The Dark Knight Returns
Written by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN!!! Join us as we travel with Frank Miller into the heart of the Dark Knight, finding 80’s fear of nukes but some Girl Wonder too, laughing at the Verheoven-style satire and finally answering that age-old question: why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker already?
Let’s talk about Batman.
(I mean – Holy cow. Where to start?)
I reckon that you could make a pretty good case that (with the exception maybe of Jesus Christ?) Batman is the most popular/well known characters of the 20th Century. I mean with the exception maybe of some of the other big name superheroes (Superman and Spider-Man seem like the only other two likely candidates): there’s no one else with the same sort of all-encompassing reach (my colleague Tom says Bob Marley: but then he’s not a fictional character – but then (oops) I guess neither is Jesus – which then just leaves the field completely open for Batman….). But yes.
Of course the thing about Batman that any serious consideration of Batman has to take into account is that Batman himself is kinda – well – silly (sorry everyone). I mean – come on: it’s a man who dresses like a bat (and not even a very convincing bat I mean – come on: this what a Bat costume should look like. Batman’s outfit is more: well – kinda strange. I mean – what’s with those stupid ears on the top of his head? The yellow oval in the middle of his chest? Those spikes sticking out of his forearms?).
But then yeah – I guess to start sticking the knife into the Batman mythos is kinda missing the point. I mean – it’s great fun and it can sustain conversations for quite a while (I’ve been at more than a few Comic Forums where everyone just sits around taking pot-shots: “Here’s another thing that doesn’t make sense about Batman….” “The thing that I never got about Batman….” “The most stupid thing about Batman is….”). But then maybe that’s not that helpful?
See: one character that I like to use to try and explain Batman (and one of the only other people out there with a serious claim to the most popular/well-known characters of the 20th Century title…) is Santa Claus / Father Christmas (wait wait – here me out). Because – yeah: check it out – Batman (like Santa Claus) is a character that gets it’s hooks into you at a really young age (if you’re anything like me). Because – oh my god yes – when you’re just a kid and you hear about this story of a man dressing like a bat who goes around punching evil-doers in the face it makes absolutely perfect sense. I mean – of course of course. It’s like the most natural and obvious thing in the world. And like Hitler said: “Give me the child until the age of 7 and I’ll give you the man.” And ok – while everyone gives up on Santa Claus before they become a teenager – Batman is the addiction that doesn’t quit and is enabled by pretty much every avenue culture has to offer (books, films, tv, etc) and scratches all sorts of deep rooted psychological itches (wouldn’t it be great if I was rich? wouldn’t it be great if I had a secret identity? wouldn’t it be great if I could go around and beat up people? wouldn’t it be great if I had a loads of gadgets? wouldn’t it be great if I was a really smart detective? wouldn’t it be great if I was super cool ninja? wouldn’t it be great if I got all the girls? wouldn’t it be great if I was a scary monster? wouldn’t it be great if I saved the world? and so on etc etc etc). I mean – yeah – of course it’s all ridiculous – but man oh man: wouldn’t it be great!
If you’re looking for someone to blame (or hell – applaud if you’re that way inclined) about Batman’s dominance of our world then – yes – Frank Miller would be a very good place to start and – oh boy: The Dark Knight Returns is basically (by my eyes at least) the starting point of the modern conception of the Caped Crusader.
Let’s just get this out of the way: for a long time Batman was basically a joke (see: Adam West). Then Frank Miller came along and – with this book – made him all dark and gritty and respectable: which is turn helped to beget both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films.
I mean – most books and films and whatever out there you can basically control the conversation and just say “I like it” or “I don’t like it” or whatever. But for the chosen few – the cultural projects that loom above us all and exist on a different plane (your Citizen Kanes, your Watchmens, your Apocalypse Nows etc): your choice is basically one between saying “I agree with what everyone else said and yeah it’s basically one of the best things ever” or “Dude – it’s totally over-rated and I don’t see what everyone else sees in it. I mean come on!”
Hello Guys and Girls,
This is my first post here, just for the record.
Batman has and probably always will be one of the more popular superheroes. Even when in popular culture his character was more comic than gritty, he was still cool because he had all the gadgets a child could dream of and got to beat up the bad guys. He was also smart and fabulously wealthy. As pointed out earlier…what’s not to like?
For a time that was good enough for me until I started to grow up a bit and see the world in a different light. I had trouble connecting to Batman’s world that was supposed be a similar reflection of my own world. No need to go into detail as this has just been explained in the previous message in a way I probably cannot better. I’m not sure when exactly I noticed the transition to the grittier, darker Batman but for me it was a move in the right direction. I hate to say it but although it was a move in the right direction, for me personally, it still falls far short of what I would like, or maybe expect of a character like batman.
I guess my biggest disappointment is that although an attempt is made to portray Batman as the dark side of the coin, opposing the spotless bright perfection of heroes like Superman (picture Harvey Dent’s coin), I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of the character. I’m going to use Superman in this example because even Frank Miller decided he was a good example to stand Batman up against. What is the difference between Superman and Batman? Superman doesn’t break the law? Which laws? He lies about his identity, destroys public property (entire cities when placed in a Zack Snyder movie) and has even killed before (Doomsday). So although Batman is a bit more likely to break the law, even assault police officers, in the grand scheme of things I don’t see much of a difference between the two characters on that front. One might argue Superman is actually a bit more hardcore when the chips are down. If, like the story implies, Batman was the one that didn’t care what the authorities thought, the one who wouldn’t bow down to pressure from the politicians, who refused to let become a tool of the state…then why on Earth does he keep letting the Joker off the hook?
