Our final Batman Essentials comic that ironically doesn’t even matter in the scope of the main continuity, yet is considered as the GREATEST Batman story of all time, here at #ComicEssentials. I decided to end my journey of documenting the reading through all the Batman stories a Batman fan needs to read before he dies. I will continue to read them, but making posts that went with it took so much out of my time.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
Issue(s): Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4
🖊Writer(s): Frank Miller
Penciler(s): Frank Miller
This book is thicc and I could probably narrow it down like with my previous installments of the Essentials, but why do it if someone did it better than you? Granted it is without comedic undertones, but I want to talk about this graphic novel in a different sense. Plus chances are you already read this so newbies, read the damn comic because it is really considered among the GREATEST of all time. That or take the cheap way and watch this video.
Today I wanted to voice in detail my opinion about this graphic novel rather than go beat by beat and explain to you what happened. I feel like this is a rare occasion where I can afford to shift my focus. My journey with the Dark Knight Returns has been….interesting. The first time I read the series I thought it was just okay. I did feel obligated to like it and drag myself through it. About 2 years ago I reviewed it (you can actually read it here), liked it, but thinking back, it stopped making an impression. The second time around I realized why so many thought it was a great comic yet my enjoyment never matched the reality. Now I had to read it for the 3rd time because #ComicEssentials forced me to. What do I have to say now? Let me start with something you wouldn’t expect me to.
Ladies and gentlemen…I bring you the final act of the first of four issues. Why did I bring you here? It’s when Bruce confronts Two-Face as he is about to blow up one of the twin towers in Gotham after a decade of psychological rehabilitation and a plastic surgery. This final action scene of the issue happens after Bruce decides to come back into the role of the Dark Knight.
Bruce gets a flashback that tears him apart! The things he hears on the news make him feel like he once did when seeing the last of his parents.
He becomes the Batman once, again!
Okay, so what does this have to do with what I’m trying to get at? Now let’s come back to this last sequence of Issue #1 when Batman saves Harvey from falling, while the bomb goes off away from civilian life. Here we go it’s over for Two-Face, but he still has one thing to say. And he says it.
At this moment we see the tragedy in TDKR. Both Batman and Harvey have seen the truth. For a decade they have hidden away, the true them. You see many don’t know that on Crime Alley, June 26th the Waynes died and Bruce did with them. Instead, something else was born, a creature of the night took his place, hellbent on justice. It was here when Bruce could never become the person he once was. The events forever scarred and time only damaged him more, just like Two-Face. So did I like reading it the 3rd time? I loved it. You know how this time I can tell you this my honest opinion? Because despite reading it the third time, it was my first.
Reading the remaining issues felt like they were my ever first exposures to the Dark Knight Returns. For the first time, I had realized the much detail crafted. 3 years ago I would have said it’s a bit too long, but right now that complaint is no longer present. Everything builds up to a pay-off, and you don’t only get a sense of what Batman thinks because that’s not enough. We feel it. Batman is a hero who lies to himself when it comes to the really deep stuff Bruce wouldn’t wanna say nor admit. In the Dark Knight Returns we also see the nature of the Caped Crusader. The writing is a beautiful song.
The Big Mistake
I see many people recommending this to new readers, but that’s a huge mistake. For a person to truly appreciate the Dark Knight they must also see what Batman was before this. But there’s another reason why a new reader shouldn’t pick this up.
There are only so many comics that push what they can be to its fullest and those are Watchmen, Maus and now Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. On the first read, I had so much trouble reading it. Take this page for example. There were a couple of ways I messed up during my first time experience with the book. Obviously, I didn’t read the whole thing like that. There were a couple of panels getting me confused in these sort of ways, both which are wrong.
Keep in mind I was younger when I originally read this, early teens. Regardless, I still had a lot of comic book reading experience so I just thought it was a poorly designed book. It would pull me out of the story, I would sometimes read an entire page completely wrong and would give up on rereading it properly. Instead of thinking about what I was reading I was forced to think about how to read it. This is why I would be always intimidated when a media sequence was about to pop which happened a lot. Getting a second go at the graphic novel made me a bit more familiar, but I still had moments of, “Oh crap! I read that wrong.” I was not new to comics in any shape or form yet I had issues. When I read this for the 3rd time I never doubted my ability to follow each panel properly. There’s another brilliant aspect of the panel format worthy of pointing out.
Just like illustrated above when we read comics we obviously have the entire page insight, but it’s the part we’re reading that’s only in focus (the text in panel 2) while the closest things around that focus are just slightly visible (so the newscaster). This is a brilliant design because it utilizes the capabilities of a human eye to provide a smooth experience. It reminds me of some of the writing used in books when we would sometimes first get a line of text to then follow it with a, “said <insert name of character>” the only difference here is we got images that already give us a hint as to who said what while reading.
We can thank John Constanza for making me able to see the mastery one can by just the placing of the letters. The Dark Knight Returns requires of a person is to be a seasoned comic book reader. That’s a lot to ask for which is why this book is placed on such a pedestal among the comic book fans. It’s also the most single story I have heard the most to be called as overrated. Many people choose to say it’s not as good as everyone says yet they still respect it for what it did for the industry. That’s a tinted outlook because that what exactly how I felt reading it the first time. But is there someone to blame? People gushing about how revolutionary it is, younger readers heard this and wanna experience this great tale, but the truth is to truly appreciate Batman: The Dark Knight Returns you need to do it not at the start of your comic curve, maybe not even a bit later like I did, but when you’ve hit a specific time in your life when you try to look for more that are sometimes hidden within the panels.
