Comic Book: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns aka: The Dark Knight Returns
There are seven working defenses from this position. Three of them disarm with minimal contact. Three of them kill. The other - [KRAKK] - hurts.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a four-issue Batman comic book miniseries written and drawn by Frank Miller and published by DC Comics from February to June 1986.In this storyline, Batman has been retired for ten years, alcoholic and consumed with grief after the death of Jason Todd, the second Robinnote a full two years before A Death in the Family, mind you. Superman, still as young and handsome as ever, has become little more than an icon, answering to the government and trying to stay as neutral as possible. Commissioner Gordon is weeks away from retirement, The Joker has been silently locked away in Arkham for years, and Two-Face is about to be released back into the world with a brand new skin. In Batman's absence, and in the midst of a killer heat wave, Gotham City is overrun with crime, plagued by a monstrously violent gang known as The Mutants. After encountering a Mutant gang in the alley where his parents were murdered, Bruce Wayne resurrects Batman, aided in his renewed crusade by Carrie Kelley, a 13-year-old girl who becomes the third Robin. Defeating the Mutants, though, turns out to be child's play compared to what Batman faces next...TDKR is a seminal comic book work, with a gritty, unique style that's draped in the best of Film Noir techniques. It is often considered as influential as Watchmen in demonstrating the possible "maturity" of the comic book medium, and, along with Watchmen, it ushered in The Dark Age of Comic Books (for good or bad). It was also highly influential in the DCU's recasting of Batman and Superman's relationship: no longer are they perfect friends, The World's Finest, but rather somewhat distant and distrusting (if respectful) of each other.Since its release, a number of Miller's Batman-related works have tied into TDKR in one way or another:
In 1987 Miller did Batman: Year One with David Mazzucchelli during his one-arc-long run in the main Batman book. Though it was supposed to be the origin of New Earth's Batman, Word of God says that it was written so that it could also serve as a prequel to DKR.
In 1994 the much ignored Spawn/Batman came out, written by Miller and drawn by Todd McFarlane. It was an (ill-advised) crossover between the Spawn Universe and the Dark Knight Universe and canon to both, whose only tie to TDKR was that it showed where Batman got the technology that he would use to build his power suit... and that's only a couple of pages.
In 2001 and 2002, Miller produced a sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It was more set around Batman than about Batman, being closer to a Justice League story or even a Superman story than a Batman story. Questionable artwork and story developments have made this one of the more controversial Batman stories to date.
In 2005 to 2008, Miller wrote a prequel, All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder, which was even more controversially received than Strikes Again. Though it's been on hiatus, the series will return under the name Dark Knight: Boy Wonder. Maybe.
Faking the Dead: Batman fakes his death in the final chapter. It fools everyone...almost.
Flatline Plotline: Batman's ultimate plot in the fourth issue is to remove himself from the public spotlight by faking his death. Being Batman, he kills himself for a while using a special drug, using the fight with Superman both as a cover and as an excuse to work out his anger and frustration with Superman.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: While Batman's return helps save Gotham from the Crapsack World it has become in his absence, it also causes the Joker to snap out of his 10 years of catatonia and gives him a motive to return to crime.
Old Superhero: One of the central themes of the overall plot is how age affects Batman in everything he does, from his tactics to combat to his overall state of mind.
Air-Vent Passageway: The gigantic leader of the Mutant gang is behind bars awaiting trial. Batman knows that being in prison won't hurt his gang cred one bit (it helps that the Mutant leader spends his free time annoying the prison guards and bragging about what kind of havoc he will make when he gets out, instead of showing remorse) — to break the Mutant gang, you must break its leader. Thus, he and Gordon arrange for the leader to escape via the prison air vents and meet Batman for a mud pit duel.
Badass Boast: The Mutant leader and Batman exchange them in the mud pit.
Mutant Leader: Batman! Face me, fool! I kill you! I eat you heart! I show you who rules Gotham City! Batman: (rises up out of the mud where he's been hidden) Okay, boy... Show me.
