Summary from Goodreads:
This masterpiece of modern comics storytelling brings to vivid life a dark world and an even darker man. Together with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley, writer/artist Frank Miller completely reinvents the legend of Batman in his saga of a near-future Gotham City gone to rot, ten years after the Dark Knight’s retirement.
Crime runs rampant in the streets, and the man who was Batman is still tortured by the memories of his parents’ murders. As civil society crumbles around him, Bruce Wayne’s long-suppressed vigilante side finally breaks free of its self-imposed shackles.
The Dark Knight returns in a blaze of fury, taking on a whole new generation of criminals and matching their level of violence. He is soon joined by this generation’s Robin — a girl named Carrie Kelley, who proves to be just as invaluable as her predecessors.
But can Batman and Robin deal with the threat posed by their deadliest enemies, after years of incarceration have made them into perfect psychopaths? And more important, can anyone survive the coming fallout of an undeclared war between the superpowers – or a clash of what were once the world’s greatest superheroes?
Over fifteen years after its debut, ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’ remains an undisputed classic and one of the most influential stories ever told in the comics medium.
The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. The Detective. Countless other names have been used to describe Batman but one above all else stands out in this crowd; Icon. Batman is responsible for reshaping the status quo of comics. Before his debut in 1939, most comic book or pulp fiction characters were either westerns, goofy characters, or a big boy in blue tights (Superman). What all of those characters were, were something moreorless wholesome. They had no edge to them. Batman changed that. Whereas Superman bathed in the light, Batman dwelled in the darkness. He went where no one else had gone before. Batman skirted the boundaries of what was right and wrong. He was a hero but not in the normal sense. He met criminals head on at their level and struck fear in their hearts. What has helped Batman remain so popular since his initial debut is his ability to change with the times. He has adapted to each generation’s need and has become exactly what the people need; a reason to traverse the edge of sanity. He has spawned countless animated series and is a billion dollar franchise at the global cinematic box office. Perhaps one of the most memorable incarnations of Batman was crafted by master storyteller, Frank Miller, in his groundbreaking and character defining tale, ‘Dark Knight Returns’.
“This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle, –broken, spent. Unable to move. And, were I an older man, I surely would be. But I am a man of thirty–of twenty again. The rain on my chest is a baptism. I’m born again.”
The Dark Knight returns is a tale in which Batman is retired, 55 years old, but feels the pulse of his city; its faint. It is crying out for him to recusitate it. The entire tale is gritty, dark and ominous. In a sense, it is Batman’s true nature. This is him at his absolute best; when he is personally at his absolute worst. He is an older and wiser (perhaps jaded) man compared to what he used to be. His age comes into play on numerous occasions (most importantly, the end of the story), but the common question related to Batman remains; does Gotham City need him or does HE need Gotham City? Does the man make the mask or does the mask make the man? Who is the true persona? A lot of these questions have already been discussed and elaborated on many occasions but none in such a way as Frank Miller has been able to present.
Frank Miller is the visionary writer behind 300 and Sin City. His run on Daredevil redefined the character. His take on Batman is no different. Frank Miller strips Batman down to the bare essentials. There is no Robin. There is no Batgirl. The Joker has been pacified (or so we are led to believe). Batman is a man apart from the world. Ten years since his last appearance, he reemerges to tackle the crime and depravity of Gotham City as only he can. Armed now only with his world class detective abilities (and some cunning, to make up for his elderly body, wracked from years of abuse as the Caped Crusader), Batman is in a world unlike any other we the reader had ever been privy to. The Cold War is still ongoing in this dystopian world. All masked superheroes, save for Superman, have been banned. Instead of the usual skepticism which usually permeated throughout the course of his actions, Batman’s return is met with hostility from the Gotham City police department and the United States Government itself. Indeed, this is a world unlike any other. Dark and gruesom; this is a world in which Batman truly thrives.
Frank Miller is able to give Batman a new sense of purpose. His own personal demons are shown in their darkest beauty. Whether it be the many failures in which he internalizes unto himself and externalizes upon the criminals of Gotham (the murder of his parents before his eyes, the paralyzing of Barbra Gordon, or the death of Jason Todd –the second Robin–), Bruce Wayne no longer exists in this story. He is Batman. With or without the cape and cowl. That might not be made apparent to the casual reader but to those familiar with the Batman mythos, they can see right through the veil which is shown. What the casual reader see’s is Bruce Wayne with a mustache. That mustache is uncharacteristic of Batman and is almost acting as his new mask. One night, after realizing the rising crime rates sweeping across his beloved Gotham, he shaves his mustache and once again dons the cape and cowl.
I was very much in tune with the dark atmosphere of the tale itself. Frank Miller crafted an unrelenting ominous story in which the Dark Knight is pushed past his boundaries and forced to undergo yet another transformation. Instead of him adapting to the dark, he has to embrace the fact he was born of it, molded by it. Throughout the course of the tale, Batman adapts to this new and gruesome world and employs new and violent methods in order to combat the threats facing the city he so passionately loves. He is a man on a mission and has to fulfill a destiny setforth by his own mind. This story is Batman at his finest and it seems to be not only of my opinion, as this story has been so influential on the Caped Crusader’s adaptions into other mediums. The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy took a lot of cues from Frank Miller’s tale, and rightfully so; it is his purest interpretation. The quote which I included accurately sums up the ideology of Batman in this story. Batman is born again and thanks in part to Frank Miller, the Dark Knight lives on for a new generation without the possibilty of growing stale. I found it quite fascinating to see the dichotomy of good and evil portrayed via Batman and The Joker. It has been stated that they are characters which exist for one another, hence why neither can come to kill the other. However, this tale proves to be the end of the road for their relationship and…well I do not wish to spoil it for anyone but it is one last gag from the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime pulls the ultimate prank on Batman. Harvey Dent/Two Face also plays an integral role in this story, but perhaps it was the appearance of the boy in blue that played the most pivotal role in this tale. It is so hard to describe how important Superman was to this story without revealing the denoumet; the climax. By the end of this story, they finally understand one another.
I have done quite a few reviews of Batman graphic novels, but none of them really focus on Batman himself. Most of them are seminal tales including members of his rogue gallery (The Killing Joke–Joker comes to mind), but this story helped to reshape the way the comic book world would view Batman. Batman was in need of new material. A certain depth to his character was lacking. It seemed he was floundering about in a sea of nothingness. He was lost in the world of comic books. He was stuck living a banal existence, perhaps overshadowed by the big blue boy scout. He needed to be born again, and that he was. Frank Miller helped to make Batman a man with a purpose yet again. He exists to bring order to chaos, or perhaps he is the controlled chaos which is needed to reign over the villany of Gotham City. He is the Dark Knight…and he has returned.