Monday, March 14, 2016

The Dark Knight Returned; But Was He Batman? Part Four

Batman: The Dark Knight (June 1986)
"The Dark Knight Falls"
Frank Miller-Miller/Klaus Janson

Karen: Time for a showdown. Well, a couple of  showdowns, actually. But the one everyone seems to remember, and has apparently become the major 'take-home' point of TDKR 30 years later, is the battle, both on a physical and political level, between Batman and Superman. As we've seen in our previous three reviews, this story is overflowing with ideas and themes that can be analyzed and argued, but the one that has risen above the rest is the confrontation that closes out this issue. But before we get to that, there's quite a bit that happens in this concluding part of the story.

Doug: You hit the nail on the head with the "big fight" being all that seems to be remembered from this story. There aren't too many marketing images from Batman v Superman that do not feature Batman in all his armored-up glory. But upon my re-re-read (yep - I've read this issue twice recently for today's comments) I think I was more interested in the first part of the story than the second half. And to be blunt, I'm really not sure what they were fighting about. There -- I said it.

Karen: Well, ostensibly, Superman was there to shut Bats down. But it's always been about their philosophies, right? Or Miller's take on them, in any case. Before the big battle, we see a Batman who is progressively more injured, more damaged, who obviously cannot continue his fight too much longer. After his final encounter with the Joker, Alfred patches him back together, but he's in bad shape and barely keeping it together. He has come to rely on his new Robin more and more. The sense of the endgame is near. But that is mirrored in what's happening globally, where the Soviets have responded to the U.S.'s use of Superman in Corto Maltese by launching a 'meganuke' at that country.

Doug: The Batman's escape from the Tunnel of Love, where the now-dead Joker was further desecrated by a) Batman spitting on the corpse's face as he left, and b) the fact that the body was rigged to explode in fire, effectively removing the Joker from the plane of physical existence, was all quite exciting. And maybe I'll answer my own quandary about the what Superman and Batman were fighting over: it's not really politics, although that seems to keep coming up. I think Frank Miller hits on something that was mostly latent through the latter Golden Age and the Silver Age, and that's the methodology employed by these two heroes. I think they both want the same outcomes; but there "point A to point B" is so drastically different. Case in point -- Batman has no interest whatsoever in moving forward with any alliance with the Gotham City Police Department. In fact, I'd have to say that as he suggested at the end of TDKR #3 ("tonight it ends, Joker"), he really saw no relationship at all with the police moving forward. This is a Batman who is comfortable with his mortality.

Karen: On the surface their goals might sound the same -"protecting people" -but I'm not sure it means the same thing to the two of them. You have to think that Superman lives on such a broad scale that it's hard to compare to Batman's, which seems focused on just Gotham. I have to admit, I like the idea of them having the same goals but different methods. This has been done, and done well, in a few places; off the top of my head, I recall the animated "World's Finest" feature from years back. But here, it seems like Batman has developed a real grudge. He just wants to put Superman in his place!

Doug: Adjacent to Batman's escape and patching up by Alfred is another vignette about the former Mutants gang. As we saw previously, many of the gang members have become the Sons of the Batman. Yet at the beginning of TDKR #3 we saw a splinter group of neo-Nazis, and in this issue we see yet another group of thugs disguised as "Nixons". Man, Miller was all over the place. As I said earlier, we haven't exactly close read this graphic novel, but if you chose to do so the depth of analysis one could articulate boggles the mind. 

Karen: Reagan, Nixon -I wonder if this would have any meaning at all for someone younger than 40 reading it? Before we jump into a discussion of Superman's diversion of the nuke and the results, I have to say I had to laugh at the depiction of Reagan going on the air in a radiation suit to tell America that's there's good news and bad news, and "those Soviets are pretty bad losers, yes they are."

Doug: For Miller wanting to make Superman out as the "bad guy" of the World's Finest team, he sure seems to hold Superman's powers in high regard. As we saw in the previous issue, Superman could pick up a radio transmission miles away. He does that here as he listens to the Reagan message. And away he goes! We should also remember that this is the pre-revamp Superman, when John Byrne de-powered Kal-el in the Man of Steel mini-series.

