[World of Bats] The Dark Knight Returns

Hello everyone and welcome to the World of Bats, the Batman Book Club!

This month – yes, you read that right, month – we’ll be celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the release Frank Miller’s seminal and influential Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by not just covering this classic, but the entire trilogy!

But first, we’ll be delving into The Dark Knight Returns #1-4, written and drawn by Frank Miller, with inks by Klaus Janson and colors by Lynn Varley.

DC Universe Infinite was kind enough to group all four issues into a handy-dandy Storyline which you can find HERE!

This reading will be current for 2021-07-03T05:00:00Z2021-07-09T05:00:00Z, but if you’re just coming back to a live of vigilantism after a traumatic death of your partner, you can always come back and share your thoughts!

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If you’re looking for more Batman reading goodness this Forth of July, check out these threads by our friendly Bat-Family of Clubs!

First, the Renegade Robins have recently started reading through the classic “Bat-Manga” from Jiro Kuwata from 1966! Also, Damian Wayne is back from the grave, and now with the powers of Superman! Surely nothing could possibly go wrong…right?

Meanwhile, over at the Birds of Prey, throughout the month they are diving deep into their first official on-going series!

Also, if you want to read more of our past explorations of Frank Miller’s Batman work, you can click the links down below!

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I talked about this a little bit over in the recent Alan Moore roundtable discussion, The Dark Knight Returns was my first real comic I ever bought and the story that got me into comics in general, so I’m REALLY looking forward to digging into this work and discussing it with you guys! :smiley:

Here’s a link to said discussion if you want to chip in as well!


Let me start by complaining about the ugly artwork and the extremely tiny panels. That’s the one edge I give to Year One over Miller’s original Dark Knight miniseries. (I need to go to my bookshelf and grab the Wolverine miniseries to remind myself that Miller is doing this hideous artwork on purpose!)

Anyway, on to issue 1: “The Dark Knight Returns.”

I’m not particularly interested in Bruce’s NASCAR career, but at least the scene sets up the final line of the fourth issue. Then we get into RoboCop-before-RoboCop territory with the newscasters, and we learn that Batman is regarded by young people as a myth a mere decade after his retirement (?!). Hey, at least it’s not like the post-Zero Hour nonsense where he’s regarded as an urban legend despite being a member of the Justice League!

Then there’s my favorite scene in the issue. We find out that Gordon knows Bruce’s history as the Batman, and we get hints at the direction Miller will take things once he gets a chance to write an origin story. We also learn that things did not turn out well for Jason Todd, who at the time of publication had been Robin for a mere year and a half. (This Jason is presumably equivalent to the pre-Crisis version, as the post-Crisis origin would be published almost exactly a year after the first issue of DK came out.)

Bruce strolls through a scene from Watchmen (okay, that comic was released a few months later) in a panel that would later be mirrored in Year One. Then we end up in Crime Alley, and we get a clear departure from pre-Crisis continuity when Bruce says that Joe Chill mugged his family for money. (In the continuity of the time, it was a mob hit disguised as a mugging, and Batman knew it.)

Meanwhile, Harvey Dent has undergone surgery to fix those unpleasant scars, as he did in the Golden Age. (And we’d later see bald and bandaged Dent show up again in Hush, since no one can resist making nods to Miller’s DK.) We’re also getting the first hints of Miller’s contempt for psychiatrists and the very notion of rehabilitating criminals.

Bruce dreams of falling into a scene from Batman Forever (lest anyone say that Schumacher didn’t know his Batman comics), and then he visits the cave to see an image that would later become a staple of 90s Batman comics after Jim Starlin gave us his take on the tragic case that led to Batman’s retirement. (Note that Starlin left one issue after A Death in the Family. And why not? Miller had already written the sequel for him.)

Alfred is the MVP of this first issue, going so far as to write some witty dialogue for Batman v Superman. And speaking of that film, Bruce (now sans mustache) has a flashback to its opening scene, complete with Chill shooting Martha in the neck as her pearl necklace wraps around his hand. (Tim Burton would keep the necklace, but since he had two muggers in his sequence, he separated the breaking of the necklace from the gunshot.)

Miller echoes the classic “bat flying through the window” bit from Batman’s first origin story, but of course he can’t let it be an open window this time. Nope. It’s all extreme now, as is the montage of Batman arriving like lightning. (And since it’s Miller, we have to include some violence towards a prostitute.) We can already see that this Batman is far more violent than the one found in other mid-80s Batman comics. Why have batarangs when you can have bat-shaped shuriken? Why cuff someone when you can just break an arm? (Electrocuting someone, on the other hand, wasn’t out of the question at the time.)

Two police officers rehearse a scene for The Dark Knight Rises, and then we get the big splash page of Batman in costume. The following sequence is the best bit of action in the whole issue, and Batman actually does a touch of detective work between breaking ribs. The Joker seems impressed, too. The press is more divided, and I’m tempted to disagree with Lana Lang, especially in light of the following Batman scene.

