This is a continuation of my DC Read-through where I try to figure out where the best places to start with DC comics are. I previously reviewed Watchmen, which I determined wasn't the best place to start but definitely something you must read. Today I'll be reviewing Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns under the same lens. The next entrance into this review series will be the first volume of Sand Man, and I'm so excited to get that one started!
I've read Batman graphic novels before, but I haven't really enjoyed any of them. I try in vain to find what people claim are the best, but still they ran dry for me. The Dark Knight returns swept that worry away almost immediately, and I can easily say this is the first Batman graphic novel or comic that I've actually liked.
A large part of that was the setting. It was just alternate-universe enough that it could play by its own rules, but not so much that it felt strange to the reader, nor did it try to cram itself into our universe like I feel many comics attempt to make it seem. The way hero's are regarded in this book mimic that of Watchmen, which isn't particularly surprising, but not in such a dark tone that it could be unbearable. The characters, too, all functioned in a gray zone so that morality was debatable and realistic without the hero's losing the title of hero's. Batman's characterization in particular was interesting, and had me wondering how stable he was and reveling at the idea of a Batman gone insane, while at the same time hoping he was stable enough to do what needed to be done.
The art, too, was spectacular. It was a cross somewhere between sketches, classic comic style, and something a little more abstract and comedic. I loved it! I didn't think I would become so taken in with it, particularly because of that abstract aspect to it, but soon found it was the perfect balance to the story and that they kept each other grounded.
Now, should this be where you start? I would say, yes, it's a good place, actually. Batman, and Superman, (and Green Arrow, who has a small role), are all rather well-known characters at this point that even someone completely new to comics would know who they're reading about and the plot doesn't rely on your knowledge of other characters or storylines in the least, which lends itself to the reader. It also wraps up the story within the graphic novel, and while more is hinted to happen beyond, it's not something that you would have to read immediately. It's not the best place to start with the wider DC universe, but it's also not a bad place to start in general.
TL;DR? A pretty good jumping off point for either comics in general or Batman comics; even veteran readers should give this tamer version of Watchmen a go if not for the great story than for the art.