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The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns No. 1 (Feb. 1986).
Cover art is by penciler-inker Frank Miller and colorist Lynn Varley.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
Schedule Monthly
Publication date February – June 1986
Number of issues 4
Main character(s) Batman
Creative team
Writer(s) Frank Miller
Penciller(s) Frank Miller
Inker(s) Klaus Janson
Letterer(s) John Costanza
Colorist(s) Lynn Varley
Editor(s) Dick Giordano,
Dennis O'Neil
Collected editions
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns ISBN 1-56389-342-8
Absolute Dark Knight ISBN 1401210791

The Dark Knight Returns is a 1986 four-issue comic book miniseries starring Batman, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson, and published by DC Comics. When the series was collected into a single volume later that year, the story title for the first issue was applied to the entire series. The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Bruce Wayne, who at 55 years old returns from retirement to fight crime and faces opposition from the Gotham City police force and the United States government.

A sequel written and illustrated by Miller, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was published in 2001.


The Dark Knight Returns is set in 1986 in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is 55 years old and has retired as Batman; and levels of crime are rising. Wayne, finding his retirement difficult, becomes Batman again. He first faces Harvey Dent, who was believed to have been cured, after successful plastic surgery. Dent holds the city for ransom with a bomb. When Batman defeats Dent, he discovers that Dent's evil "Two-Face" persona has returned.

Batman saves 13-year-old Carrie Kelley from an attack by a gang called the Mutants. Kelley buys herself an imitation Robin costume and searches for Batman, seeking to help him. She finds Batman at the city dump where he fights an army of Mutants. Though Batman defeats the Mutant army with his weaponry, the Mutant leader beats him in combat. Kelley distracts the leader long enough to allow herself and Batman to escape. With the help of retiring Commissioner James Gordon and the new Robin, Batman defeats the Mutant leader on his own terms. The Mutants disband and some rename themselves the Sons of Batman, using excessive violent force with good intentions.

Batman's return stimulates The Joker to awaken from a catatonic state at Arkham Asylum. With renewed purpose, The Joker manipulates his caretakers to allow him to appear on a television talk show; he murders everyone in the television studio and escapes. Batman and Robin track him to a county fair, where he has already murdered many people. Batman defeats the Joker in a violent confrontation, almost killing him. To incriminate Batman for murder and thus defeat him, the Joker snaps his own neck. After another confrontation with the Gotham police and a citywide manhunt is begun, Batman escapes.

Superman diverts a Russian nuclear warhead, which detonates in a desert. The United States is hit by an electromagnetic pulse and descends into chaos during the resulting blackout. In Gotham, Batman realizes what has happened and he and Robin turn the remaining Mutants and the Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal fighting force, leading them against looters and ensuring the flow of essential supplies. In the midst of a nuclear winter, Gotham becomes the safest city in the United States. The U.S. government sees this as an embarrassment and orders Superman to remove Batman. Oliver Queen (the former Green Arrow) predicts to Wayne that the government lackey Superman and the maverick Batman will have a final confrontation. Superman demands to meet Batman. Knowing that Batman may die, Wayne symbolically chooses Crime Alley— where he first became Batman. He relies on Superman's weakness caused by his near-death in the nuclear blast.

Superman tries to reason with Batman, but Batman uses his technological inventions and mastery of hand-to-hand combat to fight him. During the battle, Superman compromises Batman's exoframe, and Queen wields a Kryptonite-tipped arrow to greatly weaken Superman. Batman suddenly has a heart attack, apparently dying. Alfred Pennyworth destroys the Batcave and Wayne Manor and dies from a stroke, exposing Batman as Bruce Wayne, whose fortune has disappeared. After Wayne's funeral, it is revealed that his death was staged using chemicals that can suspend his vital life signs. Clark Kent attends the funeral and winks at Robin after hearing Wayne's heartbeat as he leaves the cemetery. Sometime afterward, Bruce Wayne leads Robin, Queen, and the rest of his followers into the caverns beyond the Batcave and prepares to continue his war on crime. He plans to assemble an army to bring order back to the world.