We need more Merkel and Carrie Kelley in this issue, but I suppose I’ll have to be patient. (Okay, we won’t be getting much more Merkel.) Obviously, Carrie’s in a bad situation, since her parents are dirty liberal hippies, and this is a REAL MAN’s book! We even get Batman with a gun, but that image is soon subverted by the revelation of the gun’s purpose. And speaking of giving things purpose, I admittedly like Miller’s explanation for Batman’s New Look chest logo.

As we wrap up with a nice bit of “Batman’s villains are a mirror of himself” with Two-Face, I’m left with a comic that I generally like despite its ugly art and uglier politics. Perhaps the final page suggests at least some self-awareness that Batman’s return isn’t necessarily a healthy development for Bruce Wayne, but Miller generally stacks the cards in the same way Death Wish does.


1- It starts with me on the race to death until I decide at the last minute it is not a good enough death. After that we get the key reveal that I am not on friendly terms with my old buddies. Jim, Clark, and Selina are reaching out as I leave and ignore their messages, Dick lived up to his name, Alfred and I are frustrated with our very different views on my health, and Jason… :cry:

A few things like nightmares, all the death reports, Harvey going missing, a movie, and The Bat make me ditch the vows and come back. Batman Returns!

I pummel a few punks in the honeymoon phase, but it lessens when I need to climb a rope. I do not kill anybody, but I do draw blood. After that I track down Harvey and discover…

Well that was depressing. Back to finding a good death.

2- And they say I am not a good influence on children. I am just glad that toddler is alive, because I know what normally happens to them.

Again I did not kill anybody (take that Snyder!), but I do shoot somebody. Not my proudest moment, but it is my duty to protect the citizens of Gotham. Admittedly I should have found a way to save Spike (of note: In the comic the Mutant has no issues with killing his accomplice, but in the film he he is briefly regretful).

A good death awaits. I get the Batmobile back to Yesterday, the dump and prepare to save Gotham and hopefully die trying. Dick even comes back to his seat even is he is surprisingly silent. I get mad instead of glad at their leader’s speech, so I wipe out his army.

Again no killing, and I find the perfect death. I am going to be without a doubt the toughest guy in Gotham or dead. Either works for me, and…

I had no idea I was now this slow. Why can’t I see anything?
This death is nothing like I hoped, and it is time to accept it until I see “Dick” coming to my rescue. Motivated by having to save a child I suffocate The Mutant Leader and I escape with my new Robin. I have no idea how she dragged me to the batmobile, as my head weighs more than her whole body.

I nearly give her a heart attack on the way to the batcave, and I then brood in the nude.

Crime fighting together makes you very close quickly. With renewed motivation and a supportive friend my will to live is renewed, and I can now fight The Mutant Leader as a man who wants to win accepting my old age.

Yeah! I still got it!

Off note is how different The Mutants acted from Robin. When Robin saw her hero beaten she ran to my rescue showing she admires me for my strength and larger than life status. When The Mutants saw their hero beaten they switched, since that is all they admired him for.

3- The first two issues were about overcoming a death wish and overcoming The Mutants. The last two are about the superiority of deontology to consequentialsm and taking on the government.

First I have to figure out what Joker is doing and defeat his wannabe girlfriend who thinks Joker is into somebody besides me.

Robin is much too slow at avoiding detection (more on the bright colors’ genius later), but Bruno loses her (the film added to this by making Robin outsmart her). Strange that she never used her slingshot or called me “Boss” in the first two issues. I battle Bruno and struggle. I am moving much slower now, but I still got her until Clark just knocks her out. We verbally fight and agree to a meeting time. He leaves by crashing through the roof right next to Robin like he is going to kill her. I don’t need to be reminded of her mortality Clark! You should know not to threaten a man’s daughter right over them!

Wolper makes his speeches about how I make this worse. None of it matters. I protect Gotham by fulfilling my duties to battle crime. Anybody who takes up crime does it by their freewill, and they are responsible for it, not me.

I try to find Abner to get another lead, but Robin runs in slignshots blazing, I barely save her, fire her, and apparently get her new glasses.

Less than 24 hours later Alfred makes me mad by insisting I retire, I get lonely, and a few pills remind me of the help I need. I rehire Robin. Some people are against me taking children to fight criminals. Doing good by saving people is worth any consequence.

I also have trouble saying no to her smile.

We go to check on Joker’s tv appearance, and I threaten to fire her for the third time. I go in and get cornered by the cops. Robin has to save me again, and Joker gets away.

After I get shot for the second time I get to Selina’s place. This results in every key character fleeing or going to it except for Superman who should have been called in to stop The Mutants last issue.

Robin’s strap breaks resulting in a dramatic scene where she nearly falls to her death. She grabs my cape at the last second. This is why superheroes need capes Edna. They are something to grab on to when falling to Hades. Instead of scolding her I hold her tight, and we share a tender hug. I then comfort her by giving her the same praise I gave Jason last issue. It is such a sweet scene amidst all the darkness and never clashes with the tone.

Time to disuss the Joker’s white outfit. All the first three villains used white as their main color (and Clark wore it earlier). It often symbolizes purity like in their devotion to chaos and murderousness. It is often a common color for death. For Joker it is also a disguise. White often symbolizes goodness, and he wears that on top. Underneath he is still wearing the classic Joker purple showing that he is really the same murderer from over ten years ago.

