I’ve taken on two Marvel series, huge series that are still ongoing in one form or another, and there’s no end in sight. I did a quickie post on the brilliant Planetary series. I knew I needed to dive in to DC, but I was struggling with where to start.
Issue #1 of The Dark Knight Returns, which was really the first Frank Miller Batman comic (he drew a one-off in 1979, written by Denny O’Neil), started a revolution in the world of comic books. Coupled with Watchmen, and coming on the heels of his revolutionary dark work on Daredevil, these books signaled a new era for comics: Grown Up Comics. Sure, indies were already doing this (kind of), especially creators like Dave Sim and books like Flaming Carrot, but those were almost universally “funny” or satirical stories. The Dark Knight Returns was one of the earliest examples of the kind of super-hero realism that eventually led to books like Kick Ass; the hardcore violence that would characterize so many titles (and the entire Marvel MAX line); and the inwardly introspective narrative style that is now common in books like Punisher and, yes, current Batman. It’s important to remember that at the time it came out, Batman had been 29 years old forever and, although his comics tended to be more “street” than any other in the DC line, he still tended to appear in crisply drawn, relatively brightly colored panels. And graphic novels were doing okay, but they weren’t anywhere close to being the commodity for the industry that they are today.
DC had allowed Miller to experiment with a higher-quality paper, thicker cover, and oversize issue format with Ronin. It was a success. So they let him publish The Dark Knight in a set of four, 50+ page “mini graphic novels.” They were gritty and glossy at the same time, and they rocked my world.
Issue #1 was all about suspense. We get to see where Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon have ended up in retirement, with Batman having disappeared after “something” happened to Jason Todd. Joker, too, is in retirement, in an old-folks crazy home for criminals. Wayne is now trying to spend money to improve Gotham, but he doesn’t seem to be succeeding. The first issue focuses on the rehabilitation of Two-Face…And by the end we see how that all went. Hence, my panel choice above.
And I had to include this other one because it mentions Turk, my favorite Miller character from his Daredevil years.