Why you think The Dark Knight Returns is the best Batman comic ever made?
I think it’s pretty overglorified. To be fair, it’s basically the only thing written by Frank Miller that I tolerated, but the hype about it is misleading. I get the history of TDKR being a turning point in the writing of Batman, but it wasn’t supposed to be this influential on the character–it is an else-worlds story after all. People tend to put it on a pedestal and claim that it is the definitive version of Batman, when in truth it is far from it. TDKR is the reason I cringe whenever a movie studio says they’re doing an older version of Batman.
I’ll give it credit and say that as an else-worlds story, it’s fairly decent. It nails Batman’s relationships with Superman and Joker as they would be 30 years later. Frank Miller’s writing style may not be my cup of tea, but this is some of his better work.
At the time, it was astonishingly good for a story that was offering a radically different version of some popular DC characters. Then (almost) everyone started treating it as if it were a canonical future that they had to build toward in their own stories, and the characterization of those popular DC characters suffered as a result. I suppose it didn’t help that DC had Miller to write an in-universe prequel to their post-Crisis Batman’s adventures that just happened to be a prequel to TDKR at the same time.
I also think the story has more impact if you haven’t watched RoboCop, a movie that bears such a striking resemblance to TDKR that Orion Pictures tapped Miller to write the film’s sequels. RoboCop is simply a better version of TDKR.
I'm honestly not a big fan of TDKR. It always confuses me when people refer to it as the best or the definitive Batman. It also disheartens me that adaptations in other media keep coming back to it as their source material, when I feel like their are other, much better stories they could be drawing from. It especially irritated me when people claim that it "saved Batman" from the campy '66 depictions, or act like everything good about Batman begins and ends with Frank Miller's version. Sorry, you probably didn't start this thread to see people grousing about something you clearly think is great. I just don't think very much of it. I certainly wouldn't group it with the best Batman stories ever told.
TDKR is a good Batman story. It is a very influential Batman (for good or ill and I’d argue it’s the latter.)
It’s 33 years old. It really only holds up well when you think about it relative to it’s time.
We were in the grip of a VERY warm Cold War. Between Reagan and Thatcher, the world’s two leading democracies were heading down a rabbit hole of greater conservatism and dangers to free speech and free assembly were on the rise. The AIDS epidemic was really scary and Thatcher was talking about taking AIDS victims in the UK and putting them in “quarantine” camps. Gates, guards, barbed wire, the whole nine yards. It was feared that if that plan had gone forward the US would follow suit. So there was a decent sense of nihilistic thought roaming around in the public consciousness. Certainly thoughts of nothing to approve of in the established social order. It is no surprise that Public Enemy and NWA would rise out of this with the next 18-24 months.
So at 33 years old, that pretty much means, if you are under 40, you didn’t read it when it came out and likely don’t know or remember what the world was like. Many comics fans know or learned about it through its reputation. And likely don’t think about the social issues that were swirling around it.
It is an ELSEWORLD. A fact I think DC would benefit by reminding people of. It was really the first hardcore social commentary we had seen in Batman and/or Superman. Yes, we had had GL/GA and others in the 70s but not the Trinity. So it had shock appeal of what happens if Batman’s world falls into the potential dystopia we were looking at. This is especially true of Gotham, the roughest city in the DCU. It is a worse case society. If the society willingly steps in that direction, Batman becomes less effective. He can fight villains and crime and protect regular people, but when those regular people start embracing social ideals that are antithetical to Batman, he is really superfluous. His mission no longer matters. Especially when the demi-god Superman has thrown in his chips and become the enforcer for this new status quo. So he ends his mission as it is pointless.
The rise of the Mutants in Gotham is the only reason he comes back to the Bat. As we see in the first fight, he is still out of step with what has changed. However, as Batman realized not everyone has given up hope. There are still those that believe in his mission. He does what Batman does better than anybody else. He adapts. He detects. He develops a new strategy and tactics to try and fulfill his mission. That means being prepared for the eventualities of Superman and the Mutants leader. At the end, we see him forging and determined to train the resistance to fight back.
What makes TDKR a good story is we Batman’s ability to adapt. His ability and desire to protect those that fundamentally believe his mission is just. In the end, we see Batman as the beckon of hope, not Superman, as has generally been the case. We know that the worse the world gets, the more we need Batman and what he represents.
The idea that Batman is the true sense of hope was an idea never before explored. That adaptability is the key to any situation.
It is interesting that it was this premise that launched Batman as the dominant figure in the DC Universe, dethroning Superman, who held that spot for nearly 50 years. TDKR was not received well by Superman fans of the period. So TDKR gives us the “super-Batman”. The Batman prepared for anything. The Batman who’s contingency plans have contingency plans.
The problem is it makes Batman ultimately a bit less human, which was the point of Batman in the first place. So in that sense TDKR diminishes Batman. Denny O’Neil and Chick Dixon tried to right the ship with Bane and knight fall, their success was limited.
As @JD3 points out, it didn’t save Batman. Adams, O’Neil, and others in the early 70’s did that. Even Miller has admitted it, and was building his Dark Knight off of those foundations.
So I’d argue that TDKR is good, but not great because ultimately it does a disservice to the humanness of Batman. But, there is no denying that it still is one of the most influential Batman books of all time. Perhaps people want “super-Batman”? But, we are slowly learning that Batman isn’t super. Look at The who would win, Batman or Wonder Woman. The general con census, even with some Batman fans, is that it is Diana, hands down.
Batman can prepare for superheroes and super villains, but against warriors trained in guerilla warfare tactics, like Bane and WW, he is out matched. The “trick” to beating Batman is to two steps stronger than Batman and have the tactical skills to create randomness in battle. Superman has an obvious weakness that can be exploited, Diana’s only real weakness is her humanity. In full blown battle, she can set that aside and Batman is toast.
This is also why the best “ship” for Batman is Diana, not Selina or Talia. She is the only one who can beat him. She is the only one capable of being a true equal.
So in the end TDKR, is a good story and better when looked at within the context of its time. Gotham by Gaslight is the better Batman Elseworld, but TDKR is a strong second. However, just like Gotham by Gaslight it needs to be understood as an Elseworld and needs to be treated as such within general continuity. That is slowly happening, very slowly, unfortunately.
People keep saying “you have to think about it in relation to when it was written.” I’m old enough to remember the '80s, but I don’t seem to have lived through the same time period as some people did. TDKR doesn’t appeal to me, and never has. I flat-out don’t think that it’s a good Batman story, or a good story at all.
For me, it’s the first time Batman had an actual personality and had a voice that was distinctly his. That voice is still heard in comics today. It redefined/defined Batman and superhero comics at large.
I also think Frank was one of the pioneers of balancing inner monologue with spoken dialogue and removing thought bubbles. The result is much more natural dialogue and a more mature reading experience that feels a little more like a novel. It paved the way for what I consider to s better way of writing comics (along with Moore, Morrison, etc.)
If we never got Returns we wouldn’t have got Year One. And those 2 books were a big part of Batman’s resurgence and inspiration for Batman 89. And without Batman 89 you wouldn’t have TAS, or the Arkham games, and the Nolan films would be very different or non-existent without Returns, Year One, and Batman 89.
And Batman 89 is really what created the modern blockbuster and the superhero blockbuster.
So ultimately, I wound argue that we wouldn’t have the superhero climate we have today without TDKR. I don’t think we’d have the DCEU or even the MCU. Or they’d be vastly different and not nearly as developed. I know The Dark Knight Returns gets lots of credit, but I honestly think it deserves even more than it gets. Other creative teams helped us get to that pointbbut from my perspective none more so than Miller and The Dark Knight Returns.
I kind of find it a bit hard to get into. Don’t get me wrong, it is good. It is just hard to want to sit down and read it.
It’s an easy read for me. I have to read it at least once a year.
While I can appreciate it’s place in comics history, I’ve gotta be honest…it’s not a story for me. You can trace a lot of problems with Batman over the past twenty years to this story and the people who were influenced by it.
I won’t take away the impact this story had on people who read it at the time and I certainly can’t take away the impact it had on them over the years. Many of our current writers and artists grew up with this version of Batman and as such, we’re seeing that influence in modern stories…and that’s not always a good thing.
The Bat-God trope (a Batman who can beat anyone if he has time to prepare and is always right no matter what and doesn’t trust others) was born of this story. How many artists and writers tried to ape this version of Batman in their own stories? How many times did we see a Justice League story where, even though he’s the only one without powers, he’s the one that saves the day because he’s had enough time to prepare? How many times did Batman come up with plans to take down other heroes because he didn’t trust them?
I’d also point to the annoying “Batman has to one-up Superman” trope comes from this story, but thankfully in the Post-Crisis, while they started off as not liking or trusting each other, writers slowly evolved their relationship to mutual respect and ultimately friendship. While some people want to cling onto them as polar opposites that wouldn’t work well together because Frank Miller decreed it, I think we’re tired of seeing it. We’re sick of a Batman that assumes the worst about Superman. While I enjoyed Dawn of Justice, I felt seeing this element in live action didn’t work and I hope it puts a moratorium on the concept for a very long time.
Also, it gets credit for taking Batman out of the campy sixties era and making him dark again…I think that’s disrespectful to the work Denny O’Neil, Neil Adams, Jim Aparo, Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rogers. They were doing darker Batman stories without making the character unlikable. Their work along with Batman the Animated Series shows you can have a fine balance.
I understand why people enjoy The Dark Knight Returns. Maybe you read it when it first came out and were blown away by how different it was compared to your notions of what Batman was. Maybe Miller’s writing resonated with you. Maybe you grew up after it was published and heard about it so much that when you finally read it, you were intrigued and it lived up to the hype. And that’s awesome. I never want to take that away from you.
