Comic Books You Should Collect: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1
Each day in February, Dibbs is showcasing iconic comic book issues that you should REALLY care about, all in part to celebrate comic books making their way onto the platform! While not every book we feature will end up on the Dibbs app, our list is jam-packed with the greatest stories from old and new!
This month, we dropped our VERY first comic book, The Incredible Hulk #181 (The first appearance of Wolverine)! Head over to dibbs.io to get into the action and own a piece of this iconic comic book!
Batman Gets Gritty
In 1986, Frank Miller took the reins of DC’s most iconic detective. Inspired by a cold and callous New York City, Miller set out to make his futuristic Gotham darker than it had ever been written. Even though his four-part series takes place in an alternate universe now known as Elseworld, it’s famously become the most important Batman story to ever be written.
Batman, as a comic, had been known to be “dark” sometimes, but never had it been so gritty and dread-inducing as The Dark Knight Returns. Batman wasn’t the young and spry fighter he once was; he was old, dejected and spiteful. In a city surrounded by untrustworthy criminals and villainous masterminds, Batman’s biggest battle was the one against his own aging body. These new portrayals gave way to many different dynamics writers would spend the next 40 years expanding on. The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and Knightfall were all made possible thanks to Miller’s vision of Gotham and Batman.
The first issue of this series sees a 55-year-old Batman come out of retirement. After the death of Robin (Jason Todd), Bruce Wayne is riddled with grief and hangs up his cape. But a major spike in crime and the failed rehabilitation of Two-Face pushes Bruce to come out of retirement and suit up once again. So much has changed since Bruce was fighting crime. The police and the police commissioner are no longer on his side. The criminals appear to be more murderous and reckless, even over the pettiest things. Reporters even claim that The Joker was merely a victim of Batman’s abuse. Bruce’s city has been flipped upside down and set on fire.
This issue sets up the short series with Batman donning his cap and cow along with his black and white moral code, to bring justice back to his city. But Bruce’s body isn’t as it once was, and his age appears to be a major obstacle in the way of winning back his city. To make matters worse, The Joker has quietly emerged from retirement after hearing of Batman’s return.
Most of the story is told via clips from television shows, news reports, and political pundits criticizing the methods Batman uses to fight crime. Are Batman’s methods needed? Or is his idea of justice outdated and civil rights violations? These debates rage on as Batman reemerges on Gotham to fight the criminals who’ve taken over.
The Dark Knight Returns, along with stories like Maus and Watchmen, created a new age of what storytelling in comics could be. The abstract and nihilistic tone of Miller’s story proved that comics can deliver mature stories that went deeper than the surface level previously thought. The gritty story has gone on to inspire countless comic writers, fiction writers, and even television and movie directors/writers.
And while no one may ever write a more important Batman story than Frank Miller, he’s given generations of creators the inspiration to create and evolve mediums past their theoretical limits!