There’s no doubt that DARK KNIGHT RETURNS was highly influential by way of his art and writing.
Love him or hate him, you can’t deny he’s one of the most iconic and influential creators in Batman history.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed most if not all of his Batman work over the years.
It’s very much a “which era are you talking about?” kind of thing. I love Frank, but man, he’s gone downhill after Sin City. It’s like he never left there. There was a time when he was exactly what Batman called for, but as times change, I believe he’s more and more at odds with the character.
He has somehow written two of the best Batman stories ever, as well as two of the worst. I don’t really know where this leaves my opinion on him.
He was good, but he’s gotten so bad that now I avoid the things he writes. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t pick up Superman: Year One. I hear the first issue was good, but it could go off the rails at any moment. I’ll buy the trade if it actually turns out to be good. Basically, I’ve lost all trust in him as a writer and now assume I probably won’t enjoy the things he writes.
I would say that in terms of overall quality and “batting average”, if you will, that Morrison is the best Batman writer. He’s also really the only one in recent memory that I could imagine doing his run without Miller’s contributions. That said, EVERY OTHER GOOD BATMAN WRITER OF THE LAST COUPLE OF DECADES HAS BEEN INFLUENCED BY MILLER. The thing about Miller is, he went TOTALLY off the rails. ASBAR, Holy Terror (intended as a Batman story) and Strikes Again (not as bad as the aforementioned two, but still) are all just as bad as DKR and Year One are good. I think he was influential, for a time, and he’s gotten better since his 1990-2010-ish down period (DKIII is alright), but he’s never reached his highest high points again.
I’d say Miller inspired other writers to produce work that was better than what he himself did, but his writing doesn’t hold up against others who perfected what he started. However, Miller’s only contribution was to compose his story with more distinct stylistic elements and to have characters talk like actual human beings. So, I think it reflects extremely poorly on every other comic writer to that point that they hadn’t thought to do that. It’s not like a gritty style and natural-sounding dialogue hadn’t been invented; the film industry had been doing that far better than Miller ever did as a matter of course since the '40s. So, somehow, no comic writer ever watched a movie and said “Hey, I should do something like that.” It’s actually kind of incredible.
And people who give Frank Miller credit for making Batman “dark” also don’t know what they’re talking about. Denny O’Neil and to a lesser extent Steve Englehart did that well enough on their own. If you read Bat-books from the late '80s, the tone is not actually noticeably different before and after Miller’s brief contributions.
From an objective rather than historical perspective, Miller’s early work was, at best, decent, and his modern stuff is exactly as bad as people say it is.
I’m in the minority in that I don’t like Frank Miller’s Batman. If I had to make one exception it would be Batman: Year One. That Batman hadn’t devolved into an angry and paranoid jerk. Dark Knight Returns is a seminal work for many comic fans and I don’t want to take that away from them. It just wasn’t for me. The first half of the story is interesting as we see Bruce get back into the suit, but the latter half is where it falls off for me personally.
I think I also have an issue with how people have propped up his Batman work. Ask people these days who brought Batman out of the campy 60’s era and a lot of people will point to Frank Miller…forgetting the fact that Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams did that for the character long before Miller got there.
Miller gave us that Batman vs Superman fight which became what every anti-Superman/Pro-Batman fan uses as an example of why Batman is better. And many fans who grew up with that story have kept that annoying “Batman is always right and will always get the upper hand on Superman” cliche running. I have never liked Batman and Superman at odds with each other. While the Post-Crisis era had that, their relationship grew from contention to grudging respect to ultimately friendship, but it took a LONG time to get out of the relationship Miller established. I think it all came to a head with Dawn of Justice where we finally said enough.
His work over time has gotten worse. All-Star Batman and Robin was stunning in how far he’d fallen.
Yeah, all of that is true. Miller didn’t make Batman dark, he just showed people what you could do with a true “Creature of the Night” (and, of course, made everybody talk like humans talk). I would say that for those who have read his run, Steve Englehart is an even better example of Batman done right. Here’s Miller’s problem: he has an incredibly specific vision of what Batman, as a character and as a concept, is, and that vision worked fine in the ‘80s because that was what was needed, it’s just that he doesn’t understand how to adapt. So we get the Holy Terrors and the ASBARs and the DKSAs because he doesn’t understand what Batman is in a modern context the way that Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, and (love him or hate him) Tom King do. Dark Knight Returns and Year One are CLASSICS that can exist separate from Miller’s later mistakes. But, Frank Miller, the person, should be recognized just as much for his contributions to Dark Knight Strikes Again as his contributions to DKR. So I will never consider him a truly great writer.