In this story alone the Joker is credited with over 800 kills! Batman likes to keep track of the number so the Joker doesn’t even bother to keep count himself. Why would you keep arresting someone who keeps escaping and kills a ton of people each time. Surely if Batman is the cynical anti-hero who does whatever it takes to keep his city safe, then he should have iced the Joker a long, long time ago? Even in this story where he has aged, seen the cycle so many times, and realised the system will not help him now that Gordon is gone, he still fails to kill the Joker. The Joker actually taunts him and then does the deed himself (obviously even he has tired of the same game over and over again). Frank Miller may have played things out this way because he wanted to show that Batman didn’t cross that line but then what’s the point of the whole Batman character? Why play up the fact that he was such a renegade, who wouldn’t play by the establishments rules and yet can’t do something nobody (well aside from normal people) would judge him too harshly for? Is paralysing criminals okay as long as they don’t die? Is it more humane to leave them living the life of a paraplegic? I’m honestly curious to hear other people’s answers to these questions. I’m sure someone can help me make sense of it all (you know what I mean). I just feel like if you’re going to do things your way and you’re willing to get your hands dirty then get your hands dirty, don’t draw arbitrary lines in the sand, especially when actions are put in context (killing the joker is more effective than stopping robbery, in terms of saving lives). Is the Joker’s life worth 1000 other people’s? if Batman cannot make that judgement call, then maybe he should hang up his cape and live a playboy lifestyle, spending his murdered parent’s fortune.
I apologise for the mini-rant, but this is something that has always puzzled me and I’m genuinely hopeful that someone can lay it out to me in a way that will make sense. Some part of me things I’m missing something or that my brain just isn’t wired to understand why he holds back. That’s my 2 cents. It was not my intention to “start sticking the knife into the Batman mythos” but it’s hard to discuss the character without bringing up what I feel is a bit of a flaw in order to hear what other have to say. When it’s all said and done, he’s a more interesting Superhero than most, who has some great story lines, and great supporting characters.
I heard somewhere, can’t remember where, that ‘TDKR’ is a sequel to the Adam West TV show of the Sixties. I don’t know whether that’s true or whether whoever it was that said it was being deliberately facetious, did the baddies ever actually kill people in the TV show? And certainly Commissioner Gordon in this is more like the comics version than the man in the TV show. And Miller is certainly one of the main architects of the dark age of comics, he probably was the most responsible for making the Joker Batman’s arch-nemesis rather than just another rogue in his rogue’s gallery.
Miller redefined superhero comics twice, with ‘TDKR’ and ‘Year One’ for Batman for DC, and with ‘Daredevil’ for Marvel. In both cases he made them grim and gritty and tortured and dark. In both cases it worked for Miller but for Batman he was telling the fictional end of a story, it didn’t work so well for people who then tried to do what he did in the context of a monthly title, Daredevil had twenty-five years of writers continually trying to shovel the angst on, then about four years ago the current writer, Mark Waid, deliberately jettisoned that, and now Daredevil is worth reading again. But back to Frank…
Seeing as Frank Miller has now gone off the deep end into Conservative Teabag Wingnuttery it’s quite fun to look back at something like ‘TDKR’ and look for early signs of this. There’s Selina Kyle who’s given up being Catwoman and now runs some sort of brothel/escort agency because she’s a female in a Frank Miller comic. There’s Green Arrow who has gone from liberal to caricature far-left. And somehow, despite (or because) Gotham has descended even further into urban chaos the political class that supposedly run the city are ineffectual liberals who answer every question with both sides of the answer and are so scared of thugs that they don’t even hold their killing of the mayor as a reason not to ‘have a dialogue’ with them. If ‘TDKR’ was a cartoon you could run it with the caption ‘This is how Frank Miller believes the world really is’ underneath for most of it.
That said, there is much to like about it. The Superman/Batman conflict that shapes the final chapter is well set-up, while Reagan is again the unsubtle Spitting Image parody the idea that Superman would decide to work for the Government works and so his opposition to Bruce works whereas so often heroes just fight and then team up to fight the real bad guy, here both men believe they are in the right and you can take either side to agree with them (which was another reason the sequel to this, ‘The Dark Knight Strikes Again’ is so terrible is that Miller rewrites this so that Superman is blackmailed into fighting Batman by Lex Luthor, who controls the government, because he has Superman’s people held hostage. Gah!).
To address Nana’s point. Yes, Batman is an idiot for not killing the Joker. When DC restarted their comics universe five years ago they consciously backtracked on a lot of Joker stuff because he was so monstrous and had killed so many that there was no argument for why he was still alive. This is where the ‘grim gritty’ stereotype and ‘trying to be psychologically realistic’ about comics characters breaks down. The Government don’t kill the Joker because he’s insane, so he just gets put in the revolving door institution of Arkham Asylum. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because killing is wrong, which means that every time the Joker kills someone, it’s the fault of Batman. This is clearly where comics logic disrupts ‘real’ logic. It’s periodically claimed that Captain America, greatest hero of WW2, never actually killed *anyone* in the Second World War, not even Nazis. Around 15 years ago Marvel did a story in which the Hulk was thought to have killed a child, which led to the announcement that the Hulk had never actually killed anyone either, despite being an out-of-control powerhouse of pure rage. The Marvel universe is about to do a story about a genuine Nazi with reality-warping powers. Every few months DC put out yet another story about Braniac, a remorseless robot that wants to rob humanity of it’s freewill. And so Batman doesn’t want to kill the Joker to save the lives of all the people the Joker will kill? Please… Periodically we get stories that try to explain why it’s a good thing that Superman doesn’t flashfry Lex Luthor with his heat vision or such, this tends to rely on some nonsensical argument which often boils down to ‘it’s fine for superheroes to take all laws into their own hands, except for the killing one’.
