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Starting with Bruce seeking thrills through racing cars. Miller displays a Gotham City free of the super-villains (the Joker has been sitting silently for years in Arkham), but besieged by the rise of a mutant gang bent on causing mischief just because. It is ultimately this gang and the impending retirement of Commissioner Gordon due to age that lure Batman out of his ten-year retirement. Suddenly the city is no longer free, life is now full of risk, and Wayne cannot sit back on his haunches, especially when a rehabilitated Harvey Dent, compete with a surgically repaired face, strikes out and returns to the life of crime. Despite every dollar he could spare, Wayne could not turn Dent back, could not rehabilitate the man. He feels like a failure, and more now than ever, this failure shoves Wayne back into the fire.
Having paid for Dent’s rehab, Bruce cannot allow the man to run amuck and reek carnage. Thus he dawns the mask, notes his age, his slowed reflexes, the increased pain. Everything used to be so easy, but now, aged yet strong, lumbering yet graceful, Batman becomes the controversy of the city and soon the new police commissioner. In a plot arc that forces Batman to confront the mutant crime leader multiple times, to admit the failure of his Dent project, and to duel Joker, Wayne ultimately must confront himself. No longer can he lead a double life, his retirement proved this fact, but no longer can he Bruce Wayne. Batman has and is his calling, a vocation of danger, a temporal position for which he must find a successor.
But what makes this graphic novel great comes in the political satire as well. Written in the mid 1980’s, Miller explores the cold war and the effects of nuclear war. America is the great hope of the world, but only as long as Superman is in the fold, a position the icon struggles to hold in a world that doesn’t seem to want the superheroes it needs.