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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

Why Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is still the most influential comic

By Mike Avila

In 1986, writer and artist Frank Miller was only 29 years old when he tackled the comic that cemented his place among the icons: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Along with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley, Miller told the tale of a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to restore order in a Gotham City that had long ago moved past Batman. Along the way, the series introduced Carrie Kelley as the first female Robin, gave viewers a horrific final showdown between Batman and the Joker, and featured a legendary battle with Superman.

The Dark Knight Returns reinvigorated Batman as a much darker hero than before. It also inspired decades of comics that came after it, as well as an animated film adaptation. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also seized upon the confrontation between DC's top superheroes. But according to Miller, the Man of Steel wasn't in the original outline for the story!

"When I first put together The Dark Knight Returns, my initial version of it didn't even have Superman," said Miller. "It was just Batman against criminals and cops. Then, I realized that inevitably, Bruce was heading towards a conflict with Superman."

For better or worse, The Dark Knight Returns changed the industry. According to Janson, "Dark Knight gets the credit and the blame [for the comics that came after]. I'll share with you that [editor] Dick Giordano, many years after Dark Knight Returns, said to me [that] he regretted that."

For more details about The Dark Knight Returns' incredibly vast legacy, check out the latest episode of SYFY WIRE's original series, Behind the Panel!