So far we’ve looked at panel structure and lettering, but now let’s talk about the style itself. Many people aren’t fans of Frank Miller’s pencils as it can seem sloppy, I guess I can respect that opinion however it also works for the structure of the book perfectly. Let’s look at this page from issue #2 when Batman confronts the Mutant Leader for the very first time.
Honestly, the pencils do have a tendency of being inconsistent, yet I still somehow end up not thinking about. Plus, Miller draws some jaw-dropping stuff and mixed with the colors create the most epic reads. What the artist can do it display the rough nature of these scenes. You can see the muds dripping and feel the weight of the Bat-Mobile. His pencils add to the atmosphere of the world, but where I really wanna focus on is Lynn Varley, the colorist, where judging by the look of it uses watercolor paint. This man is a genius!!!!! This is where I do the showing and less of the talking. Beware! Extremely powerful!
BREATHTAKING!!!! I’m getting goosebumps at the sheer sight of these. Although Miller’s style is imperfect, more to be of desired I would be crazy if I were to not give this a 100% score. Art is more than just the pencils, it’s the structure, quantity and size of the panels, placement of the lettering boxes, approach to speech boxes, colors, inking and anything that enhances the delivery of the message. Art is everything that pushes the storytelling of comic books to its fullest. It’s what makes comics unique and everything is an example of that.
This scene is so overwhelmingly awesome. Miller understands that comics can’t get music to hook you in so that need something else to keep you invested. Another genius showcase of a writer understanding the medium itself. It’s really tough for me to pinpoint the greatest climax of the story because there are so many however the mud pit is probably it! It’s crazy to think a battle against Superman wouldn’t take the #1 spot.
“You don’t get it, boy. This isn’t a mudhole…it’s an operating table and I am the surgeon.”
“My parents taught me a different lesson. Lying on this street shaking in deep shock, dying for no reason at all. They showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.”
“I want you to remember, Clark. In all the years to come, in your most private moments, I want you to remember, my hand, at your throat, I want you to remember, the one man who beat you.”
Overall almost all of the most iconic lines of dialogue take place during an action sequence. You see when it comes to fighting words are as important as the movement of combat. But how do you avoid having characters speak during their tough battle too much? You implement text boxes. Frank Miller wasn’t the first 9je to invent them in the medium, but it does further show how much he represents. I also need to mention the last straw of the Joker!!!! Brilliant! Miller sets up certain elements in previous issues to build them up. It’s an obvious tactic to create a narrative that beautifully comes full circle, but we have seen cases in fiction where this gets abused. Miller understands what he has in his hands and it’s powerful.
If I had to tell you who was my favorite character I wouldn’t be able to tell you. How about we start with the title character? Batman is developed to his fullest. The moment when he decides to become the Dark Knight yet again was brilliant. We can also spot the things that many writers don’t seem to get right with Batman. He is always dark, broody, badass, but never heroic which is a giant mistake. Batman can inspire people and make your heart warm in the most subtle way possible.
Even though Batman is a figure that strikes fear into the hearts of criminals he still can inspire and that doesn’t always consist of intimidation. I appreciate the older version of Bruce who has a new way of seeing things which pull your attention in. Next, up is Commissioner Gordon who for the first time is used as more than just a police cop literally and creatively. DKR didn’t only revolutionize Batman, but Gordon. Some would understandably say even more than Batman.
I used to find the character of Carrie Kelly kind of 1 dimensional and even though she still doesn’t have an epic arc or showcase her presence hit a chord with me like never before. She is a worthy ally which I would love to see introduced in the main DC continuity. Her parents are probably my favorite element of the character. Many find Superman to be out of character, but what many don’t realize is that he wasn’t as developed as he is today. Plus, considering the character I still would call it a worthy interpretation. It makes sense in a world when no hero exists Superman would somehow find a way to help it without breaking the laws of some of the countries which could lead to some conflict. Batman’s return caused so many inner-fighting now imagine if Superman wasn’t under the government’s control.
Superman talking with the president of U.S. who has a way of wording things funny is a businessman and has white house representatives call media’s coverage as a hoax. Doesn’t sound familiar at all.
I already mentioned Harvey Dent who was my favorite villain of this, but that doesn’t mean Joker, Dollmaker, Mutant Leader were lackluster. Each served a powerful purpose of their own. I still think Boobster Nazi had a weird design choice. The new Commissioner is an antagonist formed from the behind scenes who also got a nice panel to wrap her arc up. So much characterization to sink your teeth into, not enough time to describe it all. For that, I have decided.
“Batman: The Dark Knight is good but overrated. I do respect what it for comic books through” are usually the words I hear a lot of people say. They look at this as a fragment of the past, which in a way it should, it did revolutionize comics, but it’s so much more. I used to look at this masterpiece in retrospective because there wasn’t a lot to say about it now, but that’s shallow. In fact, I believe this story matters now more than ever. It takes the experience of reading Batman, the medium of comics and requires the reader to come with more than just a casual knowledge. This is a comic that asks more of you. Frank Miller pushes the platform comics can be to its fullest! It takes what makes comics stand out and pushes them to their fullest potential. I never thought I would be here giving this one a wonderful score.
•40/40 = 100% = Masterpiece
•Favorite Quote: “I think of Sarah. The rest is easy.”