We then face Joker and Abner at the fairgrounds.

My one antagonist who is not motivated by consequences, but like me is motivated by duty/obligation, his obligation to make me laugh at the joke of life. This is how he is the one who gets into my head, and I lose my no killing code.

I start to kill him, and I stop myself before I cross the line.

More on this fight. I revealed here why I actually retired. It was because I could only see everybody I failed to save and my growing list instead of everybody I had saved. This is why I need a Robin to remind me of the good I do. Physically I get shot for the third time and sliced and diced (Yes some of Robin’s slang caught on to me).

4- Honeymoon phase is now a distant memory. I can hardly see and my organs are falling out. Robin barely rescues me, but it is not triumphant like the last time. Her rope visibly hurts me this time, as I cannot keep doing this.

While their Robin’s bright colors made her blend in, while I stood out like a bleeding thumb. Our most dangerous fights are in bright and colorful places, thus I insist Robin wears bright and colorful clothes to blend in making me the target instead.

Meanwhile Clark has been killing more people than Joker. By being the government’s puppet it allows him to legally be the hero, but he has to be their hero and only their hero. Following their orders made him abandon what made him Superman, betray his friends, and never be there when needed.

He listens to the media ignoring that the smartest members are less intelligent than the dumbest people in the field they report on (take that Mel Kiper Jr.). Thsi results in Clark setting off the Coldbringer and putting us in a nuclear winter.

I come back from the brink of death, and I now upgrade my plans. Instead of having a kid sidekick I will have an army of them, so I go their and rip a gun in two like a twig. I force all the pain out and barely get to the streets to end the rioting saving the city. Only Robin notices my pain.

This makes the government look bad that I succeed where they fail, so they send in Clark to arrest me. He challenges me by heat visioning right in front of Robin like he is going to kill her.

This is what listening to cowards for a “greater good” brings, corrupted morals.

I know Clark is listening so I speak like I am back in death wish mode. I subtly tell Robin I plan on living with some of the slang I learned from her.

Thus begins the battle of an old dying man needing a walking hospital bed vs. a man severely weakened by nuclear winter. It is way more epic than it sounds. Deontology vs Consequentialism right here. Clark’s resolve is weak, as his will to win is weak, but he still break a few of my ribs.

After beating him I fake my death, and after all this he still cares for me. Took you long enough to actually do something with it buddy, but thanks for guarding my lifeless corpse.

After that I work on my new army, but I still pay the most attention to Robin. She even sits up straight for me now instead of slouching more when I lecture her on it. This will be a good life. Good enough.

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Did you notice I am talking to Carol Ferris that scene?

I think that is the media sucking at their job. The guys I apprehend in the warehouse just thought I had been killed by that Daredevil character, and nobody keeps maintaining I am a myth.

I now needed to dishand instead of disarming them. I still never killed any of them.

It is more about her parents literally forgetting she exists than having to listen to their marching stories. What would I do if Alfred forgot I exist?


So I have on physical copy the 30th Anniversary hardcover for DKR (which also includes the deluxe edition of the animated movie embedded in the hardcover which is kind of neat) and it starts with a really interesting interview with Miller by Brian Azzarello that I think can illuminate stuff we’re already talking about.

BRIAN: Let’s get in a time machine.

FRANK: Okay. No seatbelts, right?

BRIAN: Of course not. It’s 1986…

FRANK: Oh hell, can’t we go back further?

BRIAN: Not this time. DARK KNIGHT is about to be released. How do you feel? It’s done, it’s out of your hands, and now it’s gonna go to the stores.

FRANK: I am thrilled.

BRIAN: I want to know what came first for you, the world or Batman? DARK KNIGHT is so of its time, you know – the whole zeitgeist that was going on around the mid-'80s. Was it, “I want to tell a story with Batman in this world” or “I want to tell a Batman story,” and then the world seeped into it?

FRANK: No. My intention in the beginning was to tell a story of Batman at the age he would be at this time if he really aged from his origins. He was aged, he was seeing how the world had changed and how he would bring essentially a World War II mentality to the modern world. To him, it wasn’t just criminals he was fighting anymore; it was moral decay and political corruption.

BRIAN: With DARK KNIGHT in particular, I believe one of your most important contributions to comics was that you brought the real world into superhero comics, where you were using these characters as a way to comment on what was going on all around us at the time in a way no one had ever done before. Prior to DARK KNIGHT, those things were all escapism.

FRANK: And Batman was permanently 29, so I decided to make him 50. At 50 I figured he was closer to dead. I made him look like he was at least 60, because that’s what I figured 50 would look like. And instead of being lean and muscular, I had him massive. I wanted to bring back the Dick Sprang characterization, that rectangular guy.

(Note: The book actually has him written as “Dick Spring,” which makes me laugh in a twelve year-old sort of way. Anyway.)

BRIAN: Yea, he looked like a wrestler or football player when they get older and thick.

FRANK: And if you’ve taken one hit too many. His face is kind of punched in.

