Who Is Batman?

Batman 1980-94

Batman's next major incarnation marked a profound turning point for the entire superhero genre. In 1986, Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns introduced a bulky, bitter Bruce Wayne, apparently in his fifties, retired from crime-fighting...

Who Is Batman? CONTINUES...

"I felt that superhero comics had really been held back by a misperception that they were just for kids."

—Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns writer and artist



Batman's next major incarnation marked a profound turning point for the entire superhero genre. In 1986, Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns introduced a bulky, bitter Bruce Wayne, apparently in his fifties, retired from crime-fighting until wilding gangs of "mutants" and the reemergence of psychotic foes like the Joker coax him back into the cowl and cape, angrier and more brutally single-minded than ever before. This was an unmistakably grown-up story, full of sophisticated social satire and operatic emotionalism. The turn sparked a "grim and gritty" miserablist movement that would dominate comics for years to come (much to Miller's chagrin). In Kane and Finger's original conception, Batman strove to strike fear in the hearts of criminals; here, he is positively terrifying.

 


"What nobody understands is that the key was not Batman. The key was Bruce Wayne."

—Michael Keaton, actor, Batman, 1989



The Dark Night Returns was a major media event and helped to pave the way for Batman's return to the movies with 1989's Batman. Visionary director Tim Burton raised eyebrows by casting slightly built comic actor Michael Keaton in the lead role, but the choice was inspired; Keaton brought depth, unpredictability, and quick-wittedness to the role of the tortured vigilante that dovetailed nicely with Miller's recent reinvention, and the impish Keaton was an ideal foil for Jack Nicholson's flamboyant Joker. Burton and Keaton would reunite for a sequel, Batman Returns (1992), featuring a knockout turn from Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. The Burton films were hampered to an extent by narrative and tonal inconsistencies, but their romantic spirit, rich performances, and Anton Furst's eye-popping production design remain high points in the saga.


 
 

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Photo credits: The Dark Knight Returns: © 1986 DC Comics; Michael Keaton in Batman: © Warner Bros.; Production design drawing: Batman: The Complete History