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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Cover of Issue #1
Publication information
PublisherDC Comics
FormatLimited series
Publication dateFebruary – June 1986
No. of issues4
Main character(s)
Creative team
Written byFrank Miller
Penciller(s)Frank Miller
Inker(s)Klaus Janson
Letterer(s)John Costanza
Colorist(s)Lynn Varley
Editor(s)Dick Giordano
Dennis O'Neil
Collected editions
Trade PaperbackISBN 0930289137
HardcoverISBN 0930289153
Trade Paperback (Warner Books)ISBN 0446385050
Trade Paperback (Titan Books)ISBN 0907610900
10th Anniversary EditionISBN 156389341X
2002 EditionISBN 156389341X
Absolute EditionISBN 1401210791
NoirISBN 1401255140
Deluxe EditionISBN 1401256910
30th Anniversary EditionISBN 1401263119
Book with Blu-ray & DVD setISBN 1401264271
Gallery EditionISBN 1401264433
Collector's EditionISBN 1401270131

The Dark Knight Returns (alternatively titled Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) is a 1986 four-issue comic book miniseries starring Batman, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson, with color by Lynn Varley, and published by DC Comics. It tells an alternative story of Bruce Wayne, who at 55 years old returns from retirement to fight crime while facing opposition from the Gotham City police force and the United States government. The story also features the return of classic foes Two-Face and the Joker, and culminates with a confrontation with Superman, who is now a pawn of the government.

When originally published, the series was simply titled Batman: The Dark Knight, with a different title for each issue (The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Triumphant, Hunt the Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Falls), but when the series was collected into a single volume, the title of the first issue was applied to the entire series. Some of the earliest collected editions also bore the shorter series title. The story introduces Carrie Kelley as the new Robin and the hyper-violent street gang known as the Mutants. In the Pre-Flashpoint DC Multiverse, the events of The Dark Knight Returns and its associated titles were designated to occur on Earth-31.[1]

The miniseries has since been followed by a number of sequels: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, and Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child. A one-shot prequel, Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade, takes place ten years before the original series. Both Batman: Year One and All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, are considered by Miller to be canon. Likewise, Superman: Year One takes place in the Dark Knight universe.

The Dark Knight Returns is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential Batman stories ever made, as well as one of the greatest works of comic art in general, and has been noted for helping reintroduce a darker and more mature-oriented version of the character (and superheroes in general) to pop culture during the 1980s. Various elements of the series have since been incorporated into depictions of Batman in other media, while a direct animated adaptation of the story, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, was released as a two-part film across 2012 and 2013.


The Dark Knight Returns is set in a dystopian version of Gotham City in 1986. Bruce Wayne, aged 55,[2] has given up the mantle of Batman after the death of Jason Todd ten years prior. Crime is running rampant throughout the city and a gang calling themselves "The Mutants" has begun terrorizing the people of Gotham. After watching news reports about the Mutants' crimes, Wayne decides to return to his role as a vigilante. On his first night as Batman, he stops multiple assaults – including one on two young girls, Carrie Kelley and her friend Michelle – and targets the Mutants.

While foiling an armed robbery, Batman learns that the criminals are working for Harvey Dent. Previously known as Two-Face, Dent underwent extensive therapy and plastic surgery to reenter society before disappearing. Batman informs close to retirement Commissioner James "Jim" Gordon that Dent may be planning a larger scheme. Soon after, Dent announces his intention to hold Gotham ransom with a bomb. After Batman defeats Dent and his goons, he discovers that Dent's mind has completely warped into his Two-Face persona.

Inspired by Batman, Kelley buys an imitation Robin costume and searches for him. Batman attacks the Mutants at the city dump with the Batmobile, but the Mutant Leader goads him into a hand-to-hand fight. Batman, due to his age and a decade of physical inactivity, is beaten and almost killed. Kelley creates a diversion that allows her and Batman to return to the Batcave, where Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth tends to his wounds. Impressed with her bravery, Wayne decides to make Kelley his new protegee. Batman strategically defeats the Mutant Leader in a fight surrounded by the Mutants. Seeing Batman defeat their leader, some of the Mutants disband into smaller gangs. One of these gangs renames itself the "Sons of the Batman", using excessive violence against criminals.

At the White House, Superman and current President Ronald Reagan discuss the events in Gotham, with the latter suggesting that Batman may have to be arrested. Clark Kent talks with Wayne and is then deployed by Washington to the Latin American country of Corto Maltese, where he fights Soviet combat forces in a conflict that may escalate into World War III.

