Connecting The Dots: The Influence Of "The Dark Knight Returns"

Connecting The Dots: The Influence Of "The Dark Knight Returns"

The Dark Knight Returns was a shocker of a story. Click here to see what happened because of it.

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By RexBlazer1 - 9/12/2012


It's no secret that when Frank Miller did "The Dark Knight Returns", he unleashed lightning upon the world (metaphorically speaking). His story made a such a huge impression on the people who read it that I'm sure that folks today will say that the stories and media afterwards were directly influenced by it. Today I'll be one of those people that makes the connections.

"The Dark Knight Returns" was released from February through June of 1986, and that was during the time that the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Jason Todd was taking his turn as the second Boy Wonder. Now it's well known that Jason wasn't a very likeable character at that time. The people who read "The Dark Knight Returns" were probably relieved when it said that Jason died, and they most likely thought that it was the future of the DC Universe. So, I'm pretty sure they had a specific mindset when this little ad came out:



DC had heard the fans say how much they disliked Jason and decided to give them the call on how this Robin's career ended. The character was killed off by a vote of 5343 to 5271, and while the margin was close, you knew that it was thumbs down for Jason Todd. The dislike of the fans and "The Dark Knight Returns" saying that Todd was going to die helped make up the minds of the fans. When the vote was made, we got this:



"A Death In The Family" was the story that ended the second Robin's career as the Boy Wonder. From then on, Batman was so filled with guilt over his greatest failure that he was unwilling to take a new partner in his war on crime. That is, until the introduction of one Tim Drake (named after Tim Burton, director of the then-upcoming Batman film) in this story:



This story answered the question of "Why does Batman NEED Robin?" The answer, it turns out, isn't to keep Batman from the dark side or as some subconscious way of restoring Bruce Wayne's lost youth. When Batman has to consider the safety of a young sidekick, he's more likely to think things through. He'll take more precautions. He'll be safer. Robin, just by virtue of being at his side, keeps Batman alive a little longer.

- DC Animated Universe:
I'm sure a lot of you know that "Batman: The Animated Series", "Superman: The Animated Series", "The New Batman Adventures", "Batman Beyond", "The Zeta Project", "Static Shock", "Justice League" and "Justice League Unlimited" were all part of the same shared universe, called the DC Animated Universe or the DCAU. The Tim Drake of this continuity is a loose combination of himself and Jason Todd, in that he's introduced in the same manner that the latter was introduced in the Post-Crisis comics (stealing the tires off the Bat-Mobile).



This version of Tim Drake was introduced in "The New Batman Adventures", with the show having a bit of a darker tone and the characters are more at odds with each other. Tim Drake got along with his predecessor Dick Grayson (who had become Nightwing after angrily cutting off from Batman) while handling his role as the new Boy Wonder.



Years later, in "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker", we find out that at some point, Tim Drake was taken and tortured by the Joker, like Jason Todd in "A Death In The Family". However, we somewhat get a glimpse of what migth've happened if the fans had let Jason live, and see that Tim gets turned into a Joker Jr., which, in and of itself, may've been a worse fate.



This brainwashing and torture of Tim Drake caused Batman to stop having partners until Terry McGinnis became his successor. A reference to how unwilling Batman was to have a partner after Jason's death until Tim Drake came along in the comics.

DCAU Producer, Bruce Timm, has stated that this incident with Batman, Tim Drake and the Joker took place AFTER the final episode of "Justice League Unlimited" and BEFORE the first episode of "Batman Beyond".

Now, years after he's retired from being Robin and grown up, we find that Tim Drake is a family man, but is unknowningly the second Joker.





We find out in the movie that this was due to a microchip that the original Joker had encoded with his DNA and implanted on Tim Drake's neck.
The chip is destroyed of course and Tim is free of the Joker. It should be noted that in the "Justice League Unlimited" episode "Epilogue", we find out that the Joker stole the technology to make the chip from Project Cadmus.



Now, we come full circle and return to Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Universe" with "The Dark Knight Strikes Again". Here, Miller reuses the idea of a former Robin becoming a second Joker, only this time, he puts this on Dick Grayson.



In order to taunt Batman emotionally, Grayson takes on the appearance of a more grotesque and gruesome-looking "Joker" until their final confrontation in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. In Frank Miller's "All Star Batman And Robin" (which takes place in the "Dark Knight Universe"), this relationship is further explored, and it's shown that unlike the mainstream continuity, Bruce and Dick's relationship was rocky from the start, forshadowing Grayson's descent into insanity. In "Strikes Again" it's shown that despite all their harshness toward each other, Bruce and Dick really did love each other in a father-and-son way.

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In Jason Todd's return from the dead, he's gone through several character developments that would make one question whether he's hero or villain. Jason took the Alias of Red Hood, a name that once belonged to the Joker. In the Batman reborn story arc, where Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne are the new Dynamic Duo, we get a scene very similar to the ending one from "The Killing Joke", with Dick trying to convince Jason that he can be rehabilitated, but Jason, in a moment of clarity (like the Joker before him), says that it's too late.

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"The Dark Knight Returns" was a big influence on each of this stories, from "A Death In The Family" to its own sequel. Miller's "Dark Knight Universe" has also had an influence on the Live-Action Nolan Batman films, with "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" taking hints from "Batman: Year One" and "The Dark Knight Rises" taking some elements from "The Dark Knight Returns".

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Another thing to note is that writers have also taken the torture scene from "A Death In The Family" and did some variations on it. They did it on Stephanie Brown (Robin #4 and the first female Robin in the main universe) and killed her, but they retconned that and said that her death was faked. In recent years, Joker tried to pull that same stunt he did on Jason Todd with Damian Wayne, but that didn't go as planned:



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On an important note, "The Dark Knight Returns" also established the modern relationship between Batman and Superman. In the original comics, the two characters were portrayed as life-long friends, but thanks to Frank Miller, we were introduced to a plentiful amount of stories where the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel argue while having to work together.







And that's my Connecting The Dots ladies and gentlemen. Comment what you think below.

Note: This is my first article, so constructive criticism please?
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8 Comments
GoILL - 9/12/2012, 9:03 PM
Nice stuff Rex, really enjoyed reading it.
RexBlazer1 - 9/13/2012, 5:07 AM
Thank you GoILL.
spider1489 - 9/13/2012, 10:18 AM
GREAT READ!
lokibane2012 - 9/13/2012, 3:03 PM
Dark Knight Strikes again was stupid. Shocking considering Miller wrote that too.
RexBlazer1 - 9/13/2012, 3:43 PM
I myself haven't read "The Dark Knight Strikes Again". I took a glimpse at it, but the terrible art was an instant turn off for me.
dezdigi - 9/18/2012, 11:10 AM
Nice article!
mgeoff88 - 9/21/2012, 2:59 AM
Great article, man! That was really interesting to read. I had no idea DC Comics did a poll as to either kill off Jason Todd or spare him.

I haven't read "The Dark Knight Returns(I know, I know...)", but I'm familiar with the other story arcs. And I have watched BB:ROTJ, and all the animated shows you mentioned.

I'm giving this article a thumbs up. This was a great read. :)
RexBlazer1 - 9/21/2012, 5:30 PM
@mgeoff88: Thanks man, I appreciate your comment.

Before I put this up I wanted to make sure that everything was put together. Otherwise, the dots would not be connected.

I may do another one, but I'm not sure what other stories to connect.

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