Badass Grandpa: Batman, obviously, but also Jim Gordon, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, Superman (despite having not really physically aged) and Alfred to some extent. And less sympathetically, the Joker too.
Batman Gambit: Bruce uses quite a few over the series. Even his final trick relies on knowing Clark will let him go.
Cape Wings: The imagery is invoked when Batman uses his cape to appear to break his fall when confronting the police during the Joker's attack on The David Endochrine Show and the Joker later on at the fair. The cover art used as the page image above also invokes this imagery.
Invoked by Batman when he comments on one of the military-grade handguns used by the Mutants. It's slightly futuristic-looking and specially adapted for a silencer.
The MP40 is very common. Not only do the Neo-Nazis led by Bruno use them, but, oddly, so do the guards at the police station!
Curb-Stomp Battle: Batman's second fight with the Mutant leader. He uses his brains instead of pure brawn, and while he doesn't come away unscathed, he does win.
Dating Catwoman: Literally; it's never said outright, but Selena's voicemail to Bruce is a huge hint, they kiss before Batman and Robin go after the Joker, and Gordon has to restrain her from physically attacking Superman after Bruce Wayne's funeral concludes.
Death by Disfigurement: Toyed with. Batman breaks the Joker's neck just enough to cause paralysis. The Joker finishes the job by himself, both to frame Batman for his death and to spite Batman. And yes, it's medically possible. It's the reason why people tell you not to move after car accidents.
Doesn't Like Guns: Both played straight and subverted. In issue 4, Batman invokes the trope in his speech to the Sons of the Batman:
Batman: (breaks a shotgun in two with his hands) This loud, clumsy, stupid thing... this is the weapon of the enemy. We do not need it. We will not use it.
That being said, he will use them when they're necessary. In the first issue, he uses a rifle to shoot a grappling line between the Gotham Towers to confront Two-Face and his henchmen. In the fourth issue, he uses Commissioner Yindel's gun to shoot some plastic explosive. He also gets pushed into using one when taking on three Mutant kidnappers who have a toddler as a hostage. The confrontation culminates with Batman pointing one of the Mutant's guns (a frigging M60 GPMG) at the last kidnapper, who is holding the hostage at gunpoint.
Mutant: I'll do it man, believe me! Believe me! Batman: (Shoots the wall behind him and rescues the child) I believe you.
Don't Make Me Destroy You: Throughout the fight between Batman and Superman, Supes makes it clear from the start that he doesn't want to kill Bats and practically begs him throughout to just give up so he doesn't have to.
Expository Hairstyle Change: Of a sort. At the start of the story, Bruce has a mustache, but after a sleepwalk (or psychosis-driven fugue; it's not made clear which) into the Batcave, Alfred notices that he's shaved it off... and he didn't realize he'd done it.
Eye Scream: To reiterate: Sharp batarangs are sharp. Joker learned the hard way.
Freudian Excuse: A psychiatrist blames Batman for making the Joker into a raving loon. He might have a point, but the Joker kills him.
Godzilla Threshold: Discussed at length. During Commissioner Gordon and his replacement Yindel's first conversation, she asks him why he's allowed a vigilante like Batman to operate in Gotham. Gordon talks about the first time he heard the Urban Legend that Franklin D. Roosevelt let Pearl Harbor happen in order to get the US into WWII and stop the greater evil of the Axis. He went back and forth on whether it was morally acceptable if true, until he realized the whole thing was "too big" for him to judge. Later, after Batman rallies the Sons of Batman and the Mutants to quell the mass riots, Yindel finally realizes the same. When asked by an officer if they should do something, she can only respond "No. No. He's too big." Later, a news blurb shows her dodging questions about the police being lax in enforcing her warrants against Batman.
Going Cold Turkey: When Bruce takes up the cowl again, he quits the sauce. He doesn't have any withdrawal issues, possibly because Batman is an even stronger addiction.
Good News, Bad News: The President has a very cheerful way of telling the American People about the dangers of nuclear fallout.