Gordon's successor as commissioner, Captain Ellen Yindel, declares Batman a wanted criminal for his vigilante activities. Batman's return stimulates his archenemy, Joker, to awaken from catatonia at Arkham Asylum. Joker manipulates his caretakers to allow him onto a television talk show, where he murders everyone with Joker venom and escapes. Batman and Robin (Kelley) track him to a county fair while evading a police pursuit. Batman fights Joker, vowing to stop him permanently, feeling responsible for every murder the villain has committed. Batman paralyzes the Joker but is unable to take his life. Disappointed with Batman's refusal to kill him, Joker breaks his own neck and dies. Batman and Robin escape from Gotham police.

A citywide manhunt for Batman begins. Elsewhere, Superman diverts a Soviet nuclear warhead which detonates in a desert, nearly killing him in the process, and survives only by absorbing the sun's energy. The United States is hit by an electromagnetic pulse as a result and descends into chaos during the following blackout. In Gotham, Batman and Robin turn the remaining Mutants and Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal vigilante gang, making Gotham the safest city in the country. The U.S. government orders Superman to take Batman into custody. Superman demands to meet Batman, and Wayne chooses Crime Alley.

Superman tries to reason with Batman, but Batman uses his technological inventions to fight him on equal ground. During the battle, Superman compromises Batman's exoframe. However, an aging Oliver Queen manages to shoot Superman with a kryptonite-tipped arrow to weaken him. Before he can fully defeat Superman, Batman has a sudden heart attack, apparently dying. Alfred destroys the Batcave and Wayne Manor before suffering a fatal stroke, exposing Batman as Bruce Wayne, whose fortune has disappeared. After Wayne's funeral, it is revealed that his death was staged using a chemical that suspended his vital life signs. Clark attends the funeral and winks at the disguised Carrie after hearing Wayne's heartbeat. Some time afterward, Bruce Wayne leads Robin, Queen, and the rest of his followers into the caverns beyond the Batcave and prepares to continue his war on crime.


Background and creation

Comic creator Frank Miller at the 1982 San Diego Comic-Con International

Since the 1950s, when the Comics Code Authority was established, the character of Batman had drifted from his darker, more serious roots. It was not until the 1970s when the character began to feature in darker stories once again; however, Batman was still commonly associated with the campy theme of the 1960s Batman TV series, and was regarded more as a father figure to Robin rather than as his original identity as a vigilante.[3]

In the early 1980s, DC Comics promoted Batman group editor Dick Giordano to editorial director for the company.[4] Writer-artist Frank Miller was recruited to create The Dark Knight Returns. Giordano said he worked with Miller on the story's plot, and said, "[t]he version that was finally done was about his fourth or fifth draft. The basic storyline was the same but there were a lot of detours along the way."[5]

"With Batman, you've got a character that you can describe in just a few seconds: His parents were murdered by criminals; he's warring on crime for the rest of his life," Miller explained in the documentary Comic Book Confidential. "He was created in 1938, and the character was just ruthless in his methods, terrifying to criminals. Over the years, that got softened and softened, because people started thinking that comics had to be just for kids... and Batman had to be made much nicer. And eventually, no kid could relate to him anymore."[6]

During the creation of the series, fellow comics writer/artist John Byrne told Miller, "Robin must be a girl", and Miller agreed.[7] Miller said that the comic series' plot was inspired by Dirty Harry, specifically the 1983 film Sudden Impact, in which Dirty Harry returns to crime-fighting after a lengthy convalescence.[citation needed] The series employed a 16-panel grid for its pages. Each page was composed of either a combination of 16 panels, or anywhere between sixteen and one panel per page.[8] Giordano left the project halfway through because of disagreements over production deadlines. Comics historian Les Daniels wrote that Miller's idea of ignoring deadlines was "the culmination of the quest towards artistic independence".[9]

While the comic's ending features Batman faking his death and leading up the Sons of Batman to continue with his crusade against crime, symbolizing that Bruce Wayne dies but Batman lives on, this wasn't the original intention. During the MCM London Comic Con 2018, Miller revealed that in his original plans for the ending of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman was going to be gunned down by the police while fighting them, but the story got away from him and changed his mind.[10]

The issues of The Dark Knight Returns were presented in packaging that included extra pages, square binding, and glossy paper to highlight the watercolor paintings by colorist Lynn Varley.[11]

Collected editions

The entire series has been collected in trade paperbacks, hardcovers, an absolute edition, a noir edition, and a deluxe edition.


