Taking place in a distant alternate future, Gotham City has become a haven for brutal violence. Crime has gotten completely out of hand to the point where it's no longer safe to walk the streets. Growing frustrated with the criminals who frequent the city, a retired Bruce Wayne dons the outfit once again as the Batman to save his city from total destruction. -summary
1986 is indeed a year to remember in regards to comics. Thanks to stories such as The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen, it became a fact that comic books could be far more than light entertainment for children. They can also be true works of art that are strictly oriented towards adults, not only due to graphic violence and language, but most importantly, because of the themes that are exercised for the sake of telling a thought provoking story. Which brings me to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns written by Frank Miller, and what I consider to be one of the very best Batman stories ever told, and some consider it one of the greatest graphic novels on Earth. This trade paperback collects the four part series in its entirety.
Frank Miller's storytelling is nothing short of amazing here, as he weaves together a very strong narrative. The Dark Knight Returns focuses on a crime laden Gotham City, where things have become so terrible that the criminals are brazen enough to commit violent crimes in broad daylight. These heinous acts are committed mainly by the gang called Mutants. Bruce Wayne who is now at the age of 55, can no longer stomach these atrocious acts, and succumbs to his own personal demons realizing that the city needs a Batman. Frank Miller's direction is kind of in your face, and at the same time, it's also subtle with its multiple messages and themes. He seems to go out of his way with a rather cryptic approach utilizing the show but don't tell rule. He acknowledges that the Golden Age of comics is indeed dead through the criminals mannerisms. Likewise, with the central character Batman, who resorts to the same barbarism as his enemies. Ironically, DC's Crisis on Infinite Earth's would be running around this same time, completely doing away with the Golden and Silver Ages, with an ending that would change the status quo, and this series would help set the tone for future Batman stories, in which, his entire character would go through a revamping that began with Batman Year One.
The character development is very strong, with Batman being the most interesting character. He understands that he's not young anymore, and his age does play a huge role in his performance. The Mutant gang are very well developed. To them, everyone seems to be fair game, and they have no sense of fair play. Murder, rape, and kidnapping are not above them, as they even take rides on the subway to kill people for no reason at all. Commissioner Gordon plays his role rather well, and he's forced to deal with his mandatory retirement after 50 years on the force, and he's rather vocal about his successor, and the hoods running the streets threatening his life.
Miller takes jabs at the political system along with the hazards of media manipulation. There's a "yes" "no"debate going on whether or not does Gotham City, or does the world even need a vigilante. The question comes out would some of these villains have ever done the things they were locked away for if not for a Batman. The media is in heavy favor of respecting the criminals rights, despite the trails of blood left in their wake. This plays in the release on two of Batman's most vicious enemies; Two-Face and the Joker. Batman sets out to deal with the former, while the latter finally reawakens from a catatonic state after 10 years, which he obviously went into when Batman retired. The new battle with the Joker proves to be the most interesting, as the reader will learn that the Joker truly cannot exist without Batman in his life. He emerges far worse than he's ever been, beginning a new reign of terror, and makes it quite clear that this will be the final meeting between them because their time is running short.
There are also two adjacent storylines additional to the main one. The story takes place in a time period where the Cold War continues, and this plays into the overall story in a big way. Also, Batman has to deal with the Commissioner who has issued a warrant for his arrest. I can imagine some people feeling overwhelmed by the multiple storylines going on, and it does add to the stories overall complexity. Even I had a little trouble at first following things, eventually, the narrative warms up on you and everything begins to flow pretty easy.
The artwork is also something that took a little bit of getting used to. It features a water splash design with a black and white backdrop. There are different colors tossed here and there, but I believe this approach plays into Frank Miller's overall outlook. There's no gray area to be found here, as everything appears to be clearly black and white; the people's mindsets, as well as Batman's dealing with the scum of the city. Miller's artwork compliments the gritty atmosphere, which establishes that loss of hope sense creating a moody feel. Unfortunately, later on, the artwork tends to falter, still, it maintains a sense of urgency and continues telling the story of the city, as well as the characters plight.
The story has a very good ending, but I have known for several to complain that it's quite wordy. I have nothing against extensive dialogue, as long as the story doesn't come off trying to be deep and smart. This story is deep and smart, and Miller had several things to say here in which he does get his point across.
The Dark Knight Returns is certainly one of the best stories ever written in comics. This is seriously Batman like you've never seen him before, and the story has stood the test of time. Together with Watchmen, I don't believe I would be wrong in considering these two stories as trend setters, as many future stories would be highly influenced by these two magnificent works. And although many have come close, I don't believe either one of the two are close to being dethroned.
"You've got rights. Lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make myself go crazy." - Batman
-Intricate and complex narrative, very nice artwork
-Will be hard to follow for some
What did you think of this review?
Miller went far beyond the call of duty. The Dark Knight is a success on every level. Firstly it does keep the core elements of the Batman myth intact, with Robin, Alfred the butler, Commissioner Gordon, and the old roster of villains, present yet brilliantly subverted. Secondly the artwork is fantastic--detailed, sometimes claustrophobic, psychotic. Lastly it's a great story: Gotham City is a hell on earth, street gangs roam but there are no heroes. Decay is ubiquitous. Where is a hero to save Gotham? It is 10 years since the last recorded sighting of the Batman. And things have got worse than ever. Bruce Wayne is close to being a broken man but something is keeping him sane:...