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After going underground, Batman and his young sidekick, Catgirl (Robin from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), train an army of "batboys" to save the world from a "police-state" dictatorship led by Lex Luthor. In a seri
The series was originally published as a three-issue limited series (November 2001 - July 2002) by DC Comics, and since collected into hardcover and paperback one-volume editions, and Absolute Dark Knight edition (which also features The Dark Knight Returns). Like its predecessor, this story takes place in a timeline that is not considered canonical in the current continuity of DC Comics.
After going underground, Batman and his young sidekick, Catgirl (Robin from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), train an army of "batboys" to save the world from a "police-state" dictatorship led by Lex Luthor. In a series of raids on government facilities, Batman's soldiers release from captivity other superheroes, including: The Atom, trapped for years in a petri dish; The Flash, forced to run on a treadmill to provide America with free power; and Plastic Man, now insane and trapped in Arkham Asylum. Elongated Man is recruited from his job as a commercial spokesman, and Green Arrow is already working with Batman (as seen in the end of DKR).
Other heroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel have been forced to work for the government since their loved ones are being held hostage and/or are under threat. Superman is even ordered by the "President" -- in fact a computer generated front for Lex Luthor and Brainiac -- to stop Batman. He confronts Wayne at the Batcave, but is defeated by Batman and the other superheroes.
Meanwhile, Batman's raids have not gone unnoticed by the media. After being banned for years, the freed superheroes have recaptured the public imagination, becoming a fad among youth. At a concert for the pop group "The Superchix", Batman and the other heroes make a public appearance, urging their fans to rebel against the oppressive government.
During this time, rogue vigilante The Question spies on Luthor's plans, typing a journal to record the misdeeds of those in power. He attempts to convince the Martian Manhunter, now an aged, bitter, near-powerless figure with his mind filled with Luthor's nanotechnology, to stand up against Superman and the powers that be. The two are soon attacked by a figure who physically resembles the Joker but is seemingly invulnerable to injury, and the Martian Manhunter sacrifices his life as The Question is rescued by Green Arrow. The villain escapes, but proceeds to kill other heroes such as The Guardian, The Creeper and likely others who have come out of retirement.
An alien monster lands in Metropolis and begins to destroy the city. Batman, however, is convinced that it is a way to lure him and his allies out of hiding and does not respond, callously dismissing Flash's claim that they are supposed to save lives. Batman's attitude is that the stakes are too high to worry about preserving life at all cost, whether this applies to men, women or even children.
Superman and Captain Marvel fight the monster, but it is revealed to be Brainiac, who coerces Superman (using the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor as leverage) into losing the battle in order to crush the people's faith in superheroes. Captain Marvel is killed defending citizens from the carnage, but Superman is saved when Lara, his daughter by Wonder Woman, appears and destroys Brainiac's monster body. She has been carefully hidden since birth, but, now that the government knows she exists, they demand that she be handed over.
Deciding that Batman and his methods are the only way out, Superman, Wonder Woman and their daughter join him and assist in his plan. By having Lara pretend to hand herself over to Brainiac, the Atom is able to slip into the bottle and free the Kandorians who use their combined heat vision to destroy Brainiac, the heroes subsequently destroying the power source of the dictatorship and inciting revolution. Batman allows himself to be captured and tortured by Luthor, who plans to use satellites to destroy most of the world's population and leave them with a more manageable number of people. The satellites, however, are destroyed by the now god-like Green Lantern who wraps a giant fist around the Earth, destroying Luthor's several trillion dollars-worth of weapons. Luthor is subsequently killed by the son of Hawkman whose parents had been killed earlier on. This is an action Batman planned and approved, much to Flash's horror.
Returning to the Batcave, Batman receives a communication from Carrie: she is being attacked by the same psychopath who dispatched the Martian Manhunter and other heroes. Batman recognizes the assailant as Dick Grayson, the first Robin, who has been genetically manipulated to possess a powerful healing power and is criminally insane. Batman shows nothing but contempt for his former sidekick and plans his death the moment they face each other. Batman hurls himself and Grayson into a miles-deep crevasse filled with lava and blows up the entire cave, igniting an underground volcano and destroying everything — only to be saved by Superman at the last minute and brought to Carrie in the Batmobile. Both Batman and Carrie, though badly injured, survive and continue on.
- Batman: Bruce Wayne faked his death three years ago to operate underground as Batman. He leads the rebellion against the corrupt regime headed by Lex Luthor which now rules America. He is still a master strategist, albeit a controversial one who makes decisions which result in the loss of lives, but which he sees as necessary for the ultimate defeat of his enemies.
- Catgirl: Carrie Kelly, formerly Robin, is now Catgirl (after Catwoman) but still Batman's able second-in-command.
- Lex Luthor: now runs America, and uses a hologram of what the people think is the real President as a figurehead. He controls the more powerful heroes like Superman, Captain Marvel and Flash by keeping their loved ones hostage.
- Brainiac: provides Luthor with much of the means to rule America, and hence the Earth.
- Superman: now a pawn of an America run by Lex Luthor who is holding the miniaturized city of Kandor hostage. Pushed on by his daughter and Batman, he finally fights back and breaks his own vow not to take lives.