Well folks, I've got good news and bad news. Heh... The good news is that the Soviets have withdrawn their forces from the island of Corto Maltese.... And the bad news, well... It looks like those Soviets are pretty bad losers, yes they are...
Go Out with a Smile: Joker laughs the entire time he's twisting his head around to finish breaking his neck, leaving a grin on his face as he dies.
Groin Attack: Happens to Batman at the foot of the Mutant leader during their first fight.
He shows me what a fast kick is. Something explodes in my midsection. Sunlight behind my eyes as the pain rises.
Hall of Mirrors: Batman chases the Joker into one at the fair. The Joker gut-shoots him after he gives himself away trying to come through a mirror.
A Handful for an Eye: During their second fight, Batman cuts the Mutant leader over the eyes to blind him with the blood, then compounds that by throwing mud in his face.
Hannibal Lecture: The Joker, paralyzed from the neck down, hits Batman with one just before killing himself.
Heat Wave: Gotham has been stuck in one for a while at the start of the series.
Heroic BSOD: In the first issue, Bruce, lost in thought, wanders to the spot where his parents were killed and is confronted by Mutants. Their dialogue (casually referring to killing Bruce, having a quota for murders, and then dismissing Bruce as their target because he's "into it") shakes Bruce to his core, as he's been equating them to his parents' killer up to that point.
Bruce: No. Not him. Not him. He flinched when he pulled the trigger. He was sick and guilty over what he did. [...] These... These are his children. A purer breed. And this world is theirs.
Reporter: Police phone lines are jammed with citizens describing what appears to be a siege on Gotham's underworld... by the Batman.
And Joker in a twisted inverse version.
Human Shield: As Batman's chasing the Joker through the fair, the Joker tries this with one of Carrie's friends. Batman promptly tags him with a handful of batarangs.
I Am the Noun: This is the climax of the "breaking the shotgun" sequence mentioned above.
Batman: Tonight, we are the law. Tonight, I am the law. Let's ride.
I Fight for the Strongest Side: Once the Mutant leader is defeated, the gang disintegrates into a number of splinter groups that define themselves by whatever figurehead they're following; the only thing that remains consistent is their use of violence.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Subverted. Batman doesn't have to actually get violent with perps to get info. Instead, he lets their fear of him do his work for him, although in some cases a bit of setup is needed.
In one instance, Batman scares a perp (the one who had the page quote applied to him earlier on) into talking simply by walking toward him; the perp falls through a window trying to get away, injuring himself, and talks after Batman tells him that he's the only person who can save him from bleeding to death.
In another instance, he hangs an unconscious Mutant upside-down from a gargoyle at the top of a skyscraper, puts a hand over the Mutant's face, and slowly moves his hand away when the Mutant wakes up and tries to cut a deal. What makes this even more effective is that the reader doesn't realize all this until it's all said and done; the sequence is drawn from the Mutant's perspective.
Batman (internal): It was tough work carrying two hundred and twenty pounds of sociopath to the top of one of Gotham's Twin Towers. The scream alone is worth it.
Jekyll & Hyde: Averted. Recent breakthroughs in plastic surgery restore Two-Face's appearance, but at the unforeseen cost of forever destroying the good-natured "Harvey" half of the personality and leaving the criminal "Face" in complete control.
Two-Face: Got them all to keep their lunches down when they saw my face... saying I was cured... saying I was fixed. I'm fixed all right... at least both sides match now! Go ahead, have your laugh! Take a look... take a look... Batman (internal): The scars go deep... too deep. Not fooled by sight, I see him... as he is. (the panel shows Dent with his entire head a monstrous ruin) Batman: I see... a reflection, Harvey. A reflection. (the next panel shows a bat's snarling face)
What makes this scene even more powerful is that Two-Face is the only one of Batman's enemies in the story that he is sympathetic to, as he funded Harvey's surgery and rehabilitation efforts and knows what it's like to be living a dichotomy (Bruce Wayne/Batman vs. Harvey Dent/Two-Face). For bonus points, in Batman: Year One which occupies the same universe as this book, it's made clear that Harvey Dent was one of Batman's closest allies and friends early in his career.
