The Dark Knight returned Thursday to claim the record for the most expensive mainstream American comic book cover art sold at auction.
Frank Miller and collaborator Lynn Varley’s original art for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Book One’s iconic cover, featuring Batman in silhouette against a sky split open by lightning, sold at Heritage Auctions Thursday for $2.4 million. The work comes from a collector who acquired it directly from Varley and is among the centerpieces of Heritage’s June 16-19 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction.
The artwork’s price tag reflects The Dark Knight Returns’ reputation as the comic book that hit shelves and spinner racks like a bolt of lightning in February 1986 and provided Batman (if not the entire comics industry) with what critic Elvis Mitchell calls “a savage rebirth.” It remains among the most imitated and echoed image in comic-book history.
“We’re thrilled to see Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s influential work reach a level often associated with classic American art,” says Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Hignite. “It deserves that, as this is easily one of the most famous comic-book covers from any era, and it defined the superhero genre from the 1980s to this very moment. I can’t think of a more important piece of comic art to have ever come to auction.”
Miller says today that the cover for The Dark Knight Returns Book One was not his original vision. In fact, he didn’t arrive at the final version until the first book was written, drawn and in the hands of inker Klaus Janson.
“In the case of the lightning bolt, that really was a bolt out of the blue,” Miller says. “That was a moment of inspiration.”
The previous record for the most expensive Batman original art sold at auction belonged to Miller’s mentor, Neal Adams, and his 1973 cover for Batman No. 251. That beloved work sold for $600,000 at Heritage in November 2019. The cover for The Dark Knight Returns Book One is also the first work of art from a DC Comics title to sell for more than $1 million.