Did you ever want to know what would happen to Batman when he would inevitably become aged? In Frank Miller’s non-canonical but still incredibly relevant, “The Dark Knight Returns”, follows Batman in his golden years, 10 years after retirement. As Gotham is still in the dark shadows, a new generation of criminals who do not know fear try to take over Gotham. Only so long can the Dark Knight sit idly as he watches the city he gave half of his life to burns. But he isn’t the only one watching Gotham…When he inevitably comes back, an old foe’s spark is reignited to return as well.
The Parallel Universe It’s Set In
Earlier, I mentioned this graphic novel is ‘non-canonical’ meaning it isn’t recognized as the official Batman timeline in terms of how the story of Bruce Wayne actually ends, but is rather in a parallel universe in the DC world. In this Batman universe, this is set after the canonical death of Jason Todd, Batman’s second Robin sidekick after he died at the hands of the Joker. Distraught with grief and remorse, he hung up his cowl only to wither in boredom for the next 10 years of his life. Having aged, his strength and speed have dwindled, but not by much and the purposeless Bruce Wayne struggles to find himself a worthwhile death after such an eventful life.
Bruce Wayne struggles with his inner self, even recognizing that the symbolic Batman within him isn’t finished with him just yet. He looks to this inner strength to get him through the physical limitations his age have set on him because he needs it to fight this younger, stronger, and faster generation of criminals. One thing that has not slowed down however is his mind, which he relies on the entire story to beat his foes. Well…at least most of them.
Pointing out the Joker’s Only Purpose in his Life
Meanwhile, in Arkham Asylum, the Joker has all but retired his life of crime, living apathetically in a padded cell. That is until his old foe comes back into light, where suddenly the Joker has a need to break out once more for one final tussle with his arch nemesis. In what might be one of the most significant Joker vs. Batman fights I’ve ever come to read/watch, it is ultimately the Joker’s last laugh as he breaks Batman’s one rule for him as he twists his own spine whilst laughing in the face of his nemesis, thereby leading the cops to believe that Batman is indeed a dangerous killer.
When a God Fights the Batman
The government isn’t okay with this masked vigilante bringing up all this bad press, so they send in their golden boy, The Man of Steel aka Superman, in to deal with the matter once and for all. The old friend of Bruce Wayne tries to convince him to stop the madness and retire for good before he truly has stop him, but in all his badassery, Batman tells him to screw off. Batman prepares himself to fight the nearly invincible man and fight itself is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever come to read/watch. How does a human beat one of the most dangerous beings in the universe? He does it by being the goddamned Batman, and I won’t spoil the actual fight, but man it’s definitely worth reading/watching.
Graphic Novel vs. Animated Feature
I read the graphic novel first and then watched the two part animated feature. The primary difference between the two was that the graphic novel had more people stories that truly stressed how forsaken Gotham was and how desperately it needed the Batman. Also, there were many moments where we could read the thoughts in Bruce’s head as he pointed out how old he was and his stubborn refusal to die. The animated feature however had excellent animation that sometimes just can’t be replicated in a single page. It was probably very redundant for me to watch and read both of them in such a close time frame, especially because I can’t really recall many of the differences.
Influence to the Nolan Universe
There are many influences that can be seen in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. The biggest influence was how Bruce had retired and was eventually called back into action. In the Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne must overcome his age and history of injuries to fight a much more fit and muscular opponent. There’s a direct quote reference to how an older cop telling the younger cop that he was in for a show when the Dark Knight made his return that made me giggle as well.
The Epic Conclusion
How could the end of Batman’s epic saga start to begin? In truth it really couldn’t. Gotham will essentially always be a pit of crime and darkness, and the end acknowledges this. But the end also acknowledges that it will take time and effort to make progress in that front and Batman sets up the conclusion of this story so well, that we truly believe that this will happen. I won’t truly spoil the ending for you, but it ends in a satisfying manner. At least more satisfying than the other graphic novels where I know the open ended nature of the criminals being locked back up in Arkham will eventually get back out to start another potential book. The end of the Dark Knight Returns truly makes a mark of how Batman’s unbelievable journey could end, and if you ever want closure on what could be an ending to an unendable franchise, check this graphic novel/animated feature out.