Kryptonite Is Everywhere: Averted. Kryptonite doesn't show up until the very end of Batman's battle with Superman, when Bruce specifically says that he had to spend years (and millions of dollars) synthesizing it, implying that the naturally occurring stuff is too rare to be a practical weapon. And despite having days to prepare for the showdown, Superman seems genuinely surprised that Bruce was able to get his hands on any at all.
Let The Past Burn: At almost-not-quite the end, Alfred burns down Wayne Manor so that nobody can look through it for evidence or clues after Batman's identity as Bruce Wayne is revealed to the public while faking his death.
Man Bites Man: The Mutant leader puts his filed teeth to good use against Batman and the mayor.
Media Watchdog: The public broadcast of the Mutant Leader's video after his capture is cut off after a few sentences... with good reason.
Mutant leader: ... and then I'll find your new cop - your woman cop - and I will- Newscaster: The rest of the Mutant leader's statement is unfit for broadcast.
Mis-blamed: In-universe example - Batman is accused by the media of inspiring a number of incidents, from a mentally-ill mob enforcer putting on a Batman costume and turning on his boss, to a very disturbed man's religiously-motivated shooting up of a porn theater. Meanwhile, a shop owner who actually WAS inspired by Batman chases off a purse-snatcher attacking an old lady. No one is hurt enough for this to make the news.
The story starts off with Bruce Wayne retired for ten years and an alcoholic. However, once he puts the Batsuit back on, he demonstrates that ten years of retirement and alcohol have not caused him to forget his skills at all.
Even more impressive, the Joker has been straitjacketed in a padded cell for over a decade when he learns of Batman's return and can barely speak, "b...b...b...b...BATMAN! ... Darling!", but returns to the world ready for action.
Nixon Mask: Used by a group of convenience-store robbers in a throwaway gag.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Batman's first fight with the Mutant Leader. Robin's intervention is the only thing that saves him from getting killed. Fortunately, he learns his lesson, and their second fight ends with the tables completely turned.
The Joker realizes Batman isn't screwing around this time when he gets a batarang in the eye.
*Joker grabs one of Carrie's friends and puts his gun to her head* Batman (internal monologue): No, Joker. You're playing the wrong game. The old game. Tonight you're taking no hostages. Tonight I'm taking no prisoners. *cue batarangs* Joker (runs away shooting wildly): Out of your mind—
When the Mayor tries to negotiate with the Mutant Leader, Gordon has one just before the Mutant tears out the Mayor's throat. With his teeth.
Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: The mid-50s Batman vs. the late-teens-to-early-20snote not revealed, but Batman describes him as "young [...] in his physical prime" Mutant leader.
The... ill-tempered (to put it mildly) Byron Brassballs, who both encounters Superman (who saved the handicapped man Byron had knocked onto the train tracks) and later plays a role in the Gotham riots... and in a nice bit of Karmic retribution, gets his ass profoundly kicked by Batman.
Rob and Don too. They keep running into Batman but hardly play a significant role in the story.
Redemption in the Rain: The shot of fifty-five-year-old Bruce Wayne appearing as Batman for the first time in ten years, during a thunderstorm.
Retirony: Inverted, Commissioner Gordon proves he is still a Badass by living till his planned retirement.
Right Out of My Clothes: A serious version. When Superman hears the nuclear missile headed toward Corto Maltese, he takes to the air so fast that he leaves his civilian clothes and glasses hanging exactly where he left them—while sitting in a Jeep.
Robot Kid: Abner builds them... to spray poison gas everywhere, then explode.
Rule of Three: Batman tells Robin that if she disobeys, she'll be fired. She disobeys three times, but the third time, she saves his life.
Subordinate Excuse: Carrie has a crush on Batman that would do The Joker proud, and in the comics she dearly loves him. She dresses as Robin and fights crime, hears the Mutants are gathering at the dump and follows Batman there, because she loves him and wants to be close to him.
