Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
, originally published under the title Batman: The Dark Knight
, is a Batman
comic book mini-series
written and drawn by Frank Miller
and published by DC Comics
to June 1986
A sequel, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was published in 2001. All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, a prequel to the series began running in 2005. An additional prequel, Holy Terror, Batman!, was partially written and drawn during 2006-2008
Bruce Wayne has retired from the Batman mantle after the death of the second Robin
, Jason Todd
, and become an alcoholic
. Ten years pass, during which Gotham City
is overwhelmed with crime, plagued by a violent gang called "The Mutants". Bruce retakes the mantle of Batman after he encountered Mutant gangs in the alley
where his parents were murdered. Batman is aided in fighting this menace by a new Robin, a young girl named Carrie Kelly
Batman eventually confronts Harvey Dent, who has once again become Two-Face despite having long ago had his scars repaired, threatens to blow up Gotham’s twin towers. Batman stops Two-Face and discovers that, even though Dent has been physically rehabilitated, he is still Two-Face in his mind. Meanwhile Commissioner Gordon is forced to retire after killing a Mutant who attempted to assault him. He is replaced by Ellen Yindel, a fierce critic of Batman.
Meanwhile, Batman discovers that a United States Army general officer had been supplying the Mutants with military weapons in exchange for cash. When Batman confronts him, he confesses and justifies his actions by saying he needs to help his sick wife. However, the general’s conscience is still eating away at him, and he eventually commits suicide in front of Batman. Batman then drives a new, fortified version of the Batmobile to the Mutants’ meeting ground at the city dump. He fights the Mutants' leader, who badly injures him; only Carrie's quick intervention saves him. As they head back to the Batcave, Carrie tends to Batman’s wounds. Batman recovers quickly and allows Carrie to become the new Robin. The Mutant Leader has still threatened to unleash his army on the city, so the Mayor tries to negotiate with him. The Leader then kills the Mayor by ripping his throat out with his teeth. Batman and Carrie infiltrate their ranks and spread a rumor that the Leader wants an assembly quickly. Afterwards, the Leader escapes from jail and meets up with Batman at a mud-hole, where the Dark Knight finally defeats him.
Batman’s greatest nemesis, the Joker, re-emerges — after having been catatonic for 10 years — when he discovers that Batman has returned to Gotham. He convinces the doctors at Arkham Asylum that he is sane and deserves to be released. Once free, he appears on a late night talk show as a PR stunt. When Batman shows up, he is forced to battle the police force while the Joker releases a cloud of Joker venom on the audience and escapes, and Batman and Robin chase after him. The Joker heads to Selina Kyle’s place, beats her and dresses her up as Wonder Woman. He caps off his rampage by killing a group of Cub Scouts and planting a bomb on a fairway; Robin defuses the bomb, however.
Batman chases after the Joker and eventually the two fight. An enraged Batman breaks the Joker's neck, but stops short of killing him. Taunting Batman as a coward, Joker twists until the remainder of his spine snaps, committing suicide in order to frame Batman for murder.
Batman decides to train the Sons of Batman, a vigilante group, to fight crime with non-lethal methods. Soon, the Government dispatches Superman to take down Batman after he makes Gotham City safe. However, Oliver Queen, the former Green Arrow who is now a one-armed revolutionary, warns Batman of the Government’s plans. Batman begins preparing for his battle against Superman and is equipped with a powerful suit of armor, synthetic kryptonite, and a mysterious pill. Batman and Superman engage in a powerful battle, but Batman emerges the winner. However, Batman dies of a heart attack shortly after. Meanwhile, Alfred Pennyworth detonates bombs that he and Batman had deliberately planted in the Batcave for just this purpose, and destroys Wayne Manor. Alfred suffers a stroke and dies almost immediately afterwards. Bruce Wayne’s secret identity as Batman quickly becomes public knowledge, but his stocks and funds have already been sold to his heirs. With the Batcave and Wayne Manor destroyed, there is no solid evidence.
At the funeral, Superman hears a heart beat inside the coffin, and after looking at Carrie, winks at her and leaves. Carrie later digs up Bruce’s body; It is revealed that he faked his death with the pill. Bruce Wayne now begins a new life, leading Robin, Green Arrow, and his army through unexplored tunnels beyond the Batcave.
- Batman: Bruce Wayne gave up the Batman identity ten years prior to the beginning of the story, strongly suggested as a reaction to the death of the former Robin, Jason Todd. When he sees violence running rampant and his personal demons can no longer be denied, he is forced to return. Throughout the story, Batman appears to know that his end is soon due, but if he is to die it should be a "grand death".
