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REVIEW: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

REVIEW SUMMARY: Outstanding novel that reminded me that some of the best writing in fiction is in the comic form.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After a long haitus, Bruce Wayne – now in his 50’s – once again takes up the mantle of Batman and works to save Gotham City from villains. But he finds himself on the wrong side of the politicians and ultimately on the wrong side of the strongest heroes in the DC universe.

PROS: Excellent artwork that re-images Batman in many ways, but keeps him the classic figure we’ve known from the 50’s. Mature plot that deals with Batman as vigilante in a surprising way.
CONS: Hard to find any – there are some historical references to prior comics that everybody might not get.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re interested in seeing how the recent movie versions of Batman got their mature and darker side, this is the book to read. If you were a fan of Batman in your youth and are looking for something more adult, this is the book to read. Frankly, if you’ve liked Batman at all, you’ll be sorry if you don’t read this book.

The story is told over 4 chapters and traces the resurgence of Batman in the face of growing lawlessness in Gotham City. Miller had a lot to overcome with in this book. Before this, the caped crusader has been pretty much trashed by DC authors through the years (not to mention the ketch TV show or animated series many equate with Batman) despite attempts by some in the 70’s and 80’s to do the best they could with what DC would allow.

Miller however, in this limited series, cemented himself as one of the greatest authors in the history of comics and rescued Batman at the same time. By showing Batman as a dark, conflicted, obsessed hero he becomes more real than he was. Batman is super-wealthy to be sure and a physical specimen – even at his advanced age – but his actions look like they could be performed by any of us. This is the ultimate genius of the work. He takes a superhero and casts him as more of an everyman that we can all relate to.

This Batman is far from perfect. He’s obsessed with fighting injustice to a fault. He refuses to be a pawn of the politicos but ultimately earns their wrath because he takes his obsession too far. For example, the Sons of Batman (a vigilante group of defeated criminals inspired by Batman to fight crime) cut off the hands of some people found gambling in the street. This association shows that Batman may have lost sight of the need to have the punishment fit the crime. There is also an annoying but somewhat truthful psychologist who states that the supervillains exist because Batman exists. That his very existence causes the very villainy he strives to stamp out. Serious stuff that attracts the attention of the president who sends Superman (reduced to a pawn!) to stop him. This epic battle (which frankly sounded campy when I heard about it) is surprisingly serious and well done. There is a nod to the golden age of comics in the final book, but it delivers on everything you expect a comic book to be.

Overall, I really enjoyed this return to Gotham City and a look at what Batman is capable of being.

2 Comments on REVIEW: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

  1. Along with Watchmen and Sandman, this is essential. 

  2. For god’s sake, never open the sequel.

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