And along came Frank Miller.
"The Dark Knight Returns" couldn't be considered a reboot. It's supposed to take place in the future, and to my knowledge it's never been branded an "Elseworlds" title, but at the same time the ramifications were felt back into the "real" version of the character as Alan Moore stepped in with "The Killing Joke" and soon the comic book had a gritty hero again.
What makes The Dark Knight Returns stand out to me is the hopeless view given of Gotham City without its hero. We see this place where anarchy pretty much rules and the police can do little to stop it. Then, over the course of several pages, an aging Bruce Wayne decides to suit up again and stop the madness. He has a monster Batmobile that was a nice precursor to the Tumbler we see now in the movies. In one particularly awesome scene, we see Batman pulling along the mutant leader, goading him into escaping Gotham jail only to find himself in a fight with Batman himself. That's the cool stuff.
I also like how we find Superman aging as well, and not quite the same in his views on everything while still holding on to enough Clark Kent to give us someone to cheer for. And then the Joker was crazier than we'd ever seen him before. I think this story was instrumental in helping everyone perceive him as a true threat to Batman rather than the caricature he'd become over time.
SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD:
Of course, the to-the-death fights in here are what made the story stand out to me. First of all, there is the Joker. How many times have we read: "No more! Tonight this ends!" in Batman comics (even today) and known ahead of time he was just going to put Joker away and let him escape again? But this time...this time was different.
Even though Batman technically didn't kill the Joker (the madman broke his own neck to frame him), it was still nice to see a little closure on this never-ending conflict.
And then we had the throwdown with Superman himself. This fight actually changed the way people saw Batman and Superman after this, with Jim Lee letting him beat Superman down in Hush and everyone else practically making him invincible since then.
And of course, the ending is killer. While the story itself is good, it wouldn't be anywhere near that great if it didn't end well. Fortunately, it does.
Unfortunately, when Miller went back to this universe several years later, he gave the world a horrible sequel that could be consider the "Batman and Robin" movie of the comic book world. It successfully killed the universe for all of us.
The coolest part of this is the fact that the upcoming Batman:Arkham City game will have the option for you to play as TDKR version of Batman, gritty looking and all! It's one of the key reasons I'm buying the game.
While not the best Batman story ever necessarily, it's definitely in the top 5 for me.
Next week, we start a new series of posts called "What I Hate About the 90's". Feel free to chime in about your own hated moments of the "Dark Ages" of comics.