DC is really going full on with nostalgia. As Rebirth revitalizes the DC Universe and makes us stretch our mental faculties to keep everything straight, Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello revisit Miller’s Batman universe in The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade. Unlike the original, which Miller both wrote and drew, this book brings in legendary artist John Romita, Jr. to bring the story to life with the help of colorist Peter Steigerwald replacing Miller’s former wife Lynn Varley on the colors.
The required reading for this book, and this review, is the original four part series The Dark Knight Returns. The sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and the ongoing threequel, DKIII, are not necessary to follow along.
John Romita, Jr. does what he does best with this. He makes it real. The reader will feel like coughing on second hand as the Joker chain smokes his way through this prequel that gives us Miller’s version of the events that force Batman into his retirement.
The story is fast. It is only 68 pages long. Bruce Wayne does the voice over just as much as Batman does. That is an important thing to note. Miller really wants to examine the life that Bruce wants to lead and the job that Batman has to do. Miller and Azzarello use a retired Selina Kyle and Alfred to try to play good angels on Batman’s shoulder as they try to lure Bruce into retirement, thus giving the mantle full time to Jason Todd. Bruce is, as one could expect, trepidatious about that idea.
The one thing that seems to transcend two disparate universes of The Dark Knight Returns and the regular DC Universe is that as Robin, Jason is arrogant, violent to extremes and hotheaded. If you did not know better, you would think that Damian Wayne is in the yellow cape instead of Jason.
The thing about using the Joker is that, with crazy, there is no wrong way to play it. There is a lot of Hannibal Lecter in this version of the Joker. He is much more about getting into the heads of his victims than touching them. The madness he spreads throughout this book is everywhere and in every character.
There are a few other rogues used as plot devices. They may seem like a distraction, but they work well to get us to the end of the book. The whole trip is worth the time just to get to the final chilling panel.
There are some real nice variant covers in the back as well.
If you like this universe, pick this up; you will not be let down.