The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 Review


The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 is a can’t miss prequel that gives reasons for Batman’s characterization as a callous, brutal individual. It also acts as a prequel to another milestone event in Batman’s history. However, it approaches it from a different angle, adding more emotional weight to the original story arc.

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1

Story by: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello / Pencils by: John Romita Jr. / Inks and Colors by: Peter Steigerwald / Letters by: Clem Robins / Cover by: John Romita Jr., Danny Miki & Dean White / Variant Covers: Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee & Alex Sinclair, Lee Bermejo, Bill Sienkiewicz

There’s no question that The Dark Knight Returns is probably one of the greatest comic book stories ever told. And that Frank Miller’s characterization of Bruce Wayne / Batman in that seminal story helped revive the character—saving him from years of camp and bringing him back to the roots of being a dark vigilante.

However, for years, there was one unanswered questioned about this post-apocalyptic vision of the Dark Knight Detective: How did he go from being a hero who used fear and intelligence as a weapon to someone who was almost absolute in his brutality and violence? The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 one-shot answers that question for us, and it also retcons the overall Dark Knight saga into DC’s main continuity.

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Set a few decades before The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 is an introspection piece that has Bruce Wayne / Batman questioning his place in the world and his tactics. One of his biggest moral dilemmas is bringing a child—Jason Todd—into his crime-fighting arsenal. Yes, did I forget to tell you? In this story, Carrie Kelley is yet to be born, and Jason is the current Robin.

Bruce sees a lot of himself in Jason, but there is a sort of uncontrollable rage and brutality to Jason’s methods. There are times where Batman has to command Robin to stand down. Robin is a bit unhinged in this story. Although Bruce (knowing that he’ll inevitably age out of the cowl) wants to pass the Batman mantle to Jason, he feels that his sidekick is not ready. That questioning adds another layer to Bruce’s internal monologue.

The story itself swings back and forth from Batman and Robin investigating the mysteries behind a number of wealthy Gothamites committing suicide and become murderous, to the Joker scheming and philosophizing behind the gates of Arkham Asylum.

In the end, we see that this isn’t just a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, but a prequel to a “Death in the Family”—bringing the Dark Knight universe into DC’s main continuity. Was the Dark Knight saga also part of DC’s Rebirth plans? Who knows? But this one-shot retcons everything and really adds another beautiful brush stroke to an already rich tapestry.

You can tell that writers Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello carefully planned and plotted everything in the story. Bruce’s introspection is mesmerizing, and the juxtaposition of his characterization here as opposed to what we’ve seen in the Dark Knight saga is impressive.

There’s not much action, but there’s a whole lot of story. When we did get some tidbits of fights and chases, the experience is very satisfying and feels well-deserved.

The art of team of John Romita, Jr. and Peter Steigerwald did an amazing job in this issue. They both kept to the thematic guidelines of the work done by Miller and Klaus Janson, but also added a bit of their own stylistic signatures. Continuity-wise, the art is consistent with the world created by Miller.

One of the simplest design choices that some readers may miss is the paneling—squared off, sparse, and non-elaborate. This was a total homage to the style of The Dark Knight Returns. The style also made for a very elegant and smooth read.

Was the The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 a necessary addition? At first, I thought it wasn’t and wondered why they needed to give any explanation to Batman’s characterization in a separate universe. After the final pages of this book, I saw how this prequel made the future Batman seem all that more logical and richer as a character.

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If there’s one Batman book I would recommend anybody reading this year, it would be this one. With a clean, rich narrative and art to match, this book retcons and builds on Batman’s characterization in the main DC universe.

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 is now available for purchase wherever comics are sold.