Karen: Everything goes to Hell when the Soviets fire off a nuclear weapon called a 'coldbringer.' Superman prevents it from hitting a populated area, but when it detonates in a desert it throws up a huge cloud that blacks out the sun, and it simultaneously emits an electromagnetic pulse that disrupts all electronics. The blackout in Gotham leads to both gang members and citizens behaving badly -that is, until Batman takes charge. I have to say, Batman on a horse is quite a sight.

Doug: I thought it was powerful how Miller and his colorist wife, Lynn Varley, chose to portray Superman and the bomb as silhouettes. The rest of the world, sky, etc. was colored "normally"; the stark contrast, and that it was all blacks, played on the emotions -- the impending sense of doom.


Karen: The scenes of Superman dealing with the nuclear missile were awe-inspiring. Particularly the ravaged Superman, flying up towards the nourishing sun, only to be struck by lightning -the red coloring in this panel is very effective. The idea that Superman is able to absorb solar energy stored in the Earth -and his reverence for the Earth -was also a very intriguing idea.

Doug: They were, and the coinciding chaos that the bomb wrought seems equally as apocalyptic. You mentioned the Gothamites behaving badly -- even worse than before (see our comments on one Byron Brassballs in our previous review). One scene that Miller used -- and I don't fault him, as this was 1986 -- was of a jet airliner crashing into a Gotham skyscraper. While the building did not come down, I still find myself sensitive to images like that. Way back when we did our spoiler-filled Man of Steel post, I commented that 9/11 remains a raw nerve for me. So to the horse...


Doug: Remember last time when I thought it was just a bit of a hoot to see Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent out for a pony ride? Ha! Talk about foreshadowing. Of course a rich guy like Bruce Wayne would have stables, if nothing else as mere props to keep the playboy image alive. But what a cool plot point to be able to use. Batman on a horse. And leading a bunch of teenaged thugs who, living in a huge city, may have never even seen a real horse. Not only has the world gone to Hell in the wake of the blast, but Gotham City seems now worse off than ever. Thank your lucky stars for heroes like Jim Gordon, though. The aged cop tries his best to be a leader, but the masses scoff. But when he pulls the metal that speaks business from its holster, he gets some attention.

Karen: In Batman and with Gordon and his gun, we're basically shown that the only way to keep order is through strength. I mean, that's the only way I can interpret this. Even Commissioner Yindel backs down and just lets Batman run the show. You mentioned Batman's fascism in a previous review. Well here it is in all its glory. The stuff with everyone pulling together is nice and all, but no one listens until the threat is there. And, yup, old Byron Brassballs is back again in the thick of it.

Doug: Like you, I had not thought of Superman being able to draw solar energy from the Earth itself. However, that was also not without a political/environmental statement from Miller. Did you notice that as Superman drew upon the Earth's energy, the nuclear winter immediately set in where it had not been before? That's some commentary on us, kids. The battle for the streets of Gotham rages, as Batman and his minions strive to restore order. Gordon, searching frantically for his wife, Sarah, finally finds her. They embrace, as the snow begins to fall.

Doug: Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne receives a guest -- Oliver Queen. Queen's recently out of jail, and it sounds like he engages in a little sabotage, even terrorism if I read the implication correctly. He tells Wayne that it's going to come down to a battle to the death between he and Superman. The Law simply cannot abide by the methods of the Batman. No crime in Gotham under the watch of the Sons of the Batman? True. But the cost... Oliver asks his old friend that he'd like to have just a small piece of Superman when the time comes, and alludes to the fact that his amputated arm was somehow the fault of the Man of Steel. A short while later, a slender ray of heat vision carves "WHERE?"  in the snow on the Wayne estate. In a strong but normal tone, Bruce Wayne utters, "Crime Alley". 

