Gender Performance and the Reclamation of Masculinity in Frank Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns"

John William Salyers Jr., Gardner-Webb University


Salyers analyzes Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as both a product of and a commentary upon the American 1980s. The text focuses on analysis of key characters and their performance of socially assigned or accepted gender roles. Chief among these are James Gordon, seen as a nostalgic clinging to an antiquated masculinity, and Ellen Yindel, a woman who feels pressured by society to abandon her own gender identity in favor of a more socially acceptable one. The text posits that, against these two, Miller's work seeks to recognize a more modern, empowered, feminism in the character of Robin, and a "reclaimed" masculinity in Batman. This reclaimed masculinity, Salyers suggests, hearkens to earlier nineteenth century ideals of chivalry and strength while eliminating the antiquated notions problematized in the hyper-sexualization and victimization of the female popular in 1980s media and its portrayal of the masculine. Ultimately, the text suggests that Miller is introducing a new form of masculine mythology in the character of Batman.