Batman: the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson (illustrator), Lynn Varley (illustrator)
Released: November 2002 (first published 1986)
Publisher: DC Comics
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Speculative Fiction/Superhero Fiction
Source: Borrowed from my boyfriend
In a near-future version of Gotham City, Bruce Wayne is in his 50s, and he has retired as Batman, but when crime rates begin to rise, Bruce Wayne can no longer resist the desire to don his bat suit once more. This time, he faces new enemies– a gang of morbid youngsters, who call themselves the Mutants– as well as old some old favorites; Harvey Dent (aka Two Face), who was thought to have been cured after a successful plastic surgery, holds the entire city hostage with a bomb, and the Joker, who awakes from a catatonic state, breaks out of his room in Arkham Asylum and goes on a killing spree because, well…that’s just what he does. Meanwhile, the retirement of Commissioner James Gordon ushers in a new police commissioner who seems to have a vendetta against our masked vigilante. The vendetta intensifies after Superman diverts a Russian nuclear warhead, which detonates in the U.S. desert, emitting an electromagnetic pulse causing even more chaos in Gotham City. Batman turns the once vile gang of Mutants into a non-lethal force to control crime during the blackout caused by the EMP, and for a while, Gotham City is one of the safest cities in America. Humiliated by Batman’s ability to control Gotham’s unruly citizens, the U.S. government orders Superman to destroy Batman. The two superheros meet in Crime Alley, Batman’s origin, for a fight to the death.
I should preface this by saying, I rarely read graphic novels, and when I do read them, I certainly do not read superhero graphic novels (unless you count Sailor Moon manga). So as I read Batman: the Dark Knight Rises by Frank Miller, I was simultaneously underwhelmed and overwhelmed. This comic is lauded as one of the most (if not the most) influential Batman comic of all time. It was the comic that breathed life into characters that the 1960s nearly killed off with its campy shenanigans. Once the comics returned to its gritty and pulp-inspired origins, popularity for the Batman series soared. Yet, just as the 1960s seemed cheesy to fans in the 1980s, the 1980s may seem slightly cheesy to fans today. Whenever I read the slang of the gang of Mutants, I couldn’t help but cringe. It would almost seem nit-picky if it didn’t occupy so many speech bubbles. “I’m a slicer-dicer, spud. A real slicer-dicer”. It’s supposed to be edgy and intimidating, but to me it just seemed silly– like, why are they calling people potatoes?
I feel conflicted about the artwork. I can get over the obvious 1980’s influenced accessories and hairstyles, but I found myself disappointed by the inking. I was craving bold lines and vibrant colors, but most of the time I found soft and muted watercolors. That’s not to say that I disliked the artwork entirely. No. There are a number of images ingrained in my mind. Batman looming over a pig of a man, who is dangling upside-down off a Gotham City high-rise. The Joker laying limply in the Love Canal at a carnival, battarang lodged in his eye and slack-jawed. Superman’s body wasting away during the nuclear explosion. I stared at the grotesque images with grim fascination. These few images, juxtaposed against the soft water colors on the previous page, captured something far more sinister than I expected.
Then there was the plot, which was a little hit-and-miss for me as well, but I think this is one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” instances. I know very little about superheroes and the DC Universe, so I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia or asking my boyfriend a bunch of questions, and this sometimes distracted me from enjoying the comic. I was on board for the first half of the graphic novel, where Bruce Wayne becomes Batman again and fights crime. It was fast-paced and filled with villains I’m familiar with. It was simple enough for a Batman-newb like myself. But I found myself getting disoriented during the second half of the graphic novel. Like, why did the Police force dislike the Batman so much? And why is Superman trying to kill Batman– don’t they basically fight for the same team? Any why is Robin a girl? I mean, I loved it, but I thought Robin was a consistent character– I was wrong.
Overall, I enjoyed Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. It was successful in making me more curious about the Batman series; I suppose it’s become a gateway. I mentioned in a recent Weekend Review that I have a tall stack of Batman comics to read, and I’ve already began working my way through. I recently finished Venom, and I just started Haunted Knight. I’ve even began perusing the graphic novel shelves at the book store, which was a section I generally stayed away from because really, I had no idea what to even pick up.
Read Batman: the Dark Knight Returns if you’re a fan of Batman comics– it’s a classic after all. If you’re a newcomer, you might want to start somewhere else because this graphic novel does seem dated, and it requires you to already have some knowledge about Batman and the DC Universe.