Karen: It makes sense that Miller would choose Queen, DC's outspoken liberal, as Batman's ally here. Seeing him missing his left arm was jarring when I first read this. I still find it hard to believe Superman would have personally removed Oliver's arm, but he could have brought him in to the authorities, who would have done it. In any case, there's a vendetta here on Queen's part. The newscast, which says Gotham is the only safe city, was also disturbing, because as you note, that 'safety' is supplied by Batman's thugs. It's like the safety of any repressive society. You're safe but you're not free.

Doug: I think we could make that statement of the present-day Middle East. It's a tough cost/benefit conversation about the former strongmen -- they were devils, yes... but there was order. I'm certainly not qualified to make any judgments about that, but there're certainly arguments to be had or made on both sides of the issue.

Doug: Alfred has helped Batman prepare for what will be his final fight. A suit of armor and various technological enhancements have produced a Batman as we've not seen before. And he has a plan, timed to the minute. I have to tell you, I found this a bit uncomfortable when I first read it 30 years ago, and I've not strayed from that opinion in subsequent readings. Just some of the attitude of the Batman toward Superman... "I know you won't be late, Clark. You hate to stay up late." "I've had worse times." -- as six missiles knock Superman around the skies above Crime Alley. For a kid who grew up with Adam West in reruns and the Super Friends on Saturday mornings, this was a little jarring to my sensibilities. Batman levels the playing field as we know he can -- at times, I've felt he was the DCU version of Reed Richards or Tony Stark -- and early on the fight is actually Advantage: Batman. But we know that cannot last.

Karen: I know that when I first read this, when it first came out, it was all pretty thrilling. But as I've said before, with the perspective of many years, I find it now to be more off-putting than anything else. It's just not a view of Batman that I care for. But within the context of the story, Batman is going all out. He's getting his "grand death" as he puts it. He so desperately wants to beat the tar out of Superman. Funny, I realized that that terrible line in the recent commercials for the Batman v. Superman film, where Batman says to Superman something about "I'm going to show you what it means to be a man" is right out of this book, as here Batman says, "It's way past time you learned what it means to be a man." They really are using every bit of this book! You cannot see me shaking my head, but I am shaking my head...

Doug: The ending seems final. Batman -- dead. Alfred -- dead. Wayne Manor -- destroyed. But of course the Batman had one more thing up his sleeve. I again got a mixed signal with Superman's reaction at the funeral of Bruce Wayne. Ally or enemy? And then came the coda... the Sons of the Batman would continue to operate. But under rules that one might assume would stress civil rights first. We can hope. 


Karen: Well, partner, that seems an unlikely hope. I have to admit, I am pretty sure I at least picked up the first issue or two of the sequel to this, but I have no memory at all of the story! Re-reading this after many years was a real adventure. It's become such an iconic story, the inspiration for so much that has come after. It was hard to separate that from the story itself and not consider that during the review, but for the most part, I think we managed. Actually, reading this now, the Batman's sense of impending mortality makes more of an impression than before. That's the thread running through the four issues that really ties it all together. Batman comes back for one last grand mission - to save Gotham, essentially, but he also wants to wrap up some loose ends. This was a more driven, more brutal Batman than ever before, one who had come to a lonely, empty place and filled it with his own type of fulfillment -beating down every thing that stood in his way. It may be unfair to blame Miller for the excesses of later writers, who took what should have been a standalone version of Batman and used his themes in the character's regular books, but his version of Batman has become the template for the Caped Crusader. Certainly for us Bronze Age readers, it was -and is -a shock to the senses.

Doug: But we're not done yet! Join us tomorrow for a sort of epilogue to today's conversation, as we'll take a gander at Frank Miller's original script for the battle royal pictured above. We think you'll find it interesting how he originally played it out in his mind, and then how it landed on the printed page. See you again Tuesday.


Edo Bosnar said...

