Technically, “The Dark Knight Returns” is not a stand-alone comic, but rather a four-issue miniseries written by Frank Miller (“Sin City”, “300”). It is often considered one of the greatest modern comics of all time. Set in 1986 Gotham City, “The Dark Knight Returns” tells the story of a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, who after years of giving up fighting crime, decides to resume the mantle of “The Batman”. However, after years of solitude and a lack of training, Bruce realizes he isn’t the same hero he was before.
The story brings back a cast of beloved characters from the DC universe, including Superman, Catwoman, The Joker, and Two-Face, all shown in the gritty light that Miller perfects. The dark world that Miller shows directly contrasts the “save the day” version of Batman popularized by Adam West in the 1960s, and has served as the inspiration for modern Batman material such as the Christopher Nolan movies.
“The Dark Knight Returns” tops many lists of “Greatest Comic of All Time”. However, it faces stiff competition from other highly acclaimed comics, most notably “Watchmen”.
However, the distinction between the two seems minor, as both series deal with similar themes. They both portray the bleakness of the world in stunning fashion while enacting silver linings to give the reader hope. For example, in “The Dark Knight Returns”, after Batman defeats the leader of a gang called “The Mutants”, the lackeys of this gang decide to use their forces for good, showing that even the worst criminals can come around to the good side.
Where the two stories diverge, the “The Dark Knight Returns” is superior. Drawing upon DC’s large cache of characters, Miller is able to give Batman his “Grendel” moment. He does this by pitting Superman, an alien with superhuman strength and abilities, against Batman, a semi-retired human.
Using his wit and skills, Batman is able to prove victorious, defeating the monumental odds. In addition, while “Watchmen” provides a snapshot of the 1980s, “The Dark Knight Returns” is able to show us the slow grind of time due to Batman’s long-standing history. Through Miller’s world, we are able to see what the passing of time has done to Batman, showing us that time beats everyone, but anyone can have one more good day.