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The Return of the Dark Knight | The story that changed Batman

Frank Miller’s work changed the game for the character and for DC Comics

It was in the 1960s and making a new story for Batman was a lot about wondering how that might be appropriate for a younger audience. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Comic Code Authority’s rules on story content, many writers from major publishers have simply chosen to deliver stories with various elements of comedy, moral lessons, and a remarkable detachment from reality.

Under the label that comics were a hobby exclusively for children (which until that time was not a lie because the industry was born for this audience), the desire to engage in dialogue through these stories and characters on the problems facing the world was, on more than one occasion, buried in order to avoid problems with the government. The point is, the generation that read the first Action Comics or Detective Comics # 27 had grown up and felt that the industry needed to change as well.

For Batman-focused titles in particular, this period was a period of deconstruction of the image originally conceived by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in the 1940s, which was very well identified with old pulp stories and soap operas. police officers. Influenced by the TV series starring Adam West and the aforementioned public agency censorship, DC Comics prioritized choosing stories that focused a lot on the dynamic duo (as it would be easier to attract a younger audience than to have a solo adventure with Batman). and in the softening of the violence so inherent in the character.

In the 50s and 60s, the image of Batman was inseparable from Robin

This editorial direction changed when Julius Schwartz became editor-in-chief at DC and thus created greater freedom for the creative team. Thus, new characters appeared in the pantheon of the batman, the main one being Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) in Detective Comics # 359 in 1967. Along with Schwartz’s reformulation came the writer Dennis O’Neil, who was until then a freelance writer for the former Charlton The Comic Strip, whose ambition was to shake up the publishing market.

This will lead to the historic 1983 edition of Green Lantern Green Arrow Vol # 5, in which an intense debate about the drug epidemic in society was sparked when the heroic duo of the title find out that Green Arrow’s assistant, Ricardito, is addicted. Before that, however, O’Neil left another mark on DC one would actually be remembered in the following years when he was evaluating his work at the company: Rescuing Batman.

In an unforgettable partnership with illustrator Neil Adams, O’Neil’s work partially saved the original vibe of Batman stories, returning to prioritizing his detective personality and the violence of enemies like the Joker. (this one also totally reformulated after Batman # 251 from 1973). Under his leadership, new villains would emerge as Ra’s al Ghul, his daughter Talia, and other elders would be saved as the Clown Prince of the aforementioned crime and the Two-Face.

The phase where O’Neil was leading the character was a time of rebirth

O’Neil’s new, more mature conscious approach prompted young author Frank Miller to join DC Comics in 1983. The two had known each other since Marvel Comics, when Miller took over Daredevil magazines in 1979 and O’Neil was editor. of the society. The author’s grim approach to the Hell’s Kitchen watchdog stories caught the attention of the publisher, as well as the public. His first real work for DC was the six-issue Ronin miniseries between 1983 and 1984.

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His concept in the industry will not develop until the 1980s, especially in 1986. The author receives a proposal from DC Comics to compose a mini-series in four editions for Batman which was until then out of the current continuity. character, that is to say, a plot in a parallel universe. After rewriting the script at least four times, Miller came to a central plot.

The story would take place a few years into the future, where Batman is already old and retired but very far from at peace with himself. The second Robin (Jason Todd) was dead, the first (Dick Grayson) had severed ties with him, Gordon was retiring and the social situation in Gotham was deteriorating more and more every day, as more great threats were no longer his eccentric former enemies. but a new gang called Mutantes, endowed with unimaginable savagery.

Bruce Wayne may have lost all of his allies, but he won’t lose Gotham

The comic book artist also wanted to give a special role to the media throughout the development of the plot. In a note written by him in 2006 and published in the definitive edition of the book, he approaches the media a little as a narrative tool. “The Dark Knight is obviously a Batman story. For the most part, I tried to use the escalation of crime around me to portray a world that needed an obsessive, Herculean, and reasonably manic genius to put things in order … not save my strongest poison for the Joker or Two. -Face, but for the insipid and seductive media personalities who covered the conflicts of that time so poorly.

The satirical tone is really essential to understand the construction of the world present in the miniseries. There are constant cuts to the Bruce Wayne-centric narrative to show the opinions expressed by reporters, psychiatrists and even President Ronald Reagan. The author lives up to the “poison” and “bad coverage” mentioned in the memo and always makes a point of portraying characters who appear on television as intentionally ill-intentioned or totally ignorant of the agenda. which they report.

Social violence, also mentioned by him in the note, is another element present as a narrative tool. Mostly practiced by the aforementioned Mutant gang to show that Gotham’s environment had degraded to a point of no return, used by Batman himself as a necessary resource to deal with this new foe and by the Joker to attract the attention of his enemy one last time. Interestingly, Superman, who acts here as a government agent sent to kill Batman, is the only one of the great characters to avoid the call for violence and when he does, he stays in control.

Explicit violence marks the final clash between the Dark Knight and the Clown

By the end of its publication period, Return of the Dark Knight had buried all the rules in the past once and for all that Batman was a character who would have to live with what was going on in the world. The old rules about softening up with comedy or needing to have Robin in every story have been dropped. The Joker was no longer a comedian clown with light projects, Superman was no longer the Boy Scout for Truth and Justice, and Batman was no longer Adam West.

The positive reception from Grafic Novel was immediately and directly responsible for a new stylistic wave in the comic book industry. Its violent story tone and based on real subjects would lead to the explosion of exaggerated comics in the 90s (mainly those made by Rob Liefeld), who in any case tried unsuccessfully to copy the same message passed by the works by Miller or Moore. years ago.

Return of the Dark Knight had two more sequels. One launched in 2001, passing sometime after the end of the original story and another in 2015, giving continuity to the second chapter. Even with the author’s participation, the two sequels either had a mixed reception (2015) or were completely rejected by audiences and critics (2001).

Most of the time, the source of the disapproval revolves around Miller’s creative decisions to continue to “force” the continuations of a story that already had a beginning, middle, and end; besides, mainly, the features of the author (who also acts as an illustrator of the stories) whose aesthetics are easily incomprehensible and even grotesque. Even so, the character of Batman was never the same after the 1986 miniseries; neither he nor the industry and, operating in parallel but not directly linked to comics, the world.

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