Despite the cost of the single-issue packaging, The Dark Knight Returns sold well.[11] Pricing it at $2.95 an issue, DC Comics promoted The Dark Knight Returns as a "thought-provoking action story". Time said the series' depiction of a "semi-retired Batman [who] is unsure about his crime-fighting abilities" was an example of trying to appeal to "today's skeptical readers".[12] More than 1 million comics in print were issued.[13]

Retrospectively, the series is today widely considered one of the greatest works in the comic medium. IGN Comics ranked The Dark Knight Returns first on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels and called The Dark Knight Returns "a true masterpiece of storytelling" with "[s]cene after unforgettable scene."[14] In 2005, Time chose the collected edition as one of the 10 best English language graphic novels ever written.[15] Forbidden Planet placed the collected issue at number one on its "50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels" list.[16] Writer Matthew K. Manning in the "1980s" chapter of DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle (2010) called the series "arguably the best Batman story of all time."[3] It was placed second in a poll among comic book academics conducted by the Sequart Organization.[17]

The series also garnered some negative reviews. In April 2010, Nicolas Slayton from Comics Bulletin ranked The Dark Knight Returns second in his Tuesday Top Ten feature's Top 10 Overrated Comic Books behind Watchmen. Slayton wrote, "[t]here is no central plot to the comic, leaving only a forced fight scene between Superman and Batman as an out of place climax to the story." "Gone are the traits that define Batman," he said, also citing "misuse of the central character."[18]


Miller signing a copy of the book during a 2016 appearance at Midtown Comics

The immense popularity of The Dark Knight Returns served both to return the character of Batman to a central role in pop culture, but also (along with Watchmen) started the era known as the Dark Age of Comic Books (also known as the Modern Age and the Iron Age).[19] The grim, seedy versions of Gotham and Batman updated the character's identity from the campy Adam West version from the 1960s Batman TV series, and proved critically and commercially successful enough that a new wave of "dark" superheroes were either created or re-popularized, and preexisting heroes were redesigned or retooled to fit this new trend.[citation needed]

The Dark Knight Returns was one of the two comic books, alongside Watchmen, that inspired designer Vincent Connare when he created the Comic Sans font.[20]

Sequels, prequels, and spin-offs

Batman: Year One (1987)

Spawn/Batman (1994)

The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001)

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (2015)

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade (2016)

Superman: Year One (2019)

The Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child (2019)

According to Miller, the unfinished series All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder can be considered a prequel.

In 1994, this version of Batman appeared in the Zero Hour: Crisis in Time crossover event playing a small role. In March 2018, he appeared in a brief cameo in the sixth and final issue of the Dark Nights: Metal event.

In 2018, it was announced that this version of Robin, Carrie Kelley, would be getting a spin-off in the form of a young adult graphic novel. It will be written by Miller with art from Ben Caldwell. There was very little information until November 2021, when Miller said "[The Carrie Kelley book] is shaping up great; Ben is just a powder keg of talent. It'd probably be out now but it just keeps growing, due to his enthusiasm and output. I'm already kind of tugging at his sleeve about doing something else after this."[21]

In other media





Live action


Comic books


In 1996, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the graphic novel, DC released a new hardcover and a later softcover release. These included original rough script text for issue #4 with some sketches by Miller. There was also a limited edition slipcased hardcover that included mini poster prints, collected media reviews, and a sketchbook by Miller. DC Direct released a limited edition statue of Batman and Robin designed by Miller. It was released in full size and then later as a mini-sized statue.[44][unreliable source?] DC Direct released a series of Batman action figures based on The Dark Knight Returns in 2004. It included figures of Batman, Robin, Superman, and The Joker. Later, a Batman and Joker Gift Set was released, including both characters with new color schemes to reflect earlier points in the story, and a 48-page prestige format reprint of The Dark Knight Returns #1 was also released.[citation needed] An action figure of Batman as he appears in The Dark Knight Returns was released by Mattel in 2013, as part of their Batman Unlimited line of action figures.[citation needed]

In 2022, Cryptozoic Entertainment released a Batman: The Dark Knight Returns board game[45] designed specifically for solitaire play. The game uses extensive amounts of art from the graphic novel and follows the story of The Dark Knight Returns, including 4 games mirroring the books as a campaign.



