This isn't about "The Dark Knight Rises"
This four part article is brief study on the newly released two part animated adaptation of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" comic series. This has nothing to do with the 2012 live action film "The Dark Knight Rises". This first part will explore the origins and background of the comic itself.
"The Dark Knight Returns" comic was released in 1986, also the year Alan Moore introduced the world to "Watchmen"... a unique take on the world of superheros, revealing them to be very flawed and troubled personalities.
"The Dark Knight Returns" is a similarly heavy story, chock full of characters with complex psychological issues and political rhetoric. Many view these comics as a substantial step in the evolution of comic books as a medium for serious subject matter that can appeal to adult audiences. Finally, over thirty years after Fredrick Warthem's infamous release of his book "Seduction of the Innocent", which inspired paranoia in parents and massive censorship in the comic book industry for decades (most notably the "Comics Code Authority") ... mainstream characters like "Batman" left their campy prisons and began to be involved in real stories with important messages. "The Dark Knight Returns" is arguably one of the most dark and gritty of these stories... seemingly tailor made for fans who grew up loving the original nature of the Dark Knight.
Initial Reception to the Story
Initial reception to "The Dark Knight Returns" was quite mixed. Some heralded it as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time ("Time" magazine), while others seemed to despise it with a passion. Humorously, this seemed to mirror the constant debate over the morality of Batman within the actual comic itself.
The New Yorker gave it a very negative review expressing that: "The stories are convoluted, difficult to follow and crammed with far too much text. "
Comics historian Les Daniels thought the appointment of Carrie Kelly (a girl) as Robin was giving in to the knee-jerk homophobic response by readers to the close relationship of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.
Recently Nick Slayton of "Comics Bulletin" ranked it as one of the most overrated comics of all time citing that "There 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.".
I respectfully disagree with the critics.
Why the Critics are So Dead Wrong
The most commonly found argument among critics is that "The Dark Knight Returns" lacks a plot... this couldn't be further from the truth.
True "The Dark Knight Returns" does not follow traditional structure (like all innovative works of art), and you can't pin the story down into just beginning, middle, and end. But a story consisting of multiple narratives is not one devoid of plot... and their are hundreds of storytelling masterpieces that could serve as examples of this.
If "The Dark Knight Returns" were a western, it wouldn't be a John Wayne... all tied up pretty with a bow at the end. It would be "The Good the Bad and the Ugly"... a sprawling slice of life piece that takes place in an environment that effects the characters lives and personal plot twists... this style isn't lacking of theme... it's boasting of realism! How many events have you encountered in your life that took place in just three acts? I venture to say none.
As for the arguments that the stories are crammed with too much text and hard to follow, I honestly fail to see this. Yes, there is a lot of text... did they want a child's picture book? This is a real story, and real stories require the patience and commitment that comes with reading. The argument that there is too much text seems like an argument in favor of laziness... an argument that goes hand in hand with the argument for ignorance. Obviously this reader simply scanned the intimidating mass of text, and therefore found the story hard to follow.
As for Robins character choice being homophobic, I counter this under the subheading "Going Beyond the Bad Guy" in part three, and likewise the argument that Superman's role is tacked on and unimportant is countered under "Politics of 'The Dark Knight Returns'" in part four.