To this day, many consider this to be the Caped Crusader’s greatest story. Arguably the greatest story Frank Miller ever wrote. And the most influential story about Gotham’s Protector. Hailed as a return to darkness after years of being seen as a goofy character thanks to the Silver Age.
But…how much of that still holds true, if it ever did?
First off, while most people only familiar with the Adam West show probably still saw Batman as campy, the same can’t be said for comics. The 1970s saw writers put in hard work to ground Batman into some sense of realism and logic. As much as you can with a grown man dressed as a bat, but I think you understand what I am trying to get at. There was a large amount of people who already saw Batman become more serious and gritty. The only difference with Miller’s story is that he went as far as he could get with it. Speaking of Frank Miller, this was more or less back when he was in his prime and people loved him (unlike today, but that’s a different discussion). There are many panels/scenes that are beautiful, and some dialogue that is still considered iconic. Having said that, his style - both in terms of art and writing - is still something of an acquired taste. If you pay attention, Bruce kinda keeps getting a little more blocky and blown up in size throughout the story. And there are a couple of moments from the story where people still debate on what was supposed to have happened due to the way the scene was drawn and stylized.
It is easy to see why this story has become so influential. But…I think it was for worse. There are many things Bruce does or says that does paint him something of a facist. And despite all the moments where Frank shows new anchors and guests argue about Batman’s activities, none of his supporters actually try to dispute the claims and accusations of him being a facist. Aside from that, the story has him come off as too mean, too focused on the physical aspect of his mission and too much of a cynic. This is most likely the story where people began obsessing whether Batman or Superman would win in a fight, talking about them more as competitors rather than the friends that they fundamentally are. Speaking of which, the way Superman is depicted really goes against the character. To believe that he would allow himself to become just a tool of the government shows that there is a basic misunderstanding of what Superman is supposed to represent.
There is one point in the story where Bruce refers to his fallen sidekick Jason Todd as a “good soldier”. To me, that feels contradictory to why Batman became who he was and why he allowed people to work with him in the first place. Despite how some may portray or talk about his mission, he isn’t waging a war on crime. Or at least, not in the way that phrase might imply. He fights to make sure that the tragedy that befell him would never happen to another kid again. And his presence and actions inspire others to do good, whether it be volunteering at a community center or become another vigilante. Batman has been shown on multiple occasions to try and get others to not become vigilantes like him, but he ends up changing his mind once he understands their motivations and what doing this means to them. As much as we like to talk about Batman as a loner, a brooding and depressing figure, the truth is he ended up having the one thing he thought he lost. A family. To have him refer to one of his sidekicks as a “soldier” feels wrong in that sense.
Look - at the end of the day, I’m not saying this is a bad story. But it’s influence has pushed people to try and make Batman as dark and gritty as possible. What we want to see is some emotion and humanity from Bruce. What’s wrong with him embracing his allies as a family, or have him be a little more lighthearted and show compassion to those he saves? I realize that not all modern comics involving Batman are like that anymore, but the influence of this story is still very much alive. And to be honest, I am sick of it.