"The Dark Knight Returns": It is a dark, depressing world where criminals run amok in the absence of superheroes. Gotham City is terrorized by a gang of vicious and aimless teenage murderers, the Mutants. A now 55-year-old Bruce Wayne has been retired for ten years
- You've got rights. Lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel crazy.
- — Batman
Synopsis for "The Dark Knight Returns"
It is a dark, depressing world where criminals run amok in the absence of superheroes. Gotham City is terrorized by a gang of vicious and aimless teenage murderers, the Mutants. A now 55-year-old Bruce Wayne has been retired for ten years following the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. Attempting to bury his guilt over Jason's death, Wayne has turned to alcoholism, near-suicidal recreational activities, and has funded the rehabilitation of Two-Face in an attempt to prove to the world - and to himself - that a man's demons can be truly exorcised. On the eve of Commissioner Gordon's forced retirement, however, two events push Wayne to reestablish the presence of his alter ego: a major crime wave hits the city, and Two-Face's rehabilitation goes awry. An enormous bat crashes through the windows of Wayne Manor, symbolizing the psychological return.
Re-donning the cape and cowl, Batman must deal with a world where even the petty criminals are homicidal maniacs who kill for thrills. He no longer has the absolute support of the police, public, or government. Reporters and psychologists see the Joker as a victim and Batman as the madman.
Batman has changed since he last put on the cape: though still quite strong and up to the physical task of apprehending ordinary criminals, Wayne is forced to acknowledge to himself that his advanced age and long period of inactivity have diminished both his skills and his ability to withstand and recover from injury. And, unknown to anyone, the Joker has likewise emerged from retirement. Catatonic and without his trademark evil grin in Arkham Asylum for the ten years of Batman's absence, the Clown Prince of Crime reawakens to his twisted, hateful obsession of the Dark Knight, upon hearing a television report about Batman's return.
Upon Batman's return, journalists, experts, politicians and the public debate the rights and wrongs of Batman's methods and influence: some like Lana Lang praise him for reclaiming the streets from the criminals, while others criticize him for not observing the civil rights of these same criminals.
Finally, an out-of-control, nearly suicidal Two-Face threatens to blow up Gotham's Twin Towers; however Batman is able to deduce and foil the scheme. In their struggle, Batman removes the bandages that have been covering Dent's face, expecting to find Two-Face's visage split in its classic dichotomy. Instead, he sees Dent whole and handsome on the outside, but fully lost within his own mind. In Dent, Batman sees a "reflection": just as the restoration of Harvey's face led to the final destruction of his sanity, the Batman persona has become all the stronger for having lain hidden under Bruce Wayne for a decade.
Appearing in "The Dark Knight Returns"
- Alfred Pennyworth (First appearance)
- Carrie Kelley (First appearance)
- Commissioner Gordon (First appearance)
- Joker (First appearance)
- Abner (First appearance)
- Mutant Leader (First appearance)
- Mutants (First appearance)
- Two-Face (First appearance)
- Bartholomew Wolper (First appearance)
- Dick Grayson (Mentioned only)
- Gotham City Police Department
- Stan Merkel (First appearance)
- Herbert Willing
- Jason Todd (Mentioned only) (Deceased)
- Joe Chill (Flashback only)
- Lana Lang (First appearance)
- Martha Wayne (Flashback only)
- Doc, Bill, Lola Chong, Dave
- Thomas Wayne (Flashback only)
- Selina Kyle (Phone call only) (First appearance)
- Clark Kent (Phone call only) (First appearance)
- Utility Belt
- Joe Chill's Gun
- Two-Face's Coin
- Utility Belt
- This series takes place in an alternate continuity from that of the mainstream DC Universe. It has been retroactively classified as an Elseworlds story. In the Post-52 Multiverse, this reality has been allocated as Earth-31. It shares continuity with Frank Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin, which is set many years in the past.
- This issue is reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Dark Knight Saga Deluxe Edition, Absolute Dark Knight, Millennium Edition: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Book One, Batman Essentials: The Dark Knight Returns Special Edition #1, and in black and white in Batman Noir: The Dark Knight Returns.
- This issue establishes Batman's origin in which he falls to a dark cave filled with bats as a child.
- Cover gallery for the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series
- Images from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Vol 1 1