As ever, the story tells of an older Bruce Wayne who, after ten years of retirement, returns to his identity of the Batman with teenager Carrie Kelley adopting the mantle of Robin. The series sees his battle against the gangs that have overrun Gotham in his absence, his final encounter with his nemesis the Joker and culminates with a violent confrontation with Superman.
Bruce Wayne has retired from the Batman mantle after the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. Ten years pass, during which Gotham City is overwhelmed with crime and plagued by a violent gang called "The Mutants." Bruce re-assumes the mantle of Batman after he encounters Mutant gang members in the alley where his parents were murdered. Batman is aided in fighting this menace by a new Robin, a young girl named Carrie Kelly.
Batman eventually confronts Harvey Dent, who has once again become Two-Face despite having his scars repaired long ago, and threatens to blow up Gotham's twin towers. Batman stops Two-Face and discovers that even though Dent has been physically rehabilitated, psychologically he is still Two-Face. Meanwhile Commissioner Gordon, at age seventy, is forced to retire due to his age. He is replaced by Ellen Yindel, a fierce critic of Batman.
Batman discovers that a United States Army general had been supplying the Mutants with military weapons in exchange for cash. When Batman confronts him, the general confesses and justifies his actions by saying he needs to help his sick wife. However, the general's conscience is still eating away at him and he eventually commits suicide in front of Batman. Batman then drives a new, fortified version of the Batmobile to the Mutants' meeting ground at the city dump. He fights the Mutants' leader in hand-to-hand combat, and he is badly injured. Only Carrie's quick intervention saves him. As they head back to the Batcave, Carrie tends to Batman's wounds. Batman recovers quickly and allows Carrie to become the new Robin.
The Mutant Leader has still threatened to unleash his army on the city, so the Mayor tries to negotiate with him in jail. The Leader then kills the Mayor by ripping his throat out with his teeth. Batman and Carrie infiltrate their ranks and spread a rumor that the Leader wants an assembly. Batman then asks Commissioner Gordon to allow the Leader to escape from jail and draws him to a mud-hole, where the Dark Knight finally defeats him in front of the other mutants. A number of the Mutants accept Batman as their leader and take the name 'the Sons of Batman'; the remainder splinter into small gangs.
Batman's greatest nemesis, the Joker, re-emerges after having been catatonic for 10 years, his catatonia breaking when he discovers that Batman has returned to Gotham. He convinces the doctors at Arkham Asylum that he is sane and deserves to be released. Once free, he appears on a late night talk show as a PR stunt. When Batman shows up, he is forced to battle the police force while the Joker releases a cloud of Joker venom on the audience and escapes, and Batman and Robin chase after him. The Joker heads to Selina Kyle's place, and forces her (now running an escort service) to plant special lipstick with the power of suggestion on two of her prostitutes, who are being sent as escorts for a congressman and the governor. As a result of the Joker's actions, the congressman commits suicide, but Commissioner Yindel, due to Batman's warning, saves the governor. The Joker then beats her and dresses her up as Wonder Woman. He caps off his rampage by killing a group of 16 Cub Scouts and planting a bomb on a fairway; Robin defuses the bomb.
Batman chases after the Joker as they run through the fair; during the chase the Joker kills several people and Batman manages to gouge one of the Joker's eyes. Eventually, the two confront each other, ironically, in the tunnel of love. Despite being stabbed several times during their struggle, an enraged Batman finally breaks the Joker's neck, but stops short of killing him. Taunting Batman as a coward, Joker twists his head until the remainder of his spine snaps, committing suicide in order to frame Batman for murder.
The Sons of Batman have become vigilantes, maintaining law and order with force. Batman decides to train them to fight crime with non-lethal methods. Meanwhile, a Russian built nuke goes off, blocking out the sun and shutting off electronics in the US. Batman and the Sons restore order in Gotham, but soon, the Government dispatches Superman to take down Batman, as he undermines their authority. However, Oliver Queen, the former Green Arrow, who is now a one-armed revolutionary, warns Batman of the Government's plans. Batman begins preparing for his battle against Superman and is equipped with a powerful suit of armor, sonic blaster, a mysterious pill and synthetic Kryptonite which he had spent years developing.
Batman and Superman engage in a powerful battle, and, when Queen shoots Superman using an arrowhead loaded with Batman's synthetic Kryptonite, Batman emerges the winner. However, Batman dies of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Alfred Pennyworth detonates bombs that he and Batman had deliberately planted in the Batcave for just this purpose, and destroys Wayne Manor. Alfred suffers a stroke and dies almost immediately afterward. Bruce Wayne's secret identity as Batman quickly becomes public knowledge, but his accounts have been emptied and his stocks and funds have already been sold. His body was claimed by "a distant cousin, his only living relative" (which is actually Carrie Kelly in disguise). With the Batcave and Wayne Manor destroyed, there is no solid evidence as to how he carried out his dual lives, or of Batman's methods.
At the funeral, Superman hears a heart beat inside the coffin and, after looking at Carrie, winks at her and leaves. Carrie later digs up Bruce's body and it is revealed that he faked his death with the pill. Bruce Wayne now begins a new life, leading Robin, Green Arrow, and his new army through unexplored tunnels beyond the Batcave, preparing for a new war against the corrupt government.
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #2
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #3
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4
- No special notes.