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Book Review
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

Author: Bill Ramey
Friday, December 15, 2006

SYNOPSIS FROM DC COMICS:
"It is ten years after an aging Batman has retired and Gotham City has sunk deeper into decadence and lawlessness. Now as his city needs him most, the Dark Knight returns in a blaze of glory. Joined by Carrie Kelly, a teenage female Robin, Batman takes to the streets to end the threat of the mutant gangs that have overrun the city. And after facing off against his two greatest enemies, The Joker and Two-Face for the final time, Batman finds himself in mortal combat with his former ally, Superman, in a battle that only one of them will survive.

This collection is hailed as a comics masterpiece and was responsible for the launch of the Batman movies."

BATMAN: The Dark Knight Returns Action Figures and Deluxe Book Gift Set
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Action Figures & Deluxe Book Gift Set

It is considered a modern comic book classic as well as one of the greatest Batman stories every told.

Originally published as a four-issue miniseries in 1986, Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (with Klaus Janson on inks and colors by Lynn Varley) reintroduced Batman to the mainstream public as the dark character in which he was originally conceived in 1939. It also helped to bring about a period of "grim and gritty" superhero comic books from the mid-1980s on into the early 2000s.

I first read TDKR about 20 years ago when I was still in college. This was back in the days when I was “too cool” for Batman, so I actually read each issue at a local mall bookstore.

Recently, I’ve been picking up various Batman novels, TPBs, books, etc. each week when I visit my comic book shop. While looking over there expansive selection, it struck me that I had not read arguably one of the best Batman stories ever in nearly two decades. So I did what every self respecting Batman fan would do: I bought the thing.

What I plan on doing is providing a spoiler-free synopsis of each of the four books that make up TDKR and then end with my overall take on Frank Miller’s masterpiece.


Issue #1 of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller

BOOK ONE: "THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS"

It’s 20 some-odd years into the future -- and 10 years since the last known appearance of crime fighter known as “The Batman.”

Bruce Wayne is now 55 years old and “retired” his Batman persona after the murder of Robin II, Jason Todd (I will assume at the hands of The Joker, although it is not stated in the book). Bruce Wayne attempts to forget and bury his guilty memories in alcohol and dangerous activities (like driving race cars). He also attempts to prove to himself that one’s demons can be purged by funding the rehabilitation of former Gotham district attorney Harvey Dent -- AKA the murderous villain Two Face.

The Batman’s former ally, Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon (who now obviously knows that Wayne was The Dark Knight), is a few weeks away from retirement. Gotham itself is again overrun with crime and led by a gang of brutal and teenage murderers known as “The Mutants.”

With Bruce Wayne realizing that Gotham is in such dire straits, will The Batman remain gone?

One night, Bruce finds himself standing within the long dormant Batcave. “He laughs at me, curses me, calls me a fool,” Wayne thinks to himself. “He fills my sleep, he tricks me. He brings me here when the night is long and my will is weak. He struggles relentlessly, hatefully, to be FREE.”

Two things happen to Bruce that will eventually lead him to summon up his dark, yet heroic alter ego. He is almost assaulted by two Mutants at the same spot his parents were murdered. And secondly, the rehabilitation of Harvey Dent -- which he funded -- goes bad.

As Bruce watches TV alone one night, an old movie starts playing. The movie? THE MARK OF ZORRO. As Bruce watches, HE begins to speak. “The time has come. You know it in your soul. For I am your soul!”

A few days later, the TV news reports that police telephone lines are jammed with calls reporting numerous appearances of and the thwarting of crimes by…

…The Batman.

Now that The Dark Knight has, ahem, returned, it seems that Bruce Wayne is the one who has been retired.

The climax to Book One involves Two Face/Harvey Dent threatening to blow up a Gotham landmark, the Twin Towers, if not paid the sum of $5 million (Why not $2 million? “I‘ve got bills to pay“ says Dent).

Also, The Joker has awaked from some sort of catatonic state upon hearing the news reports of The Batman’s return. His first words in years are “Batman. Darling.”

Book One is a tremendous Batman story. It could be subtitled “Bruce Wayne vs. The Batman” as the best part is the battle raging within Wayne. Bruce tried to suppress his true personality with booze and reckless activities, but simply could not.

As one reads Book One, we realize -- along with our hero -- that there really isn’t a Bruce Wayne. That person died some four decades earlier in Crime Alley along with Thomas and Martha Wayne.

There is only The Batman and no amount of booze or self denial could keep him away.

NEXT...BOOK TWO: "THE DARK KNIGHT TRIUMPHANT"

Bill Ramey, AKA "Jett," is the founder and editor in chief of
BATMAN ON FILM, BATMAN IN COMICS, and ON-FILM.NET.

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