In the current DC Multiverse, the events of The Dark Knight Returns and its associated titles are designated to occur on Earth-31.


  • Bruce Wayne/Batman: Bruce Wayne is 55 years old and has been retired from his Batman persona for a decade. When he sees violence becoming a common occurrence, he feels a strong desire to return as Batman.
  • Alfred Pennyworth: Wayne's trusted butler, medic, and confidant; now in his eighties.
  • Carrie Kelley/Robin: A 13-year-old girl with absentee parents, who later becomes Batman's sidekick, Robin. Throughout the story, she is frequently mistaken for the former "Boy Wonder". After she saves the Dark Knight's life, the aging Batman places his trust in her, against Alfred's objections.
  • James Gordon: The retiring Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, who retires on his 70th birthday. He is aware of Batman's true identity.
  • Harvey Dent/Two-Face: Now in his 50s, and having spent 12 years in Arkham Asylum, Harvey Dent has been treated by Doctor Wolper for three years and his face has been repaired with plastic surgery. Dent's doctor gives him a clean bill of mental health, but he is still Two-Face in his mind. Dent terrorizes the city with his face swathed in bandages.
  • The Joker: Batman's archenemy who awakens from a catatonic state upon learning of Batman's re-emergence. He plans a brutal crime spree to draw out Batman, setting in motion the events leading to a final confrontation with him.
  • The Mutant Leader: The cunning, brutal head of the Mutants who seeks to control Gotham and kill anyone who opposes him.
  • Dr. Bartholomew Wolper: Two-Face and Joker's psychiatrist and opponent of Batman's "fascist" vigilantism. Wolper is convinced that the Joker and Two-Face are both victims of Batman's crusade. Wolper's attempts to treat Two-Face fail. The Joker kills Wolper.
  • Ellen Yindel: James Gordon's successor as Commissioner. A captain in the Gotham City Police Department, she is a critic of Batman, but doubts herself after the Joker's crime spree.
  • Oliver Queen: After superheroes are outlawed, Queen undertakes a clandestine rebellion against government oppression, including the sinking of a nuclear submarine. He lost his left arm, for which he blames Superman. Despite this disability, Queen is still a highly skilled marksman.
  • Kal-El/Superman: Superman is now an agent of the U.S. government and his secret identity as the former Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is publicly known.
  • Selina Kyle: No longer Catwoman, Selina Kyle now runs an escort business.

Even though they are not directly addressed, characterizations of Dr. Ruth, David Letterman and Ronald Reagan appear in the comics.

Background and creation

[[wikipedia:wikipedia:File:Frank Miller.jpg|Comic creator Frank Miller at the 1982 San Diego Comic-Con International event|thumb|right|upright||]]

In the early 1980s, DC Comics promoted Batman group editor Dick Giordano to editorial director for the company.[1] 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."[2] During the creation of the series, fellow comics writer/artist John Byrne told Miller, "Robin must be a girl", and Miller complied.[3] Miller said that the comic series' plot was inspired by Dirty Harry, specifically the 1983 film Sudden Impact, in which Dirty Harry returns to crime-fighting after a lengthy convalescence. Miller also said his own increasing age was a factor in the plot.[4] The series employed a 16-panel grid for its pages. Each page was composed of either a combination of either 16 panels, or anywhere between sixteen and one panel per page.[5] Giordano left the project halfway through because of disagreements over production deadlines. Comics historian Les Daniels wrote that Miller's idea of ignoring deadlines was "the culmination of the quest towards artistic independence".[4]

The issues of The Dark Knight Returns in packaging that included extra pages, square binding and glossy paper to highlight the watercolor paintings by colorist Lynn Varley.[6]


Despite the cost of the single-issue packaging, The Dark Knight Returns sold well.[6] Priced at $2.95 an issue, DC Comics promoted The Dark Knight Returns as a "thought-provoking action story". Time said the series' depiction of a "semi-retired Batman [who] is unsure about his crime-fighting abilities" was an example of trying to appeal to "today's skeptical readers".[7]

