Published in 1986, The Dark Knight Returns set a new standard in the comics industry as writer Frank Miller unleashed his uncompromising and brooding version of Batman on an unsuspecting public. The book was critically acclaimed, entering mainstream culture and was seen as a return to form for the character, returning the Caped Crusader to his sinister roots, while eschewing the campy 1960s TV portrayal. Miller followed this up the next year with Batman: Year One , a retelling of Batman's first year as a crimefighter, again released to critical acclaim. Along with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman as well as the Batman animated TV series in the early 90s, the "Bat Mania" revival was in full swing. Miller's work left an indelible mark on the industry, but fans would have to wait 15 years for an actual Dark Knight sequel, which came in the form of The Dark Knight Strikes Again in 2001. Building on from The Dark Knight Returns , Miller sought to expand the world by introducing more superheroes and other comic elements (albeit with a distinct Miller-esque reimagining). After careful planning, the Dark Knight was ready to take on a corrupt government, with Superman once again caught in the middle.
Three years after faking his death, the Batman has emerged from hiding with an army to dismantle Lex Luthor’s dictatorship. While the Dark Knight beckons former heroes to his side, Superman is left to question his own relevance in a dystopia that has moved beyond "truth and justice."
Bruce Wayne/Batman Barry Allen/The Flash Billy Baston/Captain Marvel Carrie Kelley/Catgirl Oliver Queen/Green Arrow Hal Jordan/Green Lantern Clark Kent/Superman Ray Palmer/Atom Lex Luthor Wonder Woman Lara Kent/Supergirl Brainiac
Much like The Dark Knight Returns , The Dark Knight Strikes Again takes place in an alternate timeline, aside from the official canon and was originally published as a three issue series between November 2001 and July 2002 under the Elseworld imprint by DC Comics. After his climactic battle with Superman at the conclusion of The Dark Knight Returns , Bruce Wayne faked his death in order to raise an army, "the batboys" (the former Mutants) and take back the United States from Lex Luthor's tyranny. Luthor has pacified the masses with consumer culture and general apathy, while secretly hiding behind the holographic image of "President Rickard", whose cheery facade advocate a message of false prosperity.
Following years of planning, Batman begins his attack with a series of raids against the government, freeing the likes of The Flash and Atom (through his second-in-command, Carrie Kelley, the former Robin, now known as Catgirl). Similar to The Dark Knight Returns , Superman is still a government tool, his loved ones held hostage and is ordered by "President Rickard" to stop Batman's attacks. Superman smashes his way to the Batcave, but is confronted by a number of the other heroes, who weaken him before Batman uses a pair of Kryptonite gauntlets to beat Superman to a pulp. Up until this point, Batman is kept off page, speaking from the background and it is only until the final pages of the first issue that the Dark Knight appears, standing triumphant over a beaten Superman. In a daring move, Batman appears at a pop concert, unmasks himself as Bruce Wayne and urges the people to stand up against the oppression, having caught the attention of the media and recapturing the public imagination with superheroes. A subplot involves the vigilante the Question meeting Martian Manunter, now a broken down, shell of himself, to stand against Luthor. The pair are attacked by a man resembling the Joker, who kills the Martian, with Green Arrow (sporting a bionic arm) saving Question.
In response to Batman's brazen act of sedition, Luthor teams with Brainiac, who destroys Metropolis. Batman wholly believes this to be a trap, ignoring Flash’s argument that it is their responsibility to save innocent lives. Instead, Superman and Captain Marvel fight the alien, who blackmails Superman into defeat, threatening to destroy the bottled city of Kandor (the only remnants of his homeworld, Kypton), in addition to killing Captain Marvel. Superman is saved by his and Wonder Woman's daughter, Lara, whose existence had been kept a secret since birth, whereupon the government demand she be handed over (as she inherited her father's powers and her mother's Amazonian strength). Despite Lara's haughty attitude towards humanity, Superman convinces her that it is their responsibility to protect them, since Earth is their home too. Realising he can no longer do Luthor’s bidding, now Luthor is in league with Brainiac, Superman, Wonder Woman and Lara team with Batman to destroy the villainous team. Lara pretends to submit herself to Brainiac, whereby Atom frees the Kandorians, using their combined heat vision to destroy the extraterrestrial. Batman allows himself to be captured and tortured by Luthor, learning his plan to use satellites to cull the planet’s population. Green Lantern then reappears (at Batman's request), destroying the satellites and Luthor is killed by Hawkman’s son, (much to Flash’s horror) having enslaved the Thanagarians. With the threat neutralised, Batman receives a communication from Carrie, who is attacked by the Joker-like man at the Batcave. Racing to his lair, he finds that the man is none other than Dick Grayson, the original Robin, whom Batman had fired years ago for incompetence. Grayson reveals that he underwent gene manipulation therapy, which had given him a healing and shape shifting ability, but had left him insane, along with a deep-seated hatred for his former mentor. Batman activates the Cave’s self-destruct sequence, opening a trap door into a lava pit and throws himself into Grayson, who is consumed by the lava. Batman is rescued by Superman at last moment, in addition to Carrie and the group escape as the Cave is destroyed.
Summary: The Dark Knight Strikes Again was met with a polarising reception, with many fans believing it to be an inferior work in comparison to The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One . The Dark Knight Strikes Again expands Miller's world, reimagining many popular DC heroes, with an aged, seedier look and is a logical extension in what began with The Dark Knight Returns . The more "comic book" elements marks a change in tone, with Brainiac, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern adding a more sci-fi feel that is perhaps incongruent with the rest of the story. Some things aren't explained such as Carrie Kelley’s change in identity from Robin to Catgirl and plot contrivances like Green Lantern’s sudden appearance to destroy Luthor’s satellites, seeming a little too convenient. However, there are some thematic points, developed from The Dark Knight Returns , with Superman rejecting his government status once the stakes become too high and burying the hatchet with his old rival, provides a redemptive arc for the Man of Steel. The final reveal of Dick Grayson as a Joke-like villain is a compelling inversion the Boy Wonder that is all too brief, having appeared only in the background throughout the story. Although Batman states he fired Grayson for incompetence, Grayson's hatred towards Wayne and hinted at emotional abuse (seen in Miller's other works, such as All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder ) unveils Batman's more questionable tactics and underscores the issue that Batman is responsible for creating many of the villains he fights. Overall, The Dark Knight Strikes Again lacks the gritty nuance of its predecessor, but makes up for it with a focus on world building and experimenting with a more sci-fi approach, that makes for a fun comic romp.