What do people think of Frank’s art? It’s not de-generated into the simplistic style he uses nowadays (another black mark against ‘TDKSA’ is that it doesn’t bother with backgrounds and contorts people’s bodies in horrific poses even by the looser standards of comic art). I do like the epic reveal as Batman swoops in in chapter one and the pages of talking heads does give a depth to the story that as it concentrates on the key figures it would otherwise lack.
Ok – so. I thought we were going to spend some time talking about all the fantastic awesomeness of Frank Miller’s comic? (yeah yeah – ok: it’s Lynn Varley’s comic too – but well – seeing how Frank wrote it and drew it it kinda makes more sense to just ascribe it to him: although – well – if someone wants to start a tangent about how much the colouring matters to comics (because yeah – duh – obviously) then that would be cool). I mean – that sixteen panel grid that (damn) he plays the same way John Bonham (sorry – that’s the most famous drummer I can think) would play an orchestra. I mean – yeah – the whole thing just kinda comes out as such a steady beat (BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BAAAAAAAAAASH!) that reading it is almost somehow kinda – musical? Like – most comics are almost kinda silent (?) and you can kinda impose your own rhythm on to them: but DKR: it’s like it imposes it’s rhythm on to you (THIS IS HOW YOU WILL READ ME almost): which – yeah – it’s just one of the many many many reasons why I love it and it’s so revered and all the rest of it: (I wanna say – it’s basically the black monolith from 2001 and everyone else is the monkeys briefly touching it and then running away: but maybe that’s a bit much? I dunno).
But yeah: ok fine – let’s ignore all that and instead talk about why Batman won’t kill the Joker (sigh).
So well yeah – as far as I see it – there’s two main reasons why Batman won’t kill the Joker: reason one is like the meta-reason I guess (is that right?) which is basically a whole big load of stating the obvious: so 2014 is the 75th year of Batman and – let’s face it – it’s not looking like he’s gonna be going away anytime soon (unlike the poor Fantastic Four)… And well yeah: everyone knows (obviously obviously) his number one nemesis is the Joker (his archenemy is Superman: but that’s another story). And even tho the whole point of both characters is that they spend their whole time fighting. And yeah – DC Comics / Warner Brothers / or whoever – would be absolutely insane if they ever did an in-continuity canon etc etc story where Batman “did a Superman” and snapped the Joker’s neck. I mean – it would be like if Tom finally killed Jerry or Wile E. Coyote ever caught up with the Road Runner. The whole point of the story (or – actually: maybe “franchise” would be a better word?) is that it’s never-ending. Because yeah – no duh – the whole point is that DC are in the sausage making business: so why bother making a sausage that means no more sausages? (This metaphor worked much better in my head). Of course – this is one of the reasons why I don’t really bother reading most superhero books and why 2000AD is so much better: but that might be a discussion for another day…… (and also – why yes: DKR is such a fantastic story seeing how it (kinda) puts a cap on the whole Batman stuff: because well – a story isn’t really a story until it has an end: right?).
But yeah – apart from the business reasons (which ok – you’re allowed to yawn at): there’s the in-story reasons which is – well: Batman is a superhero: and it’s kinda the point of heroes that they have a moral code and represent a higher ethical standard: and – yeah: that’s a big part of what makes them so damn cool.
I mean – I totally get why it’s a thorny issue because yeah – just in terms of basic maths it seems like Batman is making a mistake. I forget exactly how many people Batman says the Joker has killed in DKR: well – Nana says it’s over 800 – right? So yeah – that’s a lot. And well: if it was going to be a case of numbers and everything else was put aside then yeah – I can totally see why it makes more sense to choose that one person dies rather than 800 (I mean – oh my goodness: I just saved 799 people right?! How can that be a bad thing?). Except well (oh dear) – I don’t think it’s that simple.
First up: it doesn’t have to be the case that you have to kill the Joker in order to stop him killing people. I mean – mostly (in our world at least): you can just lock people up in prison for a long time and hopefully by the time they come out they will have learnt the errors of their ways (or – you know: if it doesn’t seem like they have – probation and all that – you can just keep them locked up) PLEASE NOTE: I’m a Librarian not a Lawyer – so please keep in mind that I have no idea what I’m talking about. The problem isn’t so much that Batman doesn’t kill the Joker it’s that – business reason 1: DC keep making them fight (because it sells comics) and so – duh – that means that Arkham Asylum has the worse security of any mental hospital in the whole wild world (I mean – after like – the 10th escape: wouldn’t they just shut the place down?).
Second: killing people is bad. I mean – I realise that we’re living in a world where everyone’s knee-jerk response to bad guys is that we should kill them (I mean – I might be alone in this: but I still think it’s kinda messed up that Osama bin Laden was executed rather than – I dunno – given a fair trail? Speaking of – ooooh: did anyone else hear the rumor that (back when Heath Ledger was still alive) the sequel to The Dark Knight film was going to be the trail of the Joker? Ha! I mean – how awesome would that have been?). I mean – I realise that might make me sound like an optimist idiot maybe – but I kinda believe (mostly) in the Justice System you know?
And yeah – connected to that point is that: well – obviously Batman and all the other superheroes out there exist in a world of absolute moral certainty. I mean: all the bad guys dress up in brightly coloured costumes and say “hey! Look at me! I’m a bad guy and I just done a crime!” and real life is much more – well – messy….
(I realise that I might be starting to lose the point a little here: but I’m just gonna press on: I mean – this isn’t a book it’s the internet so who needs things making obvious sense yeah?).
