Time now to talk about Book Two (of four): “The Dark Knight Triumphant.” Having prevented Two-Face from destroying Gotham’s Twin Towers, Batman turns his attention to the Mutant gang that’s been terrorizing the city. We learn more about Commissioner Gordon’s impending mandatory retirement, and meet his successor: Captain Ellen Yindel, whose appointment (and hostility toward the Dark Knight) will motivate much of Book Three’s plot. Miller also introduces a new Robin, the young teenager Carrie Kelley, who will become a central character. And Superman is given subtle orders (by President Reagan) to help ensure that the newly-returned Batman stays in line.
Frank Miller released the sixth and last issue of Ronin in August 1984. Not everyone was sure what to make of the limited series, but Miller and his colorist, Lynn Varley, emerged from the project emboldened. As Miller put it to the Comics Journal in 1985, “[W]e’re scaring the horses. They need scaring” (Thompson 37).
Their next opportunity to startle their editors, peers, and fans would be much higher profile: DC editor Dick Giordano offered Miller the chance to reinvent Batman, whose books at the time were suffering declining sales. (Indeed, by 1985 Batman’s sales had reached such a low point that some at DC had suggested killing off the character.) Could Miller pull with Batman the same trick he’d managed with Daredevil?
These days, Frank Miller is arguably best-known as a filmmaker. He co-directed Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of his long-running comic Sin City (1991–present), which he followed with his own peculiar 2008 adaptation of Will Eisner’s classic comic series The Spirit (1942–52). In between, he executive-produced Zack Snyder’s hugely successful adaptation of his 1998 graphic novel 300. Hollywood’s current infatuation with super-heroics has served him well.
Most of Miller’s work, however, has been in comics, a medium he has helped revolutionize over the past twenty years. Since comics sadly remain an understudied and under-analyzed literary medium, I thought I’d take advantage of John Madera’s generosity—and your patience—to sketch out some thoughts about the form and importance of Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.