Telling you that Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns had a profound impact on me would be lying since I was around 5 years old when this four-issue prestige series was originally published. By the time I was really *into* Batman, I had already seen the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film and the 'grim & gritty' tone of Batman had already been a fixture in the comics for a while. What really makes me re-visit and re-read The Dark Knight Returns every so often is the dystopian alternate future-reality Miller had dreamed up. TDKR introduced us to an older and more brutal Batman (who now uses guns and has no issue beating up cops), who lives in a North America that seems to be perpetually on the brink of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (Reagan is still president, evidently) and the Justice League of America is nowhere to be found. Of course we get some brilliantly written/illustrated stories about Batman facing future versions of Two-Face and the Joker, training a new Robin sidekick and confronting government-lackey Superman - but it's the process of looking for clues to piece together how things had gotten so bad in the first place that had me hooked. In essence, Miller gave us our first Elseworlds book.
|The Dark Knight Returns. Book 3.|
TDKR was published several months before Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen - which more or less also explored the same themes (ex: a world that doesn't trust super-heroes and is perpetually on the brink of a nuclear war) - and both pieces of work seemed to help set the tone for the trend in 'darker' super-heroes that would permeate the early modern age of comic books.
|The Dark Knight Returns. Book 2.|
The Dark Knight Strikes Again was noticeably different from The Dark Knight Returns as it tended to give more attention to the *other* characters of the DCU (e.g., Superman, Wonder Woman, The Atom, The Flash, etc) rather than Batman himself. It was for this reason - and some of you are probably going to judge me here - that I enjoyed 2001's The Dark Knight Strikes Again (also by Frank Miller) maybe even more so than The Dark Knight Returns.
A writer working in an 'alternate universe' sandbox gives them carte blanche to destroy, mangle, and/or distort long-loved characters as they see fit, and nobody can really get upset about it because it's just an alternate universe (and not really canon with the DCU). Hence, with a morbid curiosity, I enjoy reading about the fates of some of my favorite DCU characters. Admittedly, Miller has an interesting take on specific characters [see: Superman] that may offend longtime fans of said character, but that's a lot of the entertainment value right there. I've always admired that Miller has no qualms with pissing fans off.
|Apparently, the Creeper didn't live to see TDKSA book 3.|
Dark Knight III: The Master Race is set three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and six years after the events of The Dark Knight Returns. This is ordinarily something I'd wait to be released as a collected version before purchasing, but my sheer anticipation for this third installment in the Dark Knight franchise couldn't be extinguished. So far, I'm about halfway into this nine-issue series and I'm already seeing a lot of attention given to the 'next generation' of super-heroes (i.e., Batman and Superman's successors) as well as some equal attention to former Justice League members (in the form of back-up features). I'm a little excited to see which former JLers meet gruesome deaths (or get horribly mangled) and which ones live long enough to see the end of the nine issue run. The art is visually appealing and the story REALLY starts to pick up by issue two, so these are all pluses as far as I'm concerned.
There are a few other reasons DK III is something I'm following with great interest:
- Frank Miller is co-writing this (along with Brian Azzarello). Miller's reputation precedes him, and if you're one of the few people out there who aren't familiar with his work, I'm just going to mention Sin City, 300 and Robocop vs Terminator and hope you know what I'm talking about. It's not often that a story line that was begun thirty years ago is still being written by the same writer. As of this writing, I'm a little vague but it would seem that Azzarello is the primary writer on this and Miller is consulting, but Miller has asserted that he does have a lot of input into the characters. I'm kind of curious just how close it stayed to Miller's original 'vision' for Batman and if his evolution as a writer is obvious in his new work.
- Frank Miller is also illustrating (along with Andy Kubert) and Klaus Janson is inking. This may be a moot point since I can't actually determine where Miller's art begins or Kubert's art ends, but it all looks great. There's also no denying the Janson's inks always brings out the best in everyone's work. Many of these pages are 'rip out pin-up' worthy [see image above].
- It has been revealed that Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder (2005) is considered as a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns. Remember All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder? The series where Batman actually comes out and says "I'm the G*ddamn Batman"? When I bought the collected version of this series about a decade ago, I just thought it was another one-shot series, but now it actually has some sort of context in the grand scheme of things (as far as the Miller Dark Knight Universe is concerned). I'm suddenly re-reading it in a whole new light and hope that we get an issue #11 someday...
- ...until then, there's 2016's Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 (also written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello), which gives us the Jason Todd Robin story the character has always deserved, and serves as a prequel to 1986's The Dark Knight Returns.
Unless DC comics decides otherwise, Miller has stated that he'll be writing a fourth chapter to the Dark Knight Universe sometime in the near future. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Miller revealed that he had future plans for Carrie Kelly (Robin from The Dark Knight Returns) but is still hashing out the details with DC. Based on all of these recent announcements, it looks like there's going to be a lot of new Dark Knight Universe material slated for release in the near future.