The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller/Klaus Janson)
DC Comics, 1986
There’s a reason why everybody tells you to start with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Actually, there are a few. First off, most people consider Miller the first guy to write a “dark” Batman – an obsessed, desperate man weary from years of crime fighting. Second, the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but this books so creatively and beautifully gives Batman fans exactly what they’ve always wanted in the way of a fight. Third, the scope of the book. It’s huge, and not just a wonder of storytelling, either. The sheer amount of words fit onto these pages was an artistic achievement, regardless of format. And fourth, the book’s subtlety. That may seem unexpected considering it’s about a man who dresses up and fights criminals with his bare hands. But there are numerous scenes in this book that aren’t obvious – in fact, it takes re-readings and conversations with other fans to decipher what’s really going on in some of this famously vague panels. Quite literally, you discover something new every time you read it.
I do love all those things about The Dark Knight Returns. And maybe they are the most important accomplishments. But every time I re-read this book, I remember what’s most striking about this massive, winding, dark tale: PROPHECY.
I don’t know how he did it, but Frank Miller somehow managed to predict the chaos of the 24-hour news cycle and the villainy of American politics. They may read like fiction, but we can look up now and see that some of the scariest parts of DKR actually came true. This one of the first books I bought, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t get it. It was one of those strange things where you actually look at something from the 80’s and think, “Oh, that was a long time ago, because this looks OLD.”
But that’s why you re-read comics. Because you realize that there’s more going on in those little panels than you see. I don’t know how Miller came up with such an amazing ending to the story. I don’t know how he predicting what life would be like in the distant future. Honestly, I’ll probably never figure that out.
But I’m gonna’ keep re-reading. Just in case.