BRIAN: What was your impetus for doing that the first time?

FRANK: Oh, it was very simple: I was 29 years old, and I was dreading turning 30. To me that was entering middle age.

BRIAN: Were you excited when you started it? Were you trepidatious? I mean, what was your mind-set…this was 30 years ago.

FRANK: I remember exactly how I felt–I had been dying to do it for years! The only thing that I knew would be an obstacle was the real reverence for the old stuff. So there was initially fear from DC without realizing that I loved these characters. I had no intention of doing anything obscene.

BRIAN: Wasn’t necessary.

FRANK: I know, it wouldn’t serve any purpose.

BRIAN: What was Paul [Levitz’s] reaction when you brought this story to him, the first one?

FRANK: I first brought it to Jenette [Kahn].

BRIAN: Before Paul?

FRANK: Yeah, and she was thrilled about the idea of the story. We talked to Paul and everybody was completely positive about it. Later, when they actually saw it, they got pretty frightened with the material.

BRIAN: Did Jennette ever get frightened?

FRANK: No, she was completely supportive; and Paul very swiftly changed his mind when the first issue came out and it went back for a second and third printing.

BRIAN: But it caused quite a stir. It wasn’t instantly the revered tome it is now.

FRANK: When it came out, it made many fans very, very angry, but the sales when through the roof, so the dealers were very, very happy. At the same time, the dealers were mostly fans and old collectors who had their comics packed in Mylar snugs. So while I was making them money, I was being accused of violating a trust.

BRIAN: You were taking a piss on their childhood.

FRANK: To me, I was exulting it.

BRIAN: I agree with you, and now 30 years later it’s looked at by those very same people you offended as the pinnacle of Batman. I’m not one of those people that look at this work as being so grim and gritty. There’s so much political satire in this book.

FRANK: I was laughing while I was writing it.

BRIAN: I read laughter into a lot of it, too.

FRANK: The TV segment with the psychologist for instance–he would just explain everything, including murder, as being a perfectly healthy function of the human mind.

BRIAN: I mean, the book gets a bad wrap for the way htat it is dark and gritty, but it’s not. I mean, there are moments, certainly, but those moments only work because they’re played against some real broad satire. Even the first time we see Superman, he’s got birds around and the sky is all beautiful…

FRANK: And there’s Bruce Wayne all cranky. I figured that Clark would only age in terms of handsome wrinkles around his eyes. Otherwise, he’d be as iconic as ever, while Batman was just old.

BRIAN: While DK wasn’t my introduction to Batman, it definitely was my introduction to Batman as a figure in a comic book. I read it when it was originally coming out, and I was blown away by how you made superhero characters relevant. Really, it was revolutionary. And it was crazy–even the naysayers were on board for the thrill ride. Each issue, you topped yourself.

FRANK: I particularly liked doing the cover to the second one, where he was just beat to crap, just because of hte idea of him being someone who’s kind of like ROcky. He would take punches better than he could thro them. He could take any punishment you gave him and keep coming.

BRIAN: Which he did. The second one, that was the mutant issue.

FRANK: The guy with the sharp teeth.

BRIAN: That was Batman taking a lot of punishment in that one.

FRANK: Mr. T was a real popular figure at the time.

BRIAN: Clubber Lang.

FRANK: And I patterned his speech as close to Mr. T’s as I could.


FRANK: I know. I came up with mutant colloquialism with Lynn Varley, who colored DARK KNIGHT. There was a language she and her brothers had amongst themselves that fascinated me, so I had all the mutants speak that way.

BRIAN: Where were you living when you wrote that? Were you here? New York? It had a dangerous reputation at the time.

FRANK: Oh, it was a very bad time. Koch was mayor and he was doing his best to clean things up. Crime was rampant and I had been mugged a few times. I was very, very angry, just watching Clint Eastwood movies back to back, getting absolutely paranoid. I figured if Batman was a grown-up, he’d take car of things.

BRIAN: Was it post- or pre-Bernhard Goetz?

FRANK: Goetz did what he did while I was working on the first issue. It was all very coincidental.

BRIAN: As I said, it was something about the zeitgeist and you were definitely plugged into it at the time. You know, Batman’s 75th anniversary just passed, and it’s been 30 years since DARK KNIGHT was released. Your book and your take on Batman have informed the character for nearly half of his existence.

FRANK: Could you order me a wheelchair right now?

BRIAN: I’d be happy to. One for Bruce as well.

So now it’s 30 years later. Looking at the impact the book has had, how do you feel about it?

FRANK: Something Walter Simonson told me was really valuable, which is that when amateurs want to learn something from a professional, the thing they ten to learn most often is the professional’s mistakes. And so I saw a lot of my faults as an artist replicated by amateurs, and it taught me a lot about how to communicate better. With all my quirks replicated, I saw really how weak my drawing was, and in many ways, I learned to make it better. That’s been its impact on me, on comics in general. It did affect how creators have paced stories, and that’s good somewhat.

The main thing DARK KNIGHT has done it’s given both writers and artists much more freedom to maneuver, and we’ve taken these once-precious characters in new directions. DARK KNIGHT has been so successful, publishers have realized they have to publish this kind of stuff without putting a condom on it.


