Do you remember the campy version of Batman from the 1960’s TV show? That’s the way he was portrayed for several decades. But everything changed in 1986 thanks to Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s depiction of the Dark Knight, along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, ushered in a new, darker era for comic books.
The Dark Knight Rises is itself a very interesting read. Batman retired ten years ago. But crime has continued unabated in Gotham City. When an extremely violent gang appears, something within Bruce Wayne snaps and he can’t keep Batman hidden inside anymore. But Wayne is over fifty years old; fighting crime is much harder in his aging body.
Gotham City has also changed. Commissioner Gordon is retiring. His chosen replacement, the first woman Commissioner, feels the Dark Knight is a menace who must be hunted down. This is part of a larger debate within Gotham City, where various individuals weigh in on how they feel about the Dark Knight’s return. This part of the story feels very relevant to today, both in the way that it is presented (with talk show hosts bringing in various guests to debate) and in how divided in thought everyone is. And while The Dark Knight Returns has these modern aspects, it is also very much a product of its time, having been written during the Cold War; it expressly deals with people’s fears from the time (but with a superhero twist).
One warning though: the physical book is rather daunting thanks to the sheer amount of dialogue in it. The art is also not particularly appealing, making this graphic novel a bit harder to get through as well. But the story is very much worth it!
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