- Alfred Pennyworth: Wayne's trusty butler, medic, and confidante, now in his eighties. He is more sarcastic than ever, criticizing Bruce for both his alcohol problem and single life.
- Robin: Carrie Kelley is a 13-year-old girl. She becomes Robin, and is accepted by the Batman after saving her life. Unlike the previous Robins, Carrie is not an orphan, but she appears to have rather neglectful parents who are never actually depicted (one of them mutters "Didn't we have a kid?" while their daughter sneaks out through a window). She is the first female Robin.
- James Gordon: The Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department for 26 years - a police officer for 50 years - who finally retires on his 70th birthday. He retires half-way through the storyline but remains active, leading people into helping out when a plane crashes in the city. He is aware of the dual identity of Batman and is strongly supportive of the Caped Crusader.
- Two-Face: Now middle-aged, Harvey Dent's face has been repaired with plastic surgery and his doctor gives him a clean bill of mental health. He is still Two-Face in his mind, however, and terrorizes the city with his face swathed in bandages.
- The Joker: Batman's archenemy, who awakens from a coma upon learning of Batman's re-emergence. His brutal return to crime sets in motion a final confrontation with Batman.
- The Mutants, a gang of teens, numbering some thousands, who terrorize Gotham. They later splinter off into many different groups: Neo-Nazis, The Nixons (Wearing Richard Nixon masks), The Jokers, and The Sons Of Batman.
- The Mutant Leader, head of the "Mutants". He is a strong, savage brute who puts a hit on Gordon, brutally beats Batman in their first encounter, goes to jail, kills the Mayor (while still in jail), escapes, and is beaten by Batman.
- Sons Of Batman (S.O.B.), a group of teenagers (many of them ex-Mutants who left after the defeat of their leader). They have become followers of Batman, although they are too unruly and corrupt, taking severe measures to control the streets and even Batman (at one point in the story they break up a three card monte game with napalm).
- Dr. Bartholomew Wolper, Two-Face's and the Joker's psychiatrist and staunch opponent of Batman's "fascist" vigilantism (an in-joke given that he resembles Adolf Hitler with an afro). Wolper is convinced that the Joker is really the victim of Batman's crusades, but he ends up murdered by his patient along with the entire audience of a late night talk show.
- Ellen Yindel, James Gordon's successor as Commissioner. A captain in the Gotham City Police Department, she starts off as Batman's fiercest critic, but doubts herself after the Joker debacle (part 3, see plot above) and comes to terms with his involvement. It is strongly hinted that she protects him from prosecution at the end of the book. In The Batman animated series, she is re-imagined as Ellen Yin.
- Green Arrow, aka Oliver Queen. After the outlawing of all superheroes, he undertakes a clandestine career of terrorism against government oppression, including the sinking of a nuclear submarine. He lost his left arm years ago and blames Superman because of that. He is still a formidable marksman, using his teeth to grip the nocks of his arrows.
- Superman, aka Clark Kent, is now a pawn for the US government. His internal monologues show that he detests having to be a government weapon and is only doing so to prevent war between humans and superheroes. His existence seems to be secret: when incidents involving him are reported on the TV news, the main newscaster is constantly prevented from naming or making distinctive references to the Man of Steel (In fact, nowhere in the novel does the word "Superman" appear). Unlike the other classic DC characters who appear in the novel, Superman shows no signs of having aged.
Character appearances in other series
In addition to its sequels, the characters of The Dark Knight Returns
make several appearances outside of the series:
- In Countdown: Arena, the Superman from The Dark Knight Returns appears as one of the combatants. His Earth is designated Earth-31.
- In Planetary: Night on Earth, the Dark Knight Returns universe is one of the alternate Gothams visited by Elijah, the Drummer, and Jakita Wagner.
- In the 1994 Image Comics one-shot Spawn/Batman crossover, which was written by Miller, the first page notes that the story occurs in the same universe as The Dark Knight Returns.
DC animated universe
In The New Batman Adventures
episode "Legends of the Dark Knight
", a girl who resembles Carrie Kelley, called "Kelly", is one of three children telling stories of what they believe Batman is like. Her story is a mixed recreation of both Batman's fights with the Mutant gang leader, complete with a tank-like Batmobile and a female Robin who looks exactly like "Kelly". Much of the dialogue in the segment is lifted directly from the pages of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns;
as well as some of the scenes of animation paying homage to the scenes in the graphic novel. Michael Ironside
provides the voice for the older, more sinister Batman. (Ironside also provides the voice for Darkseid
in other DCU animated series.) The opening writing credits also list Frank Miller.