Issue 2: “The Dark Knight Triumphant”

It’s fascinating how Miller decided to name Gordon’s wife Sarah here, and then when he got around to writing Year One, he went in a very different direction with the Sarah character. (In the early 90s, the writers tried to bridge the gap by marrying the two characters in continuity, only for the writers of the late 90s to cut off this potential future definitively for reasons I can’t quite grasp.)

Speaking of Gordon, I should also note that one of my major complaints about Year One is that Jim dominates the story so much that it’s not a particularly satisfying Batman origin. Here, Miller uses Gordon just the right amount. Batman and Gordon have shared a strong bond ever since the commissioner deputized the Caped Crusader in 1941, and they had grown even closer during the Bronze Age, but Miller truly deserves credit for making Gordon compelling enough that he can actually carry his own comic.

Next up, we have Carrie Kelley donning the costume for the first time. Why wasn’t she brought into continuity by the end of the decade?! (Okay, let’s not make this another I HATE TIM rant. But seriously. Perfect opportunity.) It’s a good thing she didn’t decide to be a Mutant, though. The young female Mutant may or may not have been blown away by Batman in an infamously ambiguous set of panels. (Miller denies it, but Miller also seems to revise his own view of Batman using guns as he continues writing the story.)

By the way, I’d like to take everyone complaining about modern comics being too political and slap them with this issue. As Lana Lang (seemingly serving as Miller’s mouthpiece) calls for all-out fascism amidst criticism of Batman’s ultraviolence, we have our first digs at Ronald Reagan (“And you know the President knows his show biz.”), the revelation that a general is supplying the mutants with weapons (insert gratuitous shot of Batman holding a dead man wrapped in an American flag here), Gordon’s Pearl Harbor speech, and a rather cynical depiction of the selection of a new police commissioner.

Yindell’s arrival in the issue does signal a dramatic improvement in its overall quality (but at the same time, the comics had just gone through a story like this in the early 1980s, so it feels a little predictable). Perhaps the arrival of the Bat Tank on the same page contributes to that uptick in entertainment value. It’s so ridiculously excessive that I don’t know how anyone could walk away from this comic thinking that it’s a serious take on Batman.

Also contributing to the silliness is the Mutant Leader himself. I’m not particularly fond of the Mutant gang (I believe “irritating” is the right word), but I’ll admit that the head honcho is so goofy that he’s hard not to love. Batman is about to “blast him from the face of the earth” (which leads me to think that the line, “Rubber bullets. Honest,” may be sarcasm), but of course, he has to turn it into a Dick Grayson-measuring contest.

As Batman takes a well-deserved beatdown, the sight of a crowbar indicates that a Robin must be near. Sure enough, Carrie comes in and steals Batman away…along with stealing the show. Too bad Bruce starts up with that icky “soldier” talk. (On the other hand, we get the Batcave hologram that managed to slip into Tim Burton’s film a few years later!) Thankfully, when we get the rematch, Batman fights smarter, not harder.

I think I prefer the first issue of this series over the second. Perhaps it’s because the first part of Triumphant feels a little too rushed. Perhaps it’s because I’m somewhat put off by Batman’s characterization (and the comic’s endorsement of it, albeit with a few glimpses of failed copycats to suggest that not everyone should go full Charles Bronson). Perhaps it’s because this issue spends more time setting up the subsequent issues than the first issue did. But then I think of Carrie, and the rest is easy.


To answer with nothing but what we know from the comic.

In issue 2 I declare killing to be a line I have not crossed, but I guess that could be argued as me not being sane (fair point).

In issue 3 we get the confirmation. Lana points out I have not killed and even the anti-Batman guys cannot claim I did that. I constantly state I am on the verge of killing someone for the first time, and at this point I am much more sane than at the dump. Joker also chimes in with “This has never happened before.”

The biggest piece is what Yindel put on my warrant. It did not include murder, but she later put it on for something far less from her knowledge than killing a child. If I did kill her then murder would have probably been all they put on the warrant since that is all they needed.

Comic confirmation that I non-lethally shot her in the shoulder to save the toddler.


It’s been a long time since I’ve read DKR, I’m not a fan of the art style but I think it fits the tone he’s going for. A lot of the female characters seem to have an androgynous look. I’m not sure if that’s just how he draws or if Miller is trying to say something with that.

I’m worried that I might be missing something about Miller’s political commentary; I was not alive during the Reagan Era so I’m pretty sure I don’t fully grasp the context. If someone here could explain some of this or point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it. Nearly everyone in the news segment panels feels like a characature; the intellectuals and politicians seem to get mocked the hardest.


There’s certainly a difference between taking a kill shot on someone who’s holding a hostage and shooting an unarmed person to death with your “rubber bullets” while in a tank. I can see him justifying the first while regarding the second as cold-blooded murder.

I agree that later issues seem to walk it back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a bit of revisionism on Miller’s part, even one issue later. (We know, for instance, that he was reworking his ideas in Strikes Again and All Star even as they were being published.)