Third point (fourth point?) is that (oh my goodness): it’s Batman and he’s supposed to represent our higher selves and all the rest. And yes – because it’s relevant I’m gonna throw in a Grant Morrison quote: “”We’ve deconstructed all our icons. We know politicians are lying assholes, we know soap stars are coke freaks, handsome actors are tranny weirdos and gorgeous supermodels are bulimic, neurotic wretches. We know our favorite comedians will turn out to be alcoholic perverts or suicidal depressives. Our reality shows have held up a scalding mirror to our yapping baboon faces and cheesy, obvious obsessions, our trashy, gossipy love of trivia and dirt. We know we’ve fucked up the atmosphere and doomed the lovely polar bears and we can’t even summon up the energy to feel guilty anymore. Let the pedophiles have the kids. There’s nowhere left to turn and no one left to blame except, paradoxically, those slightly medieval guys without the industrial base. What’s left to believe in? The only truly moral, truly goodhearted man left is a made-up comic book character! The only secular role models for a progressive, responsible, scientific-rational Enlightenment culture are … Kal-El of Krypton, aka Superman and his multicolored descendants.”
By which I mean yeah – Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because it’s well – not killing people is the right thing to do and really what would be best for us is if no one ever killed anyone ever. For all sorts of very important reasons. But also – more importantly: it’s not what Batman does and it’s not what he’s about. And (ha!) like it shows in this thing I read this morning: Batman killing people is just really really weird (sample quote: “Then Batman tells all of his villains that he will straight up murder them if they ever hurt civilians or cops. RUN AND HIDE (EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE IN PRISON) AND GO BASICALLY DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT UNLESS YOU KILL TWO SPECIFIC CATEGORIES OF PEOPLE IN WHICH CASE I WILL FULLY KILL YOU MYSELF”).
Other stuff: I think this is what Loz was referring to above.
Can we talk about DKR now?
OK then, let’s talk about DKR, let’s talk about how it’s a rubbish Batman story but possibly one of the better Jim Gordon stories out there. I can’t remember if he turns up in ‘The Dark Knight Strikes Again’ and if he does it’s probably horrible because that comic is where hope goes to die in a badly-drawn mush, but in DKR (and ‘Batman: Year One’) Gordon is the only three dimensional character in a world of stereotypes. Batman, especially old Batman, is Clint Eastwood, Robin is Jerkass-Teen-With-a-heart-of-Gold, Alfred must be over one hundred years old and presumably spends the entire book drunk and Gotham is the city of a thousand shades of grey. But Jim is the only person who isn’t wrapped up in despair and anger, which probably explains why Batman stays away from him for most of the book. If Batman is there to beat back the night so the decent citizens of Gotham don’t have to live in fear then he’s pretty much a complete failure, except for Jim Gordon. Even a nuclear missile doesn’t stop Jim Gordon, after the war it’ll be him, Ozzy Osbourne and the cockroaches rebuilding the planet.
There’s nothing wrong with writing Batman as a jerk but he’s got to be an interesting jerk. While it’s nowhere near as extreme as how he would write the character decades later Miller takes us into Batman’s head and shows us he has nothing to say. Other writers would examine the differences between Bruce Wayne and the Batman, which of them is real and which is the mask, does Batman need Bruce as much as Bruce needs Batman, with Miller it’s all ‘blah blah, all of my bones are broken and my spleen is punctured but I’m still the toughest one there is! Rah!’ macho nonsense. Marv and Hartigan take ridiculous amounts of punishment in Sin City but at least they are original characters, not Frank tagging on to an existing structure. I don’t think Miller even knows why Batman fights.
I get Batman not killing the Joker because of his absolute moral code blah blah blah, but even allowing for that it’s still stupid. I’m fairly sure (for example) that feeding the Joker a few horse tranquillizers would quell his homicidal urges a little bit.
And so the idea for the comic ‘The Joker on K’ was born.
I’ve been trying to work out just why exactly The Dark Knight Returns is like (in my best lumpy space princess voice): oh my god like my best Batman book like evar!
I mean – I realise that there is probably more to it than this – but I reckon it’s mainly two things:
Add them together = awesomeness.
So yeah. I tried to find the particular panel online but couldn’t find it. But there’s this bit about halfway through (yeah yeah ok – I haven’t had a chance to re-read it but most of it’s imprinted in my memory so it don’t really matter) where Alfred is taking the Batsuit out of the Washing Machine and muttering to himself “He’ll just have to wear it wet” – which like – oh my god: a very big part of what makes DKR so great. I mean – I know that it gets blamed a lot (along with Watchmen) for making comics into the “dark and gritty and dark” thing that it was pretty much throughout all of the 90s – but to me that’s as dumb as blaming Nirvana for Nickleback. Because ok yeah – while DKR did ramp up the Darkness in the Knight with Alfred there in the background – it’s actually also pretty almost laugh out loud funny.
And yes yes yes: as I’ve grown up I’ve realised that’s basically the big major difference between stuff that thinks it’s all mature and grown up and the stuff thatis actually a proper artwork or whatever that can actually affect you on some sort of deep and emotional/spiritual/art/whatever level – namely: the stuff the stuff that’s happy to crack a few jokes and the stuff that wants to pretend everything is always serious serious (or – in other words: it’s why Synecdoche, New York > The Tree of Life: or – yes – why Scott Pilgrim is one of the best and most beautiful comics of all time forever).
Because – man: if there’s someone who’s pretending they’re smart by putting on airs and graces and sitting there with a stony face and giving it all the serious serious serious – then – well: it’s the kinda thing that maybe works back when yeah you were a teenager and stuff (and I guess maybe this might be a little bit of my problem with Barry Sandman): but for real enlightenment – I’d rather go to someone who knows how to laugh at themselves a little and maybe cracks a smile now and then (maybe that’s why if I had to pick – the Dalai Lama would be my favourite top religious guy).