" is set in a possible future (2027) that resembles The Dark Knight Returns
. As Batman, he drives a tank-like Batmobile and looks very similar to the non-armored DKR version of himself. When he arrives to battle a withered but powerful Mr. Freeze
, the villain even says "the Dark Knight returns". Other parts of continuity
more closely match the standard DC Universe
. Dick Grayson
, and is on good enough terms with Batman to help stop Freeze. Barbara Gordon
is now the wheelchair
-bound "Oracle", and operates Batman's control center. However, both Batman and Oracle mistakenly call Nightwing "Robin", though he claims to have been inactive under that codename for 10 years.
In The Batman one of the characters is named Ellen Yin after Ellen Yindel. She is at first fiercely opposed to Batman but eventually becomes his ally after an encounter with the Joker. In the above mentioned episode it is learned that she eventually became commissioner sometime after Gordon.
Comics ranked The Dark Knight Returns
#2 on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels, second only to Miller's Batman: Year One
. The website called The Dark Knight Returns
"a true masterpiece of storytelling" with "scene after unforgettable scene.
During the 1970s, due mainly to the collaborative work of writer Dennis O'Neil
and artist Neal Adams
, the Batman comic series had returned to a more dark and brooding version of the character and his world. This story has a Batman who is not afraid to break an enemy's bones and, in the case of the Joker, seriously considers breaking his vow never to kill. Batman is even shown firing a gun at a mutant who is threatening to kill a hostage.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was tremendously influential; since the work was originally published, Miller's portrayal of the character as a dark, obsessive figure has dominated most Batman projects to at least some degree.
Miller adopted innovative visual styles and "tricks," many adapted from movies (especially film noir). These included dividing pages into many more frames than usual to give the impression of slow motion — the depiction of Thomas and Martha Wayne's murders is achieved by this technique. Also, Miller contrasts many smaller frames against grand backdrops of Batman leaping or brooding over the cityscape; creates "montages" of fast-paced events through rapidly changing commentators, alternated with snippets of the actions being described; and builds suspense to the appearance of classic characters by hiding their actions and appearance in shadows (not just the first depiction of Batman, but Superman and Green Arrow as well). Miller also heavily featured television "talking heads" throughout the work.
Miller also criticized Cold War politics, such as brinkmanship and the existence of a powerful military-industrial complex (implied by a trigger-happy general's name, Lucius Lockheed). Numerous real public figures were also blatantly lampooned, including Ronald Reagan, Dr. Ruth and David Letterman. While there is a third person omniscient narrator, the most important narration comes from inside various character's heads: Batman, Jim Gordon, Robin, Superman, Catwoman, Alfred and even the Joker are all opened up to examination.
The trade paperback is one of DC's best selling books and has never gone out of print. The book is also available in several hardcover editions. In August 2006, DC Comics released an Absolute Edition of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns compiled with Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Absolute Dark Knight includes commentary and scripts by Frank Miller, as well as an extended sketch section.
In 2001 and 2002, DC Comics published Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
, Miller's sequel to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
. The sequel, which differs drastically in style from the original, received mixed reviews but was one of DC's biggest selling titles at the time.
Influence, homages and parodies
- In DKR, it is revealed that Jason Todd is dead. Two years later, in the storyline A Death in the Family, Todd is murdered by the Joker (though he later returns). Ironically, Miller voiced his disapproval over the idea of Robin's death.
- The cover of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1 as well as the art and story itself has been the subject of parody and homage by many creators. Notable examples include Jagjeet Panesar's cover for 'Mazing Man #12 and the cover of Harbinger #13 by David Lapham.
- Miller's Dark Knight version of Batman appeared in the Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth one-off special. He was written by Warren Ellis and drawn by artist John Cassaday to emulate Miller's attitude and appearance of the character, which differs radically from the popular depiction of Batman.
- The third issue of Flex Mentallo contains several references to DKR including a cover that parodies the cover of The Dark Knight Returns #1.
- In Dave Sim's epic comic series Cerebus, the recurring Roach character originally appeared as a parody of the Marshall Rogers-era Batman, and served as an all-purpose satire of superhero comics during much of Cerebus's 300-issue run. Sim parodied Miller's DKR Batman using the Roach in Cerebus issues 86 and 87.