AN Honest Opinion on "The Dark Knight Returns"

The Dark Knight Returns isn’t as great as so many make it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot going for it. Breathtaking imagery, memorable quotes, and well laid out scenes still being homaged. But a lot of people still seem to heap this praise onto it that it frankly doesn’t deserve.

First, an understanding of the story. An older Bruce Wayne has retired from Batman for many years, Gotham is currently experiencing a crime wave involving a gang called The Mutants. He begins to feel the pull and desire to put the cowl back on and go back to fighting crime. This involves him taking on enemies both old and new and ultimately ending in a fight against a government controlled Superman where Bruce fakes his own death so he can lead a new breed of crime fighters in secret. This story is often credited with making Batman serious and grounded again.

Except it isn’t. I mean sure, for people who don’t read comics or are only familiar with the 1960s Batman show. But comic book writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams should be the ones credited for that during their work on the character in the 1970s. They are the ones who would introduce the characters Ras & Talia al Ghul, who would force Batman outside of Gotham and force him to step up his game and intellect. O’Neil also created Dr. Leslie Thompkins, Azrael, Lady Shiva, and provide the concept of the character Bane. This are all characters that helped create the perception of Batman that a lot of people are more familiar with today, regardless of if you read comics or not. But the reason why TDKR gets credit is because it was hyped up for people outside of that community and also mixed in social/political commentary that that audience assumed comics just didn’t regularly include.

That assumption is false, but more importantly, while TDKR does have a lot of commentary…that doesn’t mean it is fully fleshed out or really saying anything of note. Let’s focus on a major one. When Bruce Wayne takes up the cowl and Batman…well, returns, Frank Miller has a bunch of panels showing how the media is reacting. He frames the ones saying he’s doing what needs to be done as in the right. But that means he frames the ones who question the various illegal things Batman does, including potential violation of civil rights, as being in the wrong. And the supporters of Batman don’t actually have any response to that beyond “shut up!” Frank also seems to throw in various things from the real world just to show he doesn’t like those things. Like how he makes Carrie Kelly’s parents oblivious stoners or how James Gordon apparently doesn’t approve of the vegetarian lifestyle. And while we are on the subject, that scene of Gordon shooting and killing a young black kid doesn’t exactly age well. Even if that kid was armed.

Also, I never liked how Superman was used in this story. Basically just a tool/puppet for the president to point and send to attack enemies. The story implies that some political stuff happened to force him into that situation. But my understanding of Superman would be that he would still try and be figuring out a way to peacefully get out of that arrangement because even he can tell that everything isn’t working as it should be. Maybe that’s just a me thing, but worth mentioning. And there is a lot of talk of Cold War politics that, while solid at the time, has certainly aged the book a bit.

But one thing that should really be focused on is the portrayal of Batman himself. He’s definitely more angry and stern than normal. And that works in certain spots. But overall, this would influence the writing for the main Batman for years afterwards only to bring out some of the worst in him. When Jason Todd’s death is mentioned in this story, Batman simply refers to him as a “good soldier” that served him well and…that doesn’t sit right with me. Batman’s mission is to make sure that there isn’t a kid in Gotham who has to go through the same thing he went through. Yes, his general approach to crime is like warfare to an extent. But he found and created a family, people he was grown attached to and help him remain human. That no matter how dark things get, they are a reminder he is no longer that lonely kid. But in TDKR, they make him this intensely brooding loner that while it worked fine for this story, other writers would be influenced by it in the wrong way. Making him unreasonably stubborn, unwilling to really work with the allies he is supposed to trust, to just make him an unnecessary a**hole all the time.

One last major thing - so many people are obsessed with this story. From readers to even filmmakers. There are several different Hollywood interpretations that lean into some of the lesser and worst traits of Batman. I hope they move past that soon because to always take from TDKR really limits what they can do with the character. I want to see the Bat Family in movies, I want to see a Batman outside of comics that allows himself to feel more emotional. I want them to mix in more fun into their interpretations that doesn’t always force a dark and brooding Dark Knight. Mix up the style and tone as well as it is well written!