Tank Goodness: This version of the Batmobile, which would go on to be an inspiration for the Tumbler in The Dark Knight Saga. It's got treads. It's got armor strong enough that "the only thing I know of that can cut through its hide isn't from this planet." note He's referring to Superman, who proves the point in short order in the fourth issue. It's got machine guns. "Rubber bullets. Honest." It's got at least two decent-sized artillery pieces. It takes up three lanes on the highway. It even has a gyro-stabilized medical bed and can be piloted home by Alfred. It's a god-damned Bat-Tank.
The Sons of the Batman, who have turned their over-the-top violence as former Mutants to fighting crime instead of creating it. At one point, it's mentioned that they used napalm to break up a three card monte game. One SOB, after killing the aforementioned Nixon mask robbers, took a pair of wire-cutters and sliced off the store owner's fingers on one hand because, as he put it, "you did nothing to stop them."
The nuke that nearly killed Superman was designed to create a "nuclear winter" scenario.
Truth in Television: At the beginning two Mutants try and mug Bruce Wayne. They turn out to be Dirty Cowards when he sees them, they take into account his size, and run off when he stands his ground and is prepared to fight. It's common in Real Life for thugs like the Mutants to only target those who cannot defend themselves, and want nothing to do with those who can.
Utility Belt: Prominently featured in the first issue. Batman uses items from it to defuse one of Two-Face's bombs, and does a mental run-through of its items in boredom while he's waiting for Two-Face to make his move on Gotham's Twin Towers.
Despite having been catatonic for a decade and his injuries, Joker has a distinct edge over Batman. The same Batman that fought his way through the a police SWAT team and stopped at Batcave only to get supplies to investigate Joker's plan for the county fair before finally catching up to Joker in one night. Not only is Bats on his second wind for their final battle, but he's making the same mistake he did with the Mutant Leader: he's letting his feelings cloud his judgement against a much calmer opponent.
This also applies to Superman when he fights Batman. He's not at 100% after the nuclear missile, as Batman notes the missiles he shoots at Superman wouldn't have been able to hit him otherwise.
Vomiting Cop: Alluded to. After The Joker kills everyone at the TV studio, somebody tells the commissioner that one of the rookies got sick and had to go home.
You Are the New Trend: Rather than ignoring the Sons of the Batman, he recruits them as his own personal army after disarming them and all but calling them out for being fools in their old tactics. Admittedly, he had stopped them from following their previous leader who was proclaiming "This is our chance to raze Gotham... to purge Gotham."
Crapsack World: Between the Mutants, the heat wave, and general decay, Gotham has become a rather nasty place to live.
The Eighties: A lot of the action and political commentary stems from real-world politics of the period, in particular the U.S.-Soviet arms race, which comes to a head in part four.
Setting Update: In the original stories the version of The Mark of Zorro that Bruce saw as a child was the 1920 version. Miller updated it to the 1940 version, putting Bruce's birth date in 1932 and making him a man in his mid-50s by the time of the story.
Brass Balls/Meaningful Name: Subverted by Byron Brassballs. With that name, you'd think he'd be an exemplar of courage, but he's really a complete asshole who brazenly justifies his sociopathically self-centered behavior and actions in his interviews.
The Mutants, especially their leader, and The Sons of the Batman once The Mutants are no more.
The Joker is depicted as having a love/hate fixation on Batman that he feeds with his indiscriminate killing.
Joker (inner dialogue): They could put me in a helicopter and fly me up into the air and line up the bodies head to toe on the ground in delightful geometric patterns like an endless June Taylor dancers routine — and it would never be enough. No, I don't keep count. But you do. And I love you for it.
The Mutant leader puts his claw-like fingernails and filed teeth to good use in the first fight against Batman.
Batman becomes one in his second fight with the Mutant leader, since brute force failed spectacularly the first time.
Cool Old Guy: C'mon now. Batman, Alfred for being so up in the years, still serving and snarky, Jim Gordon, Green Arrow, Superman (despite being arguably on the wrong side), and even the Joker in a dark and nasty way.