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Okay, I’ve reread the issues mentioned so far and have the day off, time to get to commenting!

I would say there is definitely some purposeful ugliness in there, but I don’t know if I’d call it bad artwork either. And what’s funny is that it sounded like Miller sort of agrees with you in terms of learning what not to do with his art after looking back at it.

I think it sets up more than the last line, but also Bruce’s state of mind and says something about his character. I think this is establishing that Bruce is trying to find an outlet for his need to fight crime, and it establishes the fact that Bruce is a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

For Bruce, while the mission and the war is a key thing, I think he had a love for moving through Gotham City on the rooftops, the thrill of cheating death. It’s something that we also get a hint of in All-Star Batman & Robin, when we get a few pages of Batman waxing poetically about the thrill and joy of running through the streets of Gotham.

While Batman is definitely a little more…over-the-top than I think we’d normally like our Batman, I do like the idea of this side to him. Batman has such a grim, stoic side to him, I think it balances him out a bit to show that there is a side of him that enjoys what he does.

Y’know, after the weird year we just have, I can totally buy the weird kind of crap people will think.

Huh, that’s interesting. I never thought about it quite that way but the math does add up. I wonder if Miller had anything initially in mind for how Jason was going to die in this universe and what he was like. Though now with The Last Crusade, we know now that his Jason was at least similar to post-Crisis Jason.

An interesting bit from that scene I picked up while reading it again was Bruce comparing the Mutants to the mugger that killed his parents. “He flinched when he pulled the trigger. He was sick and guilty over what he did. All he wanted was money. I was naive enough to think him the lowest sort of man. These – these are his children. A purer breed…and the world is theirs.”

It’s an interesting comparison to think about, and I’m not sure if that’s altogether true, or if Bruce, an older man from a generation that is passing by, has a certain nostalgic feeling to the past, even to the worst moments of his life – they are what made him, after all.

While there may be a bit of that in him, I think what Miller does with Wolper is a bit more complicated than that. I think Wolper as satire/critique is less focused on psychology as a whole, but more on the sort of pop psychology that is more focused on making money than actually helping people. For all his talk about helping people, he certainly doesn’t do a really good job of it.

In the first scene we see with Wolper with Harvey and his plastic surgeon, Harvey shows a reluctance to going back into society, wondering if Gordon was right about him. As a psychologist, you would think that Wolper would focus on that, ask him why he thinks that, get more into why he feels that way and give him some solutions to try to resolve it. But instead, Wolper is like “eh you’re fine, Gordon’s just senile.”

And when all the stuff with Harvey happens, what does Wolper do next? He tries to do the same redemption story with The Joker with even less forethought. Because helping others isn’t what he’s really looking for, it’s helping himself and getting as much TV time as he can.

This does give me a thought. While other writers have definitely done solid stuff with Alfred before this point, I feel like Miller might have been the one to really form him into the classic version of the character we love. If he didn’t invent the idea of Alfred being Bruce’s caretaker or his razor-sharp wit, he certainly was the one to combine the two in a way that I think was massively influential to the character.

I mean, the bat crashing through the window is definitely more dramatic. It’s kind of sad that we haven’t really had a live action story do that yet.

And I’d say it’s less “it’s Miller” and more “it’s 80s New York.” I mean, it’s Gotham, but Miller even says it’s a commentary on 80s New York.

I do think it’s interesting how these first few crimes Batman stops are framed. The first one with the older woman is focused on her, while her assailant is completely in shadow, not really a person and more of a malevolent entity. The second, we don’t see the assailant or the victim, but instead we focus on an apathetic taxi driver who passively lets the crime happen and is shamed through Batman ripping apart the bribe to look the other way.

Finally we focus the most on what we’ll soon see is our new Robin, and while we get a look at the Mutants, I’ve noticed in this one they’re kind of faceless entities. They have some distinguishing features in terms of the amount of hair spikes and different colors, but they still seem very uniform and like a hive.

I don’t know if all of this is something Miller intended, but I thought it was interesting.

First off, I do find Miller using Lana Lang in this way…odd, especially considering we find out she’s part of the Daily Planet. I don’t mind finding new ideas for side characters like Lana (I liked how she was tweaked to be an andventuring electrical engineer in the New 52), but it seems like he was tempted to use Lois at first and then got cold feet and used Lana instead.

I will say that I don’t know if we’re supposed to agree with Lana completely in this series. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to agree with ANY of the news and political stuff in regard to Batman. Everyone seems to be just using him to further their own agendas.

It’s interesting you say this is a different direction for Sarah. I think it’s possible, but I could also find a way to link the two. It’s very possible that Sarah retired or quit policing before Jim, and the stuff with the “bean sprouts” and quitting the cigars is just a wife worried about the health of her husband who’s been working himself to death for decades.

I will agree that it was an odd decision to kill her off. I have to admit I haven’t read all of No Man’s Land and thus haven’t read that moment (maybe we will together as a club at some point…), so I can’t comment on if it was effective or not. Moreover, I’m surprised that wasn’t a character that was brought back during the New 52, but that’s probably because the events of No Man’s Land was weirdly in and out of continuity at the same time.