Look - there is a lot that is worth remembering and praising from TDKR. I just think it gets too much praise and it is having a more negative longterm effect on the character.


Yes, yes, yes! I couldn’t agree more! I understand it’s relevance but I never agreed with it. O’Neil and Adams never get the credit they deserve for their roles in making Batman a more grounded and serious character in the seventies, and I can’t tell you how annoying it is that this story gave a whole generation the “Superman is a puppet and Batman can always beat him” trope.

While this story gave us a lot, it also did a lot of damage in the fact that so many writers can’t get past this story; they try to emulate it.


I have never been serious. I am escapism incarnated. If you a want a serious hero look at Clark.

They are constantly credited with it over Miller. Why can we not love multiple of my many biographers?

I step up my game and intellect all the time. By your logic we should be crediting Bill Finger and Adam West over Denny and Neil.

So appealing to non regulars is wrong? I see why you do not credit my amazing '60s documentaries.

I am a vigilante. You think I follow the law? Do I have any problems with that?

No, it is everybody who basically keeps telling everybody else to shut up, as that is how the media works. Just an us vs them narrative that sucks at getting information out. The contrast is the fire scene where all of Gotham works together when a real tragedy brings out the best in people just like what happened in the Great Louisiana flood.

I got my historical picture book open to that right now. That kid is very pale. You reread this before posting right? It does not sit well with Jim either.

Like I was for a while Clark had a hard time dealing with his failures (over Kandor). It took him 6 years longer to overcome his issues over that since it took him that long to find a connection with his daughter (He is a loner so I am naturally better at connecting and overcame it first).

That is exactly what he is doing. Kill a few people there and it will stop more deaths. It fits his consequentialist ethics.

And still real relevant today with all the failed media, division, us vs them and consequentialism vs deontology.

All right bring it on!

Along with all my many biographers. I am so proud of them.

I have to mourn. This is the life I failed to safe that haunted me the most.

Missions are evolving similar to how it evolved from finding a good death to saving Gotham to later saving the world in Master Race.


I am constantly smiling and refusing to not be with her. I was a never a loner, as I always needed somebody. Clark is a loner, I am not.

Other than Alfred, Green Arrow, Robin, Jim, an entire army of now reformed criminals… This is the least of a loner I have ever been. I literally have a giant army at the end.

Sounds like what I am supposed to do.

I am the most versatilte hero ever. Just look at how completely different my different biographies are. From Burton films to Nolan films, to West show , to Brave and the Bold to animated Series. They are all different.

I am very emotional here.

Like me riding a horse, playing chicken with a helicopter, or being at an ammusement park. Sounds fun to me.


You crack me up, Bats. :rofl::joy::rofl:


You’re welcome. I am Batman and also hilarious.


I love the book, but there are no real lies here.

One thing I will say about what O’Neil/Adams did before is that yes, they made Batman serious again, but I think the distinction is that Miller made Batman dark again.

Another thing to consider, I think, is the format. TDKR was the first “prestige” comic with its bigger, high-quality paper which allowed for deeper color and paperback binding, Miller’s comic just felt more special and important than what was being put in the regular books.

Also, remember that O’Neil did edit the book, so you can still put him as an influence for that time period.


I think it also has to do with the fact that TDKR came out around the same time as Watchmen, Killing Joke, Year One, etc.


On the matter of Miller making Batman “dark” again…I think they made him more extreme–in terms of characterization, not the nineties definition.

It worked for that story, but sadly that bled into the regular books. After Jason died, Bruce became more violent and more of a loner. What I enjoyed about A Lonely Place of Dying was the fact that Tim was the one to pull Bruce out of that, saying that Batman needs a Robin to keep him grounded. And yes, I know Bruce had Carrie Kelly in The Dark Knight returns, but I always see that as a possible future and something of it’s time. The main continuity shouldn’t reflect that. Tim showed Bruce there needs to be a balance within himself or else he goes off the deep end. That’s true for Batman overall. He needs a balance. It’s why I’ll always credit people like Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Steven Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Jim Aparo amongst others. In the seventies and eighties they managed to strike a balance that made Batman more serious than the camp of the fifties and sixties but also didn’t make him a grim dark jerk like he would end up being in The Dark Knight Returns. I think the Bronze era of Batman and Batman the Animated Series were the only ones to get it right. And while Dark Knight Returns is praised, it still feels like an outlier compared to the stuff that came before.