I mean – yeah – maybe it’s just a thing to do with mood and tonal shifts (if the only colour you’re painting with is black then – well – there’s not going to be much contrast obviously): but yeah – basically: if you’re gonna make me read a book or watch a film – then you’re going to need to promise a few jokes otherwises I think I’m gonna be doing that thing with the raised glasses or whatever saying: “Really?”
And Apocalypse? Oh yeah – well – you know: end of days stuff and all the rest of it (the end of the story is always the best bit I say): maybe I’ll try and write more of that some other time………………………….
And just to say: I always thought the Joker would be a coke kinda guy? No?
Another slightly too long post from me. Sorry. I might send a follow-up addressing specific points others have made, but I mostly talk about what I think and why here.
So, like Sandman, I read The Dark Knight Returns a fairly long time ago. I basically thought ‘huh, this is a cool Batman story’ but really didn’t and perhaps couldn’t appreciate how revolutionary it was. Stuff like the talking heads, Miller’s use of light and shadow, sound effects as panels and all the rest of it was brand new and must have been really exciting for comics fans. I’ve said this before, but there’s a part of me that thinks you had to be there to really appreciate that side of it. And, equally, me reading it now is a very different experience to teenage me reading it. But I digress, I think it stands up in 2014 and there’s plenty to look at.
The first page used to strike me as very odd – ‘why’s Bruce Wayne messing about in racing cars?’ It’s basically not alluded to again after that, and it made me wonder why Miller included it. I think it’s got a few parts to it: firstly, Bruce is looking for stuff that gives him an adrenaline hit because he can’t be Batman any more. Secondly, there’s a chance for Miller to throw in a nice bit of phoenix symbolism as he survives the fire. This prefigures the return of Batman who is sort of an anti-phoenix – they’re all about the sun, but Batman’s all about the night. Lastly, there’s the bit about having a good death. This turns up again and again in the book. It’s curious, then, that by the end Batman has faked his own death and chosen to keep going. It’s clear he found something to live for along the way. Either passing the torch to Robin and the Sons of the Batman, or maybe standing up to a totalitarian government who clearly don’t care about Gotham like he does. Maybe he just needs to keep being Batman somehow.
Anyway, I’m not going to analyse every page, although I’m sure you can. People have written university courses and books on DKR, after all. Here’s some stuff I like:
The slang. This is hard to get right. You need words and phrases that are recognisable to your current audience but that are sufficiently far from contemporary slang. Miller does it well, although there are some patchy ones: ‘billy’ is a personal bugbear. It’s not as good as A Clockwork Orange, but what is?
The jokes. There are some great little moments in there – Batman’s response to Alfred and ‘the committee for the prevention of obsessive behavior in middle-aged men’ – ‘write them a check’.
Jim Gordon. I’d never really thought about him much as a character before I read DKR. The stuff about his wife is very touching and, as Lawrence mentions, he’s definitely the most relatable and human character in the story.
Female Robin. This was long overdue, even in 1986. Carrie is charming and a great foil for Batman, just like Robin should be.
The Batman/Superman fight. I think Miller manages to be inventive enough with Batman’s methods that it’s interesting to read. I like more how they’re set on a collision course almost from the beginning. It’s a clash of ideologies, not of people. (Or a person and a Kryptonian. Whatever.). This can also be said of the others Batman faces off against (old vs. new with the mutant leader and order vs. chaos with The Joker).
The structure. I wonder if there’s a touch of the video game here – Batman fights Two-Face’s goons, then has a showdown with him. Ditto the mutants and mutant leader. Then there’s The Joker in part 3 and Superman in part 4. Anyway, it keeps the action building to a series of exciting crescendos. There’s other tactics for this as well c.f. the heat rising and rising until Batman reappears in the middle of a storm.
I think that’s covered most of my immediate thoughts. I weighed in on ‘why Batman should or shouldn’t kill The Joker’ last night at the Barbican Comic Forum, so I’m hoping to leave that quiet.
One sort of interesting thing about Frank Miller’s work that rarely gets mentioned is how he’s clearly a big fan of the thriller writer David Morrell, who wrote the original novel the first Rambo film was based on amongst other things. You can definitely see massive influences of Morrell’s prose when people are hunting Batman in Dark Knight and Year One (and his Nuke character in Daredevil Born Again also owes even more to Rambo).
It’s not a bad read as these things go, but I’m always surprised how rarely its noticed, suggesting that thriller readers never read comic books and vice versa, so creators can safely pilfer between mediums without anyone really noticing. Similarly most of Garth Ennis’ more realistic comics were massively influenced by the entertaining (if slightly gun obsessed) thriller writer Stephen Hunter. Frankly I’m all in favour of this, I’d much rather comic creators steal from things I’m not familiar with instead of other comics that I’ve already read.
By the way, the most memorable sequence in the Rambo novel is when he’s hiding in a dark cave and is very, very hungry, so he kills and owl and eats it, raw feathers and all lamenting his life seems to be at a bit of a low point. I saw the film for the first time recently and noticed they didn’t film this bit.
That reminds me of something I linked to further up but didn’t really make a big enough deal about – because yeah basically you should read this commentary on this Neal Adams Batman comic because it’s one of the most entertaining things I’ve read this month (the other most entertaining things is this:http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/menace.html ): there is a very good reason that the link just says “batman-odyssey-neal-adams-insane”:
But yeah: this bit –
Laura: I think he might be confusing them with hobos. Oh man, how hard would I read Batman: Hobo by Neal Adams?
David: Can you imagine the amazing things he would carry in his bindlestiff?
Laura: I think you mean his Bat-Bindlestiff.
David: And the Batmobile would just be… a passing train. And Robin would be one of those punky teenagers that I used to have to kick out of that headshop I worked at in college.
