No Batman story in the world is probably more important than Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Released in 1986, it was responsible for the rejuvenation of Batman as the dark, brooding character we know today – and for the comics industry as a whole. Batman represented all that was wrong in comics and Miller set himself the task taking on the camp crusader and turning this laughable, innocuous children’s cartoon character into a hero for our times.
This is the tale of a tortured man’s effort to save a city spiralling into chaos. An aging, time-worn Bats struggles with the acceptance of a new Robin while facing the latest generation of vicious, hyper-violent criminals. Old foes like the Joker and Two-Face add to the maddening mayhem which Batman must face and somehow conquer.
The Dark Knight is a success on every level. It keeps the core elements of the Batman myth intact; with Robin, Alfred the butler, Commissioner Gordon, and the old roster of villains present, yet brilliantly subverted. The artwork is design brilliance -harsh, claustrophobic, psychotic. It’s fundamentally a great story: Gotham City is a hell on earth, street gangs roam but there are no heroes. Decay is ubiquitous. Where is a hero to save Gotham?