Over the years, Batman has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. But in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, he faces his most imposing challenge yet: Father Time. No, that’s not the name of a B-list villain, but the actual passage of time itself. In this book, a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne dons the cowl for the first time in a decade in order to protect Gotham once again from evildoers. Does he still have any gas left in the tank?
Many cite this book as the starting point for what modern Batman is today, and it’s not hard to see why. The story is very dark in tone and the action scenes get extremely gritty in nature. It’s during these action sequences when The Dark Knight Returns really comes to life, as they’re executed brilliantly. As the book progresses, the action ramps up to insane heights, which leads to some of Batman’s most memorable sequences ever. I also like the parts where the story reminds us that this this isn’t the same Bruce from decades. He’s an old man here, which comes back to haunt him in interesting ways.
One of the key ways in which this story tries to ground itself in something more real is in the way it ties major political events of the time. The Cold War is a big deal here in Gotham, which comes around in a big way later on. The other way is through the excessive number of newscasts about Batman’s recent adventures. I found these to be particularly grating on my nerves. Since most of them take place in very small panels with tons of text, there ends up being too much commentary from pundits that hate what Batman stands for, as if they totally forgot about the decades of great service he gave the city in his younger days. While we’re on that tangent of stupidity, I don’t buy into much of the Mutant Gang’s arc. The way in which they flip-flop sides on a whim is ridiculous.
The positive influence of The Dark Knight Returns on everything that came after it can’t be argued, though I do have a hard time hailing it as a classic. From crude art to excessive text to some really stupid characters that annoy throughout, there are enough flaws here to bog this down. However, taken as a whole, I still think it’s an entertaining read thanks to all of the great high points that take place here.