He’s very so so when it comes to Batman.
But his best overall work are outside of DC. His Daredevil run especially Born Again was one of the best comics I’ve read in Marvel world. I highly recommend it.
Also one more reason to like Morrison’s Batman: you know he loves Superman because he wrote All-Star.
The Dark Knight Returns is an amusing satire of mid-1980s American culture, but it unfortunately was taken as the definitive depiction of Batman, the Joker, and Superman by a few too many writers after its release. And it kinda outstays its welcome, honestly. Plus, the panels are excruciatingly small at times.
Year One is…fine, I guess. I’ve warmed up to it to some degree because it does create a compelling new version of Jim Gordon (albeit one virtually unrecognizable to readers of the time). I really don’t care for Bruce Wayne in the book, and dominatrix Catwoman is just wince-inducing. Maybe the book wouldn’t bother me quite so much if it weren’t designed to be in continuity. Its hyper-realistic approach isn’t a good foundation for the sheer wackiness of the world of Batman.
Controversial opinion: I kinda love ASBAR. It may be the only modern retelling of Robin’s origin that truly understands just how utterly insane that origin story really is. That said, it’s kinda hard to figure out to what degree Miller was in on his own joke (especially when the joke was at the expense of certain creative choices he made in his previous Bat books), and whenever he tried to play on the popularity of the book’s most infamous line, it really fell flat. It’s also utterly misogynistic, but that’s kinda par for the course with Miller, no matter which era we’re talking about.
ASBAR is bad. But it’s kind of fun/bad.
Oh, it certainly is bad. And only about half of the issues are really needed. But just when you find yourself asking if we really need Black Canary in this story (let alone a whole issue dedicated to a new version of her origin story), Frank delivers the silly goodness with Superman crushing a milk carton and burning a newspaper with his eyes upon learning that Batman has indeed just abducted a 12-year-old. I’d call the book a dumpster fire, but it’s more of a bleach fire.
Frank Miller’s ‘80s art (DKR, Daredevil, and to a lesser extent Sin City) is absolutely beautiful. But man, after the mid-‘90s it became completely unreadable garbage.
Alexander Knox: you are so clearly a first timer. I’ve been looking at Batman for years and decades even; but Jack Nicolsons’ Joker was the thing that brought me in. The comic is about one man. But what defines the comic are his adversaries. Batman’s compulsion are the Arkham group. We don’t really care if it’s not part of the craziez
Uh, I’ve been reading Batman comics for decades, too…
I’ve read all of the books I’ve mentioned multiple times over the years.
While I agree that other writers and artists had been doing darker and more serious Batman stories in the 70s, Miller is undoubtedly the one who made it official not just for fans, but for the general audience as well. We undoubtedly would not have gotten Batman '89 without Dark Knight Returns, and without that, I don’t think Batman as a character would have nearly the amount of pull he has today.
Also, I will say this about All-Star Batman – what’s interesting about that story is that while it is over the top and a horrific take on the character, it was absolutely intended to be by Miller and even before the book came out, he talked about how this was meant to be a young, arrogant Batman who gets his ass kicked physically and spiritually before wisening up and becoming the more stoic, balanced guy (well…balanced for him) we know and love. All-Star is basically taking that story we know and accept, that Batman needs a Robin to balance out his darkness, and cranks it up to 11 and breaks the dial.
One could make the argument that Miller’s pitch might not have gone as far had it not been for the precedent set by O’Neil, Adams, Rogers and Englehart.
The one thing I will give Miller is something you said @Jay_Kay; that Burton’s Batman movie would not have been made had it not been for The Dark Knight Returns. While they had a Batman movie in development years before, Burton wanted to do something like Miller’s work which lead to the movie we got in 1989. While I will never hold DKR in as high regards as others, it is an important comic if not for that reason.