IGN Comics ranked The Dark Knight Returns second on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels, behind Batman: Year One,[8] and called The Dark Knight Returns, "a true masterpiece of storytelling" with "[s]cene after unforgettable scene."[9] In 2005, Time chose the collected edition as one of the 10 best English language graphic novels ever written.[10] Forbidden Planet placed the collected issue at number one on its "50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels" list.[11] 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."[12] It was placed second in a poll among comic book academics conducted by the Sequart Organization.[13]

The series also garnered some negative reviews. In April 2010, Nicolas Slayton from Comics Bulletin ranked The Dark Knight Returns second in his Tuesday Top Ten feature's Top 10 Overrated Comic Books behind Watchmen. Slayton wrote, "[t]here is no central plot to the comic, leaving only a forced fight scene between Superman and Batman as an out of place climax to the story." "Gone are the traits that define Batman," also citing "misuse of the central character."[14] The New York Times gave the 1987 collected release of the series a negative review. Mordecai Richler felt that The Dark Knight Returns was not as imaginative as the work of Batman creator Bob Kane. Richler commented, "The stories are convoluted, difficult to follow and crammed with far too much text. The drawings offer a grotesquely muscle-bound Batman and Superman, not the lovable champions of old." He concluded, "If this book is meant for kids, I doubt that they will be pleased. If it is aimed at adults, they are not the sort I want to drink with."[15]

In other media


  • In the Batman Beyond television series, Bruce Wayne is modeled after his aged appearance in The Dark Knight Returns. Also, the gang known as the T's are visually based on the Sons of Batman, and the Jokerz seem to be inspired by the gang of Mutants who dressed as the Joker after his mass killing in the TV studio. The police uniforms are similar to the SWAT uniforms seen in DKR, as are several visible aspects of Neo-Gotham fashion to those seen in the comic.
  • Two members of the Mutant gang are shown throwing snowballs at an elderly Beast Boy in a cage in the season 2 episode of Teen Titans entitled "How Long Is Forever?".
  • Ellen Yin, a supporting character in The Batman, is a homage to Ellen Yindel, Police Commissioner of Gotham City in The Dark Knight Returns. In the episode "Artifacts", it is stated that Yin becomes the new Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department in the year 2027.


  • Along with Batman: The Killing Joke, Tim Burton has cited The Dark Knight Returns as an influence in his first film adaptation of Batman. References to the comic series are made in the films, with Vicki Vale taking photographs of the devastated Corto Maltese. Controversially, as in the graphic novel, Batman was portrayed in the Tim Burton films as an occasional killer, and he kills both The Joker and the Penguin, as well as several of their goons. In Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever, originally intended as the third chronological entry in the series, Batman is shown as not having found peace by killing his nemesis, trying to teach Robin that killing Two-Face won't help him find peace.
  • At the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, film director Zack Snyder expressed his love for The Dark Knight Returns in a response to a question about the maturity of comic book adaptations. Batman film franchise producer Michael Uslan also expressed interest in a possible adaptation.[16]
  • Elements of The Dark Knight Returns appear in the film The Dark Knight Rises, particularly the central concept of Batman returning to Gotham City after a long absence. Other elements include Bruce Wayne becoming a recluse after retiring from being Batman, Batman's first public reappearance during a high-speed car chase between police and criminals, and a remark by an observing veteran policeman to his young partner ("You are in for a show tonight, son."). Wayne uses a mechanical brace to enhance his out-of-practice body. In The Dark Knight Rises, he uses a leg brace to support and strengthen an injured knee, whereas originally Wayne used a mechanical arm brace. The film also involves Batman faking his own death, and subsequently passing his mantle onto a handpicked successor.
  • "DC Universe Animated Original Movies" produced a two-part animated version.[17][18] Part 1 of this two-part animated film was released on DVD/Blu-ray on September 25, 2012. Part 2 was released on January 29, 2013, with Peter Weller voicing Batman and Michael Emerson voicing the Joker.
  • The sequel to Man of Steel is currently in development, and it will feature Superman and Batman meeting each other for the first time in a live-action film. Zack Snyder stated although the film is partly inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, it is entirely original and not based on that comic.


