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Me and my friend recently had an argument regarding Miller's The Dark Knight Returns story. Namely, my friend (who is far more familiar with Batman comics and DC comics in general) claims that its portrayal of Batman is so vastly different from "canon Batman" in order to make the story, work which makes the whole DKR look silly and unrealistic.

Namely, he is referring to the fact Batman retired 10 years prior to the comic's beginning (and not to Batman's actions in the comics itself) and these are the things he names that make no sense for "canon Batman" to do:

  • Generally, Batman would never give up on being a vigilante, as long as there's still crime to fight (which, as it seems, DKR universe is full of).
  • Robin's death would not cause Batman to simply give up (as seen in "A Death in the Family").
  • Batman would not allow pressure from the government to affect him, even with Superman being part of it.

Is there any indication in "canon" comics that, given the circumstances presented in DKR, Batman would act the way he did (completely retiring and giving up the life of a vigilante) or was this noticeably out-of-character for Batman to do?

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    Some people get more cynical with age. – user16696 Jul 11 '15 at 16:22
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    One might argue that, at the point when DKR was printed, "cannon" Batman's character was not that well developed. DKR influenced Post-Crisis cannon Batman a lot, transferring attributes of the elderly Batman to his newly rebooted, younger, self. I will admit to being hazy on the finer points of the pre-Crisis Batman's character, but it is safe to say that he was less single-minded then his successors. – Politank-Z Jul 11 '15 at 19:46
  • That sounds reasonable and, considering there weren't any other answers offered, could you rewrite it as an answer so that I can choose it? – fstanis Jul 15 '15 at 8:54
  • I'm not 100% sure but I think part of Batman's retirement in DKR is a massive reduction in crime. All of Batman's villains are out of action at the beginning of DKR. He likely went along with the government because it was better for Gotham if he did. He wasn't necessary any more. – DutchOven Aug 11 '16 at 23:36
  • I was fully expecting one of the bullet points to be about DKR Batman using a gun. – jamesdlin Sep 12 '17 at 3:25
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Frank Miller is a prolific writer and avid Batman fan, but his stance of how this Bruce would be at that age is not in line with "Canon" Batman. By that, he does have the intense, solitary nature, disdain for crime and sparkling anti-social personality... but they are turned up to 11, added with some old-man bitterness/disillusionment, and grounded in the grim/dark "gritty" so-called "Realism" that the mid-to-late 80s, Post-Rambo world had come to expect from its "heroes". This, essentially, was a bit of a counter to the 1960s "campy" Adam West Batman, and the early 80s "white bread" cartoon version of super heroes [including the "Super Friends" Batman].

Now, originally [as in his 1939 debut] Batman was darker in tone and a bit more liberal with killing, but that was due to his connection to the pulp-heroes at the time. This didn't even last 3 years; the no-killing was instituted fairly early on, most firearms were removed, and by the 40s, while a vigilante, his reasoning was for the protection of human life. These elements became fixtures [especially post the game changing Seduction of the Innocent ] as the funny-book 40s, the Norman Rockwell-eque 50s, and the campy 60s went on. Batman's tone got slightly darker in the anti-establishment 70s, but by the optimistic 80s, he was still a firmly "Good guy" hero. Due to the impact of various social conditions in America, the whole "grim dark" aesthetic and muscular, attitude carrying, brutal heroes became the norm.... and Batman (with his already darker origins) was a natural fit for these changes. This is one reason why Miller's TDKR resonated as it did, especially as mainstream comics were becoming more mature in their stories at that time.

Due to the impact of Miller's work and the aforementioned social changes, his version of Batman--- a brooding, sullen, something of an anti-hero, grim Dark Knight--- became somewhat of a "Default," and began influencing almost every version of the character that came after it. Even the 1989 Tim Burton version of the hero, which was arguably more balanced portrayal in some ways, took some inspiration from Miller's dark tone and grittiness; note the guns in the Batmobile, and Bruce's tendency to silent violence in the first film. To mention nothing of the number of people the Joker killed in that movie...and this was [mostly] a kid's film in the 80s!

So while not "canon" in itself, Miller's version has, to a degree, help shape the future canon of Batman. Most versions of Bruce still hold darkness and intensity, but not to the grim-dark, anti-humanity level that Miller's pessimistic, nearly hopeless and pitiless Batman takes it. The DCAU version probably struck the best overall balance in this regard:

That Batman---voiced for 20+ years by Kevin Conroy, and which many look to as the definitive version--- is intense, controlling, has issues and can be brutal... but he is no killer, has obvious compassion, despises guns [even with rubber bullets], and does what he does not to punish criminals alone, but to prevent the tragedy that happened to him from happening to anyone else, where he is able to. Oddly enough, Amanda Waller, a hard-nosed often antagonist and well-intentioned extremist in the DCAU probably said it best in the Justice League Unlimited episode Epilogue :

I've known Bruce Wayne for over fifty years, and I've been keeping an eye on you your whole life. You're not Bruce's clone, you're his son. There are similarities, mind you, but more than a few differences too. You don't quite have his magnificent brain, for instance; you do have his heart though, and for all that fierce exterior I've never met anyone who cared as deeply about his fellow man as Bruce Wayne, except maybe you...

So no, Miller's version Was not canon before, and in many ways still isn't totally canon, but it does fall "in line" with current canon to some extent.

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To add on to Russhiro's answer, while The Dark Knight Returns may have been the template for grim-and-gritty Batman, it was Miller's Year One, published a year later in 1987, that I think really set a template for Batman's character that was picked up by the DCAU. This version of Bruce Wayne, while just starting out, showed what we've come to expect from Batman: he's brutal when he has to be, quite willing to beat and terrorize authority figures to get results, has access to high-tech gadgets he uses to get out of some tight spots, plays the role of Bruce Wayne, Rich Lecherous Idiot With No Day Job to the hilt...and yet risks his life to save a cat and is willing to give up everything he's worked so carefully to create (his secret identity, even his life) in order to save a baby.

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