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    From the Comic 
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again presents Batman as a dangerously obsessed, deeply disturbed, paranoid control freak who is possibly a mentally ill Sociopathic Hero as opposed to the stalwart Caped Crusader of the Golden and Silver ages and the Adam West series. This interpretation is touched on Depending on the Writer and sometimes it is the basis for whole story arcs.
      • More specifically, many have wondered if this series paints Batman as a fascist, pointing to a few lines of dialogue such as saying he sometimes counts all the rights criminals have "to make himself feel crazy" and telling Superman "the world only makes sense if you force it to." These lines, along with the increasingly strong militant bent to his mission and the fact that he responds to the Coldbringer blackout by essentially taking over Gotham start to paint Bruce as a right wing fanatic who treasures punishing criminals and asserting his will over Gotham rather than upholding civil rights or actually directly saving anyone not being afflicted by a violent criminal.
    • Superman is also an ineffectual tool and government stooge, or rather a Slave to PR Internal Reformist who accepts that Being Personal Isn't Professional and that to still play a positive role in the world, and to save lives (which he still does), he needs to play along with the policies of the state, even if he disagrees with it.
    • Another issue of interpretation is whether Batman became a man the night his parents died, or if he never truly grew up.
    • Did Batman really beat Superman through brilliant planning and foresight, or was he just lucky that Superman had taken a direct hit from a nuke recently? Or simply that Superman was holding back and not really trying to hurt and/or kill him. Though most people seem to forget Batman needed a "walking hospital bed" just to get around at the time as well. Dark Knight III: The Master Race seems to settle on the latter, with Bruce himself noting that if Superman hadn't held back, he would've lost.
    • Many seem to think that Carrie is the daughter Bruce never had.
    • The homoerotic overtones of the Joker in relation to the Batman gets turned Up to Eleven in this book.
    • The book also plays a bit with the canon characterization of Harvey Dent, implying the unscarred side is actually his dark side.
  • Audience-Coloring Adaptation: The story is not part of the main DCU, but as Alan Moore noted, it was so good and compelling, that it has influenced the Batman mythos ever since it came out. Many fans like to think that Batman can beat Superman just because of this alternate universe story even if that's not really what the fight is about. The comic has more or less codified a set of tropes that seeped into everything: Batman as an obsessed Tragic Hero whose mission will alienate him from his friends, partners and loved ones, whose brand of justice would be, and should be, viewed with suspicion by society, and that he and Superman inherently disagree with each other, and will never be more than Vitriolic Best Buds, or as close as they were in the Silver Age.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: Batman quoting Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is so wildly out of character that recognizing the quote derails the scene.
  • Complete Monster (also includes All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder & Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade): The Joker is a psychotic murderer, responsible for deaths of hundreds, including Dick Grayson's parents and Jason Todd. Beginning his criminal spree with trying to poison Gotham's water supply, the Joker continues causing chaos and destruction in Gotham by having his gang commit crimes for fun. Setting up a trap for Jason Todd, Joker manipulates several inmates in Arkham Asylum to mutilate themselves, before starting a riot, killing countless guards before escaping. After having gone into unresponsive catatonia for a decade due to Batman retiring, the Joker returns to his old habits after the return of Batman to Gotham. The Joker marks his return by fatally gassing the entirety of a talk show audience with his Joker toxins, causing them to die a slow death as they laugh themselves to death. To goad Batman into coming after him, the Joker sells poisoned cotton candy to dozens of children, which resulted in all of them quickly dying. After Batman started chasing him, the Joker shoots randomly many innocent people and when Batman snapped his neck thus paralyzing him, the Joker defiantly snaps his own neck the rest of the way anyways and dies with a wide smile on his face, intending to frame Batman for his own death, proclaiming he'll meet Batman in Hell.
