Written in 1986 you say?
Yowzah. Sometimes a "classic" has its positive reputation for good reason. This is one of those times. I'm not saying this is the best story I've ever read, but it was pretty good - aside from all the violence and language and whatnot, perhaps somewhat typical of Frank Miller. The pacing is impressive, especially considering the layers upon layers of intersecting stories, subplots, and characters weaving in and out of focus. The addition of the new enemies makes sense for a story a decade or so into the future; though some fans want more focus on older, more familiar villains is not what Miller is going for, but he does deal with possibly Batman's 3 biggest foes: Two-Face, Joker, and, not-too-surprisingly after one has thought about it, Superman. The clever narrative framing of the talking heads is frighteningly kairotic over 25 years after Miller originally wrote this. Perhaps ever more frightening is that so few people in the story are "wrong" (except for Two-Face, Joker, the Mutant leader, and the weak pacifists like Wolper). Superman isn't too wrong, despite Batman's differing stance; Batman isn't really wrong, despite what The Law says; Yindell isn't wrong, despite clashing with Batman and Gordon. That's obviously part of what Miller is saying with this story: since the world isn't the fairy-tale Clark Kent world only he inhabits, and since most of the world is peopled with people to passive or timorous to do anything but cower under tyranny or terror, who is truly right? To the end, Batman maintains his promise of never killing anyone, making the final encounter with Joker (in the Tunnel of Love, no less) all that more disturbing. So much of what Miller does with the story and its character makes thorough sense, considering what Batman is about (from the "Dark Knight" persona perspective), even if it is disturbing. No one really answers the question "is Batman responsible?" which was impressive. We tend to side with Lana Lang, though we are less vociferous in our approval, since we are privy to more than she is. In one sense, Batman is partly responsible, since Joker is dormant only during Batman's disappearance and returns when he does to his heinous ways - but since sin and crime and villainy continue in his absence (not just in the Mutants but in all the political abhorrences going on as intimated around by the talking heads and Superman plotline), clearly (though not unambiguously) Batman is not truly culpable for what Joker or any other lawbreaker does. He isn't responsible for the Sons of Batman, either; nor is he responsible for the choices his fellow former JLA members made in his absence. The references to the old heroes toward the end of the story were not exactly enjoyable though they were appreciated (interesting how Green Arrow feels about Superman after all this time - apparently a lot can happen in a decade). Superman it seems loves Earth, not its citizens by this time. Batman may have lost his love for Justice, and could be just be going on instinct and the thrill of the chase by this time, but he still has the wherewithall in his dying moments to caution a child against using obscene language. I'm glad they went in the direction they did for the ending in contrast to the original script-plotting ending, preventing Batman from becoming a tyrant and criminal mastermind like he had been fighting against his career (beginning and ending on the same street, a nice touch), though he does betray some "Old Soldiers Never Die" tendencies by ordering Robin and the way he wrangles (literally) the Mutants into being soldiers for good (at least, his kind of good). It's tempting to call this a pessimistic book, but with stalwarts like Jim Gordon still around (and some of the positive stories from some interviewees), we know things will be sort of all right - not everyone has given in to total corruption. Even without Alfred (though he will surely be missed), it will be a good enough life after all. Beware, lawbreakers - the Dark Knight will return again.