Laura: The Batcave would be a cardboard box. And Catwoman would just be a cat who keeps stealing his food.
– I haven’t actually reread DKR returns yet. I thought that there would be a copy in my local library (because – oh my god – there’s ALWAY a copy in every library I’ve ever been into – along with Watchmen and Maus): but apparently I must have done something to mock the gods. But yeah. Sometimes soon I hope (if you’re lucky).
I’ll weigh in now on the Dark Knight Returns, if only lightly. I hadn’t followed Batman for many years when I came to first read it (pretty much on release, as spine bound issues, before subsequent collection as a book – or “graphic novel”, sigh). Nor was I overly familiar with the DC Universe. Nor am I.
What I was already familiar with was Frank Miller’s work, and DKR seemed very much a deconstruction/reconstruction of the heroic icon in Alan Moore-ish terms, if very much tailored to Frank Miller’s own developing style, satirical bent, and the tropes – vigilantism, violence, increasingly overt flirtation with Right Wing, uh, thought – that have pretty much since overtaken his work and indeed appear to have bent his brain out of shape. So, while this wasn’t the last significant work that FM achieved, it does perhaps mark the apex of his achievement before a pretty steep decline (and I write as someone who very much likes the roughhouse stylings of the sequel Dark Knight Returns Returns, I mean Strikes Back. And perhaps Lynn Varley’s acidic computer colouring therein even more so. Still, where Miller’s gone, with flip offhand covers to expensive collections, the Goddamn Batman with Jim Lee, the Spirit movie, and holy hell, Holy Terror, becomes increasingly less interesting and at extremis approaches unforgivable.
Hiccough. Back to DKR! I read this Batman tale then as something approaching a neophyte, or as a return to a childhood/adolescent favourite, as so many readers relatively new to the superhero universes of Marvel/DC etc must have done and still do. And on that level, it pretty much works. The targets of his satire are largely broader than those enclosed pantheons, and, indeed, by themselves fairly broad. It looks great. Events build to a satisfying grand climax (battling and beating up the Big Blue Bore, Superman), followed by a neat coda (survival after all, going underground, “good soldier”).
One element that tripped me up however was the supposed significance of the Joker dressing a lady called Selina as Wonder Woman (if memory serves. Was the surname of Kyle ever appended?), and it being humiliating for her. Also, to a lesser extent, the presence of a one-armed archer called Oliver. Clearly I was meant to know and appreciate who these people were (get the references and as the result, what’s more, care). I know who they are now, but as an original reader back then, this sort of thing was lost on me. Not entirely. That might have been better. I just had the uneasy sense that I was missing out on some in- references. So that basically is something that for me didn’t – and doesn’t – work about the comic as book as Graphic Novel.
So from that judgment, anyone who has also read the sequel will surmise that, my appreciation of the punkish look of it aside, I found that follow-up to be a much weaker work. Insider references are about all that it amounts to, both in terms of plot and reading experience. Therefore reading it is of very little consequence and it is by no means an essential read – which I would say DKR is. I would never recommend it to anyone new to reading comics. That same fault is true of many of the collected corporate comics that came after (True Unbelievers!). For the selfsame reasons, despite Darwyn Cooke’s wonderful artwork and sure hand with a script I simply can’t recommend his New Frontier. The experience of reading it felt very much like being shut on the outside looking in. I could tell names and events were meant to carry emotional weight and have significance, yet they simply did not, in and of themselves, unless one were deeply familiar with an entire super-universe and all of the insider references. Following on from ground-breaking works by Alan Moore, Frank Miller and others, almost all modern superhero stuff is like this – I may have read many of these characters my whole life, and yet find it almost impossible to follow. Continuity truly is the bugbear of tiny minds (comic book editors and publishers, stand forth!). Fie on it. By now I have read so much Batman and Spider-Man, so many iterations of dead-alive-again etc etc plotting, and creative round robin rogues galleries, that I feel I never need to do so ever again.
I’d much, much rather read and explore new characters, new ideas. Non-genre publishing and, for obvious reasons of creator-ownership, Image comics are nowadays much more appealing and the place to be – as reader and practitioner.
Meanwhile (back in Gotham City…) though it feels right to celebrate and cherish material like Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns, in and from their own time and place, they were good enough at what they did that we will never need to see their like again – even if their like, in pale shadow, is all that the mainstream superhero comics companies seem to know how to serve. They were good, and fine, and the world moves on, both richer and poorer for them.
(I typed “pooer” by mistake there, and almost left it.)
Thank you for virtually listening!
Right then. Some stuff that’s been in my head that I’m gonna get down onto paper (or – well – bits of light on a screen at least):
Will mentioned the opening page and yes omg: it’s totally totally brilliant: “…but the computer crosses it’s own curciuts and refuses to let go. I coax it.” Already getting you into that dry wit and none-stop-never-give-up determination that basically makes Batman into one of the best heroes ever (it’s all in the “I coax it” juxaposed with the picture of him ripping it apart like a kid with a Christmas present). What’s the reason for it? Well – for me the point is (and I have quite a strong emotional memory of this): it’s that for anyone reading it for the first time the way the page is structured and it all builds up to a massive crescendo (and yeah – there’s that music thing with this comic again) and yeah ok (strange as this may be for some of you to think) there is a second (“A flaming coffin for Bruce Wayne…”) when it’s like: holy cow! He’s killed off Bruce Wayne! And this whole other version of the story kinda opens up in your head about how: The Dark Knight Returns is about someone else (this guy maybe?) taking over the rule of Caped Crusader and etc and blah: you know? It’s like a really nice cool little wrong footnessed thing to do just before things start. You know: it gets you (well – it gets me) primed into a state of: well – anything could happen! No one is safe (Kinda like the original plan for Lost – where they were going to get Jack played by Micheal Keaton and then kill him off in the first episode).