  • Critical Research Failure: In one scene, to make a point about "the ends justifying the means", Commissioner Gordon cites the famous conspiracy theory about Franklin D. Roosevelt supposedly knowing about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in advance, but allowing it to happen to galvanize the United States into entering World War II. To put it mildly, this idea is based on an incredibly flawed understanding of how the alliances in World War II actually worked. While Roosevelt was in favor of entering the war, he wanted to enter the war against Germany (not Japan), and he had no reason to believe that a war with Japan would lead to a war with Germany. note  The entire Germany-Japan alliance hinged on the Anti-Comintern Pact, which was solely a defensive alliance (meaning that Germany didn't have to declare war on a country just because Japan did), and was based on both countries' shared enmity towards Russia. Though it's impossible to know for sure, the United States might have never gotten involved in the European Front if not for Hitler's sudden decision to declare war on the country after Pearl Harbor—which was the sort of monumentally stupid decision that no one would have predicted at the time.
    • On a lighter note: a brief anecdote towards the end tells of how a nine-year-old Bruce demanded "the killer was caught. And punished" when Alfred read him "The Purloined Letter". Except "The Purloined Letter" is a blackmail case with nary a corpse in sight.note 
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Carrie Kelley is one of the most beloved Robins to ever take up the tights, finally making her way to the main DC Universe with the New 52.
  • Fanon: Most fans believe that the unseen "Carol" in the opening pages of The Dark Knight Returns is Hal Jordan's old girlfriend Carol Ferris. This fact is never confirmed, but it's strongly implied; Bruce's race car is called the "Ferris 6000", possibly indicating that it was designed by Carol or her father Carl.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: Lots of people like to imagine that The Dark Knight Strikes Again doesn't exist. Though Word of God confirms that All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder is this book's prequel, plenty of fans are happy to ignore this.
  • First Installment Wins: The story has had three followups and one loose prequel as of writing. None of them are considered even close to the quality and memorability of this one, which was an outright game-changer for comics as a medium.
  • Franchise Original Sin:
    • The book helped destroy the notion of Batman as a light-hearted camp character but he is noticeably more of a Blood Knight and borderline psychotic here than even most other "serious" interpretations of the character. This part of the character is unfortunately ramped Up to Eleven in the two Miller Batman books above where the character is practically insane.
    • Another case is Miller ends up using heroes besides Batman, notably Superman. Though accepted here, as Batman and Superman have been linked together since the 40's as friends, in later works Miller displays a tendency to present heroes more powerful than Batman as utterly incompetent and ineffective.
    • This story also serves of the origin of the infamous Prep Time argument, with many Batman fanboys claiming because Batman beat Superman in this storyline, he can theoretically beat anyone. It also set the tone for all future Batman vs. Superman fights as "Batman beats up Superman and wins while insulting him" which, while shocking and effective when used for the first time here, became less accepting the more it was repeated.
    • As well regarded as the story is, it's also seen as the main reason so many writers write Batman as a psychopath, instead of just driven. It's easy to accept such an extreme depiction in an Alternate Universe, less so when it becomes the character's canon personality.
    • At the time, Miller's decision to focus on the Foe Yay between Batman and Joker was considered a novel take on both characters' psyches. By the time of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, when Dick Grayson is the new Joker specifically becomes so because Batman rejected his sexual advances, it comes off more as Frank Miller having personal issues with homosexuals.
    • Prior to this, the Joker was primarily known for gimmick weapons and bad jokes. Miller's decision to reject these elements in favor of a Darker and Edgier Joker were well-received at the time, but was widely derided by the time of All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder.
  • Foe Yay: Batman and The Joker. Very explicitly for Joker's side. Is it any wonder their Final Battle takes place in a tunnel of love ride?
  • Genre Turning Point: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is generally credited as one of the works (Watchmen being the other) which officially ended The Bronze Age of Comic Books and brought about The Dark Age. Alternately, it's seen as a key story that played a part in the development of The Iron Age.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • The depiction, manner and philosophy of the Mutants are frankly eerily similar to the more abusive "Anonymous" cells online. This is referring to the steal-your-identity-and-send-you-death-threats type of Anonymous and not the imageboard type of Anonymous.
    • Two-Face trying to destroy Gotham's Twin Towers with a bomb, seven years before the same thing was attempted on the real Twin Towers with a car bomb. Later on, a 747 crashes into same said towers, destroying them and setting Gotham on fire. Fourteen years before the same thing happened in Real Life.