It certainly would have been interesting to see how Carrie would have been handled in the regular DCU. If it was anything like Tim, I think we might both have ended up having issues with it.

Because of the use of the rifle in the first issue? I’m not sure if that’s revising. Considering how one of Batman’s most essential tools for decades is a grappling gun, I think Bruce only had a problem with guns that shoot bullets. Proper bullets, at least.

Agreed on the political thing – not to mention Captain America punching Nazis in his first appearance and Superman being a champion of the oppressed who beats up wife beaters and slum lords. But yeah, this book is HEAVY with politics, though admittedly I don’t think it’s so much a clear statement so much as it is just shining an ugly reflection of it.

Gratuitious? Yes. Effective, especially to the twelve year-old me who read it for the first time? Also yes.

I have to say, after reading that Miller had modeled the Leader’s speech from Mr T, I tried reading it in that voice, but…I just can’t. I don’t know if it’s because it doesn’t fit, or if I can’t get the more effective voice from the likes of Kevin Michael Richardson out of my head.

Well, he had to have something more explosive than rubber bullets to blow up the Leader’s torch to announce his presence, so he may have had that as well as the rubber bullets, and was considering using that for the leader instead of the rubber bullets.

I kinda get it – after all, they’ve called it a war on crime for how many years? But yeah, ideally you would think that Bruce would think of them as more than just soldiers, but I think Bruce also reveres those who fight in his war.

Interesting because usually that’s not a thing I would equate to the women in Miller’s work, especially later stories like Sin City. I think it’s a mix of women being older, women in more business attire (like Ellen Yindel) and some like the few in the Mutants being sort of amorphous entities.

Neither was I, like I was born on the tail-end of that era, but one thing I’ll recommend that might give some idea of what Miller was working through was an episode of the Netflix series “Trial By Media: The Truth Behind the Crimes,” one episode “Subway Vigilante” is about Bernard Goetz, who was mentioned in the introduction I posted. There’s another series I haven’t seen that will probably give an idea of the era was “Fear City: New York Vs The Mafia.”


I watched the Subway Vigilante episode and I think it gave me a bit of a handle on what was in the zeitgeist while Miller was working on this. It’s also a good watch for someone who, like me, knew very little about that event. Miller certainly got the 80s style glasses correct; apparently people really did use frames that cover half their face.

One thing that’s not exactly clear to me is what Miller is saying about that environment. The guy that steals the gun during the blackout is certainly portrayed as being wrong. However I don’t get the same impression about the Sons of Batman when they shoot the convenience store robbers. What further muddies the water for me is that while the Sons of Batman maintain order in Gotham after the blackout they are also referred to as S.O.Bs.

Does Miller think that this sort of extra-legal group is necessary to fight crime or did he just think that it was the logical end point if things continued on that path? Or maybe I’m dense and just don’t get it? :thinking:


Issue 3: “Hunt the Dark Knight”

Don and Rob have gone Neo-Nazi. Isn’t that always the way with impressionable youth? And then we have Bruno…oh, Frank Miller, don’t ever change. Nobody seems to notice the grotesque fairy tale ogre in the room, which is really Batman in disguise. (Like, what is up with that costume?)

We then cut to more political satire, and this time, it’s actually quite funny! (Perhaps less funny for fans of the Gipper.) Plus we have the arrival of Superman, which parallels Batman’s return by showing the aftermath of his actions rather ​than the man himself.

Robin is doing the normal Robin thing: ignoring Batman’s orders. (Thankfully, Batman’s threats to fire her don’t culminate in War Games this time.) We also see Batman claim that he has murdered people by letting the Joker live, and I’m like, “Right?”

The tension builds as the Joker prepares to go on Letterman (renamed Endocrine for reasons that only make sense to Miller), Yindel turns her focus to taking down the Dark Knight, things heat up in Corto Maltese (where I assume Vicki Vale is taking some pics), and Superman is dealing with stealth military campaigns on one side and Batman’s trademark defiance on the other.

Batman and the police are too busy fighting each other to stop the Joker’s latest round of mass murder, which really puts Yindel in a bad light. But poor Selina Kyle gets put in a worse light, since Miller can’t help but turn her into the head of an escort service. (He doubles down in Year One.) Also, the Joker is using various lipsticks to accomplish his goals, which feels like more of a Poison Ivy thing, don’t you think?

Batman tries a more convincing, less monstrous disguise for his next dress-up session in the aftermath of a congressman’s death, while Superman reflects on Ben Affleck’s lines from BvS. Then Yindel listens to Batman for once, and we wrap up with the climactic final battle between Batman and the Joker, culminating in the Joker’s death.

This issue is easily the best of the four, retaining genuine suspense from the first page to the last. Miller illustrates the action more effectively than he did in previous issues, and the writing feels stronger overall. Too bad we have one more to go…


I always thought lipstick made more sense for a lustful clown than a plant obsessed Villian.

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It’s weird, but I do love the elaborate costumes he uses both here and in either this issue or next with the cop. Batman is just a really intense, over the top theater kid and I am THERE for it.