Now that all four installments are in, the first thing I have to say is great job on the team review - I really enjoyed reading your comments on a book that I just recently re-read myself.
Second, I have to say that Karen's comment about the disturbing fascist undertone in the way the unrest in Gotham is quelled really resonates, as it's something that immediately occurred to me when reading this now, and which I really didn't strike me as much all those years ago when I had last read it. It is indeed a troubling message, and overall it makes me like DKR a little less. In fact, it sort of cemented my view that - contrary to so much opinion among Bat-fans and comic fans in general - this is not the best Batman story ever.
Added to that, there's a few other minor details that bothered my inner comic geek: I already mentioned my distaste for the whole Selina/Catwoman as prostitute/madame concept in the comments to the previous installment. I also mentioned that I didn't like the way Alfred is portrayed herein, and I especially didn't like his lonely death - no one at his side, and overshadowed by the apparent death of his famed employer. Also, Dick Grayson/Robin is apparently still alive, but he doesn't even show up to Bruce's funeral? Really?

As for the big Batman/Superman throwdown - yeah, I guess the first time I read this it was so novel that it seemed kind of cool. Now I wasn't as impressed with it. And it also got me thinking about another version of this confrontation and the World's Finest team in general that was handled so much (oh, so much) better: none other than Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, wherein they have a similar, very public showdown (that's recounted as a newspaper feature), but we later learn that it was a sham so that each could do their own thing, while - and this is so important - remaining friends who value each other. It's pretty obvious that Cooke was in part responding to DKR when he included that element in his story. (That reminds me, I really, really need to re-read that - it's been a while).

And to answer the question you've been posing the whole time, i.e., was he Batman? To me, no. No he wasn't. Now more than ever, I think of this as a very well-crafted Elseworlds story, a kind of alternate vision of what Batman can be, but not the one I necessary like reading, and not the image that comes to mind when I think of Batman.

Redartz said...

Karen and Doug-phenomenal job on this mammoth review! As I mentioned previously, most of this material is unfamiliar to me. Yet your depth of discussion really illuminated the depth of the story and it's presentation. I really will have to read this.

Edo- well noted about the Batman/Superman confrontation as presented in New Frontier. The versions of the heroes presented by Darwyn Cooke are the ones I would recognize and applaud. As you say, the Dark Knight tale feels more like an Elseworlds story. A fascinating, provocative story, certainly; but not my Batman...

Doug said...

Edo, you're a man of your word. Thanks for taking the time to pen those summary thoughts. I think tomorrow you'll find some of the nuances of Miller's original draft for the "big fight" interesting.

One of the elements I found considerable was the sympathy felt by Batman toward Harvey Dent in the first issue as compared to his total lack of any sense of rehabilitation for either the Mutants leader or the Joker in later installments. Dent was always portrayed as a tragic character and I feel Miller honored that. Of course, that flies in the face of his interpretation of Selina Kyle, who was never portrayed as she was in this story. Go figure.

I agree with your assessment of Batman here. While he is clearly Batman, he's not any Batman we've known before. So in a way this is some evolved (or devolved) depiction of the familiar. Batman is here, but not quite. Final assessment - as Superman looked the part in the Man of Steel film, he was not the Superman we all know (knew). I think grim 'n' gritty came along and pushed aside the finer elements of these heroes.

For better or worse. Or maybe just for "different". After 30 years, I know what I like. But I struggle with the fall-out of that statement, and that is whether or not I tolerate others liking different iterations (some extreme) of what I like.


Doug said...

Redartz --

Thank you. It was a big undertaking, but one I'm glad we did. We had a great time, and of course there were some side conversations that didn't make it into the posts but that were enjoyable and thought-provoking. We are pleased with the way these four reviews came together and what we have been able to present to our readers. I think today's post also benefited from our taking the time to "get it right" -- last week just wouldn't have been possible given our personal schedules.

Thanks again, friend.


J.A. Morris said...

This continues to be a great series of reviews, I haven't re-read this in its entirety in years, but I pulled it off the shelf in recent weeks so I can participate here.

I should mention that I didn't read this until a year or two after it was published. It was already hailed in the "fan community" (which in the 80s meant Comics Journal, Comics Interview and word of mouth in comic stores) as a classic. I still think it's good, and the art is still fantastic. It's funny though, the Superman/Batman fight wasn't as "epic" as I remembered it to be. When I read it this time, I found myself saying "is that it?" Maybe the mythology that's been built around the series has become bigger than the series itself?

