The Dark Knight Returns is set in a Gotham City of the future in which Bruce Wayne has retired from crime-fighting for ten years after the death of Robin. Bruce decides he must be Batman once again and begins to eliminate his old foes, starting with Two-Face. He saves a 13-year old girl, Carrie Kelly, who eventually follows him back and becomes his new Robin.
He comes into conflict with The Joker, recently escaped from Arkham Asylum. In their definitive battle The Joker breaks his own neck to incriminate Batman in his death. All the while, Superman has fallen under the US government’s control and must battle the newly re-emerged Batman.
Through a series of disastrous events, Batman fights Superman to an almost standstill with the help of Robin, Green Arrow and kryptonite, but cannot hold off his own death, nor the death of his loyal butler Alfred, who successfully destroys the Batcave to prevent the identity of Batman from being revealed.
After the funeral, Superman discovers that Bruce is still alive and is continuing to fight against the forces of evil in Gotham.
This seminal book written by Frank Miller, and illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson was released in 1986. DC Comics promoted the mini-series as a “thought-provoking action story,” which it absolutely was, and TIME magazine called it one of the 10 best English language graphic novels.
The story has found new life in the recent Batman vs. Superman film, where the basis of the grand, epic fight between the heroes is directly homaged in the movie. The concept of a dystopian future Batman who fights his way back from retirement is a great hook and provides for a visceral story about the true nature of heroes in the never-ending battle of their lives.
Even though the story was singular in nature, it has been revisited on several occasions, with varying degrees of success – most recently the new mini-series The Master Race. Without The Dark Knight Returns, I am not sure that we would have had the great, dark epics of the early 90s. We certainly have to be grateful for the graphic novel’s success which gave us the Tim Burton Batman movies and began the resurgence of Batman in the public eye.
All in all, The Dark Knight Returns gives us the Batman we deserve, for all his faults and heroic attributes.