Tag Archive: The Dark Knight Returns

Review by C.J. Bunce

I am a big fan of Jim Lee’s Hush series, which appeared as Issues 608-619 of the Batman title.  Jeph Loeb’s story and Jim Lee’s pencils, along with Alex Sinclair’s use of color and Scott Williams’s inks made a for a classic and definitive Batman story.  Both Loeb and Lee’s artistic influence can be seen with the feel, tone, even the inner thought fonts and speech boxes, of the new Batman in DC’s new 52, in both Justice League #1 and last week’s release, Detective Comics #1.

Detective Comics, back to issue 27 in the early 1940s, has always focused on the Caped Crusader’s real superpower (actually the absence of any superpower, to be correct), that of sleuth–as a modern Sherlock Holmes.  The modern Batman since at least Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One has remained a modern twist on Holmes, without all the necessary quirkiness of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective.  A brilliant series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who is filming the role of Bilbo Baggins in next year’s The Hobbit from Peter Jackson), recently began airing from the BBC.  Titled Sherlock, that series, created by the great Stephen Moffat of the Doctor Who fifth series fame, will be reviewed here later.  Like the modern look at Moffat’s Holmes, you would expect similar treatment with a modern Batman in the new DC 52.

And writer/artist Tony Daniel and co-writer Ryan Winn do not fail to deliver on that expectation.  Not only is the new Batman in Detective Comics a smart, master detective fluent in modern sleuthing techniques, the villainy he must face is disturbingly real.  Back in the 1970s, true crime and real-life detective mags were everywhere, and they often had uncensored, shocking photos.  The new Detective Comics seems almost inspired by this old sub-genre.  Is the Joker more vile than ever, or no different from his past psychotic nature?  The art seems to be pushing the bounds here and the new Detective Comics is not for the squeamish.  If there are new DC Comics titles directed toward kids then this title definitely is drawn for the mature viewer.  In one panel, the Joker’s face has been surgically removed by a new villain, the Dollmaker, and the remains are left hanging on the wall.  The result is as grotesque and grisly as it sounds.  As the Joker’s characteristic insane laugh and killer jokes are how we’d expect to see the Joker, the treatment here hangs at the precipice of being over the top.

Beyond the pursuit of the crime element we get short shapshots of a classic Alfred Pennyworth, as true to his past form as ever.  Commissioner James Gordon is also the class-act we would hope him to be.  Readers can’t really have enough Commissioner Gordon, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more coordination between him and Batman.  Once we saw Gary Oldman provide such a definitive performance as the unflinching cop in The Dark Knight, fans just can’t get enough of this character.

As Bruce Wayne, our hero is consistent with past Batman and Detective Comics stories.  One thing is for certain, if DC Comics is changing the face of certain superheroes in its universe, Batman is the same as ever.  A very good thing for such a key figure in the new universe who is featured in nearly a dozen titles.  Will the Dark Knight continue in this title to be this dark, bleak and gritty?  We’ll check out the next issue to find out next month.   But if the story sticks to its current grisly path this may not be an ongoing ‘zine for this reader.

With the barrage of comic book movies re-emerging into the mainstream, starting with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008, and continuing through this summer with Thor, X-Men, Green Lantern and Captain America, comic books as an overlooked niche may be having it’s own renaissance.  With the focus of DC Comics in returning to its roots by recharging its universe starting Wednesday, August 31, comic books are making national news as a popular medium again.

No greater indication of comic books coming of age this year occured at a Heritage Auctions sale a few weeks ago.  In its New York Signature Vintage Comics and Comic Art Auction #7033, fifteen bidders duked it out to determine the single most expensive piece of American original comic art to sell at auction.

So which artist, what book, what publisher scored the biggest single page hit ever?

In part, the record breaking sale came as a surprise.  This was no golden age book from the 1940s.  Neither was it an early rarity at the dawn of comic strips, like the Katzenjammer Kids, Keystone Cops or the Yellow Kid.  It also wasn’t a piece of cover art–in original comic art collecting it is the cover that typically fetches a far higher price than interior work.  Neither was it a classic science fiction comic, a Charles Schulz Peanuts page, or a Superman page.  But it did come from DC Comics.  Something to remember: only in recent years has comic book art been actively collected.  Many early pages were thrown away or lost.  Ask old time artists about their original pages at conventions and they will shake their head and tell you stories about their long gone pages.  Unlike rare comic books, there is only one original art page in existence, so these works are true rarities.

The object of the highest hammer price probably should come as no surprise.  It is from one of the most talked about comic book series in the past 30 years.  From a book that has been studied by economists and even used as a required text book at state universities.

The book of course is the ground-breaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, pencils by Frank Miller with Klaus Janson inks.  It is a splash page from issue #3, page 10.  And it sold for $448,125 including the auction house buyer’s premium.

Don’t you wish you had one of the several dozen remaining pages from the four book Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series right now?

The cover of the book featuring the record breaking page:

The last public sale record was set only last year, for the comic book cover of EC title Weird Science-Fantasy #29 by the great Frank Frazetta.  It sold for $380,000.

Frank Miller is now known not only as a controversial but popular comic book writer and artist, he is also the man behind major motion pictures, including 300, Sin City, and The Spirit.  Inker Klaus Janson is the German expatriot who has worked with countless major pencillers and set the standard all inkers aspire to, and he wrote the book on inking, The DC Comics Guide to Inking Comics


as well as The DC Comics Guide to Pencilling Comics.  (I am a big fan of the entire DC Comics Guide series and every beginning comic artists aspiring to make a ground breaking page like Miller’s and Janson’s should check these out).

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has been re-printed numerous times since its release as four prestige format comics in 1986.  The page itself features of course Batman, but also his controversial new sidekick introduced in the 1986 mini-series: a female Robin and considered the fourth Robin in the history of the caped crusader.  The page is a full spread or “splash page” showing the dynamic duo swinging across the skyline of Gotham City.  The Dark Knight Returns is a dystopian tale of Bruce Wayne, who emerges after retiring from the hero business and spending his days as a more stereotypical billionaire, including enjoying the fun of race car driving.  In the book he looks just like Paul Newman, as Newman looked in the 1980s.  The edge that we then saw in 1989’s summer blockbuster Batman starring Michael Keaton derives directly from this series, as does the darkness and grittiness behind every comic book series since.  Frank Miller and Company also revisited the Dark Knight story in the far less popular sequel Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

When Miller was asked about the imminent sale of the record-winning piece, he commented, “I’ve always loved that drawing…Danced around my studio like a fool when I drew it.  I hope it finds a good home.”

As several Batman series begin again this week, which series will become the next The Dark Knight Returns?

C.J. Bunce



%d bloggers like this: