This was originally written for a college assignment regarding the analysis of graphic novels.
In 1938, Bob Kane and Bill Finger debut Batman. The two had hoped to create a gritty, noir, crime violent comic; for a while Batman was just that. Making his appearance in issue 27 of Detective Comics, Batman took to the streets solving crime and fighting criminals. Batman became just as popular as Superman, but somewhere along the line Batman sales started decreasing to the point of cancellation. Out of desperation DC editor Dick Giordan offered Miller to revive the Dark Knight. Through the use of alternating point of views, rigged artwork, and rich color palette Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns goes back to its roots, and creates a template for a deep and mature Batman.
When Frank Miller was asked to redo Batman he could have done it a number of ways, but he knew he wanted to make Batman as human and as mature as possible. In an interview with Comic Journal Miller said, “In think that in order for [Batman] to work, he has to be certain ways is beyond good and evil. It can’t be judged by the terms we use to descried something a man would do because we can’t think of him as a man.” Frank Miller knew Batman was not a black and white character, and his motives and actions are not seen as equally justified from others. Miller conveys this creatively by using brief television segments throughout the comic.
With the use of this Miller is able to keep the reader informed about the current situation of Gotham, and allow the people in Gotham to add their opinion about Batman. A perfect example of this is on page 65 and 66 in which people are asked how the return of Batman will impact the society. In one of the panels on page 66 Dr. Wolper says, “Every anti-social act can be traced to irresponsible media input. Given this, the presence of such an aberrant, violent force in the media can only lead to anti-social programing.” Dr. Wolper is arguing that because the news is advertising Batman’s actions, they are allowing it to influence the minds of the community. This concept is further supported when the Joker finds out Batman is still alive and relapses. This idea tears away the belief that heroes always have a positive impact on the city, while doing so Miller creates a serious question that creates a mature Batman.
Flipping through The Dark Knight Returns your eyes will pleasantly shift away from the words and linger on the authentic art, and the lush coloring (or lack of). This is a graphic novel after all. The art style Miller went on is gruff. For a while it may seem displeasing to the eye, but it serves a greater motive to the story.
At the start of the novel you learn that Bruce Wayne has retired as Batman, due to old age and the lost of a sidekick. Instead of going with bold clean lines Miller needed to convey an old, broken, and used Bruce Wayne. This art style is not only featured on Bruce, but on the whole city as well. A coloration of this can be featured in another Batman graphic novel from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Year One features a young Bruce Wayne rising up to be Batman. The illustrations, done by David Mazzucchelli, features clean bold lines that help you distinguish the bold brave hearted hero from Miller’s old rugged hero.
With illustrations like this Frank Miller is able to tell the Batman story he wants to tell, allowing the reader to separate the beginning from the ending.
One pet peeve about comics that annoyed Miller was how limited coloring was in comics, and he knew there was so much more that can be done. After realizing this Miller said he needed, “more time, better production, and near absolute creative control.” When it came to coloring Lynn Varley, Miller’s colorist, looked at European comics for inspiration. In his dissection of The Dark Knight Returns Jameson states, “the superior paper and printing processes used for both Ronin and The Dark Knight Returns allowed Vaerley to use gouache, employing a far subtler color palette than that seen in any other mainstream American comic at the time.” As color appears during the course of the novel colors really do pop out as they flourish and dance around your eye, forcing you to glance and stare at the eye-candy. Perhaps what is interesting is the scale in which the amount of color appears throughout the novel.
At the start of the comic everything is black and white. Later in the pages, colors start appearing more once Batman returns. As you go down further, colors start to appear solid and brighter, especially during the Superman arc. The final panel in the novel showcases a skin colored Bruce Wayne. In a way this illustrates the happiness of Bruce Wayne.
At the start of The Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne is black and white, and he compares himself to a zombie being as dead and empty. Progressing through the novel you can slowly see Bruce Wayne gain color, but he is only full when he appears as Batman. Bruce Wayne is not complete without Batman, in other words. Even close to the end, when Bruce is talking to Green Arrow on page 187, Bruce is not fully colored his skin still looks dead. Until Bruce’s death is when we finally see a light colored happy Bruce Wayne, as he realizes he created a legacy.
From the start Frank Miller knew what he wanted in his reinvention of Batman. He knew he need to input different aspects from different cultures to create a unique Batman. Miller knew his demographic when he said, “right now, the comic audience obviously consists of children and adults who enjoy childlike entertainment.” Miller knew there were older people reading comics and longing for a serious deep comic story. Miller’s impact on the Batman franchise can been seen in the recent comics. He created a role model for future generations to follow.