But yeah: well – I still haven’t had the chance to sit down in my favourite chair with a glass of red wine and do a big nice fat DKR reread:
But – er yeah: but there is some stuff that I wanted to write about…. Which is maybe a bit of a tangent but still kinda connected – namely something Ilya wrote above (and yeah – I’m well aware that this might get a little messy so maybe you guys should put some gloves on something?): “I’d much, much rather read and explore new characters, new ideas. Non-genre publishing and, for obvious reasons of creator-ownership, Image comics are nowadays much more appealing and the place to be – as reader and practitioner.”
Like – I guess I kinda knew that maybe this would be something that would come up and although I guess my idea was just to kinda be polite and ignore – I’ve gotta admit that my contrary tendencies are urging me to get stuck in so: what is it with the superhero hate?
To try to be clear (in case you guys (and Ilya) think that I’m just having a go at Ilya): Ilya – I am totally not meaning to have a go at you at all. The thing I’m questioning is the opinion – and that the person who said it (if that makes sense?). Because – yeah: it really really seems to be a big thing in the whole graphic novel/comic book world (at least in my experience): there’s
1. People who just read superhero comics.
2. People who just read non-superhero “serious” comics and
3. People who don’t really care what they read just as long as it’s good.
Yes. Ok – I put my fingers on the scale a little there because I’m very much a type 3 type of person. But the thing that I find really really interesting is that the type 2 person (a few of which I’m guessing are reading this now?) are always like so down on seemingly every superhero comic ever (with the only exceptions being well yeah: DKR and Watchmen).
I mean – yeah: ok – I kinda get that there are a few good reasons for this (well – ok then: two):
1. The main output of Marvel and DC is in the massively large majority – completely awful.
2. Most people out there who’ve never read a comic think that all comics are superhero comics (I mean – I don’t wanna sound like too much of a pedant: but I will admit that I do groan a little when people call a superhero movie a “comic book movie” because well yeah (oooh get me): one is a genre and one’s a medium. So yeah.
But yeah – on that last point: just because there’s a few bad things in a genre – (which it is for most things anyway isn’t it? I mean – don’t people say that 95% of everything is almost guaranteed to be awful?): that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to say: well – yeah – in that case – this whole genre is a waste of time. Which I guess is the thing that gets me: in that I don’t think it ever makes sense to say: “Yeah – I don’t read Crime books.” or “I don’t read Romance books” or whatever. Because (and this is point where hopefully I say something a bit more interesting?) you should never judge a story on what it’s about: when the thing that’s important is how it’s told.
Example: there’s this totally excellent Japanese film called Ping Pong (well – that’s the English translation at least) and I was trying to get my friend to watch it and he was all like “what’s it about?” and I said “ping pong” and he was like: “nah – sounds boring.”
Which ok: yeah – fine. I guess that makes sense. Only – it is a totally amazing film because it makes ping pong into this whole cool crazy Matrix style thing that is whole giant levels of awesomeness and really – ok – while it is really only about ping pong – the way it uses stuff like camera angles and whatever just make it into a whole different thing (I’m not explaining this very well I know – but whatever: shut up and go and watch the film and then you’ll know what I mean).
And ok yeah; the vast majority of the time: you can totally tell how a story is going to be told from what it’s about – but for the really crazy super things: you can’t. Which I guess is why it doesn’t make sense to say: yeah – I’m just not going to watch an x genre whatever. Because: there will always be things out there that will twist the whole way you see them.
(Sorry – it’s getting late and it’s been a long day so I’ll just leave it at that).
ILYA here. Just to say, you extrapolated a whole lot there from my use of the phrase “non-genre” (my bad maybe, but less windy than “not necessarily genre-bound”, which is probably a bit closer to what I should have said).
We are much closer in agreement than you might think, and I am definitely a Number Three on your list.
Very glad not to be a Number Two. Or a Number One!
So know this: I read plenty of superhero comics. I still go to the comic shop pretty much every other week (there so much that might get missed otherwise, these days). I do find that I am picking up more and more Image comics (some of them too pretty much superheroic or broad genre). And I also notice that they edge up in the reading order of my stack. But I still like my regular soap hit of Thor, Cap and others – which i can now enjoy relatively guilt-free because Marvel have at last agreed to share at least some of the HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS Kirby Kharacters generate with his family.
“Regular hit” depending somewhat on creative teams: there are characters I favour but I’m fussy about my writing and drawing standards. I have seen enough Bats and Spidey for one lifetime, however. We can only go so many times around one mulberry bush.
I read Graphic Novels. I read comic books. I read manga. I don’t much differentiate between mass-market and small or indie press output (aside from being keen to reward self-publishers by buying direct from them whenever I can). I draw comic strips and cartoons for a living. It’s ALL comics to me. A medium, not any single genre, as the trope is becoming and damn well should be. So let us be very clear on that.
If I touched a nerve there, can I perhaps observe that it was an exposed nerve?
anyhoo, back to Dark Knight…?
Sorry Ilya – I hope it didn’t sound like I was having a go at you or anything… It was more a case of picking up a stray thread from what you said and then weaving myself a whole new blanket out of it (a shouty blanket made of rants!).
If it helps: try to think of it less of me sounding all uppity and rude: and more just an over-flowing excess of passion?
(Exposed nerves are the only type of nerves I know!)
Maybe if I actually just sat down and read DKR it’d be easier to stay on topic?
Thanks for your interesting emails. Sorry to only chip in now.
