I didn’t read many comic books as a kid. Growing up, my parents bought us tons of books to encourage us to read, but they never bought us comic books, which they didn’t think had any educational value. Yes, I’m Asian. Why do you ask?
By the time I as old enough to make my own decisions about reading material, I was too old to be interested in visiting a comic book store. I never did end up getting into comics, although I thoroughly enjoyed watching TV shows and movies adapted from comic books.
As a result of my childhood deprivation of comic books, I was initially leery of graphic novels, thinking of them as glorified comic books.
I read Watchmen a few years ago after hearing so much hype about it. I thought it was overrated, but was able to appreciate the graphic novel as a literary medium.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is my second foray into the world of graphic novels, and it was an interesting one.
The novel opens on an aged Bruce Wayne. He’s fifty-five and retired from his superhero duties. But his life is empty without his crime-fighting, and he’s really just staving off boredom while the city around him goes to seed.
Commissioner James Gordon, his old ally, is retiring, and the new commissioner that they’re bringing in is firmly of the opinion that Batman is a dangerous vigilante who needs to be brought to justice.
In the meantime, the city is being overrun by a gang known as the Mutants, a ruthless group of “droog”-like thugs (think A Clockwork Orange) whose anonymous leader has been making death threats against both Gordon and Batman.
Finally fed up with the state of things in Gotham, Wayne suits up. At first he goes it alone, but he’s soon joined by a new Robin: thirteen-year-old Carrie Kelly. He still carries a lot of guilt over the death of Jason Todd, who was killed by the Joker in A Death in the Family (incidentally, one of the two comic books I’d read as a kid. The other was The Death of Superman. I was fascinated by death as a kid).
This graphic novel explored an interesting question: what happens to a superhero when he’s no longer super? The novel dealt with Batman’s aging, as well as with a cynicism borne of having fought crime for so many years to little avail. It explored Batman’s motivations and even brought in familiar characters from other comics from the DC world without making it seem gimmicky.
I do think that graphic novel tend to get a bit cheesy when it comes to introspection, but I suppose it’s par for the medium. I did thoroughly enjoy the story, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Miller’s work.