At New York Comic-Con last month, it was revealed that Frank Miller’s groundbreaking Dark Knight Returns Universe would be receiving a considerable expansion in anticipation of the upcoming Dark Knight III: The Master Race and Miller’s return to the character. The details of one of those titles have just been revealed and it’s definitely not something we should be missing out on.
Dark Knight Returns: The Dark Crusade will take place prior to the events of the Dark Knight Returns and focus on one of the most traumatic events in this Batman’s career, the death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker. The story hints that this tragedy was what drove Bruce into retirement, making this a pretty wonderful piece of the story to explore. Keep in mind that this is an alternate universe, originally published before the events of “A Death in the Family,” therefore it’s likely not going to be similar.
At the helm of this upcoming 64-page one-shot is the team of Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello handling the script and John Romita Jr. handling pencils. DC Comics sat down with the legendary artist to ask him about getting to enter that universe.
Romita Jr. explains what this book will be about:
“I can’t say much, but I can say this book’s a prequel to Dark Knight Returns and it’s got a lot to do with Jason Todd and what happens to him at the hands of the Joker. All this was only touched on in Dark Knight Returns. We know Jason Todd met his end, but this is going to tell the story of how he met his end and what transpires up to that point.”
DC asked about how he feels about being assigned this monumental project and the importance of it is not lost on the second generation artist. For the most part, Romita Jr. is both excited and extremely nervous. He says, “The thought that comes into my mind is really, ‘Oh god, don’t let me screw this up!’ I’m getting handed this amazing script from Azzarello based on Brian and Frank’s plot, and that’s what’s coming to mind.”
Despite understanding that this project is important, he confessed that he never actually read the Dark Knight Returns. I suppose, being an artist, he was more drawn (no pun intended) to the images and storytelling in the panels than the word bubbles. After receiving the assignment, he went back and read the dialogue.
“The first time I read it was about a month and a half ago. In 1986, when it came out, I looked at the artwork. I love Frank’s work. But I never really paid attention to the dialog. With as many comics as I have lying around, I often don’t read the dialog. I’m a fan of the artists. I was not looking to read Dark Knight Returns, I wanted to see the artwork and follow it storywise.
Looking and marveling at it back then, I didn’t feel the need to read the whole thing through. I knew what was going on. Now here we are all this time later, and I get a chance to read it all the way through and I’m laughing at myself for thinking that Dick Grayson was the Mutant Leader. For some reason I thought that he was, and I felt pretty stupid when it occurred to me that he wasn’t! There you are. I should have read it all along.”
Romita Jr. seems fascinated with storytelling, which is something that greatly interests me, so I definitely relate to him on that. It’s just unfortunate that he didn’t read the dialogue beforehand. He understands now how much the dialogue complements the art and how well the story is told using both.
This book is a very interesting and important project to the larger Dark Knight universe, it being a prequel and all. As I said before, the important isn’t lost on Romita Jr. He’s excited that he has room to interpret things his way, but he also understands and wants to keep it within the parameters of the universe. He references a moment where he asks about Arkham Asylum and how he should design it in relation to Miller’s simplistic interpretation.
“But it’s exciting because I can take some license with stuff as long as I stay within the parameters that have been established. The feel of what Frank did with Klaus all so long ago is so exciting that I don’t want to completely depart from it, and yet I don’t want to eliminate what I can add to it. It’s going to be really interesting to find that happy medium over the pages we work on.”
And lastly, DC asks about Jason Todd’s design. Just as this is a different Bruce, this will also be a different Jason and Romita Jr. has been handed the reins to this new take on an iconic Batfamily member.
“Since he’s still Robin at that point, I told our editor that I’d like to make it slightly distinct or at least different from the Dick Grayson version. But at the same time, it can’t be too different. And we also have to keep his look different from Carrie Kelley’s. But once we establish the year that it is, maybe his hairstyle will be distinct to what it is at that time. With Jason, he’ll be in a Robin costume, but it’ll be a little different.”
Read the rest of interview over at DCComics.com. Dark Knight Returns: The Dark Crusade will hit shelves on February 17, 2016.