Great Moments in Comics History: The Dark Knight Returns Subscription Ad

Usually I post a funny out of context panel from an old comic and use the title of this feature in an ironic fashion, but as I was looking through an old issue of Justice League of America from 1986 I was struck by this ad soliciting subscriptions for the upcoming mini-series, The Dark Knight Returns. It’s a relatively innocuous ad touting a new Batman mini-series in a special format. No indications given that it would, along with Watchmen, shake the foundations of modern American comics. There’s a certain poignant innocence about it.


  1. I would love this on a t-shirt. Or a giant framed print.

  2. $3 cover price.  Wow.  That must’ve seemed pretty damn pricy at the time.

  3. it sounds like (at the time in ’86) DC was taking a chance with the format,price and quality,that they wanted to get advance sales.
    I would think this along with Watchmen is their best selling trade ever.

  4. Hmm. This is interesting. I like your reasoning, Conor. “Poignant innocence” indeed.

    Only 1,200 copies?! Am I crazy or does that seem like a small number? Anyone know how quickly this sold out? I was four.

    “… at their gritty best.” Goddamn right.

  5. kind of like that old expression about having no idea that history is happening when its right in front of you. 

    I’m always fascinated by older comic ads. The ones that solicit truely epic runs like this or the Watchmen ads…its just really cool because we just had no idea.

    Also the design of them are really fun. There was real craft and artistry in them, whereas now they are some of the worst examples of desktop publishing….complete afterthoughts by an overworked production team. 

  6. so does anyone know if this book was anygood?

  7. They ran a similar (or exact same) add in Rolling Stone magazine if my memory serves me correctly. 

    This was Frank Miller’s first project following Ronin.  Ronin was not a smash hit (at least in my part of the country).  It was truely a book ahead of its time, but retailers were sitting on unsold copies.  Also, Batman was a character who a lot of fans felt was dated and not exciting back in the mid 80s.  All of these factors resulted in a feeding frenzy when the 1st issue was released.

    $2.95 a lot back then but it was on good paper stock with a very heavy cover and square bound.   I was a freshman in college.  It was a great time to be a comic collector.


  8. I feel so innocent.

  9. I remember this advert well.

  10. It has that “God, I hope this works” feel about it that most classics do beore they are released.

  11. This is a nice bit of nostalgia.

    Conor, if you ever come across any of those crazy mail-order pages of weird items, please post one. I swear I remember seeing one where you could order a live monkey. Really.

  12. @kennyg ….sea monkey(scary,naked)

  13. I remember contemplating sending this in. I was kind of freaked out when it said “Not available through newsstands” but then my comic shop guy assured me he would get it. I didn’t know there was a difference between comic shops and newsstands then.

  14. I bought Dark Knight #1 at a newsstand, so the ad was not entirely accurate.

  15. @MikeFarley I think this meant on spinner racks.  Are you saying you bought is at a comic shop (direct market)? If so, I agree becauset was definitely sold there.  But I don’t think you could get it on shelves at groceries, drug stores, book stores like Waldenbooks and others back in the day.

    @WheelHands there were only 1,200 subscriptions but a great many more sold on the direct market through comic shops.

  16. @Jesse1125  No, this wasn’t sea monkeys – it was for an actual primate. At least that’s how I remember it (but I did party a lot in college).

    I did actually order and receive a live “chameleon” (actually an anole), a live seahorse, and a live venus flytrap from the ads in the back of comic books.


    It wasn’t the drugs, you COULD order a monkey!

  18. @kennyg HOLY $&@! a Spidermonkey for $13.95 with cage? I never saw that before.
    crazy ass ’80s!

  19. @Jesse1125  That was the 70s, actually. The government outlawed importing monkeys as pets in 1975.

    Sorry to hijack this article with monkeys, but… Hell, it’s MONKEYS! Monkeys make everything better!

  20. ah, i can smell the paper

  21. 1986, how about Didio flashback to that era instead of the 90’s to reboot DC.  

  22. @Jesse1125  You would think either this or Watchmen would be DC’s best selling trade ever, but I actually saw an ad for the Death of Superman TPB that said it was the “best selling graphic novel of all time.” That actually seems wrong to me, though. I can’t imagine that trade selling better than DKR or Watchmen, but maybe it was? Anyone know?

  23. @JohnVFerrigno  I bet Dark Phoenix Saga is up there.

  24. I’ve read the “best selling graphic novel of all time” moniker for DOS takes into account the individual issues sold. I ran across a recent listing of all-time trade sales for DC and it wasn’t in the top 5. Watchmen, DKR, and one of the Sandman trades were.