Batman: The Dark Knight (April 1986)
"The Dark Knight Triumphant"
Frank Miller-Miller/Klaus Janson
Karen: We're back, taking another crack at this, moving on to issue two. So Batman has returned to Gotham City, to take on the threat of the Mutant Gang, and Jim Gordon is retiring as Police Commissioner. Oh, and we also have a new Robin, Carrie Kelly. All of these things come together in this second issue. I think I was most acutely aware of the waxing and waning between Batman and Gordon's careers. Both are satisfied with what they are doing. Gordon is at peace with his decision to retire -well, it's mandatory retirement, but he seems happy to go. Batman is relishing his return, back in the hellhole that Gotham has become. Gordon is secure in leaving it all behind because he has his wife, Sarah, to go home to. But Batman -what does he have other than his 'war'? He really feels to me like a sad, hollow man as he is shown here, nearing the end of his days. Who is there for him? Dick is mentioned, but nowhere to be found. Alfred is around, but still playing the role of faithful servant. Jason is obviously dead. And there is no wife or lover to stand by him.
Doug: So, like a teacher you had as a child, how old did you ever think Commissioner Gordon was when you were reading comics as a kid? He's forced, as you said, to retire at the age of 70. I suppose as a kid we really didn't have a grasp on age, but to think that Gordon would have been 58-60 when the Batman went into seclusion would have made him in his early to mid-30s in some adventures! Hard to conceive. I totally agree with you about Batman's obsession with his war on crime. That you said he was a "hollow man" seems appropriate -- throughout the story Miller has Bruce Wayne/Batman muse on various situations that would be a "good death" (although I had to chuckle the singular time he muttered that a certain situation would be a "bad death"), such that he has nothing to live for other than destroying Gotham's underworld.
Karen: As a kid, my take on DC heroes was developed more from TV than comics, so I thought of the TV commissioner, who surely was in his 60s, which seemed ancient to me! By the time I began reading Batman comics, that might have come down to late 40s or early 50s - which still seemed 'old' when you're a teenager. For many years, my mental picture of Superman was a hybrid of George Reeves and the Curt Swan comic version, an older authority figure. Eventually it was supplanted by a younger version.
Karen: Picking up on Batman being a 'hollow man' -here's where my ignorance of Batman comics shows. I'll admit, I've probably read fewer than 100 Batman and Detective Comics in my life. So while I think I have a grip on the character, it may be more informed by cartoons than by comics. Before DKR, was Batman ever shown as having such a lonely, single-minded life? I realize the circumstances here are different -he's nearing the end of his life, he's lost a lot of people -but it seems like after DKR, we got this whole "war" concept in his regular books too. I don't think he was portrayed as so obsessed prior to this.
Doug: Think about it this way -- even if in the Bronze Age the Batman had been portrayed as the Right-wing nutjob that we're discussing, you'd have still had Bob Haney writing The Brave and the Bold. That certainly would have been a heavy counter weight. But in answer to your question, I don't know that I'd characterize Batman as being very much past "driven". I don't think we'd ever seen him so obsessed, so brutal. I guess if you think of the strictest definition of a vigilante, then that is what Miller gave us -- a man who viewed himself as judge, jury, and executioner.
Karen: I think "driven" is what I would have said, but certainly not unbalanced, or flat out crazed, as he's been shown at times. Thanks for confirming.
Doug: Different authors have allowed Alfred to move across a spectrum of witness, confidante, ally, aide, medic, etc. He probably fills each of these roles throughout this story, but it's his snarkiness that I found appealing. He truly worries about Bruce Wayne, but his sarcasm is all that he can control and so uses it in no short supply in voicing his opinions of this revived crusade.
Karen: One thing I noticed with this issue was the influence it had on the existing Batman films -- not the upcoming Batman v Superman, which obviously draws from this. There's the scene where Batman is hanging a mutant upside down over the city -- there was a similar scene in Batman Begins, I believe. The hulking Batmobile he uses in this issue "modified for riots" surely inspired the "Bat-Tank" of the Nolan films. But why shouldn't the film-makers take inspiration from this? The comics did. Perhaps more influential was Batman's tough, no-holds-barred approach with criminals. He even shoots a mutant early on in this issue, which took me by surprise. I have a big problem with Batman using guns, and even though he was using one of the mutant's guns, it still seems wrong to me for Batman to be pulling the trigger.
Doug: Dan Slott tweeted with several fans a few weeks ago concerning the new slate of Superman films. His position was quite simple: at their core values, Superman and Batman are heroes. They do not kill. He was adamant in his position, and of course there were bits to the conversation from both sides of the issue. One person tweeted a quote attributed to Batman that I thought was interesting -- "If you kill a killer, there are the same number of killers in the world." Hmm...
