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‘The Dark Knight Returns’: Some Critical Thinking Questions

If you’re a nerd, or even friends with one of sufficient fervor, you probably know that today marks the release of part one of The Dark Knight Returns, the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s groundbreaking comic book mini-series. Like 2009’s Watchmen movie, it’s the kind of adaptation that generates as much as anxiety as excitement among the faithful: it can’t possibly be as good as the source text, can it? …and yet who in their right mind would miss it?

So while teen fans are of course free to debate the pro’s and con’s of this animated version of a classic Batman tale, here are some questions you can ask that are designed to extend the critical thinking they’re most likely already engaged in to address broader issues regarding media literacy and pop culture texts.

  • Does the look-and-feel of the production evoke a dystopian future, per the storyline, or the past, per the faint ‘80s-vibe still detectable from the source material? Why? What does an audience experience when both time frames are present?
  • To what extent are Frank Miller’s original themes, especially where they concern vigilantism and the rule of law (or lack thereof), still relevant to today’s world? Where else have they been addressed in other Batman sagas, and how would you compare and contrast their treatment there with this one?
  • Is the narrative more powerful, or less powerful, as a result of its somewhat “out of continuity” status with the rest of the rest of the Batman universe?
  • How does using animation heighten, or diminish, the “mythic” quality of the story and its main characters? Would the same story have been better served by a Christopher Nolan-style live-action film? Why or why not?
  • In the comics (which were later collected as a graphic novel), the delivery of exposition via TV newscasters had an edgy, slightly ironic feel, both in its presentation and content. Is that tone maintained here? Moreover, how does the use of TV or radio news as an expository device in pop culture aid in the “media construction” of our sense of news journalism and its function in society?
  • Is the fact that Robin is a girl (Carrie Kelley) as radical a notion as it was in 1986? Why? What has changed (or not) in pop culture since then?
  • What does a retirement-age Batman say about “representation” in terms of superheroes? That is, why can’t other heroes be portrayed as “old”? What would happen if they were?
About Peter Gutierrez


  1. Nice question set. Since Miller’s original book, though, other heroes have been portrayed as “old”–notably, Superman in “Kingdom Come.” Which, by the way, would be a great candidate for animation…