    • The scene where a disturbed gunman shoots up a movie theater is disturbing in light of the shooting at a Colorado screening of The Dark Knight Rises. In the wake of the shootings, a panel from The Dark Knight Returns depicting Batman breaking a gun in half gained popularity on the 'Net.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: This came decades before the meme actually started, but take a look at this quote:
    Mutant Gang Member: [after being attacked by a bat] It's just a Goddamned bat.
    • In this comic, the Joker employs a Neo-Nazi henchwoman who wears swastika pasties on her breasts and butt (and is the subject of the Older Than They Think below). 10 years later, in Batman & Captain America, the Joker is actually shown to hate Nazis, to the point where he turns against the Red Skull after realizing he's a legitimate Nazi and not just someone wearing a costume.
  • Hype Backlash: It's very influential and popular comic that is still widely praised for its influence today and is considered one of the, if not the most iconic Batman story, naturally there are people who are turned off by the praise it receive and don't think the comic it's that good.
  • Misaimed Fandom: Many fans take this comic's battle as proof that Batman can defeat Superman. This ignores that the fight itself wasn't actually about Batman fighting Superman, it was about Batman's battle with the United States government, and obviously Superman wasn't trying to kill Batman, and was more or less holding back, which doesn't make it a real fight any more than the airport rumble in Captain America: Civil War was. Not to mention the book makes it abundantly clear that even if he wasn't holding back, Superman was severely weakened by the Coldbringer due to being cut off from the energies of Earth's yellow sun. Batman even states that the fight is partially him being curious how strong he still was after taking the blast. In the The Master Race, it even gets revealed that Superman was holding back the entire time, so Batman’s “victory” ultimately became moot.
  • Older Than They Think: The Swastika pastie woman who attracted so much disbelief in All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder.
    • Anyone who thinks this story is what brought Batman back from the campiness of the Adam West series wasn't paying attention to the books in the 70's and early 80's where creators Denny O'Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, and Doug Moench were injecting gothic horror and film noir into the stories and making Batman a fearsome, brooding warrior dealing with psychotic killers and corrupt politicians on a regular basis.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The tech in the space station, who appears for a grand total of ten panels, and in doing so gives important exposition regarding the Coldbringer nuke that wipes out power on the Eastern Seaboard and prompts the plot of the final act, is used to demonstrate the apathy of the news media on "technical details" and also delivers arguably the most poignant lines regarding nuclear fears of the era.
    Dan: Still, my last thoughts will be a prayer for you, for humanity...and for the planet Earth. Nothing could stop the Russians from emptying their silos at us now. We'd have no defense, no way to retaliate. The one hope we have is that the decision to murder billions has to be made by a human being. (emphasis added)
  • Out of the Ghetto: With partial assist from The Killing Joke, Frank Miller's comic did this for Batman. Before Miller, Batman was remembered for the campy 60s TV-Show and his comics was in a period of weak sales. Miller's revision of Batman was actually the crest of an ongoing wavenote  but his story, as Miller is fond of saying, "Gave Batman his balls back", redefined Batman by updating him to a modern setting of urban decay, teen gangs and vigilantism, and also giving Batman a Film Noir flavoring, paving the way for the Tim Burton films, the DCAU, The Dark Knight Trilogy, the Batman: Arkham Series and the DC Extended Universe.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny:
    • Having Batman and Superman forced into a battle to the death was far more shocking to audiences in 1986 than it ever could be today, since, up to that point, the two had always been portrayed as the best of friends. Since then, the stark contrast between Superman's idealism and Batman's pragmatism has become an essential part of their character dynamic, and it's traditional to depict them as complete foils who have difficulty trusting one another.
    • Likewise, the revelation that Jason Todd was murdered before the events of the story held a lot more weight when the book first came out, since the character's death hadn't yet happened in the regular comics (A Death in the Family didn't come out until 1988), and the idea of Robin being Killed Off for Real was still unthinkable to most readers. Now that Jason has since died and been resurrected as a badass Anti-Hero with his own series, hearing Batman angsting about his death can cause some eye-rolling.
    • Divorced from its Cold War context, Superman fighting the Viet Cong can seem very silly and on the nose to modern day readers.
    • The "grim and gritty" aspect is a lot less noticeable today, especially after The Dark Knight Trilogy.
