16 Greatest Moments from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Saga

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16 Greatest Moments from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Saga

DC Comics

 Today marks the release of The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, the third part in Frank Miller's Dark Knight series of comics, following 1986's The Dark Knight Returns and 2001-02's The Dark Knight Strikes Again. In honor of the occasion, here are the sixteen greatest moments from those first two series. WARNING: THIS LIST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH STORIES!

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16. Superman Shows His True Colors

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 In the first Dark Knight series, Frank Miller depicts Superman as a stooge of the United States government. Never is this more evident than in the second book of the series, "The Dark Knight Triumphant," where Superman visits the White House and as President Reagan talks to him, the American flag slowly morphs into the S of Superman's chest symbol. Miller wrote and drew this great scene, with inks by Klaus Janson and colors by Lynn Varley. 

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15. It's a Small World After All...

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 The opening sequence of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's second Dark Knight book, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, shows a bearded man fighting off horrific sea creatures. We eventually realize that this is the shrinking superhero formerly known as the Atom, Ray Palmer, who has been stuck in microscopic size and trapped in a Petri dish along with some experiments in aquatic micro-organisms by the bad guys. It's a striking opening, showing us how Batman and his allies are now slowly but surely bringing back the world's superheroes, one by one.  

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14. Things change in a "Flash"...

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 With Atom now helping her, Batman's top aide, Carrie Kelley, then breaks into a government facility where the Atom literally begins to ride the atoms in the defenses of the Pentagon and bends a couple to create entropic force and lead to the breakdown of the most powerful defensive force field in the world - all built to hold the fastest man alive, Barry Allen, also known as the Flash, who had been running in essentially a hamster wheel for years, providing free electricity to roughly a third of the United States, under threat of his wife, Iris, being killed. Well, Batman's team has secured Iris and the fastest man alive is now free and on Batman's side - this changes things dramatically. 

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13. Getting rid of that pesky Bat-symbol...

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 Going into the first Dark Knight series, Frank Miller wanted to return Batman to his original chest symbol, sans the yellow oval surrounding the bat on his chest. However, DC would not let him make this change at first. So in the first book in the series, "The Dark Knight Returns," Miller has the returned Batman track down Two-Face, who has returned to crime following Batman's return to action and is threatening to destroy a Gotham City landmark. Batman attacks Two-Face's helicopter and Two-Face's men open fire, striking Batman dead on in the chest. However, as it turns out, the big yellow oval is actually the most heavily armored part of Batman's costume, an innovation created by Miller for just this story. Batman plummets to his seeming death until he manages to shoot a line on to Two-Face's helicopter, and we see Batman swing into action, now sans that pesky Bat-symbol, in a brilliant full-page splash by Miller, Janson and Varley (the yellow oval would not return for the rest of the series). 

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12. Flower Power

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 In the final book of the original Dark Knight series, "The Dark Knight Falls," the United States/Soviet Union cold war becomes red hot when Russia sends a nuclear missile at the U.S. Superman manages to divert it to the desert, where the actual explosion does not kill anyone (although it does create an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all electricity in the United States). The explosion wrecks Superman, especially as the fallout blocks him from the sun, where he draws his power. He is basically a walking skeleton until he lands in a field of flowers, where he sucks the solar energy that each of the flowers had stored from the sun courtesy of photosynthesis, to restore himself to heath. Superman' adopted planet has literally saved his life. 

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11. Green Lantern lends a hand

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 In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the world has long driven away any alien heroes (or heroes with alien connections) besides Superman, and this includes Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern. In his years of exile, Jordan has evolved and is basically now PART of his Green Lantern ring - a being of pure energy. At the end of the series, Lex Luthor has captured Batman and has been torturing him before making him watch as Luthor's space laser cannons decimate the world's population. However, Batman let himself be captured because he wanted to be there when Hal Jordan shows up and protects the Earth from Luthor's cannons, thereby nullifying Luthor's entire evil plan. It's quite a striking sequence by Miller and Varley. 

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10. Put a little love in your heart...

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 In the second book in the original Dark Knight series, "The Dark Knight Triumphant," young Carrie Kelley saves Batman's life after he is beaten severely and is near death. She gets him back to the Batcave where Alfred tends to his wounds and all she can do is wait. He then comes to her, somewhat recovered and in her exhilaration, she hugs him. Batman is clearly not a guy who often hugs people, so him accepting this hug marks a turning point in the character's life - he changes his plans and begins to consider a future for himself where everything doesn't have to be so bleak. It's a powerful full-page splash by Miller, Janson and Varley. Amazing use of negative space. 

