Review –The Dark Knight Returns
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Frank Miller
Penciller: Frank Miller
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colourist: Lynn Varley
Letterer: John Costanza
Release Date: February – June 1986
The main reason that I wanted to go back and review The Dark Knight Returns, was to give it another chance to impress me. Back in 2013 when DC announced Dawn of Justice at the San Diego Comic Con, that was the moment that I decided to get into comics properly. I had read the odd section from random comics before that, but had never actually sat down and read a comic from start to finish.
So after seeing this book on so many top ten lists online and jumping aboard the hype train for Batman V Superman, I sat down ready to be blown away. Unfortunately I was let down in a big way. Perhaps this would have been different if it didn’t have all of the hype surrounding it, but I came away slightly disappointed. Although I have read it a few times since, now almost eight years after first reading the book I decided that it was time to give it another proper chance to astonish me.
Sadly after rereading the TPB, my thoughts remain pretty much the same as they did upon first reading it. Although there are certain elements to the story that I really enjoy, I still feel that overall the book is very overrated. However, that’s not to belittle the parts of the book that are brilliant and after revisiting it again and thinking about in a historical context, I can see why it earns a spot in so many people’s top ten lists.
The way that Miller writes Batman and Joker are written here is rather interesting; showing a twisted love/hate relationship with multiple layers. Also, I have always loved the idea that without an active Batman there is simply no reason for the Joker, as they are two sides of the same coin.
This seminal story is a considered a classic for a reason and is responsible for so many of the characters trademark features that we can still observe to this day in modern Bat-media. Frank Miller absolutely changed the course of the character’s tone and universe and managed to make Batman cool again after being a laughing stock in the years following the Adam West show. I think this is a change that absolutely had to happen for the sake of the character going forward.
The main thing that I struggled with upon first reading through the book and something that I still struggle with today when I open any page of the book, is Frank Miller’s artwork. I have never been a fan of Frank Miller’s drawing style. A lot of people slight his artwork on his book post 300, but to be honest I have never really liked it. I don’t like the way he draws people and faces, his proportions and the way he captures posture always seems to look off to me. Nor am I fan of the muddiness present in a fair amount of the book’s panels. There is some brilliant clear use of colour in certain panel and others, – particularly Batman’s fight with the leader of the Mutants, – just seem to look like an ambiguous mess for some reason.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some phenomenal decisions made when it comes to character design. So many of the stylistic choices that Miller made here are iconic at this point and have influenced so much of the Batman media that has followed in the years since; you just have to look at the Snyderverse for a prime example. Though, I have never been a huge fan of this book’s ridiculously chunky version of the Batmobile.
My main takeaway after going back to review The Dark Knight Returns, is that although I find it overrated, I can understand why so many others hold it in such high regard. Art is always very subjective and I appreciate that I am in the minority when it comes to my distain for Miller’s pre 2000’s artwork, but I simply don’t find it enjoyable to look at. However, all of that being said, I do believe that this is a Batman story that everyone should read at some point, even if it is just to see where the influence came from for so many elements used in Chris Nolan’s and Zack Snyder’s films.
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