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The Comic Speculator: The Dark Knight

by Matt Baum (07/21/08).
Cover of Batman the Killing Joke
Cover of Batman Year One HC
Cover of Batman #404
Cover of the Dark Knight Returns

Unless you live under a rock you’ve probably heard that the sequel to Batman, The Dark Knight, opened in theaters last Friday. If you’re reading this blog I can only assume that you are a nerd like me and you’ve already seen The Dark Knight at least once. The buzz around the new Batman is mainly centered on Health Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. There’s even early Oscar talk from some critics.

For those of you only familiar with the Joker from the 1960’s Batman TV show or Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Batman’s arch-nemesis in the 1989 Tim Burton film this new Joker may seem shockingly dark. Much like Batman Begins, the latest film sets Bruce Wayne in a decidedly darker and sinister Gotham City populated by terrifying homicidal villains. The tone for Nolan’s Batman was set by several, now classic, Batman stories most of which were completely overlooked during the last Batman film franchise. While Hollywood in the 90’s was pumping campy Bat-films that would become steadily more un-watchable with each chapter DC comics had already established Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight of Gotham City.

This week The Comic Speculator will take a look at the comics that inspired the look, feel and characterization of Batman and the Joker in Director Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film.

The Dark Knight Returns 1-4, DC, 1986, written and illustrated by Frank Miller. If asked to choose the quintessential Batman story 9-out-10 Bat-Fans will name Frank Millers Dark Knight epic. This was the story that changed Batman. Before DKR Batman was gritty, sure, but not like this. Miller’s story sees an aging Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to fight crime in Gotham one more time. Batman is older now and forced to resort to more brutal methods. Miller gave fans a terrifying-sinister Batman that broke arms, legs and backs in his quest for justice. There’s a quote from a scene where Batman is squared off with a gang leader in the city dump that perfectly illustrates Miller’s Batman. Batman stands injured in front of the hulking figure of the gang leader he is fighting and says, while breaking his arms, “You don’t understand boy… this isn’t a mudhole… this is an operating table… and I’m the surgeon.”.

The Dark Knight Returns #1 first printing currently guides for $50.00 in Overstreet while Wizard magazine lists the book at $18.00. DKR #1 has recently been selling for $30.00-$50.00 on line so take that Wizard. Remember, price guides are only one companies idea of what an item should be selling for. Issues #2-#4 are also climbing in value as both Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale continue to reference the storyline in interviews.

DKR #2 currently guides for $25.00 but is selling for upwards of $30.00.
DKR #3-#4 guide for $20.00 and $15.00 respectively and have been hovering in that range.

Miller’s DKR is only going to get harder to find as more fans are introduced to the story that first made Batman truly scary.

Batman: Year One DC, 1987 from Batman issues #404-#407 written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. The first Nolan Batman, Batman Begins, was loosely based on this storyline that showed us a young Bruce Wayne becoming Batman on the mean streets of Gotham. Before Miller creators like Niel Adams and Berni Wrightson had darkened the tone of the character but not to the crime-noir level that Year: One would explore. Miller wrote Gotham City like Scorsese’s New York in the film Taxi Driver surrounding Batman with Hookers, pimps, and drug dealers rather than super-villains.

Here’s a look at where the Batman Year One issues and reprints are currently guiding:
Batman # 404, $25.00, Miller’s script begins, first modern app of Catwoman.
Batman #405-#497, $20.00.
Batman: Year One Hardcover edt 1988, $20.00
The Complete Frank Miller Batman Leather-bound edt 1989, $50.00

Batman: The Killing Joke, DC, 1988, Written by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland. It was Moore and Bolland’s Joker from the Killing Joke storyline that Heath Ledger called his primary influence for his portrayal of the character in The Dark Knight. The Killing Joke was a 52-page one shot for adult readers that redefined the Joker from the ridiculous clown prince of crime of the Golden-age to Batman’s truly horrifying and psychotic arch-nemesis. In the Killing Joke story the Joker shoots Barbra Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, in the spine paralyzing her from the waist down, kidnaps and rapes his wife and then forces him to relive the experience in an attempt to corrupt the Commissioner.

Batman: The Killing Joke currently guides for $18.00 but has been routinely selling for upwards of $30.00 as 1st printings become harder to find.

Both Frank Miller and Alan Moore redefined Batman in the late 1980′s as the Dark Knight of Gotham City but it would take Hollywood another 15-years to give fans the Bat-movie they craved after reading these legendary stories. Now that The Dark Knight has smashed summer box-office ticket sales records perhaps Hollywood will take notice and look to the source material that the fans hold in such high regard rather than constantly re-inventing and watering down our favorite comic book heroes.

For more on Batman and other new comics check out my other blog, ”This Week in Geek” where I discuss the new comics of the week that could be tomorrow’s hot collectibles. If you have any questions about these books or anything else in the comic book world feel free to contact me or post your question in the Comic Book community forum. Want to know what your comics are worth? Join Worthpoint for free and post your titles in the “Ask A Question” section.

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