Original comic art cover to The Dark Knight Returns hits the auction block

DKR original cover art Issue 2

If you’ve any doubt which is more popular and influential–Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, or Alan Moore’s Watchmen–a coming original comic art auction may end the discussion once and for all.  Heritage Auctions is auctioning the cover to The Dark Knight Returns Issue #2, with pencils and inks by Frank Miller.  Only slightly less iconic than the stunning cover to Issue #1, the cover to Issue #2 took the world by storm, showing the classic superhero like he had never been seen before, not as heroic and stoic, but as grim and mean.

Back in February 2013 Heritage began to auction off the 1986 original art to all but one of twelve covers to Watchmen by Dave Gibbons.  The cover to Issue #1 fetched $155,350, Issue #2 sold for $38,837.50 and Issue #3 sold for $22,705.00.  Heritage’s magazine said the other covers will be sold in a coming auction.  However, in May 2011 an interior splash page of The Dark Knight Returns–Issue #3, page 10–also from 1986, sold for a whopping $448,125, as we reported here at borg.com.  That said, that page (shown below) was simply stunning.  Personally, this reader would rather have the interior page on the office wall than the Issue #2 cover, but cover art is cover art and interior art is interior art–covers sell for big bucks compared to interior pages.  And the cover to Issue #2 is arguably the defining image of the new grim Batman of the 1980s that survives to this day in the dozen+ monthly comic book titles and Christopher Nolan’s grim movie trilogy.

Issue 3, Page 10 original Frank Miller/Klaus Janson splash page art that sold for almost a half-million dollars at auction in May 2011.

Ignore the fact that this may be the ugliest rendering of Batman on record.  That was sort of the point, and the reason behind the shock and surprise that made The Dark Knight Returns the watershed work that it was.  The cover to Issue #2 is unlike the other three covers in a way that should make this the most valuable.  Issues #1, #3, and #4 used more stylized concepts for the covers, so the cover to Issue #2 is the only to sport a full splash image of the Batman exactly in the way he is known from the all-time, number one series-turned-graphic novel.

DKR Issue 2 final cover
Final cover as published for The Dark Knight Returns, Issue 2.

Here is Heritage Auctions summary of the lot:

Frank Miller Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #2 Iconic Cover Original Art (DC, 1986). While we’ve sold a number of stand-out pages from this legendary series — including a splash page from issue #3, which achieved a record price, for a piece of American comic art, of $448,125 in 2011 — we don’t have enough superlatives to describe this jaw-dropping cover, the first ever to appear at auction.  This is the only cover from the four-issue series to be rendered in pen and ink completely by Frank Miller, with no significant painted elements or overlays, and in our mind is artistically the best of the four.

Batman’s gritty resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity blazes through in this iconic image.  In short, this is one of the greatest pieces of comic art to ever be offered at auction; not only does it represent one of the most memorable images from the decade, but from Batman’s entire illustrious history.  Miller’s
revolutionary Dark Knight radically altered the direction of comics with its prestige mini-series format, combined with the fact that it was one of the first modern mainstream features to put a gritty noir patina on the squeaky-clean Silver Age hero mythos previously exemplified by DC.  The series has since been
celebrated as among the most important and influential stories ever published.

The Bristol board, with an image area of approximately 12.75″ x 17.75″, shows evidence of being lightly sun-struck, though Miller’s bold inks are entirely unfaded and unaffected.  His initials in the lower middle of the image and signature on the lower right have faded, and the art is in Very Good condition.

Dark Knight Returns original cover art full page Issue 2
The entire original page of cover art for Issue #2, with both pencils and inks by Frank Miller.

So just how much will the original art to Issue #2 sell for?  No doubt more than $500,000, but can it eclipse the $1 million mark?

We will find out when Heritage auctions the lot off during its auction, scheduled for August 1-3, 2013.  Find out more information at Heritage’s website.

C.J. Bunce

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