I was not that big a fan when it came to Batman. And this was mostly in part to those lame depictions from the 60’s Adam West series to the awfully bad Hanna Barbera & Filmation cartoons. (Super Friends, The New Adventures of Batman & Scooby Doo)
Way back in 1986 when I was a wee lad, a friend of mine had mentioned that there is a new Batman graphic novel coming out-which depicts an aged Bruce Wayne who after receiving word of a rampant crimewave in Gotham, decides to finally come out of retirement. It was The Dark Knight Returns!
This book contained one of the first to include self-narrative for a Superhero comic and learning more about Bruce’s POV thrusts the reader right into the story.
In the first chapter, Bruce has had enough and goes on his one man war against crime (mostly committed by the lawless Mutant Gang.) but the real meat of this story focuses on former friend and criminal mastermind-Harvey Dent (Two Face) getting a second chance thanks to a rehabilitation program funded by Wayne himself. Dent is given a new lease on life as well as having his acid scarred face changed courtesy of reconstructive surgery. These gestures of kindness can give Harvey the new lease on life he is hoping for….or did it really?
In the remaining three issues, we are introduced to a new Robin and this time, she’s a female! This was a bold decision especially when factoring in that superhero sidekicks are usually Male dominated.
Batman’s activities do not go unnoticed, while the general public fed up with crime welcomes him back from retirement, others see him as a menace to society and what further compounds this dystopian setting are the potential threat of a nuclear war and the Son of Krypton serving under the Reagan Administration. Ol Ronnie is so popular among many, that he is a Four Term President??
Not only is Superman is sent to the fictional state of Cordo Maltse on a mission to battle Soviet Armed forces, but is also tasked with the responsibility of putting an end to Batman’s vigilante spree.(The latter mission is due to the government not being able to maintain order in Gotham while Bats gathered his own forces to stop looters and those taking advantage of a blacked out city.)
In a memorable face off, Bruce uses a powerful exo frame that manages to give him an advantage. This also marks the first encounter in which the World’s Finest have a go at it in a memorable showdown that will always be one of the many highlights of Comicbook history. Prior to this, Batman’s longtime nemesis the Joker goes on a rampant killing spree that entails Batman to put an end to his homicidal efforts for once and for all however, it seems that the Joker may have had the last laugh.
You’re feeling now, aren’t you? What the rest of us live with everyday. Don’t worry, the kryptonite will soon work its way out of your lungs. But I didn’t have to go easy on you. A different binding agent, a stronger mix… I want you to remember that. I wanted to remind you to stay out of my way. In all the years to come, in your most private moments, I want you to remember the one man who beat you..
In closing, The Dark Knight without a doubt is one of the best Graphic Novels ever thanks to Miller’s brilliant premise, storyline, dialogue and inking chores accompanied by Klaus Janson who delivers a gritty aesthetic within each panel. And I can’t fail to mention the contributions from both Dennis O’ Neil and Lynn Varley.
This groundbreaking Graphic Novel was also influential to the point of the 1987 film Robocop borrowing a few elements from the comics’ cynical but nihilistic approach.Not to mention that it was this very comic that really gave Batman the resurgence it had desperately needed and in doing so, was the inspiration behind many Batman films. (Batman 1989, The Dark Knight and Batman Begins in particular.) Sadly, after 30 years since the Graphic Novel made its debut, there has yet to be a live action adaptation and despite Batman Vs Superman has lifted a few references from the book, it by all means, is not faithful to the source material.
However, the animated video The Dark Knight Returns pays exceptional homage and despite the lack of self-narratives, is the closest media interpretation of Miller’s undisputed classic. The animation and storyboards look as if it were ripped straight from the pages especially when bearing a striking resemblance to Miller’s art.
To top it all off, Frank Weller of Robocop fame provides the voiceover chores as Batman. And although I prefer Micheal Ironside’s voice courtesy of the “Legends of the Bat” episode from TAS, Weller does a solid job besides its only fitting since The Dark Knight that served as the inspiration behind Robocop so why not have Mr. Weller as the titular character?
I remember rocking the T-shirt based on the 3rd cover. Frank Miller’s Batman looking really pissed off had many asking “Why does Batman look so angry”? I guess they saw him as the Adam West interpretation prior to hearing about the book.
Happy 30th Anniversary, TDKR!
Both Comic and Animated adaptation are available courtesy of Comixology,com and HBO NOW respectively.