Future Slang: The Mutants are all over this one. "Balls nasty!", "spud" vs. "slicer-dicer", "chicken legs", and many others.
Gang of Hats: The Mutants and their various splinter groups.
Handicapped Badass: At some point prior to the beginning of the comic, Superman caused Green Arrow to lose his left arm, which he is still bitter about. It hampers him but doesn't make him any less effective of an archer.
I want a piece of him. Just a small piece will do...for old times' sake.
Honor Before Reason: Batman knows that it's best if he just shoots the Mutant leader in the dump, but he can't bring himself to cross that line... and it nearly gets him killed.
Human Weapon: Superman here is nothing but an icon who reports directly to the President, who gives him orders that include waging a one-man war in a Banana Republic, stopping the nuclear strike that follows (he fails), and assassinating Batman, all of which he does without question.
Servile Snarker: Alfred has always been this, but in TDKR he takes it Up to Eleven, as he is at first very unhappy with the way Bruce has let himself go in his retirement from the cowl, and is even more unhappy when he goes back to being Batman because it not only makes him seem like he's forgotten the lessons of the past, it means Alfred has to patch him up again when he's hurt.
One interpretation of Batman in this story, especially in the later chapters. Alan Moore's introduction in one printing of the TPB specifically noted that one interpretation of Batman was "revenge-driven psychopath."
A generous interpretation of the Sons of Batman. They may be fighting crime, but their methods are anything but heroic.
The Strategist: Batman of course, especially in his fight against Superman.
Technical Pacifist: Batman will beat you, threaten to drop you off the tallest building in Gotham, and break every bone in your body... but he won't kill you.
Word of God says that Batman didn't kill the aforementioned Mutant who held the baby at gunpoint when he shot her with another Mutant's M-60, stating he shot her shoulder. The animated adaptation completely changes this sequence to remove the issue.
Gruesomely played with when Batman has the perfect chance to kill the Joker but still refuses to. The Joker notices... and kills himself just to screw with Batman.
Deconstruction: Batman's tactics spur debates on toughness on crime, while Superman's idealism makes him an ideal government cat's paw. The story also deconstructs many elements of Batman's mythos, particularly Batman's potential craziness, as well as showing what kind of world would make Batman not only possible, but necessary.
Depending on the Writer: Happens to Batman and Superman a lot but Batman's X-Ray seeking missiles wouldn't be able to tell Superman from anyone else normally because Superman's X-Ray Vision doesn't actually emit X-Rays note not since the Golden Age when they pulled double duty as his Eye Beam attack.
Follow the Leader: This miniseries singlehandedly ushered in the new age of Cranky Batman.
Private Eye Monologue: Miller's unique take on this permeates the entire work. The reader is constantly privy to Bruce/Batman's thoughts as disembodied word boxes rather than actual thought bubbles, and Gordon, Joker, and Superman also get the treatment.
Corto Maltese is a shout out to an Italian comic book by that name. Strangely, the name was used in the 1989 Batman movie as an apparent Shout-Out to The Dark Knight Returns without recognizing that it was already a Shout-Out.
There is also a reference to a porn star named "Hot Gates". In Greek, "Hot Gates" is translated "Thermopylae," the setting of another of Frank Miller's creations. However, since 300 wasn't released for another twelve years, the reference here is to both the literal translation of Thermopylae and William Golding's (now out of print) collection of essays 'The Hot Gates and other occasional places'.
Spotlight-Stealing Title: The Dark Knight Returns was originally released as Batman: The Dark Knight, with "The Dark Knight Returns" being the first issue's title.
Take That: The Mutants can be seen as a Take That to "angsty", rebellious teen superheroes made popular by Marvel Comics. Fittingly, they're named "The Mutants" (Stan Lee's working title for X-Men), they wear red shades that look a lot like Cyclops' visor, and they despise adult authority figures. They form a perfect contrast to Batman, who's the epitome of the "traditional" DC superhero—an adult hero who's driven and fearless, and has zero tolerance for crime.