Karen and Doug have talked about separating the work itself from what it spawned. I think the worst thing about DKR is that it's treated like some sort of untouchable holy book by DC. Any diversion from the Batman portrayed here is an insult to the Greatest Comic Book Story Of All Time. Nevermind that Miller himself has repeatedly said that it was supposed to be a alternative future timeline tale.

In some ways the biggest problem with this story is that Reagan's presence makes this feels like "A Very 80s" story and it makes it feel dated (even if I still laugh a bit at Reagan addressing the nation in a radiation suit!). I have similar problems with Nixon's presence in Watchmen. But a comic doesn't need to be timeless to be good.

Sort of related:I'm currently reading a tpb that reprints a 1981 Superman story. When he goes missing, Supergirl tells Batman she's looking for "My cousin and your best friend." It made me a bit sad that the DC Powers That Be have decided that those days are over. And DKR is a big reason for that.

I agree about "Batman on a horse" being a great image. The only thing cooler than that is Batman riding a reindeer, like he did in the 'Brave And The Bold' Christmas episode:

Karen said...

Thanks guys for taking the time to comment. I appreciate hearing your views.

Edo, I too felt Alfred was short-changed. In Miller's view, was he ultimately just an extension of the mansion and the past, to be wiped away when this new regime began? It seemed so callous to use him like that, and discard him so. And I never cared for this idea that Catwoman was a prostitute, among other things. But now it seems to be canon.

Admittedly, I haven't read a comic with Batman in it in at least five years. But my husband has and I've glanced at a few of his, and I just can't stand "crazy Batman" or "filled with rage" Batman. Even when I was reading the books it seemed like he became progressively more of a jerk, for lack of a better term, to the point where he was unlikeable. What I'd really like to see is a Batman like the one in the Justice League cartoon: a bit aloof but cool, smart, and with a moral center.

J.A. Morris said...

Forgot to answer Doug & Karen's question in my previous comment:

Was he Batman? Yes, but he's hardly the "definitive" Batman in my book. When I think of Batman, the 1st interpretation of the character that comes to mind is the Batman of the Englehart, Rogers and Austin run. The 2nd would be the early 70s stories written by either O'Neil or Haney and penciled by Adams or Aparo.

I didn't read any of those 1970s stories when they were first published, so nostalgia didn't influence my opinions of them.

Garett said...

Hey J.A., that's an interesting comment about nostalgia. I feel like I should be nostalgic for the Dark Knight, as I loved it when it came out, but my tastes have gone more toward earlier versions of Batman like O'Neil/Adams and Haney/Aparo. I wonder what they would have done with the Dark Knight story, if given the same basic outline? The O'Neil story would be thought provoking and topical, like the Green Lantern-Green Arrow series. A Haney Dark Knight? The mind boggles! It would be entertaining for sure.

I find the '50s Dick Sprang Batman too light, and the '80s Miller Batman too dark-- the 1972 Adams/Aparo Batman is just right.

Martinex1 said...

First let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed these reviews; they have definitely piqued my interest in the story. I haven't read the books yet and by your account I would say they are worth reading, so I will try to keep my comments to the "is this Batman" question based on the aftermath. Somewhere along the line, Batman just got mad. And I assume this was the starting point of that rage. Growing up, and reading some but not a lot of Batman in the 70s and 80s, I perceived Batman as a good guy, but definitely a loner and a thinker, who was driven to act by sadness and responsibility. He used his wealth and abilities to help people. He wasn't a friend to criminals, as he had been hurt by them. He was still in a sense that boy who was orphaned in a horrible way and his goal was to help others so they wouldn't feel the pain. To me, he was a lot closer to Spider-Man in his reasoning, but without the humor. At some point though, that sadness and willingness to seve was twisted into anger and even revenge. It was not about helping any longer; it was only about stopping the criminals...and I see a difference. He just got so angry; he seemed motivated solely by rage, a self important rage. He was so sure he was right all of the time. I said he acted in"revenge" because it started to feel like he wanted somebody to pay for the crime that affected his youth, even if they weren't directly involved. He was more of a vigilante (superheroes are all vigilantes but Batman started to embody the worst interpretation of that word). I think it started around the time of this book and grew slowly from there. So as an old fuddy duddy, this is not my Batman but probably a whole generation's Batman nonetheless.

