Batman is one of those comic book characters that every writer and every artist would like a crack at. I have at least two Batman tales logged away in case I ever get the chance at DC. That being said there are only a few creators who have left a everlasting mark on the caped crusader and one of those is Frank Miller. Today I take a look at Miller’s work on Batman. Part of the following article is personal commentary and to be fair I am missing one story (I couldn’t find Miller’s Christmas Batman story anywhere) but this does serve as a decent look at the work on a whole.

The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns marks Miller’s first real foray into the world of Batman. In it we see a old Batman come out retirement to face old villains and a city that thinks of him manly as myth. While the idea now sounds a little run of the mill, back when DKR was first published it was pretty fresh. The concept hadn’t been ran into the ground yet. The impact this book had on the world of comics was and is huge. Miller took the media outlook and panel design pioneered in Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! and took it to the next level.

Miller’s art with Klaus Janson’s inks and Lynn Varley’s colors are the stuff comic book dreams are made of. DKR was also one of the first prestige published comics. It (along with Watchmen) helped usher in a new sense of realism to the superhero world. The first time I read this book, I was at the cottage and it blew my mind. I never realized characters could be handled this way and it has influenced my writing ever since.

Year One

In 1987, DC was in the midst of revamping many of it’s heroes. Superman’s origin had just been given a fresh take by John Byrne and Batman was thought to be needing a sprucing up. While a number of aspects of Superman’s origin were completely re-worked, deleted or changed, it was decided that Batman’s origin was fine but could use some expanding. Frank Miller was brought in along with David Mazzucchelli to expand on some of the details which ended up being Year One.

Essentially a look at Bruce Wayne’s first year of becoming Batman. In many ways a more intimate story then DKR, Year One fleshed out Batman’s relationship with Commissioner Gordon as well provided a little more thoughtfulness at Wayne’s inner motivations. A gold standard of a story, Year One is one of those books all superhero origin stories are now compared to (it is now accepted as the origin of Batman in the DCU). It’s influence on all things Batman is enumerable; everything Batman that has come since has felt Year One’s footsteps. In my list of top 100 comic stories, it’s probably in the top 20.

It should be noted that both Year One and DKR have a heavy influence on Nolan Batman films. From story to the Batmobile, many aspects were drawn from these comics.

Spawn/Batman

A bit of a forgotten footnote, the Image version of Spawn/Batman was written by Frank Miller and apparently does take place in the same world. While nothing major occurs in this one shot (although I still love the final image of Spawn with a batarang in his face), it is worth mentioning that this is the first time we see a younger but experienced batman from Miller.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again

The sequel no one thought would happen, the announcement to Miller’s return to his particular bat universe was met with both exhilaration and skepticism and maintained both for it’s four issue run. Picking up where DKR left off, DKSA brings us a broader view of the future DC universe. The US is in an almost police state ran by a puppet president who’s strings are being pulled by big business (Lex Luthor). Heroes rise up from their various prisons and retirements to over throw the control Luthor has brought over them. From my point of view, while not nearly as good as Year One or DKR, DKSA was timely (given the Bush government in the White House at the time) and better then a lot of people think.

I still love the idea of a captured Flash powering the country by running on a treadmill. I also think Miller’s view of plastic man as one of the most powerful heroes was an interesting take that really needs another look at. Unfortunately the series was marred by high expectations and Varley’s stab at computer coloring. As beautiful as her water colors were in DKR, the computer colors were off putting. It’s been said that it was intended that way as to emulate the bright color palates on earlier superhero comics but in many ways does not convey this.

All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder

If ever there was a comic to make comic fans wonder “WTF?”, it’s ASBR. Set as a prequel to Miller’s Batman universe (for the record all of these books are on Earth 31 including Year One which also serves as the origin for the main DC Earth’s Batman), we see Batman take in a young Dick Grayson so he can gain an ally in his war on crime. He however gains the trust of the boy by keeping him in a dark cave and suggesting he eats rats.

Drawn with the utmost ability by Jim Lee, the story is a little weird. Much of the dialog seems to be almost a parody of what Miller wrote in his previous books. In addition some of Batman’s methods and actions seem out of place. It’s almost as if at times Miller has forgotten what book he’s writing and begins writing Batman as if it were a Sin City graphic novel. While this particular story has been on hiatus for nearly two years, it looks to return in 2011.

Does Miller have any other Bat projects up his sleeve? Well initially there was talk of a Batman vs Al Queda comic called Holy Terror Batman which would take place in the same universe but apparently Batman has been written out of it. There was also talk of a few one shots featuring different DC characters from Miller’s DC universe (A Green Arrow book was mentioned at one point) but nothing has been mentioned about those for a long time.

I hope you enjoyed this long form look at Frank Miller’s version of Batman. Next week, comic book reviews!

Brent Chittenden is a Canadian freelance writer who also happens to write humorous things for Bite TV’s blog. If you have need of his services you can reach him at bcchittenden@gmail.com, twitter at @BCNerdhole and his podcast Two Assholes Talking About Nerd Stuff. Feel free to become a fan of him at his Facebook group Brent Chittenden: The Writer.