Karen: I saw that quote on Facebook too and I don't know where it came from. Most of the stuff attributed to someone on social media turns out to be false. But I agree with Slott -- Superman and Batman -- and the vast majority of super-heroes -- should not kill. But that idea is a holdover from the days when these characters were supposed to represent ideals, and not just people with powers who could cause lots of destruction. Heroes used to be there for us; now they are above us, it seems.
Karen: Carrie Kelly was an interesting addition as Robin. Her motivation seems to be mostly hero-worship but regardless she adds a high note to the story. Her interactions with Batman help to humanize him, although they also, almost paradoxically, make him reprehensible, for endangering another child!
Doug: Think of the training that the previous Robins had gone through before being allowed to go on their first patrol (well, maybe not Tim Drake so much). We aren't told if Carrie has any gymnastics training, or any other training for that matter. And armed with a wooden slingshot? Crazy talk. I enjoyed her character -- smart, a little smart-alleck, too, daring, and already devoted to the crazy old man. To say she jumps right into Batman's war on crime would be an understatement. And does Miller take a shot at "today's" parents? The Kellys are pretty aloof... sort of like a couple of stoned ex-hippies. And where did Carrie get that authentic Robin get-up?
Karen: She used "lunch money" - her stoned parents must have been giving her quite a wad of cash!
Doug: I mentioned the art last week, and I want to just make a quick note that I despise the cover of this book. I think my former thoughts that the art degraded through the book may have been largely influenced by this cover. At any rate, I'm happy to report that the interiors are much more palatable than the image above. Another of my favorite images from the series is included above at left -- Batman suspending the thug from high above Gotham. Classic, at least for this version of the Caped Crusader.
Karen: I recall that "Bat-Hulk" image popping up on posters and t-shirts all over the place. I agree, it's not the most appealing. But it got its point across.
Doug: Let's talk about two major plot points in this issue: Batman's one-man war against the Mutants gang, and the return of the Joker. The tension between the city and the Mutants has built through the first issue and now appears to be headed toward resolution in this issue -- but what resolution? I got the feeling that there were more teens and young adults allied with the Mutants than not. It seemed as if some sort of violent plague had fallen over Gotham City. So there's this direct, immediate physical threat to Gotham's citizens and its businesses that forces the Batman into a confrontation earlier than he might have judged sane. On the other hand, he seemed to relish it when his first battle against the Mutant leader began.
Karen: Batman's discovery that the military is feeding weapons to the Mutants indicates that Gotham's state of decay isn't any accident. It seems Batman's not only going to face down the Mutant leader but a higher authority. He's definitely in his happy place.
Doug: The next time we see this fellow, his nose has been destroyed and he's railing to the media against the Batman, further challenging him to a rematch. And then later we get a glimpse of him in lock-up as Gotham's mayor is escorted by Gordon to a meeting. The mayor wants to negotiate with the Mutant leader in his cell. Bad call, as the mayor's throat is ripped out. And that leads to the second battle with the Dark Knight, which is more epic than the first. By now the level of violence in this story has left any charts I could think of. Miller's staccato vignettes of Gotham's deranged and delirious citizens and their crazy world serve as an appetizer for this final battle. Batman finally realizes that the high he has gotten from his return to action isn't enough.
Karen: The second time around, Batman uses his brain. He dictates the terms of the fight, using the mud pit as an equalizer. "This isn't a mudhole," he tells the Mutant Leader, "It's an operating table, and I'm the surgeon." He's come down from his high, I think, and started to plan for the long term.
Doug: And then there's the Joker. So far we've only caught glimpses of him. He's in a psychiatric care facility, the Arkham Home for the Emotionally Troubled. I'll say. The Joker was in many of the scenes in the first issue that told of Harvey Dent's healing and then quick descent back to madness. I'll tell you, Miller's Joker creeps me out! He at first is depicted as a blank behind eyes that are alive but don't really see. But the mention of the return of the Batman sparks something -- almost like turning on the copy machine in the morning, hearing the whirring of the parts and the seeing the various lights flicker on as it warms up. It's a real suspense builder. In this issue we learn that Dr. Wolper actually wants to take him out in public for a brief appearance on a television talk show. Oh, my... To be continued.
Doug: Extra, extra, read all about it! But seriously, have you seen the Batman v. Superman poster below? Brass knuckles on the Batman? "The Dark Knight Returned; But Was He Batman?" I bid thee -- nay!