The Dark Knight Returns is a four-part mini-series; it will not replace the original Batman pulp comic books, which continue to show the debonair young millionaire Bruce Wayne fighting crime in Gotham as he has since his first appearance in May 1939.

But while those books sell for $A1.06 each at news-stands, The Dark Knight Returns is sold only at book and specialty stores and costs $A4.21. The cover is a stark silhouette of Batman, lit by a bolt of lightning.

“It kind of announces to the world that this is not a typical comic book,” said Mr Dennis O’Neil, senior editor at DC Comics, publisher of Batman.

It is, instead, a graphic novel, a “thought-provoking action story” produced by one of a new breed of comic artists who take the medium seriously, and use it to tell serious stories.

Mr O’Neil said the idea is to reach adults and sophisticated teenagers, and those who do not normally read comic books.

“I wanted to do something you wouldn’t be ashamed to take on an airplane with you,” Mr Miller said.

So far, the book has 200,000 copies in print — more than double what was expected.

Mr Miller said Batman and other super heroes such as Superman were created during the 1930s to bring a sense of order to a world bartered by fascism and depression.

Through the years, he said, “they’ve wandered away from that,” and Batman has become less and less tied to reality.

The new Batman ..... he is depicted as a cynical middle-aged warrior.

The new Batman ….. he is depicted as a cynical middle-aged warrior.Credit:DC Comics

“I wanted to make Batman a mythological character … a force on Earth, intervening for good in human affairs,” Mr Miller said.

So he shows Batman in retirement, drinking heavily. He tries to fight the impulse to become a vigilante again, as a gang known as The Mutants rapes, murders and robs at will.

“In my gut, the creature writhes and snarls and tells me what I need,” says Bruce Wayne, and one stormy night he becomes Batman again, leaving wrongdoers in crumpled heaps all over the city.

But he’s not a young man any longer; he is not sure of his physical abilities, and a night of crime fighting leaves him aching all over.

Mr Miller said the Dark Knight series took three times as long to complete as would a normal pulp series, and costs far more to produce – it is square-bound, on special paper with high-quality printing.

In 2001, Miller returned to the Dark Knight series with Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Then, in 2005, he created All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, a series set inside of what Miller describes as the “Dark Knight Universe”. That same year saw him turn to film with an adaptation of Sin City with Robert Rodriguez.

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