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9. The Pearls

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 One of the most iconic pieces of Batman's visual history has become the use of Martha Wayne's pearls breaking when she and Thomas Wayne are murdered in front of their young son, Bruce, setting him on the path that leads to him becoming Batman. It is a piece of iconography that debuted in the first book of Miller's original Dark Knight series, "The Dark Knight Return," as Bruce Wayne recounts his origin as he dwells upon how bad Gotham City has become in the absence of the Batman. The full sequence is marvelous. 

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8. Bruce Lives!

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 One of the great comic book twists involves a slight mistake on Batman's part. He fakes his death at the end of the first Dark Knight series, "The Dark Knight Falls," but his heart starts up again just a liiiittle bit too early, so Clark Kent, attending the funeral, picks up on it. He lets Bruce have this secret, as Batman has big plans for the world and they require him to operate in secret for them to succeed. It's a very clever ending to the first Dark Knight series by Miller.

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7. Superman/Wonder Woman "reunite"

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 When The Dark Knight Strikes Again begins, Superman has retreated from humanity. His former love, Wonder Woman, draws him back in with an amazingly bold sequence during the middle book in the series, as the two make passionate love all over the Earth, making scientists around the Globe think that earthquakes are happening. It's by far the most memorable sequence from the Dark Knight sequel. 

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6. Batman and Robin spring into action...

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After having proven herself in the second book in the original Dark Knight series, in the third book, "Hunt the Dark Knight," Batman finally accepts Carrie Kelley as his new Robin, his full partner in crime-fighting. This new relationship is established in this full-page splash by Miller, Janson and Varley, probably the most beautiful piece they produced in the whole series.  

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5. Batman takes on the Mutant Leader, Take One

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 In the second book in the original Dark Knight series, "The Dark Knight Triumphant," Batman quickly identifies the biggest threat to Gotham City's citizens are the sadistic gang known as the Mutants. He attacks them at their home base in a newly designed Batmobile. He is picking them apart, but the Mutant's leader challenges Batman to fight him man-to-man. Batman can't help but acquiesce to this request, leading to a stunning full-page splash of Batman springing into action (of course, the Mutant's leader then beats Batman nearly to death, but still, awesome opening sequence to the fight). 

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4. Batman takes on the Mutant Leader, Take Two

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 After his defeat earlier in the book, the Mutants were all arrested by the Gotham City police department, including their leader. After Batman recovers, however, he frees them all and brings them back to the mudpit where the first fight occurred. This time, however, Batman isn't foolish enough to try to beat the Mutant Leader with brute force, but instead uses guerrilla tactics and strikes at his enemy with brutal precision, noting as he goes along, "You don't..get it, boy. This isn't a mudhole...it's an operating table. And I'm the surgeon!" With his foe defeated, the Mutants now become Batman's gang, the Sons of the Batman. 

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3. Joker's Last Laugh

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In the third book of the original Dark Knight series, "Hunt the Dark Knight," the Joker returns to villainy, after convincing the world that he has been cured of his evil insanity. After he kills the entire audience of a talk show he appears on (for his doctor to promote the Joker's cure), he then goes to a carnival where he begins to kill at will. Batman tracks him down and this leads to a final confrontation between the two old foes. In the end, Batman keeps himself from killing the Joker, who has been severely wounded in their battle. The Joker, however, wants the last laugh, so he twists his own body, breaking his own spine, so he can frame Batman for his murder. That Joker is quite the jerk. The full sequence is ghastly. 

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2. Batman returns

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 The literal return of Batman in the first Dark Knight book, "The Dark Knight Returns," is likely one of the most famous sequences in comic book history. As lightning crashes in the background, we slowly see crimes begin to be broken up as Gotham's newscasters slowly filter in reports that someone is stopping violent crimes as they occur. This all occurs in silhouettes, though, until finally, in one magnificent spread by Miller, Janson and Varley, the Dark Knight Returns! Notice, by the way, who is being interviewed - that is Carrie Kelley, she is one of the first people Batman saves in his return to action, and naturally she later saves his life. Nice piece of writing there by Miller. 

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1. The fight heard 'round the world.

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 It's one of the greatest superhero fights of all-time and we even featured it here as the greatest Batman/Superman fight of all-time. In the final book of the original Dark Knight series, "The Dark Knight Falls," the United States government sends Superman after Batman and Superman is not prepared for the fact that Batman is prepared for him! After a series of attacks, including sonic assaults, the coup de grace is applied - Green Arrow shoots a Kryptonite arrow at Superman and Batman has Superman at his mercy. Luckily for Superman, Batman has planned this all out just to very publicly fake his death. He just wants Superman to know that he COULD have killed him if he wanted to.