General Information

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a graphic novel written and drawn by Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, originally published by DC Comics in 1986. The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of an elderly Batman who comes out of retirement to fight crime, only to face opposition from the Gotham City police force and the United States government.

Instructors’ Teaching Experience

I found that my students greatly enjoyed reading this text, not only because it was a comic book, which was something unexpected for them, but because the ideas in it were pretty easy to grasp but remained interesting to talk about in class. They were confused by the structure at first, but rather quickly got on board and were opinionated about whether or not ‘Batman’ would do what Miller depicts him doing. I taught this book as part of a broader question about outsiders and people who resist the systems into which they are placed, reading Batman as a kind of Libertarian figure, living by his own code and in many ways pointing out the inefficiency of government-run programs. My students enjoyed this somewhat, but they were much more interested in the ideological conflicts between Batman and Superman put forth in the text. [Jacob Horn,]

Classroom Strategies

Character Building Blocks and Making Connections

On the last day of our reading, I wanted to talk about how characters can be composed of any number of different characteristics, some of them contradictory, and to read the conflicts between these characters as conflicts between what they come to represent as well. I provided them a list of characters or components for the text, including Batman, Superman, Two-Face, the Mutants, the Mutant Leader, the Joker, Gotham’s Youth, Gotham’s Adults, the Media, the Government, Psychology/Psychologists, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, and Commissioner Yindel, and then went through the ways one would describe Batman in this text, using class responses to put characteristics up on the board along with references to where in the text you could see this characteristic demonstrated. Then I broke the class up into five groups, each choosing one of the components listed above, which they had to describe in the same way that we did with Batman. The students enjoyed making these lists, and then we had a big list of different characteristics (my students picked the Joker, the Media, the Government, Robin, and Superman).

Once we had this list of characteristics, I asked them to think about places in the text where the two components interacted—either directly through talking or fighting, or indirectly through one’s discussion of another. Then I asked them to put this interaction in terms based on the characteristics they had chosen; for example, since Batman had the ‘idealistic’ characteristic, and the Media had the ‘superficial’ characteristic, and the Media regularly reported on Batman’s activities, one of the statements we made was that part of this book was about a ‘superficial appreciation of an idealistic cause.’ I asked them if they saw this operating in other parts of the book, and they felt like it was possible but not the easiest thing to notice. Then we made several other sentences based on the same structure, asking them whether they could see these being a ‘theme’ in the novel. They learned a strategy for forming interesting statements about the text as well as a way to step outside of the initial reading of the book, and had a pretty good time doing it. [Jacob Horn,]