The cover image for Issue #1 of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is a standalone; never does it appear within the comic itself, and yet it feels like the crowning moment of the entire mini-series.
To convince myself of this fact, I carefully turned every leaf of the outsized Absolute edition and studied it contents, cover to cover, and it was true: never did the iconic silhouetted image of the Batman suspended in mid-flight–one fist poised overhead, ready to strike, the other guiding the body electric, muscular legs tucked in close, black-cape skimming the dusky atmosphere whilst the hot-blue lightning all-but shatters the skyline–appear in the comic.
Was this some sleight of hand? A rudimentary magician’s parlour trick? Because I could have sworn that the image had featured somewhere in the first book. But this indeed was the magic of Frank Miller’s iconic cover: it was everywhere and nowhere in the 1980s, like the ubiquitous decade itself, everywhere and nowhere, existing somewhere outside of time, and also within the gears of the doomsday clock itself, which is why so many of us are still urgently tracking that lost land of Xanadu.
Miller’s vital Dark Knight Returns brought comics back to their mythic primitive origins in the time when it was needed most. After all, the Heroic age in literature preceded all others, including the priestly one. And Miller’s Dark Knight was the savior we deserved to help us make sense of the world, in a cape-and-cowl kind of way.
(BTW: The image below was the closest doppelgänger to the original cover I could find, when Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement and dons the Batman costume once more).