    • The general idea of a book that showed the definitive end of a superhero as iconic as Batman alongside the deaths of important characters such as Joker and Alfred seemed like a shock and departure from the status quo. Since then, an onslaught of Else Worlds stories where anything can happen has dulled this effect for modern day readers.
  • So Okay, It's Average: The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade, is seen as mediocre in comparison to TDKR and Master Race, but nowhere near as bad as Strikes Again or ASBAR.
  • What an Idiot!: From the second Batman is rumored to have returned Dr. Wolper is vehemently opposed to him, claiming that everything from other criminals and gangs are all his fault to saying how wrong it is for Gotham to fight back against terror.
    • You'd expect: After dealing with the Mutants Wolper would at least have some understanding of why Batman is...if not good for Gotham then at least necessary.
    • Instead: He allies with The Joker. The. Joker. His favorite patient and actively conspires with him to be released from Arkham. Would it be considered a spoiler to say Joker kills him anyway?

    From the Film 
  • Angst? What Angst?:
    • Jason Todd was a good soldier. He honored Bruce.... but the war goes on.
    • Bruce doesn't seem too upset about Alfred's death.
  • Awesome Music: The soundtrack is epic. For example, this is the music that plays on the first night that Batman returns after a decade of absence.
  • Broken Base:
    • The fanbase likes to debate over whether or not the edit to the hostage scene was justifiable (edited to where Batman disarms his opponent as opposed to shooting her in the shoulder note ). Supporters argue that it 'fixes' Batman's character, detractors argue that it bowdlerizes the scene, doesn't fit Frank Miller's characterization of Batman and dilutes the effectiveness of his Bond One-Liner.
    • The breakage got even wider on the release of the second part. Opinions go from Even Better Sequel, okay, inferior, to a horrible film compared to the first part. And let's not get the flak it gets for how Superman is portrayed, as well as the Cold War era propaganda and Ronald Reagan's portrayal.
  • Complete Monster: The Mutant Leader is a vicious gang boss who uses his "mutants" to terrorize Gotham City for the sheer sake of violence. Having his mutant gang commit all sorts of massacres, slayings, and crimes across Gotham, the Mutant Leader eventually has his men begin kidnapping young children for ransom, then brutally murder the kids even when the ransoms are paid. The Mutant Leader's ultimate plan is to march on Gotham and kill countless people in a quest to decapitate Commissioner James Gordon and parade his head through the streets. When captured by Batman, the Leader responds by ordering his mutants to raze the entirety of Gotham to the ground while he personally tears out the throat of the city's mayor when he tries to negotiate peace talks with the Leader.
  • Faux Symbolism:
    • The first time in Part 2 when Clark meets with Bruce out horseback riding, an eagle lands on Clark's arm. A few moments later, it takes off and seizes a defenseless mouse in front of Clark's feet.
    • Surely it's coincidental that Batman and The Joker's final confrontation takes place in a Tunnel of Love.
  • Foe Yay:
    • All it takes to cure the Joker from his catatonia is the discovery that Batman has returned. This is capped off by the incredibly suggestive line he spouts immediately upon "awakening".
    The Joker: "Batman... darling!"
    • The last battle with the Joker has plenty of this, which is deliberate, considering that their confrontation happens in a Tunnel of Love.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The film expands on Joker's shooting spree in the Tunnel of Love which can be very, very unsettling in the wake of the Aurora shooting (which was done at the screening of another Batman movie with the initials "TDKR".
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Robin Atkin Downes voices a one-armed Retired Badass who later becomes the protagonist's second in command when he tries to forge an army out of society's outcasts. Are we talking about Oliver Queen or Kazuhira Miller?
  • Magnificent Bastard: Batman himself, having long retired from crimefighting, returns to put Gotham back in its place. He defeats the mutant leader terrorizing the city by fighting the leader in a mud pit, the mud slows the leader, removing his physical advantage, and Batman overpowers him. When The Joker comes back due to his return he intends to kill him and nearly does, only being stopped when the Joker kills himself first. He single handily brings order to Gotham by reuniting all the gangs to the point the government brings Superman to stop him since "he's making the government look bad." He brutally beats up Superman during their fight even though Superman didn't want to fight him and even uses that fact to his full advantage, even using their battle to fake his own death and continue fighting crime more secretly.