That was really effective. It was funny seeing this “crisis” and having the biggest people of power keep bucking the responsibility down to their underling in Yindel. It felt really authentic. The image of Regan literally draping himself in the flag was also effective and accurate. This does make me wonder what a certain Reagan fan around here feels about this take on him.

It’s definitely a different place to put her, but I don’t hate that so much. I would imagine that being from that life she would probably far more protective of the girls in her employ. Joker only gets her to go with his plan because of mind control.

I also thought it was a nice touch that Bruce still shows a strong connection to Selina even after all this time, and that Selina tries to tell Bruce that maybe bringing the young, inexperienced teen to this fight isn’t the best idea.

Agreed, especially in the art department. I think if I remember right, the second half of the issues are Miller inking himself, which I think helps. It also has some of the most iconic bits of art I remember from the series:


Also, I’ll be putting up the post for this week’s book reading in a few, but don’t let that discourage anyone from continuing the conversation! I want to thank everyone here for coming in and sharing their thoughts on this book with us, and I hope to also see you guys on the next one. :batparrot:


Oh, and while I was looking for the images in one of my last posts, I found this amazing article on DKR by The Comics Journal that I think does a really great deep dive into the meanings and symbolisms of the book.

Above all, The Dark Knight Returns stands out for its density and coherence. It is a complicated exploration of power and violence that is more interested in making readers intuit complexity than coming to conclusions. It is at once hysterically satirical and darkly serious. It captures the absurdity of fighting violence with violence, and the depressing suspicion that maybe violence is inescapable. It portrays a world where we can barely get a handle on who is good and who is evil, but where a relentless media is eager to frame that ambiguity in the simplest, most self-serving terms. It’s about the fear of growing old and powerless, of being helpless in the face of the world’s problems. It’s about the fact that the fear of powerlessness often causes the world’s problems in the first place.

The Dark Knight Returns: Art Makes Sense When You Force It To


Issue 4: “The Dark Knight Falls”

The issue starts with a great wrap-up to the previous issue’s cliffhanger. Then after some redundant banter about the pros and cons of vigilantism, we get the most hilarious image in the book: the Gipper in a radiation suit. (Miller gets in a strange dig at Harlan Ellison, too!) Superman diverts the nuke, but it still sets off an EMP, and Batman chides him for it. Like, what was he supposed to do, Bruce: kill a bunch of New Yorkers with a fake alien squid in hopes of averting full nuclear war?

We see an airplane crash into a building, which strikes a lot harder now than it did when the comic was published. Gordon is there to witness it, but he needs to be careful: he might just beat Bruce to that heart attack. Batman shows up on horseback (an image that almost showed up in Burton’s film), and even though he used a gun earlier in this issue, he’s now totally against them. (Yeah, yeah, different contexts, whatever.) Of course, his position on firearms doesn’t stop him from otherwise talking like Judge Dredd.

Batman actually manages to inspire everyone to act for the greater good, like some kind of superhero. Meanwhile, Superman is off talking to Mother Nature as he tries to recover from the nuclear blast. (He doesn’t manage to talk it out of bringing on the nuclear winter.) He recovers just enough for the infamous fight that closes the story.

Speaking of the fight, this is where the book completely loses me, despite its “classic” status among fans. Oliver Queen can accuse the U.S. government of being fascists all he wants, but he’s the one who’s working with a man who thinks, “The world only makes sense when you force it to.” (Notably, this line shows up in BvS as an indicator of how far gone Batman really is.) Bruce is all for imposing a will on people as long as it’s his will.

Anyway, Bruce “dies,” Alfred actually dies (in a way that feels rather dismissive of the character, especially in light of his character development in the early 80s), and Clark realizes that Bruce is still alive at the funeral. Bruce finally accepts that he can peacefully co-exist with the Reagan administration as long as he runs his paramilitary organization on the down-low instead of acting as a superhero, and I guess that’s a happy ending.

This final issue threatens to ruin the entire miniseries for me, and it’s a sign of things to come for the sequel. Still, I’ll take Miller’s DK1 over that one…and over Year One.


I just looked it up a bit and I don’t think it’s as much of a dig so much as a playful shout-out because they do seem to be friendly and have worked together in the past. Miller actually drew the cover and wrote an introduction for one of Ellison’s novellas, “Mefisto in Onyx.”

Batman definitely plays a big part, but he’s not the only one, Gordon is able to do some good in a smaller way, and we see a mix of both the good and the bad that comes from such a horrific moment. I think the mix of action of the event and the testimonials done afterwards were one of the strongest moments in the entire series.

I always thought that was an interesting scene with Superman. Maybe it’s because this was my first exposure to Superman (in comics, not in general – first real exposure was the animated series and falling asleep multiple times trying to watch the first Donner movie), but the idea of him sort of communing with the Earth, this otherwordly being bolstered by the planet he’s fighting to protect, it’s a fascinating wrinkle to his persona and sort of bolsters that mythic energy.

May I ask how come? Is it the idea of Batman being able to win a fight against Superman, or having them fight at all?

Anyway, just wanted to say thank you for really pouring out some interesting thoughts with this series. :slight_smile: