The Dark Knight Returns.
Writer: Frank Miller
Penciller: Frank Miller
Other info link: Here
Its been a Batman heavy few weeks both for this website and for me, this week alone I have read the Dark Knight Returns twice. It's a book that I read many years ago but recently with all the Batman hype wanted to pick up and read again. I found a copy conveniently at my local HMV store for a relatively humble £10.
The first thing that struck me on this re-read was that the art was not as good as I remember and the whole thing struck me (as I flicked through) as looking a little rough.
I began reading and was impressed early on by the 'James Olsen' article that had been put at the start. it was a strong and sullen opening that instantly set the tone of the book. My favourite line was "Not a man among them wants to hear about Batman" - Trust me in the context of the whole story its chilling.
This is not supposed to be a full synopsis of the work, for that I have linked Wikipedia above, this is simply an outline of the things I found noteworthy.
The opening few panels are a little confusing as they appear to show an aged Bruce Wayne driving a car of some kind but with no context at all, it seems to be only there a vehicle to showcase the line "This would be a good death... But not good enough" a line that becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the book.
The art, as usual in these types of grand story is not traditional, on first glance even ugly in places but adds to the story and some how is a character in its self.
There is one of the many on going themes in the book that struck me as particularly masterful early on, Bruce is constantly seeing the face of the first Bat that he saw as a child (or so its implies) but this works as a substitute for the Batman him self as a separate part of Bruce's personality. It starts early on and is a wonderful method for showing his inner turmoil.
The story follows Bruce as he returns as Batman and his inner monologue continually describes how different this work is now he is so much older. As much as it should become tiresome it manages to be engaging entirely and serves to really show this older Batman's weaknesses and how he overcomes them.
Eventually after an horrific beating he finds his new Robin, this time a sweet young girl who wants to be a hero. The now eighty something Alfred is not impressed and tries constantly to discourage him from training the child as well as advising him to put away his cowl.
The plot gets more intense as the reformed Harvey Dent goes bad again and the Joker awakens from his catatonic state. There are constantly news readers discussing events as the unfold and the story deepens in ways that are predictable but always entertaining.
The real charm of this book is the way Frank Miller tells the story. This is not a story about a mighty Batman coming back for revenge or glory or even love. Its a story about Bruce Wayne returning to the Batman costume because, for once he waited, he waited ten years and there was just no one else. He returns because he see's no other choice and in that there is some real character driven story telling going on.
The ending satisfies but does feel a little like its in a rush. I think it could have done with a few more pages just for exposition but once I closed he book I did feel like I had just finished a real master work, even if it did, at times feel a little dated.
The one thought I couldn't shake, the version of Batman that we see in this book is very similar to the Thomas Wayne Batman that we see in Flashpoint. I wouldn't go as far as to say that Dark Knight Returns was a direct influence but once you age Batman a little there ware only so many ways to write him.
This is a classic Batman story and by far one of the best.