[12 December 2006]
This is the graphic novel that paved the way for me (and many other comic book fans) to enter the world of more mature and intelligent comic books. It was just over ten years ago and I had recently come back to comics about a year earlier and had returned to what I knew, namely superhero comics. Then one day I picked up the trade paperback of The Dark Knight Returns and forever I was changed, as are many people when they read Frank Miller’s dark tale of an elderly, nearly broken Batman. This piece of art showed me that there was more to comics, and that they could be just as literary as any novel. Several years later, Miller’s sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again came out. At first, I was excited to get that same feeling I got when I first read The Dark Knight Returns. When this did not happen I felt a little disappointed, however I soon realized that while it was not the same and perhaps not as revolutionary, it was still well done and an important Batman book.
Batman as a character would not be who he is today if it were not for Frank Miller. What is even more interesting is that Batman would not be who he is today if not for the Frank Miller of the mid 1980’s. Miller created the definitive Alpha and Omega of Batman’s existence, namely Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, respectively, and he did it all within a year or two. These two pieces of work are those by which all other Batman tales are judged. Very few come close to equalling them and none have surpassed them. For almost fifteen years Miller left Batman alone and then, in 2001, he returned to the character that truly made him a comic book superstar with The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Now, DC Comics has collected both The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again into one of their oversized, high-end Absolute editions showing just how relevant Miller’s work still is.
Pretty much any list of the greatest comics of all time includes The Dark Knight Returns and pretty much any list of the worst comics of all time includes The Dark Knight Strikes Again. This dichotomy is probably more a sign of how revered the former is and how much the latter is not a literal copy of the original. The Dark Knight Returns is dark, moody and all about Batman. The Dark Knight Strikes Again is bright, colorful and more about the DC Universe than solely Batman. Miller was vocal about wanting to bring back the grandeur and awe of superheroes. In a way, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is Miller turning his back on The Dark Knight Returns and trying to give readers a different take on superheroes. Miller is trying to return to the comic book of days past. This is most notably shown by his design for Superman in the second series. Yet, he still keeps things modern and tries to push forward with Lynn Varley’s computer coloring and the updated costumes for such characters as The Flash and Wonder Woman.
The Absolute edition gives readers a few new bonus features, including sketches and Miller’s original proposal for The Dark Knight Returns. What is missing however is the original script for the fourth issue of The Dark Knight Returns, which has been included in the trade paperback version since 1996. What is in the Absolute edition does give insight into the world Miller was trying to create. If nothing else, having the two books together in one volume shows just how good and important Miller’s first Batman tale really is.
While a lot of people still look at The Dark Knight Strikes Again with disdain and criticism, it is more for what it is not than what it is. Having both of these works together shows just how much Miller changed in those fifteen or so years, not only artistically, but also personally and in his views of superhero comic books. Whether you agree with what he did, one cannot deny that Miller is one of the most important creators not only to comic books, but to Batman in general. While certainly there have been other great creators on various Batman projects, it is doubtful things would be the way they are now without Miller’s reinterpretations of the character over the years. The Absolute edition is definitely worth picking up if you are a fan of The Dark Knight Returns, even if you think that The Dark Knight Strikes Again sucked.