.
- "The Knights of Tomorrow!". Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
- "Battle of the Super-Heroes!". Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
- "Girl Meets the New Teacher". Girl Meets World.
- Abrams, Natalie (January 28, 2016). "Legends of Tomorrow: Stephen Amell to appear as future Oliver Queen". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
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- Brooker, Will (June 7, 2012). "Clues from the Comics About Batman's Fate in The Dark Knight Rises". io9. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Connelly, Brendon (April 14, 2011). "Movie Version Of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns In The Works". Bleedingcool.com. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
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- "Batman vs. Superman: Snyder Talks 'Dark Knight Returns' Factor & Affleck". Screenrant.com. February 10, 2014. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
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