The Dark Knight Returns had it’s time and for a while we were stuck in it’s shadow. But things changed. We’re getting tired of the tropes this story spawned. We’re seeing Frank Miller isn’t the writer he used to be given the numerous sequels he’s written to this. For me, it was a story I heard about growing up and decided to give a try. And as the years go by and I think back on my feelings on the mini-series (I’m not calling it a graphic novel), I will come to regard The Dark Knight Returns as a comic that I read.
Batman 89 was neither the modern blockbuster or the modern superhero blockbuster.
The modern blockbuster was Star Wars. Although the definition of modern is relative, one could make the case for DeMilles 10 Commandments.
The modern Superhero blockbuster was Superman ‘78. Yes, it earned less total box office when you look at the raw numbers. However, when you adjust to the 90% inflation we saw between 1978 and 1989 the breakdown is much different.
Domestic: $251 million
Foreign: $160 million
Worldwide: $411 million
Superman 78 (raw, inflation-adjusted)
Domestic: $134 million, $254 million
Foreign: $166 million, $315
Worldwide: $300 million, $569 million
Superman 78 out did Batman 89 by $158 million adjusted for 89 inflation. That would be $326 million in today’s dollars.
Box office mojo puts Batman over Superman. That may be just domestic totals. Regardless of the interpretation of numbers, Batman 89 still had a more significant cultural impact at the time and going forward over Superman the movie. It was a huge hit. Both from ticket sales, merchandise, and general exposure. Everyone and their grandmother had Bat-mania. It unquestionably shaped the film industry at the time and the superhero film genre. More so than Superman the movie, IMO.
One of my favorite stories
BoxOfficeMojo and other sites, list by total dollars but do not adjust for inflation. Relative to inflation Star Wars made $775 million in actual dollars, but $3.281 billion compared to to Avengers 2.796 billion. And Avatar adjusted for inflation, made $3.335 billion.
So is Endgame the highest grossing movie of all time? That depends on how you look at money over time.
Superman was a cultural phenomenon in 78. The thing to remember is worldwide and even national news and Hollywood buzz reached further in 89 because there was a big change and increase in TV coverage between 78 & 89.
Arguably the biggest blockbuster of all time is Gone With The Wind. Given the relative population and number of available screens in the US, and worldwide distribution really wasn’t a thing in 1939. It is the #1 adjusted box office and doesn’t even account for US population density. Which was nearly 3 times smaller. Relatively speaking, a greater percentage of people saw GWTW than Endgame, let alone Superman 78 or Batman 89.
Just like TDKR, it is relative to its day. Superman was selling nearly 1 million copies a month in 79, while Batman sales were about 600,000 copies in 89. And that was before the Crash of ‘93.
Sure Batman has more franchising but there were more franchise opportunities created in that 11 year span. (And one of the reasons for 90% rise in inflation during that 11 years.)
So it’s still all relative. Nothing exists in a vacuum. It’s like comparing played in sports in different eras. Sure, people talk about Jordan’s 6 championships. But, today people forget Russell’s 11. If people want to talk about careers being defined by championships, who had the better career, MJ or Russell? Depends on how you look at it. The rules and free agency changed the game a lot. So it depends on what perspective you take.
Same for film.
Same for comics.
Well, if nothing else, it’s certainly better than The Dark Knight Strikes Again. That one is probably still Miller’s worst Batman story.
Its amazing, no 3 paragraph story needed.
The problem with the conventional wisdom that DKR and Watchmen are the “best” is that “best” is very subjective, and most people can name several books they like better. Nevertheless DKR is pretty great. I thought I was over it, but reread within the last year or so and was surprised at how gripping it was. Something I thought I had played out. But it still has this ascerbic, biting gut punch that can still reach readers to this day. It’s a very visceral experience, not a particularly literary one, although the themes can cut deep. Over-rated? Definitely. Bad? By no stretch of the imagination.
I read watchmen about once a year.
It holds up better than TDKR.
I do think it warrants it place on Time Magazine’ best novels of the 20th century.
I will agree it’s a elseworld story it’s before Tim Drake, Damian, The signal, even Terry. But it’s still a monumental story for me it’s what got me to see Batman as an adult character. Even in the 90s growing up Batman was still a kids movie in my family. So reading a grounded batman story filled with political agendas, old grudges, and even Superman and Joker. I was in love it’s still one of my favorite Batman stories. But there’s been a lot of good stories since. I love Scott Synders work. But this story paved the way for Miller to write Year one which became a HUGE story to dc canon influenced many Batman stories from Long Halloween even Zero year was written trying to give credit to Miller and Mazurelli (mispelled for sure) I understand people’s problems with it and it doesn’t age well. But it’ll always be a classic to me
It’s not even remotely the best Batman story ever told.