this review by Stephen on Goodreads sums up the historical significance quite nicely), but I purposely didn't really read what it was about so I could just let the story happen with as few expectations as possible.
The Dark Knight Returns starts with Batman having been retired for ten years. But unlike in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman hasn't been moping about in his home all alone; he's been living life as billionaire Bruce Wayne. But with crime spiking in Gotham thanks to the Mutant Gang, something inside Wayne snaps and he can't keep the Batman hidden inside anymore; Batman returns with a vengeance. But Wayne is a man pushing sixty. Being the Batman is no longer an easy task for his older body.
But Batman is not alone in his war against these new criminals. He is joined by Carrie Kelley, a girl who is inspired to become the new Robin after Batman saves her. Unfortunately though, Batman's return doesn't just inspire the good like Kelley; the Joker also returns with a vengeance!
I wasn't remotely prepared for how political this story was. In many ways it reminded me of Watchmen in how much it comments on the very real threat of nuclear warfare that people living during the Cold War were dealing with. But the book also looked at how people in and around Gotham reacted to the Dark Knight's return, with ordinary citizens, doctors, and politicians commenting on whether or not Batman is a menace or a boon to Gotham City. This book also dealt with Commissioner Gordon retiring and being replaced by a woman who very much believed Batman was a menace.
While the story is interesting from so many angles, I have to say, I was not a fan of the art. The heads were weirdly blocky, and it was hard to distinguish who a good chunk of the characters were supposed to be (Lana Lang in particular - if they didn't say that's who she was, I would have had no idea - but I'm also more familiar with more modern iterations of her character).
I can usually get through a typical graphic novel in an hour or two of reading. The Dark Knight Returns is NOT your typical graphic novel. There's so much dialogue in this that it gets a bit overwhelming at times. It took me several days devoting a bit of time here and there to get through the whole thing. Luckily it is broken up into four fifty page chapters, so I generally was just trying to make a mad dash to the end of the chapter before I would put it down and go about the rest of my day.
So all in all, I enjoyed Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. It's very interesting for its historical and political commentaries on the time it was written. It's very interesting for how it made Batman a much grittier hero than he had been in decades. And it's just a really good Batman story in general.
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