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‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ at 35

The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson, is a 1986 four issue mini-series published by DC Comics that is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential Batman stories ever published, as well as one of the greatest works of comic art in general.

It is also considered a turning point in the history of the medium that introduced a darker and more mature-oriented version of the character (and superheroes in general) to pop culture during the 1980s.

Various elements of the series have since been incorporated into depictions of Batman in other media.

Since the 1950s, when the Comics Code Authority was established, the character of Batman had drifted from his darker, more serious roots. It was not until the 1970s when the character began to feature in darker stories once again; however, Batman was still commonly associated with the campy theme of the 1960s Batman TV series, and was regarded more as a father figure to Robin rather than as his original identity as a vigilante.

In the early 1980s, DC Comics promoted Batman group editor Dick Giordano to editorial director for the company. Writer-artist Frank Miller was recruited to create The Dark Knight Returns. Giordano said he worked with Miller on the story’s plot, and said, “[t]he version that was finally done was about his fourth or fifth draft. The basic storyline was the same but there were a lot of detours along the way.”

Above: Frank Miller at the 1982 San Diego Comic-Con International.

“With Batman, you’ve got a character that you can describe in just a few seconds: His parents were murdered by criminals; he’s warring on crime for the rest of his life,” Miller explained in the documentary Comic Book Confidential. “He was created in 1938, and the character was just ruthless in his methods, terrifying to criminals. Over the years, that got softened and softened, because people started thinking that comics had to be just for kids… and Batman had to be made much nicer. And eventually, no kid could relate to him anymore.”

Widely considered one of the greatest works in the comics medium, IGN Comics ranked The Dark Knight Returns first on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels and called The Dark Knight Returns “a true masterpiece of storytelling” with “[s]cene after unforgettable scene.”

In 2005, Time chose the collected edition as one of the 10 best English language graphic novels ever written. Forbidden Planet placed the collected issue at number one on its “50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels” list.

Writer Matthew K. Manning in the “1980s” chapter of DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle (2010) called the series “arguably the best Batman story of all time.”

It was placed second in a poll among comic book academics conducted by the Sequart Organization.

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