Batman would benefit from some anger management classes and perhaps 3 issues of reciting the serenity prayer of changing the things you can, accepting the things you cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference. Then maybe he would be what I remember.

William said...

Awesome review you guys!! Can't wait to see that script you're posting tomorrow.

The first time I ever read DKR was after it was released in TPB form. I had heard how "good" it was supposed to be, but when I read it, I was pretty much appalled myself.

At the time, I thought the whole thing was quite depressing. Especially the sad fight "to the death" between two of the greatest heroes (and best friends) in comics history. For no really good reason at that. And seeing Superman reduced to the pawn of a semi-fascist U.S. government was going a bit too far IMO.

Also things like the total absence of Dick Grayson in this story was a grievous oversight on Miller's part. The only mention of him was near the beginning of the first book when Jim Gordon says to Bruce something like, "Whatever happened to Dick? Too bad you didn't keep up with him." And Bruce just shrugs it off.

Too bad he didn't "keep up" with him??? He's basically his father, as he raised him from a child into adulthood. I mean come on, that was quite an omission.

This was the beginning of the trend of "deconstructing" superheroes and a relentless march towards cynicism in comics. And I personally never cared for that kind of storytelling. I usually find it to be self-serving on the writer's part. Taking beloved and familiar characters and using them to voice your personal political worldview. It's kind of a cheap move if you ask me.

However, after all that, I have to say that I do like the animated movie based on this series. I can't explain why, it just doesn't seem quite as "dark" in animated form. Or maybe it's just because it's many years removed from the release of the original, so it doesn't seem quite as bad to me now.

Anyway, if you want to experience "The Dark Knight Returns", but you don't feel like reading the books, just watch the movie. It's very well done, and pretty much follows the comic version line for line.

Hey, you guys might want to think about doing a separate review on the animated movie, and share your own thoughts on how it compares to the comics. (Just a suggest)

Doug said...

Thanks, William. The animated version of TDKR has been on my "to-watch" list, but I've yet to do so. I am not sure if Karen has seen it. That being said, I did like watching the animated Year One around the time we were running those reviews of Batman 404-407.

I have enjoyed the thoughtfulness of everyone's comments thus far. Love it or hate it, this Dark Knight story is one that seems worth discussion from all comics fans. So many events and themes...


William said...

Doug, I definitely recommend you checking out the DKR Animated movie. You will not be disappointed. I liked it much better than "Year One" myself. In fact, if you have HBO, you can watch DKR on "On Demand" right now. (It's split into two parts, BTW).

Oh, and I forgot to mention, did anyone else think that Miller's portrayal of women was somewhat misogynistic this story?

For example, did you notice how the two most recognizable classic DC women (Selina Kyle and Lana Lang) were both portrayed as being out of shape and even obese, but all the "old men" (like Bruce, Clark, Gordon, Oliver, and even Alfred) were still in tip-top condition?

I'm not sure why he did that (or if it was even a conscience decision) but I always saw that as some kind dig against women on MIller's part.

I mean, he took two strong, independent female characters and turned one into an overweight, bitchy, opinionated loudmouth, and the other he reduced to a used up fat hooker. (Very out of character for both).

Gee, you think maybe Frank has some women issues?

Doug said...

William --

If I were to write a scholarly paper on this graphic novel -- really dig into it and attempt to research some of the themes as they were perhaps culled from the news of the 1970s-'80s, I am not sure what conclusions I would draw. My guess is that if I read this again in five years I will see it differently. And while there are absolutes in this graphic novel, namely the influence it would have based on portrayals of Batman, the Joker, and Superman, I think the beauty of it is that it morphs depending on one's own life experiences and political perspectives, as well as the life experiences during the time of one's most recent reading.


spencer said...

