Writer: Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello / Artists: Miller, Kubert / DC Comics
The Dark Knight Returns universe is still a rich and enjoyable world unique to any other “time jump” storylines that have been popular in comics. While DKII was largely forgettable, The Dark Knight Returns has probably become the most popular non-canonical Batman story out there. The tone that Miller set with an aged and retired Batman being provoked to patrol the streets of Gotham in the face of a new threat has left its influence on plenty of other media (take Dawn of Justice for instance). That has come with some heavy cost of course. Miller often lauded for his genius may just as polarizing as an individual. Problematic just begins to scratch the surface what he’s made himself most popular for over the last decade or so. The further complicate this, a presser alluded that Azzarello did most, if not all of the writing on this book with Miller in more of an advisor roll. Who knows what percentages that amounts too, but regardless, it hints a a slight shift from what we might expect.
And still, here we are with the supposed endcap on the The Dark Knight storyline. Because of the time that has passed and also, because of DKII, my expectations were pretty low for this third volume, even if I am a big fan of Azzarello. All in all, I was somewhat surprised how much I liked it, even though it didn’t move me to any real emotional investment in the project. It begins, as you would expect, with Batman coming back into the spotlight. Again. Now however, Batman doesn’t seem to be going after some outsized threat, but actually, the police force itself feels the brunt of the Bat’s aggression. Protests against the police are mentioned and the visceral action shows that Batman isn’t just subduing the police to get away from them. This is full blown assault. The prose works in some parts, overly grandiose in other. The book skips around, checking in with other heroes in this universe, 20+ ahead of what we are accustomed to with natural maturation and developments. The check-ins will surely play out in some woven fashion, but currently they feel pretty disconnected to the Batman’s story back in Gotham.
The art does harken back some to the other Dark Knight books and your enjoyment of the art on those books will largely inform how you feel about this one. The square shouldered, wide as a bus Batman has somehow become more trademark in its recognition and may seem more natural on the page now, then it did when the original Dark Knight Returns shipped. The faces of familiar characters throughout the series look the way you remember them, with sharp angles and often understated facial expressions. It all works, even if not wholly consistent throughout the book.
It’s hard to tell what the public anticipation was for the book and what exactly were the expectations upon launch. Speaking for myself, they were fairly low and they surpassed that, even if they didn’t blow me away. A solid start to the new series, but it may need to tie somethings together quick to keep that potential.