Contributed by Christopher J. Valin
It was the end of the summer of ’86, and my eighteenth year on this earth was drawing to a close. I was shedding the cocoon of adolescence and getting my adult wings—at least according to conventional wisdom. That’s how it works, right? Once you’re eighteen, you’re suddenly an adult.
I’d just moved to Colorado to join my parents and brothers, who’d moved there a year earlier from Albuquerque. The reason I had stayed behind was that I had a full ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. It was the greatest year of my life, socially. And by far the worst academically. With no more free ride, it was time to move back with my family and attend school close by.
In the middle of high school, I had abandoned my lifelong obsession with comic books for a life of playing in heavy metal bands, partying, and—of course—girls. But now I was in a new place where I didn’t know anyone yet. I was feeling somewhat lost and searching for something familiar. One day, after my mom had gone with me to help deal with the final details of my transfer to the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado, she said she needed to stop at the mall for a few things. I went inside with her, and the first place I noticed was a comic book store. “I’ll hang out here until you’re done,” I said.
All it took was walking into that place to re-ignite the spark. I bought a few issues of some of my favorite series that I’d missed, as well as some new ones. It was a couple of weeks before I made it to another comic book store, but I could tell that my old obsession had returned. With a vengeance.
I started checking out a few other comic shops in town, and on my third or fourth visit to a shop, I started a conversation with the guy behind the counter. I told him I’d been away from comics for a few years, and asked him for recommendations.
“You like Batman?” he asked.
“I love Batman. He was my favorite character growing up.”
“Then you should check this out.” He handed me a copy of the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. The one with the silhouette of Batman against a dark sky, a giant bolt of lightning behind him. It blew my mind.
So did the price.
“It looks really cool, but I don’t think I can afford it.”
He pulled out the trade paperback. The first edition, released by Warner Books, with Batman standing over Gotham City. Not as cool as the lightning cover, but still pretty awesome. He told me it contained all four issues, and it was reasonably priced. I bought it.
When I got home, I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and couldn’t believe how good it was. It had so much to love. The only time I’d seen a version of Batman even close to this was the old Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams books, but this went way beyond that. Miller brought back the
old, oval-less bat-symbol, while still explaining why Batman would go around with a target on his chest. It had Batman fighting Superman. It even had my favorite late-night TV host, whose show I watched every night: David Letterman! This was incredible.
I had always been a Batman and comic book fan, but now it was ON. Not only did it reignite my love for comics, it brought back my desire to create comics. I had always been a good artist, and had created my own comics from when I was very young. The Dark Knight Returns brought back that impulse to create, as well as my obsession with Batman. In the years since, I’ve worked professionally as a comic book inker and writer, a screenwriter, and a novelist.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done some or all of those things if it hadn’t been for The Dark Knight Returns. Something else may have kindled that old fire…Watchmen, perhaps, or something by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. But the fact is that Frank Miller’s series did kick off a creative streak in me that still hasn’t ended thirty years later. And, for that, I’m forever grateful.
Christopher J. Valin is a writer, artist, and teacher living in the Los Angeles area. His first published book was Fortune’s Favorite: Sir Charles Douglas and the Breaking of the Line, about his 5x great-grandfather. He now writes science fiction and superhero stories and books.
All of his superhero stories take place in the same universe (called the “Raptorverse” after its central character, Red Raptor), including Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files – Part 1 and Superteam: The Red Raptor Files – Part 2, and stories in the anthologies It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!, World Domination, and Ha! Ha! Ha! You can also find his other books and short stories at his Amazon author’s page and more at his website, ChristopherValin.com. Finally, if you’d like to keep up with new releases, as well as giveaways and other fun stuff, please subscribe to the newsletter.