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NYCC 2015: The Dark Knight Returns: Still Relevant After 30 Years?

Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

It may surprise older fans, and some younger fans who pretend the 80s never ended, that it has been 30 whole years since Frank Miller’s seminal comic The Dark Knight Returns hit the shelves. Attending the panel was the creative team behind the upcoming third installment in the Dark Knight series, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. This included co-writer Brian Azzarello, artists Andy Kubert, Klaus Jansen, and Jim Lee. A few questions into the panel, the moderator (John Cunningham) interrupted the panel to introduce a surprise guest: Frank Miller himself.

The panel took great pains to remind us the many revolutions brought to us by The Dark Knight Returns, including an entire page of wordless panels, the polar opposite in an entire page of talking heads, and dynamic sound effects text used to complement the artwork. These are all things we take for granted, but see in almost every comic book these days (fortunately the sexism and fascist leanings haven’t caught on quite as well as the grit and style). Fans asking questions to the panel made sure to reference just how much The Dark Knight Returns influences the current generation of comic book writers in tone as well as style and content. Despite penning the book that killed campy Batman seemingly for good, Frank Miller insisted that was not his intention: “I believe the Adam West version has as much merit as The Dark Knight Returns.”, although this was immediately after he recalled his own pitch for TDKR back in the 80s to the head of DC Comics:

Miller: “I want to make Batman older and meaner and coming out of retirement.”

DC:“Sounds Good.”

The panel gave a sneak preview at the artwork for The Master Race, showcasing a contrast-filled (and uncolored) series of panels that gave the impression of Sin City meets Hush. Eschewing the sketchy hit or miss style of Miller’s hand, Azzarello & Kubert have hit on something a little more traditional (and coherent) than the lauded graphic novel that preceded it. Undeterred by the heckler at the back of the crowd who shouted “Be honest, it’s banal!”, the creative team described their new gimmick for this series of comic books: Parallel storyline comics as inserts in each issue, developing “The Dark Knight Universe” into something more than a Elseworld tale. The goal of this panel (according to Jim Lee) is to “Fill the reader with wonder”, a statement that makes us wonder if he’s actually read any Frank Miller comics lately.

Let’s be honest, very few pieces of writing can stand the test of time, and on many levels, The Dark Knight Returns does just that. Its influence is still felt on the comic world 30 years after its publishing, and the creator still enjoys a celebrity’s welcome, despite having gone insane and written only rubbish since around 2001. The creative team behind The Dark Knight III are seasoned professionals, and their confidence is clear, even if their showmanship on the panel was lacking – the highlights included Jim Lee’s tactful handling of an unsolicited story pitch and Frank Miller’s offhand reference to Moses and Jesus as the most endearing fictional characters of all time, surpassing even Batman. It’s an ambitious prospect, sure to excite any Batman fan who hasn’t long since had enough of gritty imitation film noir Batman. Though it isn’t quite enough to stop us from worrying about Frank Miller writing something subtitled The Master Race.

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