Author: Frank Miller
Genre: Graphic Novel, Noir, Superhero
This masterpiece of modern comics storytelling brings to vivid life a dark world and an even darker man. Together with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley, writer/artist Frank Miller completely reinvents the legend of Batman in his saga of a near-future Gotham City gone to rot, ten years after the Dark Knight’s retirement.
Crime runs rampant in the streets, and the man who was Batman is still tortured by the memories of his parents’ murders. As civil society crumbles around him, Bruce Wayne’s long-suppressed vigilante side finally breaks free of its self-imposed shackles.
The Dark Knight returns in a blaze of fury, taking on a whole new generation of criminals and matching their level of violence. He is soon joined by this generation’s Robin — a girl named Carrie Kelley, who proves to be just as invaluable as her predecessors.
But can Batman and Robin deal with the threat posed by their deadliest enemies, after years of incarceration have made them into perfect psychopaths? And more important, can anyone survive the coming fallout of an undeclared war between the superpowers – or a clash of what were once the world’s greatest superheroes?
Over fifteen years after its debut, ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’ remains an undisputed classic and one of the most influential stories ever told in the comics medium.
Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the graphic novel and superhero genres. This is what arguably saved Batman from cancellation, separated the series from the camp of the TV show and early movies, and drew comic readers back to Batman’s bosom. For it’s importance to the comic book and graphic novel industry, I respect it. However, that doesn’t excuse the rampant misogyny in this piece (which is expected in a Miller novel).
I won’t talk about that just yet, though. First, I’ll talk about the plot, which is actually pretty damn good. The novel switches point-of-view a few times throughout the novel and is one of the first instances of first-person narration in the genre. We get the POV of not only the Batman, but Superman, Commissioner Gordon and even the Joker. This allows Miller to create a very interesting and dynamic narration style, played up by the television-shaped panels portraying the media’s interpretation of the novel’s events.
Batman’s characterization is interesting as well, and it’s easy to see how much Christopher Nolan took from this four-issue series for his movie trilogy. This is the gritty, tortured Batman we’re familiar with. This is the Joker we know, too, head-over-heels for Batman and only wiling to emerge from a comatose state when he learns of the Batman’s return. The story’s interesting, high-action, and a great reboot to the series.
But, of course, I have to talk about the women. This is the introduction of the first female Robin, which is great! However, she’s one of four named women in the span of 200 pages. One is a media person vying for Batman’s justice and goodness (she is shown to be wrong; Miller’s Batman is an out-and-out sociopath). One is the new police commissioner to replace Gordon (she is shown to be almost completely incompetent). And the last is our new Robin, who is competent but repeatedly mistaken for being male. Oh, and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) is there, too, but only so the Joker can kick the shit out of her and so she can cry over Batman.
When you combine the depiction of the women with the hyper-masculinity of the art (also by Miller), you get a feeling that this guy has some insecurities. While we don’t get Miller’s iconic “whores” here, we do get Batman looking like he’s roid-raging, every part of his physique over exaggerated to a ludicrous extreme. I’ll admit, there were a few panels where I had to laugh because the art was so over the top, and for a man who hates the campy 1960s TV show, Miller sure seemed willing to embrace something nearly as ridiculous.
It’s undeniable that this book was important to revitalizing the comic book genre and bringing on the age of dark heroes, but it’s not a perfect work. When I didn’t think about the women (which wasn’t hard since they were barely there) or the art that became exaggerated only to show how tough and masculine Bruce or some other man is, it was an enjoyable read. But those other issues are still there. So while I accept its importance, it has to be knocked down a peg for the simmering misogyny.