Batman fans will be able to bid on a piece of comic book history. Heritage Auctions has announced that the original cover of the writer/artist’s debut book Frank Millerthe iconic 1986 series Return of the Dark Knight will be up for sale at Heritage Auctions’ Comic Book and Comic Book Signing Auction June 16-19.
Miller worked on the cover with Lynn Varley. It features a silhouette of Batman in the sky with a lightning bolt striking behind him. “It was a favorite of mine,” Miller said of the cover. “It was almost a silhouette. I love doing covers and I love conjuring up iconic images. It’s just a fun challenge.” However, the iconic image was not the original one Miller had in mind. One of the previous releases featured a Batman crouching on a power line, which was later used as the cover for the 2015 collection, Black Batman: Return of the Dark Knight. The idea for the cover of the first issue came after it was written, drawn and inked by Klaus Janson. “In the case of the lightning bolt, it was definitely love at first sight,” Miller said. “It was an inspirational moment.”
Return of the Dark Knight is celebrated as a turning point in Batman history. After the 1960s Batman TV series let pop culture consider him a campy comedic character, comic book writers and artists worked to return the character to his original darker roots. Return of the Dark Knight showed an even darker future for the character. It followed 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, who had retired from Batman ten years earlier following the death of Robin/Jason Todd. With Gotham City now worse than ever, thanks to a gang calling themselves The Mutants, an older Batman returns to take over the city. In the first issue, Batman also has to deal with Two-Face, who returns to crime after being released from Arkham.
Return of the Dark Knightin the same way Alan Moore and David Gibbons‘ watchmen, is considered to be what started the modern era of comics. “What Black Knight did to superhero comics and the superhero genre itself, it was a big fat Dope Slap,” Miller said. “It just woke the genre up.” Decades after the release of the series, first issue cover remains iconic “This first issue cover in the groundbreaking story is easily one of the most famous comic book covers of all eras, as well as the most resonant image in the series” said Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Hignite to say:
“He defined the entire 1980s superhero genre at that very moment, not just in comics but in wider culture. Such a widely reproduced, instantly recognizable, and transcendent image speaks to generations. I can’t don’t think of a more important piece of comic book art ever being auctioned off.”
Return of the Dark Knight has influenced many different adaptations of the character. In 2012 and 2013, a two-part anime film adaptation was released, starring Pierre Weller like Batman. Christopher Nolanthe 2012 movie The dark knight rises told the story of a retired Bruce Wayne returning to the role of Batman. Ben Affleckis batman in Zack Snyderit is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was also an older, darker version of the character, who also has a similar fight with Superman. The cover was even recreated in the movie during the final fight with Doomsday. “When I agreed to work on Batman, I understood from the start that in every way I was contributing to a collective work and bringing my best to it,” Miller said. “And as it was progressing and it was going very well, I expected to see him appear, thoughtful. I didn’t expect it so much.”
Heritage Auctions’ June 16-19 Comic Book Signature Auction will open for auction later this month, you can browse auction items here. In the meantime, fans can also watch the animated version of Return of the Dark Knightcurrently available to stream on HBO Max.
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