I think my ultimate problem with TDKR stems from what happened after it came out:

The damage Miller did to the Superman/Batman friendship echoed into the Post-Crisis era where they were more adversarial in those early years. Thankfully, they took that hackneyed trope and used it to build on Clark and Bruce not only learning to respect each other but genuinely becoming friends again.

Miller’s Batman paved the way for the ever-annoying “Bat-God” trope, where Bruce always has a plan for everything and he can never be wrong against other heroes. I can’t tell you how annoying that was for the number of years. It always felt like the writers had an inferiority complex with Batman when it came to other heroes, so they had to prop him up by bringing other heroes down in his presence. Infinite Crisis was the big one for me when Bruce yells at Clark for being mind-controlled, saying “You’re Superman! You don’t get to use that excuse!” and “The last time you inspired anyone is when you died.” Meanwhile…who got his plans to take down other heroes stolen for the second time? Who dismissed Ted Kord when he brought information that ultimately lead to him dying at the hands of Maxwell Lord? It’s a bit hypocritical on Bruce’s part, but again, the writers can’t show Batman being weak against other heroes. Heaven forbid. And that all traces back to TDKR.

Because it’s so lauded, we still have writers and artists who go back to the well of TDKR, and honestly, we should move on from it. It’s been mined to death and after a while, you get tired of it. I know I have. I will never take away it’s place in history as it did lead to some good things, but we’ve gotta move on. There are other great Batman stories that never get talked about simply because people have this story on the brain.

Even if the story itself wasn’t that bad, the effect it had down the road was. That’s just me, though. I can only speak of myself.


Yeah, the book kind of made him too mean in some places, then again so did “All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder” though I liked that better than “TDKR”; maybe because it showed Bruce getting nicer towards the end


I totally agree about All-Star Batman and Robin. That is Miller unrestrained and taking the Batman I didn’t like in TDKR and upping him tenfold. I can easily see that jerk Batman becoming the grizzled guy we meet later on down the road. TDKR (I really hate using that but it’s shorter) isn’t all that bad in comparison.

I guess the only Miller Batman I enjoy is Year One.


I really love using that, because its fun to type.


I kind of love this commitment to the bit. And even though I personally don’t love TDKR, I think you bring up really excellent points.


This sums up a lot of how I feel about TDKR really well. When I first read it blew me away, and I still do actually really like it, on its own. I wasn’t nearly as crazy about Miller’s subsequent Batman comics. And I especially don’t like how a lot of people seem to derive most of their opinions about Superman from the way he’s portrayed in TDKR.


You have some good points and I hope you do not mind pointing out some issues with your argument.

I view the Dark Knight returns as a reflection of the gold age of comics, where things were crazy and dark and gritty. were as its sequel The Dark knight strikes again (less well-received) is a reflection of the silver age craziness, well DKRIII: The master race is a reflection of the craziness from the modern age. DKR: The Golden child GN is similar to more recent comics, and the first not written by Millar.

It was a white teenage kid that Gordan kills not a black kid. It’s clearly a white person as seen in both the collected edition page 58 and here on DC universe:Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #2 three. so ya it’s a white kid that Gordan kills. He is armed with a military issue machine gun (i am not that into guns.) and a member of a violent street gang who kill indiscriminately for fun. here’s a screenshot of the panel.

This story predates Jason’s death in the mainstream comics by three years (and predicts it) well also predates his modern backstory.
However, it is revealed in all-star Batman and Robin The boy wonder issue 5 which is connected to DNK that via the Jokers henchwoman Bruno that Batman’s parents were murdered at 6 instead of 8 (mainstream and batman year one, along with DCAU) or twelve (Gotham) so ya he is a lot crazier in it as he did not have as long under his parent’s influence as other Bruce Wayne’s, those had a different morality. His more unhinged nature is why he would view him that way. All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5

as to how Superman is portrayed… I can’t really comment on it as I dislike Superman in general. However, Being a ‘Cape’ had been made illegal in this universe, and most heroes had been retired, with Superman being able to still be superman so long as he worked towards the US’s goals is how it’s generally thought.

