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Strength Comes From Within: Analyzing Frank Miller’s Graphic Novel: "Batman, The Dark Knight Returns"

Luke Holm earned bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.

Heroes Are Born in the Dark

As a sweltering heat first hits the outer limits of Gotham City, the air becomes stagnant, and the citizens get a dry taste in their mouths. Progressively, the heatwave moves inward towards the center of town, forcing Gotham’s people indoors. The average citizen runs inside, in search for the only victory he can obtain over the sultry day. With the turn of a knob, cool air blasts from a vented ceiling; air conditioning begins to flow freely throughout the apartment. Triumph, it seems, comes from "within."

Meanwhile, far below the city limits, an internal battle ensues while a man escapes the heat with a cool drink of his own. Bruce Wayne, once a man sure of his heart’s ambitions, is withering away. Like the many citizens of Gotham City, Bruce is deteriorating into low levels of lethargy. Like the citizens who allow the heated turmoil of the outside world to defeat what little strength they have left within, Bruce is questioning his ability to serve any real purpose.

Surely he too gets the familiar dry taste in his mouth. It is inauspicious, the taste he experiences before battle. He has realized that he is missing something in his life. He feels that there is a need for great change in Gotham City and that the time for change is now. Bruce Wayne, as Batman, comes from within the heart of Gotham to cool the crime outside. From within the deepest, most secret crevice Gotham holds, he is the life of Gotham. He is Gotham’s triumph.

As war begins to brew, it seems that all which is bad comes from outside sources that force their way inward toward humanity. In order to reconnect peace with people, Bruce Wayne first locates the triumph within himself and rediscovers his own power. Once he achieves invincibility of self, he turns his focus upon the citizens of Gotham, pursuing those who knowingly manipulate the masses and bringing them to justice. Finally, he approaches an evil that threatens the entire city itself, an evil that comes from outside and menacingly pushes its way inwards. Only after he prevails over that which imprisons the Gotham/Batman archetype, the people, and the city, will the theme be revealed that triumph comes from within.


Batman, The Dark Night: Opening Scene

In the opening page of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, there is a drawing of an “X” that covers Bruce Wayne’s face. Bruce has lost the inspiration for vigilante pursuit and has become like the average Gotham citizen. He is imprisoned by his inner angst, his inner Batman, and it is now aching to be freed. As he drinks his cocktail and contemplates his inner struggle, a cold front coming from the Midwest eludes to an epic reawakening of his symbolic nature—Batman.

Mei Yaochen states that, at this point, one must hide their form, and become orderly from within (Tzu 56). Like the poetic general suggested, Bruce faces his fear and realizes that his fear is a fear that comes from the outside to within. He pushes past the fear by making his enemies feel his fear, finding them vulnerable to fear itself, and once again becomes Batman as he realizes that, “Invincibility is in oneself” (Tsu 56).

Bruce Wayne locates the triumph from within, he supersedes his fears and rediscovers the invincible power of the Batman! At this point, the heat turns to rain, and “the wrath of God is headed for Gotham” (Miller 27). Batman has now arisen from within the shadows of Gotham and goes forth to triumph against those who plague Gotham and its inhabitants.


Eradicate Evil

As Batman shifts through the night, he turns his gaze upon the people who dehumanize Gotham’s citizens. In the next scene, Batman watches as a cabdriver knowingly allows one of his customers to be oppressed by a mutant gang. Batman concludes that it is people like this driver who knowingly manipulate the masses for their own personal gain, and have no thoughts of who they may be stepping on to achieve their gain. These people are weak, and as Batman sees the driver pull a gun, he concludes that guns are “instruments of ill omen” (Tzu 111), and all those who possess such weapons are part of the plague. The gun is a product of fear that has been created from outside sources, as Batman rips apart the man’s money, he shows that if the driver would have had better moral judgment, he could have triumphed from within.


Be The Change

As Batman’s search for those who plague humanity continues, he focuses on locating the point of activity, the places and forms in which its [evil’s] domination is exercised” (Foucault). The conclusion to that which is deterring the mind’s of Gotham comes from the outside source of the media. The media experts sit on the television and say what they want to say, manipulating the people who are watching; and because the average citizens see these “experts” on the television, they take what they say as truth. In the instance of the anti-Batman shirt-wearing expert, he is relaying that Harvey Dent is now innocent, and that it is the Batman who is the real reason for the crime in Gotham City. As the people watch this man and take what he is saying as truth, they forget that there was crime before Batman, and they are deceived. Those who manipulate the masses do it through an outside source which is the media. They use it to deceive the common citizens, because “without deception you cannot carry out strategy, without strategy you cannot control the opponent” (Tzu 11).

The opponent controlled is the average citizen of Gotham, and this is depicted by Robin’s parents, as they represent a dead engine for social change. The citizens have become like the air, stagnant; only when a product from within takes charge does a change occur. This triumph from within is portrayed by the offspring of the parents, Robin. As Robin joins the fight against evil, it is shown that the fight must first begin from within the people, instead of people doing nothing and allowing the fight to conquer them. Robin shows that human nature is inside us, it is innate. Now that Robin has joined forces with Batman, they begin to focus on the largest evil of all, the evil that threatens the entire city.


Become Invincible

In the grand scheme of things, the return of the Dark Knight has one main purpose for Gotham City. The city of Gotham faces a terror that truly arises from outside its walls. In the city dump, there is a gang of mutants who threaten to take over Gotham’s streets. At first, according to Li Quan, Batman does as a good general should do, and attacks “when they are unprepared and not expecting it” (Tzu 19). He establishes invincibility through the defense of his tank, and makes his opponents vulnerable through their own attacks. Eventually, Batman prevails over the mutant leader and “causes division among them [the mutants]” (Tzu 17). At this point, he has solidified his illusion of invincibility, he is a product from within Gotham that is unbeatable, and has triumphed over that which is outside of Gotham, the mutants.


Triumph Comes from Within

In conclusion, when Bruce Wayne allows Batman to emerge, he regains his view of what his heart’s ambitions truly are, to help the citizens of Gotham. As the Batman shows in each individual instance that invincibility comes from within, he forcibly exerts fear into the hearts of his opponents. Through his bat suit, he never lets his opponents see what state he is in, “for if the enemy sees your condition, he will surely have a response” (Tzu 12).

In all that Batman does, he strives for a revolutionary change. Batman creates this revolutionary process of change through attacking the source behind the mind-numbing media. He shows that not helping the oppressed is just as bad as being an oppressor. Through his form of justice, he hopes to show the people that, “if one fails to recognize these points of support of class power, one risks allowing them to continue to exist; and to see this class power reconstitute itself even after an apparent revolutionary process” (Foucault 41).

Finally, Batman establishes his power over a great threat outside of Gotham. He shows that even though there will always be threats trying to corrupt from the outside, triumph comes from within.

"Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" Comic Breakdown


Chomsky, Noam, and Michele Foucault. "Human Nature: Justice vs. Power." The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on Human Nature. 2+.

Miller, Frank. "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns." Comic strip. DC Comics. New York, NY, 2002. 10-105.

Tzu, Sun, Mei Yaochen, and Li Quan. The Art of War. 1+.

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