Comics Summer Reading List: The Dark Knight Returns

The last Batman story

Writer + Artist: Frank Miller, Colorist: Lynn Varley, $19.99

Writer + Artist: Frank Miller, Colorist: Lynn Varley, $19.99

The first part of this Summer Reading series is one of the most influential books in comics. The Dark Knight Returns is a story that helped reshape the type of stories that were told in comics and led to a radical shift in the status quo for DC. It especially helped to reshape the type of people that would be reading comic books. The story was originally released in four single issues, each of which had a unique title to that issue, but is now always collected in a single trade paperback as The Dark Knight Returns.

Legendary writer Frank Miller pens this four part story as well as the pencils. Lynn Varley is the colorist for these and unlike typical comics, all of the colors were done as watercolor paintings. The art definitely has a retro feel and the colors have such great pop off of the page.

About the Book

Years into the future, Bruce Wayne is 55 years old and has hung up the cowl for quite some time. Crime levels have skyrocketed, and most of the activity is by a gang of young hooligans called the Mutants. After receiving plastic surgery, Harvey Dent goes even further off the deep end and attempts to hold the city ransom with a bomb. With pandemonium getting to be too much, Wayne decides enough is enough and returns to fighting crime as the Batman.
Assisting the Dark Knight is 13 year old Carrie Kelley (the first female to take up the Robin persona). Police Commissioner James Gordon is also there to help, but because of the negative reaction to the return of the Dark Knight, is replaced by the much younger Ellen Yindel, who is hellbent on capturing and ridding Gotham City of Batman once and for all.

Batman and Robin have plenty of opposition, especially with the escalating crime by the Mutants, as well as some notable returning foes like Two-Face and the Joker. But things get increasingly difficult, as the atmosphere in Gotham gets worse, there is a global threat in the form of an escalating conflict with the Russians, which leads directly to a big showdown with Superman.

Why This Book is Important

The mid-1980’s was the time that comic stories started to get smarter and get a little more adult, most notably with this mini-series and Watchmen. Batman had already returned to his gothic routes years before under Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams, but this was one of the stories that most current creators point to as either their entry/re-entry into comic books or the point that they felt that comics could tell a compelling story that was somewhat mature.

batmanvssupFrank Miller writing a successful mini-series allowed him to later write the updated origin for the Dark Knight in the acclaimed “Year One”, which was used heavily in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, primarily in Batman Begins. Though nothing is confirmed, this story could possibly be a big influence for some of the plot in the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, that will feature an older, more worn Batman and perhaps a fight or two with Superman.

The success of this story is also in part to the fact that most consider this the “last” Batman story, much like The Dark Knight Rises, in that it gives a ending to the Batman story. Comics typically have the problem that characters or heroes are unable to have a final story because the publication still has to continue producing stories. With Bruce Wayne getting up in years, there had to be a “last chapter” for Batman, and Frank Miller created one of the best stories in all of comics history with this awesome mini-series.


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