actually, during the sliver age (1956-1984), they did not do social commentary some of it was because of the comic code authority which came about after a book called Seduction of the innocent. (Seduction of the Innocent - Wikipedia) the code is also now defunct. being replaced by the ESRB-like rating system. however, the golden age (1938-1955) did have some social commentary (and saw comics used for propaganda purposes)
Comics Code Authority - Wikipedia

really aside from the animated films The dark knight returns, the major influence it had was on The DCEU Batman. It’s actually Miller’s later work in 1987 batman 404-408: Batman Year one that had the bigger influence on Batman’s portrayal as it was referenced both on Batman (1989) and Batman Begins along with still being semi cannon in current books. Now it did influence Kingdome Come’s depiction of these heroes too but it’s Kingdom Come that influenced Batman Beyond and it did influence one take on batman in the 1999 continuation of Batman TAS.

Yes, O’Neil did create these characters, and yes he did bring batman back into the more serious mindset of the golden age. However, there were still plenty of silly stories between 1971 and 1987. there are some silly stories still in batman, as you can’t take the camp from Batman.

Also, Lady Shiva was not a batman rouge at the start of her comic book career as she was originally created for Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter. it’s not really till death in the family that she crosses into Batman.
However I also do not like Talia, and that she gets to have her kid with batman (that she got threw deceptive means and blatantly hurts batman to make sure bruce does not get have a say in how she raises Damian for at least the first 8 years of his life (depending on the universe) in nearly every elseworld since Damian was introduced well Selina and Bruce do not get to have their daughter in the mainstream and the fact that Helena was almost forgotten about the end of the series 52. Despite her being introduced in 1977 well Damian was not introduced till 1987.

Yes, there are some issues with The Dark Knight Returns, but it’s still an enjoyable read, and really the first Elseworlds tale to depict batman not having a happy future (which sucked) and was the first dystopian future DC created.


I wouod like to point out that i misremembered the race of the young kid shot by Gordon. That part of the story i clearly didnt remember quite as well, so sorry.

In my defense though, I have read some of Frank Miller’s later work which does get super racist/bigotted, especially his absolute worst work “Holy Terror”. I guess part of my made a partly false assumption based on his more recent stuff and material.

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@millernumber1 OOC: I now find it very weird when I write about DKR in second or 3rd person.

@Green.Lantern I never met anyone who get their Clark opinions from DKR. Just today my coworkers said they got it from The Death of Superman, and said me beating him is unrealistic (true, I was never realistic).

Well my temporary profile picture is from one of his later me biographies, so I obviously loved it too.

It is a good life. Good enough.


I feel like most of the more serious DC fans don’t really get their Superman opinion from it, but I’ve known some casual fans who haven’t really read many (or any) other DC comics than the TDKR, so they come away with kind of a skewed view of him.


Its such so Bad Its Good comic


True, I am hilarious.

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Well Jim lees artwork was great, but the story’s craziness was really what made it fun for me. However in my humble opinion i do not think people realize that the black canary in it is meant to be Dinah Drake the original black canary and not Dinah Laural Lance. who was first posing as a criminal. (Athough, I think she is in B:DKST…however in my head-canon for earth 31 This Black Canary who is a member of the Superchix is the daughter of Batman and the first black canary from the All-star Batman and Robin the boy wonder. Wonder girl being the daughter of batman and wonder woman and Batgirl…well i feel she is Bruce and Selina’s daughter. The superchix all have Bruces chin and blue eyes)

I would say a lot of fans get their opinion of Superman from the original Superman movies, Superfriends, the DCAU, Arrowverse, or other cartoon depictions of superman. At least it was really the DCAU that formed my opinion of Superman.

Side Note: In my humble opinion Superman has an inbuilt arrogance to him that is made clear in some of the episodes of justice league, and really shown in the film JLD: AW that is absent from Supegirl who grew up without her powers, well superman generally Has always had them. If you can lift a tracker at three you’re going to have an arrogance to you that will always be a part of you regardless of how humble you were raised.