BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS #1, published in 1986 by DC Comics, is considered part of one of the greatest comic book masterpieces of all time. Written by Frank Miller, and illustrated by Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, and John Costanza, this history-making story showed the wider public that superhero comics could be a medium for adult themed stories. Fans of the Dark Knight will find this tale darker than many modern Batman comics, following Bruce Wayne after putting up the cowl ten years prior.
The inaugural issue opens with an unknown middle-aged driver speeding down a track. A group of similar race cars flank him on either side, eventually leading to an unexpected crash. The driver, narrowly escaping death, is revealed to be an older Wayne who’s clearly craving any form of excitement in his now “normal” life.
The narrative proceeds to reintroduce readers to Gotham, a city in the midst of Cold War panic and an ever-increasing crime rate. Unsurprisingly, the news reports are full of despair. But one piece of news takes use by surprise: it is the tenth anniversary since the last sighting of “the Batman.”
Wayne spends an evening with Jim Gordon who attempts to relive the “old days” to no avail. The Commissioner tries to cheer him up, going to far as to recommend he “find a woman.” But Wayne knows his melancholic feelings stem not from loneliness, but a deep hunger for the war he ended years ago.
This issue sits both in Wayne’s future and his past. Miller’s script portrays a man who is stuck in the aftermath of his war on crime, wishing he could fill his passion once more. Wayne’s inner monologue is a jumbled mass of regrets, fears, and hopes, much like those within ourselves. Miraculously, we are able to find a commonality with this larger-than-life figure.
Readers soon find that the newest threat to plague Gotham may be enough to bring the former superhero out of retirement. And when Two-Face and the Joker plan to reintegrate into society, the Dark Knight finds the stakes to be higher than ever.
Miller’s pencils add to the cohesiveness of the comic’s illustrations. Backed by Janson’s ink work, the art embodies a unique style that was rare in Batman comics before this issue’s release. The characters are often depicted with a simplicity that conveys complex emotions. In addition, Lynn Varley’s coloring does a fantastic job of placing the readers’ focus on the action by using brighter colors for the active characters in each scene.
As beautiful as the illustrations are in this book, Costanza’s lettering is what adds the most intrigue. The fonts are interspersed all around the illustrations and panels, but take nothing away from the action. On the contrary, they enhance it. These frame the scenes when needed and seem to join in the scenes as independent acting agents.
The comic cover, illustrated by Miller, shows the Dark Knight leaping into action with a flash of lighting. This readies readers for the action sure to come.
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS #1 launched a new era of comics and is referenced by creators as the standard for many darker stories. We highly recommend picking this up and experiencing the Dark Knight’s reawakening.
What do you like best about this ground-breaking story? Let us know in the comments below!