  • Memetic Mutation: Carrie looking like Shovel Knight when Superman notices her holding a shovel under a cloak at the funeral.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe, this happens when the mutants murdered a kidnapped child.
  • Narm:
    • Sure, he's a blind government lackey to an idiot president, but did Superman really have to show up in an outfit straight from a bad supermarket romance novel and have an eagle just coincidentally perch on his arm?
      • Not helping matters is that the above linked pose makes him look like Stephen Colbert.
    • "Slice and dice!" Maybe it could have worked once or twice, but when every single Mutant says it, you've got a problem.
    • Batman, disguised as an old woman, stops two former Mutants from robbing a liquor store, but has to chase after their leader. The liquor store owner puts a gun to the head of one Mutant, prompting Batman — still disguised as an old woman — to say "Pull that trigger, and I'll be coming back for you"... using his normal voice.
  • Squick:
    • At one point when Batman is "dealing" with a crook you can hear the guy's bones cracking and grinding.
    • "You do have rights... plenty of them. You're also bleeding to death."
    • Likewise, Batman breaking the arm and leg of the Mutant's leader might make you cringe, provided you're not cheering.
      • The leg on the other hand, even if you are cheering.
    • The Joker when he breaks his neck, not to mention the batarang sticking out of his eye during the last two-thirds or so of their fight.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • Regardless of their portrayal as weak and unable to do what is necessary, many of the pundits are absolutely correct when they say Batman is an outlaw and they're not far off the point when they say he must bear some responsibility for groups acting in his name. Also, creating a culture that is both heavily dependent and admiring of a disturbed outlaw with no hesitation in using brutal violence is hardly an idea worth supporting.
    • Later on, when Gotham is hit by a nuclear EMP, people who are on the streets savaging/looting/both are suddenly confronted by the Mutants. They start fighting, only for Batman and the Sons of Batman to tie them all up and only let them go if they want to co-operate with each other to protect the city. The one man who objects is portrayed as a whiner, but it's perfectly reasonable to not want to ally yourself with a bloodthirsty gang of murderers and resent being lumped together with them just because you fought to protect yourself.
    • The Joker's psychiatrist is portrayed as delusional and the film implies he is at least partially responsible for Joker's massacre. While he may be naive, it is hard to fault the Doctor for attempting to reach Joker and help him deal with his psychosis (You know, that thing psychiatrists working with the criminally insane are supposed to work towards).
    • One man in the street says that criminals should be reintegrated into society and that people shouldn't enjoy them being beaten to a pulp. He's then portrayed as a hypocrite because he follows this up by saying he himself would never want to live in the city, but that still doesn't make his earlier points incorrect.
    • The President is an idiot but he is nonetheless correct that Batman still operating after he agreed to end vigilante work does undermine the credibility of the US government. In fairness to Batman, it's implied people had already lost faith in the government at that point and that they only act when it personally benefits them.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • The mayor tries to negotiate with the Mutant leader in a jail cell and gets his throat torn out. The deputy mayor goes on TV and says he too is willing to negotiate, despite what happened.
    • The whole plan to get the Joker a TV appearance. Letting him out of Arkham without so much as one guard or cop for an escort? Letting him use his own makeup? He should never have been under such lax guard that he could get that lipstick in the first place.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Parents would have learned from The Dark Knight and the Arkham games that just because it's Batman it's not exactly suitable for children. The two part movie is in the running for the most graphic portrayal yet, at times even going further than the original comic. It's also muddled by the fact the films are rated PG-13 — the same as ultra-campy Batman & Robin!— despite enough rampant violence and bloodshed to qualify for an R, especially during the Joker chapter. Confusingly, HBO Family's descriptors tag the movie with "mild violence", and the violence in the films are most certainly anything but.
  • The Woobie:
    • Harvey Dent has returned to his criminal ways despite years of therapy and facial reconstruction, but it's because he snapped when he saw his fixed face and believes it's completely ruined now, and he wants to die.
    • Bruce is also an Iron Woobie, since he's still carrying the pain of losing his parents and the burden of his mission on his shoulders, yet he also enjoys doing what he does (a little too much).

Alternative Title(s): The Dark Knight Returns


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