How The Original Batman Cover Became The Most Valuable Comic Book Art In History

In 1986, Batman: Return of the Dark Knight, a four-part story written and drawn by Frank Miller helped usher in a new era of mature storytelling in comic books. The original cover of the first issue of Batman: Return of the Dark Knight sold for $2.4 million on Thursday, June 16 at Heritage Auctions, making it the most valuable mainstream American comic book cover sold publicly.

Original cover of the first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

The cover art was a collaboration between Miller and his then-wife, Lynn Varley, featuring Batman silhouetted against an open sky by lightning. “It’s easily one of the most famous comic book covers of any era, and it defined the 1980s superhero genre at this very moment,” said Todd Hignite, Vice President of Heritage. , based in Dallas.

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The price of the artwork reflects Return of the Dark Knight‘ as a comic that hit shelves and racks like lightning in February 1986, giving Batman (if not the entire comic book industry) what critic Elvis Mitchell calls “a savage rebirth “. It remains one of the most imitated images in comic book history. 1986 also saw the release of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons watchmenanother comic like Return of the Dark Knightwhich presented a deconstruction of the superhero concept and, in doing so, elevated the medium to new levels of respectability.

Frank Miller Says The Dark Knight Returns Cover Was "a moment of inspiration."

Frank Miller says the cover of Return of the Dark Knight was “a moment of inspiration.”

The cover of Return of the Dark Knight The first book was not Miller’s original vision. In fact, it didn’t come to the final version until the first book was written, drawn, and in the hands of inker Klaus Janson. “In the case of the lightning, it was really a clap of thunder,” Miller says. “It was an inspirational moment.”

A copy of Batman #1 rated 9.4 by CGC sold for $2.22 million in 2021 at Heritage Auctions.

A copy of Batman #1 rated 9.4 by CGC sold for $2.22 million in 2021 at Heritage Auctions.

Batman remains a hot superhero in the collector’s world. Last year alone, finest known copy of Batman Number 1 sold for $2.22 million at Heritage. The previous record for the most expensive original Batman artwork sold at auction belonged to Miller’s mentor Neal Adams and his 1973 cover for Batman No. 251. This beloved work sold for $600,000 at Heritage in November 2019.

Neal AdamsundefinedBatmanundefined#251 original cover art featuring The Joker (DC, 1973) sold for $600,000 in 2019.

neal adamsindefiniteBatmanindefiniteOriginal cover art #251 featuring The Joker (DC, 1973) sold for $600,000 in 2019.

“We are thrilled to see the influential work of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley reach a level often associated with classic American art,” Hignite said. “It deserves it, because it’s one of the most famous comic book covers of all eras, and it defined the 1980s superhero genre at that exact moment. I can’t think to a most important piece of comic art ever to come to auction.

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