The iconic cover to The Dark Knight Returns #1, by artist Frank Miller and colorist Lynn Varley, sold at auction for over $2 million over the weekend, marking the most money ever paid for a piece of Batman original art. In fact, it bulldozed the previous record of $600,000 pretty thoroughly, and more than quadrupled the highest amount anyone had previously paid for a piece of Miller’s art. In 2011, Heritage Auctions — the same company that oversaw the Dark Knight Returns sale this month — sold a page of original art from The Dark Knight Returns for almost $450,000.
The Dark Knight Returns is the standout work from Miller’s storied career. The story, which was not part of DC’s existing continuity, took place in a near-future dystopia where an aging, bitter Bruce Wayne is forced out of retirement to be Batman again. The series has become one of the most influential pieces of superhero fiction ever created, and the cover itself is often imitated, homaged, and parodied.
“We’re thrilled to see Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s influential work reach a level often associated with classic American art,” said Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Hignite in a statement (via Bleeding Cool). “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.”
Heritage Auctions’ four-day event featured a number of big-ticket original comics art sales, including Jim Lee’s triple gatefold cover for Batman #619, which sold for $504,000. As with Miller, that number marked the most ever paid for Jim Lee original art, although given the explosive state of the original art market for comics, it seems unlikely that record will hold for long.
Here’s how Heritage described the art: “With the ever-increasing popularity and critical and popular acclaim for the rich and varied comic stories epitomized by The Dark Knight – as well as the commensurate viability in the realm of fine art and newly rising market values for the best of the best – this artwork is poised to both achieve the highest price of all time for an American comic book cover, and redefine the understanding of an entire history of art.
“Ink over graphite on Bristol board with airbrush color work, image size 12″ x 18″. Signed by both artists as ‘FM/LV’ in the lower center. A few visible surface scuffs and finger bends; otherwise, in Excellent condition.”