Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Dark Knight Returns

Here's a commissioned painting of Batman and Robin that I finished recently. The more astute comic fans among you might recognize that it's actually a painting of the senior-citizen old Batman and teen-girl Robin from "the Dark Knight Returns" -- a seminal Batman mini-series from the mid 1980's. When I was a teen, that book was probably my favourite super-hero comic, and it still holds up pretty well. I have an old paperback collection of all 4 issues, and when I went to reference it for this painting, I had a chuckle at how dog-eared it had become from multiple readings.

Anyway, I had some fun working on this piece. I've mentioned in the past how uncomfortable I am in drawing Batman, so I used this painting as an opportunity to try and get over that hump. Drawing the Joker, however, is always fun.

The completed painting was done in gouache and ink, and colour corrected in photoshop. You can see the preliminary sketches I did for it below, and compare how I tweaked a few small details the road to the final art. The only major change is that I made Batman beefier and more wide-shouldered than in the pencil sketch -- something that was suggested to me by my pal Steve Manale. When I showed him the drawing, his first reaction was:

"Dude, its Batman - his shoulders should be HUGE!"


Arkonbey said...

I actually like the Joker's 'plain' teeth in the tonal study over the teeth in the final.

I do love how the blue on the shadow border on the joker's face creates the illusion of a blended transition.

Thanks for posting your process work, btw.

DYKC?™ said...

'preciate you sharing the tonal study, too, Michael.

In the final, the 'red eye' for the Joker really adds that solid classic touch to pull in the whole piece.

Gregor said...


Despite all the updating that has gone on with the look of Batman over the years I think this will always be the definitive and most iconic version.

Blue and Grey, small pointy ears, chunky utility belt.

Dan C said...

I already commented on this over on the Drawing Board, but I'll say it again here: great job, Mike. Love the two-tone effect and use of black. Very sharp.

Craig Zablo said...

Love see the steps to the finished piece. Excellent job!

Tom said...

Nice piece!!

damon said...


super cool

love it

Michael Cho said...

Arkonbey: yeah, I was kinda torn on the teeth part. In the end, I figured the more malevolent look fit the DKR Joker better.

DYKC:Thanks, buddy. I was wondering about that bit of red and was flip-flopping on that for a while. But without some other colour, this one just looked a bit flat.

Gregor: I know what you mean -- I've always liked the golden age batman design the best with the simpler logo and grey sweats.

DanC: thanks, Dan. High praise coming from you.

Craig: thanks. Glad you liked seeing the process. Its a sketchblog, so I like showing the roughs sometimes.

Tom: thanks.

Damon: thanks, dude.

alan said...

Heh heh, I think Steve made a good call. Either way, it's a fantastic piece!

Dustin dArnault said...

So this is all kinds of awesome!

Michael Cho said...

Thanks, guys. A critical eye is always appreciated.

robharrigan said...

the subtlety of the composition is really nice. it's not just another batman.

Raphael Loh said...

What a great piece Mike! I actually re-read the DKR just yesterday. I love the touch of the brass knuckles and Robin with the slingshot. Definately Dark Knight Returns!

jason quinones said...

those original pencils look so slick! nice fluidity and action! and great poster design as well.

your original take on batman is still pretty good though. very steve rude looking.

but love the final version too. dark knight is prob my all time fave comic and you did bats and miller justice!

Michael Cho said...

Raph: Thanks, Raph. Glad you liked it, buddy. I enjoyed drawing this one too.

Jason: thanks, Jason. DKR is one of my all time faves as well. I read it as a teen, so it left a hell of an impression on me -- I can still quote whole chunks of dialog from that book from memory. Kinda like Watchmen in that way.

Dominic Bugatto said...

Nice one !

Brad H said...

I spent half my time at the fan expo looking for a piece of awesome Batman art, but stopped as soon as I saw yours. I knew it wasn't gonna get any better than this so I had to buy one. I got it hanging on my wall next to your Galactus (also badass) and people can't help but comment on it when they first visit. Just wanted to say thanks!

Michael Cho said...

Dominic: thanks, Dom.

Brad: thanks, Brad. That's very flattering of you to say. I'm glad you enjoyed the prints. Hope you had a good time at Fan Expo too!