Check out Our Review of Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 with Mild Spoilers!
Writers: Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks and Colors: Peter Steigerwald
A ticking time-bomb, the thud accompanying each strike, and the jester’s vehement cackles serve as the dissonant soundtrack for the teen wonder’s dance macabre. Before fading into the cacophony, the Joker’s crazed chortles are reminiscent of a deranged child as he savagely attempts to rupture the Robin-shaped piñata with the business end of a steel crowbar. Succumbing to the realization that all is truly lost, the sidekick’s only hope is that the bomb detonates before his viscera spills across the cold concrete like the coveted candy prize from a child’s birthday party.
Various interpretations of Jason Todd’s tragic death have permeated a majority of The Dark Knight’s media incarnations throughout the past year. Batman: Arkham Knight is centered on the sadistic sidekick’s need for revenge against his former mentor. Although not specifically explored within the film, Batman v Superman hints that Ben Affleck’s Batman is troubled by the loss of his Robin. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Dark Knight Returns, it is no surprise that author Frank Miller wishes to further explore his personal interpretation of the catastrophe that ended Bruce Wayne’s original tenure as Batman. Here is our review of Frank Miller’s newest title, Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1.
“Night after night, the danger and brutality… What’s that do to a boy?”
Opening with Joker’s subsequent incarceration as the result of a three day siege on the Gotham Stock Exchange, Miller once again uses the media to pose a thematic question for his work. “Night after night, the danger and brutality… What’s that do to a boy?” In addition to reminding the reader of Jason’s penchant for violence, the question also serves as a reminder of the sadistic Robin’s tragic fate. This appears to serve as an overarching theme for the entire series.
I’m Too Old for This $#!t!
Reeling from the events of the previous night, a weathered Bruce Wayne contemplates placing the cape and cowl on his “Murtaugh List.” In pre-New 52 Universe, the Joker’s Diplomatic Immunity also has a special place on this list. Although he may be getting too old for the superhero business, Bruce admits that his newest protégé, Jason Todd, needs more training. Feeling his mortality, Bruce is seeking to create a viable replacement for the mantle in Jason Todd. Gotham must have her Caped Crusader.
This is an approach with which a majority of the audience is familiar due to the fact that every creator and their respective mothers have begun reexamining the aging Batman, and his exaggerated demise, since The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. However, Miller earns a pass for this storytelling trope because his implementation of it within The Dark Knight Returns ushered in the movement as well as a new age of Batman comics.
I Need to Prove to Her That I Love Her… WITH MURDER!
Bruce and Jason are pulled back into action when two conflicts arise within the city. In addition to the Joker’s remaining henchmen wreaking havoc, a plethora of Gotham’s socialites have begun committing uncharacteristic crimes involving the falsification of books, suicide and murder. These conflicts serve as a vehicle for addressing the thematic question by demonstrating two of the story’s major plot points. The first point is that this Batman is past his prime. Miller’s version of the weathered Batman constantly falters in regards to stealth. Moreover, when a monstrous villain reemerges, The Dark Knight struggles more than usual when subduing his foe.
The second point addresses Jason’s ruthless nature. When apprehending criminals, Jason demonstrates an efficient brutality that maims the offender regardless of the severity of the crime. After taking the path of least resistance and embedding a batarang in one of the socialite’s arm and critically injuring several others, Bruce exclaims that Jason may never be ready to assume the mantle of the Bat. Upon discovering the Joker’s escape from the Asylum, Robin rushes in head first in an attempt to prove himself to his mentor.
SCREAM, SCREAM, SCREAM
Miller and Azzarello provide a few glimpses of the Joker’s ability to manipulate the inmates of Arkham Asylum. Whether the Joker is convincing a man to eat himself in a twisted interpretation of the snake-and-tail bit, or assembling a proverbial pack of wolves to orchestrate an escape, it’s obvious that this Joker can be more twisted than some of the other incarnations. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. The audience is only provided short glimpses at the character as he ultimately takes a back-seat to other members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Overall, this comes at the sacrifice of character development for any villain. This is a shame because it’s ultimately a disservice to a few of the Batman’s best foes.
Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade works best when it is exploring an aging Bruce Wayne who is seeking to train a replacement. The Bruce Wayne in this book is less intense than the one presented in All-Star Batman and Robin. He appears to embrace his role as a mentor and adequately prepares his protégé for the everlasting war on crime. This reflective take on the Caped Crusader is more endearing to the reader than his less stable predecessor.
The thematic question regarding the impact of the brutal vigilante lifestyle on a child is interesting. However, due to the limited number of pages, too little time is spent answering this question beyond witnessing Jason Todd’s brutal tenure as Robin. Unfortunately, the question is more intriguing than the execution of its answer.
Additionally, John Romita Jr. and Steigerwald do a great job imitating the art style established in The Dark Knight Returns. Small three-by-four panel layouts per page evoke some nostalgia in regards to Miller’s original work. Although fan reception to John Romita Jr.’s art can be divisive, it possesses the right tone for stories within The Dark Knight Returns.
What Didn’t Work…
Although the story is serviceable, Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade has little to offer to the mythology regarding Jason Todd and his death at the hands of the Joker. Too little time is spent developing The Joker or Jason Todd within the context of The Dark Knight Returns. The subplots regarding Jason Todd’s mother and Joker’s diplomatic immunity are removed from this iteration of the story. Beyond what was presented in this book, the reader still doesn’t know much about Jason Todd beyond his ruthlessness as a Robin and that he was “a good soldier.” In this case, Miller and Azzarello do little to endear the reader to Jason Todd before his death.
Ultimately, Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade provides little insight regarding Jason Todd and The Joker beyond A Death in the Family. Despite a lack of ingenuity regarding the topic, the story is told well through the use of visuals provided by Romita Jr. and Steigerwald. Although some may write this book off as an unnecessary cash-grab, the art, in addition to the more subdued and reflective take on the Caped Crusader, provides a decent read for any Batman fan.