The Dark Knight Returns Review By Deffinition
Upon its release The Dark Knight Returns changed the landscape of comics. It offered a gritty take on the caped crusader that was a complete polar opposite to the 1966 show. Before this book Batman was regarded as a clown by the public consciousness. A lovable joke that provided comedic relief on a Saturday morning. It was a far cry from the dark look at crime that the character had once been and The Dark Knight Returns restored the character to the status quo whilst deconstructing comics in the process.
But does it still stand up?
It’s been 30 years since it’s release and whilst it is one of my favourite graphic novels of all time even I can admit that it’s not perfect. Tastes change and the scrutiny that we now hold comics to may not shine a good light on this book under modern eyes.
There’s also the fact that Frank Miller‘s views can be very, very controversial.
Is this book still one of the best or is it a product of it’s time?
That’s what I’m here to find out. So without further ado let’s dive into The Dark Knight Returns.
Highway To Hell
The book opens on Bruce Wayne racing to his death in Gotham‘s Annual ‘Master Race‘ (pun not intended). After giving up the mantle of Batman due to Jason Todd‘s death (see The Last Crusade), he really feels like a lost man. Similar to Astronauts who become alcoholics after returning to Earth he has lost the purpose that gave him life. He achieved greatness but it was a curse, nothing measures up to being The Dark Knight and now he seeks a glorious death at every opportunity.
This was groundbreaking for the time. Prior to this we NEVER saw an old Superhero. Immortalised through the page and panel Superheroes were supposed to be young men no matter the decade. Constantly in their 30s Batman hadn’t aged since the 1930s. This shook up that notion. Batman was no more and all that was left was a cold, beaten she’ll of a man.
I absolutely love this twist on the character. It’s a true deconstruction of the genre that I believe has went on to influence things like Metal Gear Solid 4, Rambo, Unforgiven, the list goes on. It’s my preferred version of Batman and it’s easy to see why DC have used this as a springboard for their new movie universe.
Batman is grittier, grumpy, wiser and more dangerous than he’s ever been. He’s a beast of a man and this take on the character is one of it’s biggest selling points.
The Master Race
What’s fascinating about this opening race is how well it works metaphorically in telling the tale of Bruce’s journey through the book. I never really noticed it till now but it really works. The car does what it’s not supposed to, it has a mind of its own, it is almost forced to be put down, quit the race but the engine argues back. Bruce says it would be a good death, but not good enough as it crosses the finish line. The news reports that it’s a flaming coffin for Bruce Wayne…or so everyone thought.
This is an outstanding portrayal of how the story will go and like that car going out in a blaze of glory against all those trying to control it, Bruce is on a path of destruction.
Crime is rampant through Gotham and Bruce cannot take it anymore. There is a calling within him and the return to the cowl is still as dramatic today as it was in 1986. To me this has always been a book about falling off the horse and getting back on it. How many times have you personally been great at something that for one reason or another you’ve had to give up.
That feeling of lust that you had for the activity never really goes away, it’s buried deep inside and that is the perfect summation of Bruce’s need to be The Dark Knight. It’s one of the aspects that makes the character so relatable in this incarnation and to see the triumphant moment in which he dives into the night, thunder on his back is a really reaffirming moment that we all have the ability deep down to be the person that we want to.
His first night back in the role is highly inspirational and I can’t commend Miller highly enough for how breathtaking this moment is.
“We Must Believe We Can Defeat Our Inner Demons”
Harvey Dent has been cured. Plastic surgery has restored his face to what it once was and this has restored him psychologically or so people think.
The ambiguity that surrounds the is it/isn’t it Two face will be enough to keep first time readers gripped.
Acting as a black mirror I love the way that Miller has used Dent to reflect the same struggle that Bruce goes through. He is unable to defeat his inner demons, wrestle with his own nature and battle the beast that calls within.
Similar to this the Joker who has been in a vegetive state since Batman’s retirement begins to awaken.
All of the giants of Gotham have their calling, their purpose, that without they cease to exist.
The Joker’s sexuality
One or the biggest takes analytically that I’ve seen of this book centres around the fact that The Joker is gay. Whilst he uses words like ‘Darling’, fights Batman in The Tunnel of Love and uses innuendos like ‘not falling asleep on me are you?’ I never really took it to imply that he was homosexual.
To me The Joker is A-sexual. Whilst we encounter Bruno, his girlfriend, equipped with Nazi nipples and a masculine persona we never see the two cohabit a relationship. Upon release The Joker never seeks her out and she has never tried to spring the clown prince of crime from Arkham. This signifies to me that their relationship is superficial.
The Joker is unable to love another person. Instead he loves an idea. He is chaos embodied, Batman represents order. Together the two create a perfect circle of human state, balancing the other perfectly.
Batman completes The Joker but that doesn’t mean that he loves him in a traditional sense. He merely requires him to exist. The same way humans depend on water…but we don’t love it, The Joker depends on order.
He is a wicked and twisted being, he feels almost no human emotion so it seems unconventional for him to experience ‘Love’. Love is an emotion which normally causes us to be better people, not worse and I simply cannot confirm that the Joker feels this towards Batman. No matter how much he portrays having this emotional attachment.
I’m open to the fact that I’m wrong though.
Way to derail my entire argument.
The Two Towers
Book one ends with Harvey Dent attempting to ransom Gotham by threatening to blow up the two towers. Whilst this maybe too controversial to ever portray in film due to 9/11 it certainly acts as a great end to the first issue.
One thing I didn’t like about the animated movie was that it implied that Harvey wanted this to be a suicide mission. However, after reading the book I take from it that Toyman deliberately made the bombs unable to be deactivated. This explains the Jokers questioning when he visits him.
Harvey isn’t suicidal, in fact he totally accepts who he is and plays along with it. Knowing that he is unable to escape his fate, much like Batman.
It’s a great closer to the book and works perfectly as an opening issue.
On it’s own merit I would have to score this a perfect 10/10, the plot and characters are well developed and even today it feels very ahead of the curve. Miller’s art is at the strongest it’s ever been and it’s hard to fault the book because of it.
Thanks for checking out my review of The Dark Knight Returns book 1. I’ll be back with my follow up review in which we delve into Book 2, I’m doing this series as a build up to The Dark Knight 3 The Master race so make sure you subscribe to my channel to keep up to date.
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