  1. ^ "Batman: The Complete Guide to Frank Miller's Dark Knight". Screen Rant. 25 November 2015.
  2. ^ Miller, Frank. The Dark Knight Returns - Volume 4. DC Comics. p. 45.
  3. ^ a b Manning, Matthew K. (2010). "1980s". In Dolan, Hannah (ed.). DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. It is arguably the best Batman story of all time. Written and drawn by Frank Miller (with inspired inking by Klaus Janson and beautiful watercolors by Lynn Varley), Batman: The Dark Knight revolutionized the entire genre of the super hero.
  4. ^ Daniels (1999), p. 146.
  5. ^ Daniels (1999), p. 147.
  6. ^ Comic Book Confidential (documentary film, 1988)
  7. ^ Daniels (1999), p. 151.
  8. ^ Hitch, Bryan (2010). Bryan Hitch's Ultimate Comics Studio. Impact Books. p. 22.
  9. ^ Strike, Joe (July 15, 2008). "Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight' brought Batman back to life". Daily News. New York.
  10. ^ Johnston, Rich (October 28, 2018). "Frank Miller's Original Original Ending For Batman: The Dark Knight Returns". Bleeding Cool. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  11. ^ a b Daniels (1999), p. 149.
  12. ^ Henry, Gordon M.; Forbis, Deborah (October 6, 1986). "Bang!". Time. Archived from the original on November 8, 2019. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  13. ^ "DC Comics Publishes Frank Miller's Batman Sequel To The Legendary Dark Knight Returns". Business Wire (Press release). Berkshire Hathaway. December 5, 2001. Archived from the original on January 24, 2002. Retrieved June 21, 2019 – via
  14. ^ Goldstein, Hilary (June 17, 2005). "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Review". IGN.
  15. ^ Grossman, Lev (March 6, 2009). "Top 10 Graphic Novels: The Dark Knight Returns". Time.
  16. ^ "50 Best Of The Best Graphic Novels". Forbidden Planet. Archived from the original on 26 December 2012. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  17. ^ Carpenter, Greg (January 13, 2014). "On Canons, Critics, Consensus, and Comics, Part 2". Sequart Organization. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  18. ^ Slayton, Nicholas (April 27, 2010). "Top 10 Overrated Comic Books". Comics Bulletin. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  19. ^ Domsch, Sebastian; Hassler-Forest, Dan; Vanderbeke, Dirk (2021-07-05). Handbook of Comics and Graphic Narratives. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3-11-044683-8.
  20. ^ Steel, Emily (April 17, 2009). "Typeface Inspired by Comic Books Has Become a Font of Ill Will". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on April 30, 2009. Retrieved February 8, 2010.
  21. ^ Arrant, Chris (11 November 2021). "Frank Miller returns to Batman - Dark Knight Returns playground for a Carrie Kelley YA graphic novel". Newsarma. Games Radar. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  22. ^ Abrams, Natalie (January 28, 2016). "Legends of Tomorrow: Stephen Amell to appear as future Oliver Queen". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  23. ^ Robinson, Tasha (December 5, 2001). "Frank Miller interview". A.V. Club.
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  25. ^ "Artifacts". The Batman.
  26. ^ "Legends of the Dark Mite!". Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  27. ^ "The Knights of Tomorrow!". Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  28. ^ "Battle of the Super-Heroes!". Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  29. ^ Burton, Tim (2006). Burton on Burton. London, England: Faber and Faber. p. 71. ISBN 0-571-22926-3.
  30. ^ Munro, Shaun (July 4, 2013). "10 Batman films that almost happened".
  31. ^ "8 Unmade BATMAN Movies".
  32. ^ Brooker, Will (June 7, 2012). "Clues from the Comics About Batman's Fate in The Dark Knight Rises". io9. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  33. ^ "Snyder Erases Any Doubt About Identity of Batman v Superman's Dead Robin". CBR. 2018-07-30. Retrieved 2022-03-04.
  34. ^ "Warner Bros. Confirms Batman V Superman's Dead Robin Is Jason Todd". ScreenRant. 2016-05-22. Retrieved 2022-03-04.
  35. ^ "Batman vs. Superman: Snyder Talks 'Dark Knight Returns' Factor & Affleck". February 10, 2014. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  36. ^ "Joker's Shocking Climatic Scene is a Major Dark Knight Returns Easter Egg".
  37. ^ "Joker (2019): 10 Movies That Inspired Todd Phillips' Dark DC Movie". Screen Rant. 28 September 2020.
  38. ^ "Zack Snyder's Justice League Epilogue Gives a Nod to Dark Knight Returns". 26 March 2021.
  39. ^ "Zack Snyder's Justice League Dark Knight Returns Easter Egg Confirmed". Screen Rant. 20 April 2021.
  40. ^ Kit, Borys (2023-11-29). "Zack Snyder's Next Cut: No Capes Allowed". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-11-30.
  41. ^ Connelly, Brendon (April 14, 2011). "Movie Version Of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns In The Works". Retrieved April 16, 2011.
  42. ^ Allstetter, Rob (July 23, 2011). "Comic-Con 2011". Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  43. ^ Esposito, Joey (April 5, 2013). "The Dark Knight Returns' Carrie Kelley is Back". Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  44. ^ "1996 Dark Knight Returns statue". Under the Giant Penny. August 8, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
  45. ^ "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Board Game". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved 2022-04-05.
  46. ^ "Girl Meets the New Teacher". Girl Meets World.
  47. ^ "Solaricks". Rick and Morty.


Batman publications and story lines