Thursday, June 26, 2008

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley

This is only the third graphic novel I've reviewed here, but I really like it. It's isn't great literature in the classic sense, but it tells a good story, and it kept me interested and entertained.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a set of four stories, originally published separately, I believe. Collectively they tell of an older Batman, one who had retired but has to come back to defend Gotham City, a Batman driven by his inner demon.

This follows the real point of Batman in my mind: he's dark, tormented, and borders on doing evil while fighting evil. His history is revisited here again: the street corner where Bruce Wayne's parents were killed is present, and a couple of the classic villains make their appearance too. But here Batman also faces a new kind of evil, one with less restraint and more random in nature than he's faced before. He thinks of them as the decedents of the one that murdered his parents. "These are his children. A purer breed... and this world is theirs."

Originally published in 1986 - before the fall of the Soviet Union - these stories tell of a superhero coming out of retirement with a different twist than the much latter movie The Incredibles. Why Batman retired - vanished actually - isn't made clear. Perhaps I'd know that if I followed comic books, but I don't, and it adds a layer of mystery I actually like.

Also present is a long standing conflict between Batman and at least one of the other famous superheros. I won't say who - no need to spoil it for you if you don't already know - but that conflict is built right into the psyche of the two characters in question. If Batman represents the dark side of doing good, you can probably guess who's on the opposite side of things, so good he's hard to stomach for someone like Bruce Wayne.

The art here is well done, stylized but not so much as to be silly. And the story is more interesting than someone who doesn't read comic books might expect. Batman is always conflicted over what he does - what he has to do - and the philosophical issues there are deep. Not that this is a textbook from a college class on ethics, but you will ponder the limits of power, the role of vengeance vs. justice, and even simple aging. As I grow older these things all get to be more interesting to me, and they are well presented here.

This is highly recommended. I got my copy through, but I won't be passing it on. This one I'll keep and reread every so often. This Batman deserves no less.

Thanks to Patguy for recommending this one. It's definitely worth it.