Thanks for a great trip back in time. While most commenting on this aren't big fans of Miller's take, I liked it, because it showed me the evolution of a character. Granted, maybe you don't like the way he turned out, but I did. I'm sure that bats could be shown as a person growing old gracefully, but I think he would be pretty much like miller portrayed him. Damaged, used up, but still heroic.

Pat Henry said...

I was generally perplexed at the time this book was published what properties made that Soviet missile so destructive to Superman. This was the version that had not yet been depowered, had not yet suffered the deprivations of the Byrne reboot. The explosion almost kills him—“I am slow and dying”—and I always wondered at the time of his epic battle with Batman whether he was back to 100% combat effectiveness.

There’s a lot deeply cynical about this series, but none more so than what transpires in the final book and its commentary on the nature of power. Apparently Supes ended the career of Green Arrow by just ripping away his arm—it’s actually not a bad solution for someone with a code against killing, but it is certainly harsh.

My take on the conclusion was that Clark wasn’t opposed to Bruce’s continued operation as a “mystery man” as long as it wasn’t “a loud kind of mysterious,” as Oliver notes. Bruce gave Clark a few punches to make him think twice, but his aim was not to take out Superman—just knock him back a few steps. So I don’t really view their relationship in the end as “eternal animus, fight-to-the-death” and think it’s an error to believe that so and deepen it, as so many subsequent writers have clumsily handled the material.

Again, the fault seems less with Miller for his entertaining and original satire and more with the hacks who came along later to thrash around in murky waters much too deep for them.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up, guys! To me, this is where DKR gets stupid. "Might makes right?" Well, super-hero comics tread that line quite often but most of the time the heroes act to stop the villains. Dr. Doom can't take over the world or hurt innocents if the FF breaks his stuff and knocks him out. In DKR, however, everyone gets behind Batman because he's so tough, and he makes everyone safe! He proves he can beat up Superman, so... he's right? Huh?

On the other hand, the Superman fight is fun. It's almost the dumbest Game of "yes,and...?"ever: how can Batman beat friggin' Superman? Well, Superman has to be weakened. Yes, and...? And he uses missiles. Yes, and...? And, sonics. Yes, and...? And he has to dress in a robot suit. Yes, and...? Etc. It works, though, partly because Superman doesn't actually lose. He gets delayed until Bruce fakes his own death. It's not realistic, but I buy it.

In terms of things that trouble me (but maybe it's just me) ... The splash page of Batman on a horse leading a gang of vigilantes? Well, when I first saw the theatrical poster for Birth of a Nation I immediately flashed to that page. I'm not saying it's deliberate, but it gave me a jolt.


I think Miller has a problem depicting women who do not possess "masculine" attitudes. Most of his female characters are prostitutes or victims (especially in Sin City). I also think he has trouble depicting minority characters (from Turk in Daredevil to the abominable Holy Terror), and men who are not stereotypically "manly." I've neve read Martha Washington, so maybe he does better with that character, but I can't think of a good non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual Miller character other than Elektra (who still ends up a victim).

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

I like Miller's masculine women - a welcome change from the softcore "babes" that generally filled out comics then (and still do). But fair point on some of the characterisation, Mike L, William.
Miller isn't really an accomplished artist in a technical sense - Alex Ross he ain't - so you could say he has trouble depicting most characters... his Superman/Clark Kent doesn't seem to owe a lot to DC model sheets!
I like his work all the same. Its always distinctive (for better or worse)

Yes, its a different Batman, but I don't have a problem with that. I mean, what would be the point of the (then) new formats and freedom to explore themes previously off limits if DKR just gave us the same old character and approach?
Actually, Batman has always been a bit of a fascist really, Miller just drew out and explored that previously unspoken subtext. He does it really well too, full of ambiguity... (I think it came up before how DKR maybe seems less subtle now in the light of some of Miller's later comments...?)
Anyway, for me DKR made the regular version of the Batman (does no one use the definite article any more? - the Batman) instantly obsolete.

Anyway, wish I had more time to comment on this... maybe later.
Doug, Karen - enjoyed the sries. Nice one.


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