In 1996, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the graphic novel, DC Direct released a limited edition statuette of Robin.[19] DC Direct released a series of Batman action figures based on The Dark Knight Returns in 2004. It included figures of Batman, Robin, Superman, and The Joker. Later, a Batman and Joker Gift Set was released, including both characters with new color schemes to reflect earlier points in the story, and a 48-page prestige format reprint of The Dark Knight Returns #1 was also released. An action figure of Batman as he appears in The Dark Knight Returns was released by Mattel in 2013, as part of their Batman Unlimited line of action figures.

Video games

The Batsuit featured in The Dark Knight Returns is available as a DLC (downloadable content) skin for the video game Batman: Arkham City. Its prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, will also have the suit, though instead of DLC, it will be unlockable through the game's multiplayer mode.

Comic books

  • Members of the Mutants—who are enemies to a young Batman and Nightwing (who is Barbara Gordon in this continuity)—appeared in the comic book continuation of the television series Smallville.
  • Carrie makes her first appearance in the main, canonical DC Universe in The New 52's Batman and Robin Issue 19 (titled Batman and Red Robin). She is a college student and the late-Damian Wayne's drama instructor. As a homage to The Dark Knight Returns, she wears an imitation Robin costume as a Halloween costume in her first appearance.[20]
  • Dr. Wolper makes an appearance at a younger age in Batman: The Widening Gyre by Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan.



  1. Daniels, p. 146
  2. Daniels, p. 147
  3. Daniels, p. 151
  4. 4.0 4.1 Strike, Joe (July 15, 2008). "Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight' brought Batman back to life". Daily News (New York). http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/2008/07/16/2008-07-16_frank_millers_dark_knight_brought_batman.html. 
  5. [[wikipedia:wikipedia:Hitch, Bryan|]] (2010). Bryan Hitch's Ultimate Comics Studio. Impact Books. p. 22.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Daniels, p. 149
  7. Henry, Gordon M.; Forbis, Deborah. "Bang!". Time. October 6, 1986. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
  8. Goldstein, Hilary (June 13, 2005). "The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels". [[wikipedia:wikipedia:IGN|]].
  9. Goldstein, Hilary (June 17, 2005). "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Review". IGN.
  10. Grossman, Lev (March 6, 2009). "Top 10 Graphic Novels: The Dark Knight Returns". Time.
  11. 50 Best Of The Best Graphic Novels, forbiddenplanet.com
  12. Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. [[wikipedia:wikipedia:Dorling Kindersley|]]. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "It is arguably the best Batman story of all time. Written and drawn by Frank Miller (with inspired inking by Klaus Janson and beautiful watercolors by Lynn Varley), Batman: The Dark Knight revolutionized the entire genre of the super hero." 
  13. On Canons, Critics, Consensus, and Comics, Part 2, Sequart Organization
  14. Top 10 Overrated Comic Books, Comics Bulletin, April 27, 2010
  15. Richler, Mordecai (May 3, 1987). "Paperbacks; Batman at Midlife: Or the Funnies Grow Up". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/05/03/books/paperbacks-batman-at-midlife-or-the-funnies-grow-up.html. Retrieved August 18, 2009. 
  16. Zack Snyder Interested in The Dark Knight Returns Movie? slashfilm.com, July 26, 2008. Retrieved November 24, 2009.
  17. Brendon Connelly (April 14, 2011). "Movie Version Of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns In The Works". Bleedingcool.com. http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/04/14/movie-version-of-frank-millers-the-dark-knight-returns-in-the-works/. Retrieved 2011-04-16. 
  18. Comicscontinuum.com – July 23, 2011
  19. 1996 Dark Knight Returns statue Under the Giant Penny (August 8, 2010). Retrieved April 17, 2011.
  20. Esposito, Joey (April 5, 2013). "The Dark Knight Returns' Carrie Kelley is Back". http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/04/05/the-dark-knight-returns-carrie-kelley-is-back. Retrieved April 6, 2013. 

External links

Category:Comics by Frank Miller Category:1986 comic debuts Category:1986 in comics Category:Dystopian fiction Category:Libertarian science fiction