- Wonder Woman: the Queen of the Amazons hasn't aged a day and has had a daughter with Superman.
- Lara: the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, with the powers of a Kryptonian and the warrior attitude of an Amazon. She has a poor opinion of people less powerful than herself and tries to persuade her father to rise above the "humans" and maybe even take over the world. He himself is torn between this and his adopted parent's view that he should use his powers to help rather than to dominate, but she soon brings him round.
- Captain Marvel: an old man now with wispy white hair (similar to that of Uncle Marvel), he still stands by his equally powerful peers Superman and Wonder Woman. Like many of the other heroes he is limited in what he can do because Luthor holds his beloved sister Mary hostage.
- The Joker: a mysterious and apparently indestructible figure who kills off old superheroes. He appears as the Joker and wears recognizable suits of former heroes and villains — including Cosmic Boy and Mister Mxyzptlk. His victims include Martian Manhunter, Creeper, and the Guardian. He later turns out to be none other than Dick Grayson, driven insane after years of radical gene therapy by Luthor and others. When he confronts Batman, the Dark Knight states that he sacked him "For incompetence. For cowardice"; in fact he shows no sympathy for Grayson whatsoever and contemptuously organizes his death there and then.
- The Atom: Ray Palmer is trapped inside one of his own Petri dishes for over two years during which he battles dinosaur-like bacteria. He is rescued by Carrie Kelly, becoming one of the first of the old heroes to join Batman's cause.
- The Flash: coerced by threats to his wife Iris, Barry Allen is forced to run in a giant electrical generator supplying a third of America's electricity before being freed by Catgirl and the Atom. Iris is also freed.
- Elongated Man: Ralph Dibny commercializes Gingold based sex drugs for men on TV before joining Batman, "the years have not been kind to him."
- The Superchix: an all-girl pop/superhero group consisting of a Black Canary look alike, Bat Chick, and Wonder Chick.
- Green Arrow: an activist billionaire with a mechanical arm, Oliver Queen has been part of Batman's forces ever since the Dark Knight returned. A left-winger, he often engages in fierce argument over ideology with the more right-wing Question.
- The Question: although he is also fighting the same cause as Batman, Vic Sage appears to work mainly on his own, though he does try to recruit the former Martian Manhunter. His main task is to spy on and collect information about Luthor and his associates. He distrusts technology (with reason) and municipalization.
- Martian Manhunter: a victim of nanobots, courtesy of Luthor, which have deprived him of most of his powers including the ability to appear human, J'onn J'onzz has become a heavy drinker and smoker. He does retain a precognitive sense, which he does use to assist the Question. He frequents seedy joints and has lost the will to fight back.
- Green Lantern: Hal Jordan now lives with his own alien family in a distant part of the galaxy. He returns to Earth at the request of Batman, the only one he trusted enough to leave with a way to get in touch with him.
- Hawkboy: Hawkman's son, he and his sister were brought up in the rain forests of Costa Rica. When their parents are killed by a military strike ordered by Luthor, Hawkboy makes it clear that he will go all the way to get revenge. Batman encourages him to do so.
- Saturn Girl: here she is a young thirteen-year-old who can see into the future. She adopts the name and outfit of the 31st-century Legionnaire who has not yet been born. At first tempted by Carrie's offer to join Batman's forces, she then turns it down, unsettled upon foreseeing Carrie's brutal attack by the Joker.
- Rick Rickard: the holographic puppet-President of the US, who is the public face of the government, run from behind-the-scenes by Lex Luthor.
- Secretary of State Ruger-Exxon and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Starbucks: members of Luthor's government.
- Hawk and Dove: Hank and Don Hall, in a sidenote, try to take up the tights again in their old age but do not go through with it as before they used to argue all the time.
- Bat-Mite: Batman's old antagonist briefly returns as co-founder of the lunatic fringe movement dedicated to worshipping Superman, The First Church of The Last Son of Krypton.
- Big Barda: is in fact a former porn star called Hot Gates who, when America descends into chaos and anarchy, takes up the mantle in order to declare herself dictator of Columbus, Ohio.
- Lana Harper-Lane: a reporter for a TV news station who appears when Catgirl leads the attack to free Flash. It has been suggested that she is presumably the daughter of The Guardian (aka Jim Harper) and Lois Lane, friend of Lana Lang.
- Part of the Post-Infinite Crisis Multiverse. Originally, this reality was not provided with an official nomenclature, and it was accepted that the events from Batman: Year One, Dark Knight Returns and All-Star Batman all took place within separate continuities. The designation Earth-31 was provided by writer Keith Champagne and was introduced as such in the 2007 weekly limited series Countdown: Arena. Champagne has stated that the Superman of Earth-31 featured in Arena is the same Superman that appeared in Frank Miller's critically acclaimed series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It was retroactively established that all of Frank Miller's Batman works, including Year One, take place in the same continuity. The events from Batman: Year One are mirrored both in Earth-31 continuity as well as Post-Crisis New Earth continuity.
- In 2015 and 2016, DC Comics released Dark Knight III: The Master Race, another sequel to Miller's Dark Knight saga, which was published as an eight part limited series starting in November 2015. The plot takes place three years after the events of The Dark Knight Strikes Again.