One of the most influential stories in comics is gaining all new traction as Frank Miller prepares for another chapter in his “Dark Knight Saga”.
In 1986, when Frank Miller’s epic graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was igniting the imagination of comic book readers, I was sternly navigating away from all the buzz. After all, I was a staunch fan and dedicated to the competitor imprint and with the exception of The New Teen Titans and the Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series, I didn’t read a lot of DC Comics.
I was devoted to the adventures explored by The Uncanny X-Men and Spider-Man. I depended on my comic book heroes to be simple and accessible — relatable and in the context of a world that I felt I could inhabit.
If it wasn’t for my comrade David Dayoub who had always a far more sophisticated taste than I — I would never have read Miller’s opus, which was a no-hold’s bar look the Batman mythology — it was a dystopian look at a “future” Gotham City that glimpsed our own reality, taking a shattered-mirror look at governmental corruption and the questioning of heroism — and what makes a “hero”.
The depth and themes of the story were what attracted David to the book; that it centered on one of his favorite characters — The Batman — was only a peripheral pleasure. I can recall how he would describe to me the texture of which Miller was evolving the myth, but to my adolescent mind I grasped with the importance of telling that type of story within the context of a comic book — it didn’t make sense to me.
I remember reading Crisis and whimsically thrilled by the idea that the extensively complicated DC universe and its continuity were about to become “streamlined” and that its most iconic characters including Superman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League and especially Batman were getting major face-lifts, but after turning the first pages into Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns I wondered what direction it would take.
The graphic novel established Bruce Wayne as a sort of aging daredevil, disconnected from the world around him and finding reasons not to involve himself with the machinations of the people inhabiting it. Any distraction to keep him from delving into the psychosis of vigilantism that lead him to embody the might of the Batman. But life isn’t so generous and as fate would have it, Wayne will soon be forced back into the cowl.
The Dark Knight Returns would redefine the Batman mythology for next generation of readers, and when Hollywood called the studios would be attracted to the conflicted sides of Bruce Wayne that embraced the shadows in his search for justice. Was Bruce after all only hiding behind his role as a superhero to sate his thirst for revenge? These were only a handful of themes that Miller dove right into.
The Batman would emerge once again one of DC Comics most popular characters, even besting the Man of Steel within the pages of the climax of the series. The character and his origin would be revisited by creators over the next decades and would become the focus of the rebooted Batman Begins franchise, utilizing most of Frank Miller’s influences fro his groundbreaking work.
Next summer when the Dark Knight returns to the big screen, one of the most pivotal moments in Miller’s book will come to life and is at the center of the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice big screen motion picture. Three decades later, Frank Miller is still impacted the culture and with the release of the next installment of his Dark Knight Saga — DKIII: The Master Race it would appear that night still belongs to him.