The drawing of a cover for a 1986 “Batman” comic is expected to fetch more than $500,000 at a Dallas auction next month. That’s no paltry sum, though it would still pale to the $2.16 million paid in 2011 for Superman’s debut in “Action Comics” No. 1.
The forthcoming auction will feature a pen-and-ink drawing of the cover for “The Dark Knight Returns” No. 2, which was written and drawn by Frank Miller. Miller’s “Dark Night Returns” series, published by DC Comics and later gathered into a graphic novel, included “The Dark Knight Returns,” “The Dark Knight Triumphant,” “Hunt the Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Falls.” A cover for “Hunt the Dark Knight” went for $450,000 at auction in 2011, according to the Associated Press.
Though Batman and Robin had been fighting crime in Gotham City since 1940, Miller’s contribution to the bat-oeuvre was a critical turning point in the superhero’s evolution.
“Miller's revolutionary Dark Knight radically altered the direction of comics with its prestige mini-series format, combined with the fact that it was one of the first modern mainstream features to put a gritty noir patina on the squeaky-clean Silver Age hero mythos previously exemplified by DC," Todd Hignite, vice president of Dallas’ Heritage Auctions, which is selling the cover, told the AP.
Earlier this year, director Kevin Smith, attending the West Coast premiere of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2,” the concluding chapter of Warner Bros.’ animated adaptation, said: "‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ for many people of my generation, for many people that followed, from the moment it was published forward is kind of like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ of comic books.”
Looking back to the origins of the genre, later this month Taschen Books publishes Paul Levitz’s “The Silver Age of DC Comics: 1956-1970,” a tribute to the format’s rise to prominence in American culture. It follows “The Golden Age of DC Comics: 1935-1956,” published earlier this year, and the series will continue with volumes on the Bronze, Dark and Modern ages, all also written by Levitz. Readers who don’t want to wait can simply purchase Levitz’s huge and handsome “75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Myth-Making.” That title won the Eisner Award two years ago.
Miller, known for his dystopian sensibility, is also responsible for comic series like “Sin City” and “300.” Though the title of “Batman Returns” No. 2 is “Dark Knight Triumphant,” it shows a battle-weary hero, his bat-suit torn in several places. Yet his teeth are gritted in determination, his fists clenched and ready for more. He looks nothing like the neat, peppy Batman of the 1940s. That should be no surprise; the nation had become more cynical, the can-do optimism of the war years replaced by political and cultural divisions.
In 1989, the modern iteration of “Batman” appeared on the silver screen. Directed by Tim Burton, “Batman” starred Michael Keaton in the lead role, with Jack Nicholson as his nemesis the Joker. More recent film versions of the franchise retain the dark sensibility so plainly evident in Miller’s 1986 drawing.
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