Joel, Nana the main psychological hook for kids you seem to have missed, apart from the all valid and true ones listed, but perhaps more crucial: Bruce Wayne is an orphan who watched his parents murdered. For me at least that was always the dark draw of Batman, the horror of not only your parents being killed, but watching it happen – a total upending of the universe – wait, stories can do that? parents can die? – and the flipside taboo of desiring to be an orphan. Fair enough it’s just his origin story, and there’s more to Batman, literally in terms of page-length, on all the stuff that comes after. But it’s interesting that that bit needs to get repeated with each new iteration, like a blood ritual / obsession (like Batman’s ritual obsession!) I wonder then if Batfleck will have a Batflashback, where his parents – saaaaaay Matt Damon and Sarah Silverman – get murdered in Snyder-fast-slow-mo by, I dunno, a ninja robot.
Nana, I’m with you that Batman and Superman have more common than them being opposites, but, with DKR, I’d say that’s the point, and that is what presumably is part of Batman’s antipathy towards Superman (ha, I actually just wrote that) is that he is a hypocrite. That he uses subterfuge, breaks the rules, costs insurers billions of dollars, but is servile enough to do it for The (unSuper) Man.
(Aside: remember when they were gonna do Superman vs Batman with Jude Law and Colin Farrell respectively? Something about ‘the warring sides of the American soul’. Something something 9/11?)
At the risk of opening up the pushing-glasses-up-nose WWBD? conversation, but: Batman not killing is as much part of his character as him dressing as a Bat. Like, if he was in The Odyssey, he would, in the manner of ‘cunning Odysseus’, ‘wily Odysseus’, always get referred to as ‘not-killy Batman’, ‘no murder no siree Batman’.
Loz, regarding the Frank Miller ideology stuff, I’d say: well sorta… DKR, like the best art, is more ironic and ambiguous than I think you’re giving credit for. Sure as you acknowledge the dodgy ideological stuff is more pronounced later. But in DKR, the balance is just about right. So there’s all the farcically pushover liberals, but then at the same time all the people on Batman’s side are pretty nasty (I paraphrase but: “I hope he goes after the homos next.”). I’ve got more to say on this, but wondered if anyone else feels it’s balanced or feel that it’s obviously skewed…
Also Loz, in answer to your question, the artwork’s uniformly great! Will’s right, it’s the things like sound effects as panels the demonstrates the way DKR is just as much ‘essentially comic-y’ as Watchmen is and gets more plaudits for being. Joel’s mentioned orchestras and rhythm: yes absolutely, and so much of this is achieved through repetition, and the repetition itself is complex. Sometimes it’s because news media is, as news media does, replaying the same clips and soundbites. Sometimes its the recurrence of a bad memory (Joker’s burnt corpse). I.e. there’s in-story reasons for the repetition. There’s repetition of format, too, so the recurring visual frame of TV screens (tho with differing functions: Greek Chorus, ironic commentary, satire) the recurring skinheads, but in different garb: mutants, neo-nazis, sons of Batman… Gives the whole comic a cohesive feel: to use Joel’s orchestra metaffur, the recurring instruments and themes reminds you that it’s all one orchestra with a conductor skillfully in control.
(Fun fact: yes, not only was the third Nolan Batman meant to be the Trial of the Joker, it was also apparently just going to be called ‘GOTHAM’, which, pretty cool huh, but apparently the studio got worried that people wouldn’t realise it was a Batman film. (Just to be safe then, they could have gone with that old reliable solution of the colon subtitle (‘GOTHAM: WHERE BATMAN LIVES’? ‘GOTHAM: POPULATION: BATMAN’)
Yes DKR is funny, but then so’s Sandman (both comic and character). And as with Batman/BruceWayne, Sandman’s solemnity is undercut by those around him (and, hence, necessitates him being so po-faced and solemn. You need your straight man to stay straight for the joker to function (pun intended). I’d say The Tree of Life fails not because it doesn’t have jokes. It’s fine by me to isolate or emphasize an aspect of existence and do a story about it – “This story shall be a sad story” – Like a great man once said, “Stories aren’t life,” they don’t each and all have to have the broad tonal palette of life. Tree of Life fails because it had the wrong kind of laughter.
Bear with me…
The Dalai Lama has what’s been elsewhere called Angelic Laughter, but to tie this all together I’m gonna call Superman Laughter. Laughter from ebullience! Running in the fields (with a horse, birds and butterfleis, natch) and just smiling at the joy of it! (The mother and kids in Tree of Life laugh like this).
Scott Pilgrim et al have ‘Devil’ laughter: irony, mockery, making light, laughing at the silly, the absurd, the kind of laughter that shows you that to get from the tragic to the comic, all it takes is a little push.
Heya M, and all,
a passing observation re: the dark draw of Batman – wait, stories can do that? parents can die?
don’t they pretty much *all* do that, when it comes to much children’s fiction?
it is a trope – the usual thing – that the parental units are absentee or removed – from ever-so-traditional Harry Potter to list-away, even down to Superman, Spider-man et al within comics
I don’t see the Batman mythos as especial in this regard.
The extra yard, of young Bruce seeing his parents killed in front of him, has certainly gained latter-day detail and emphasis – perhaps even beginning here with DKR (the string of pearls and 16-panel grid of exploded moments)? A better scholar (read: bigger nerd) than I might know. There’s a meme somewhere online that compiles and contrasts the now endless replaying of this scene in both comics and film, btw.
Maybe I even saw it referenced here earlier on in the discussion! (I have no functional memory)
As for the Tree of Life failing, I will fight you on that one, sir, but perhaps not here and not now. And surely the joke there was on Sean Penn the Actor…
Thanks for your contribution. I don’t think I missed the orphan angle as such but I may not have given it as much emphasis. I completely agree that the idea of witnessing something like the murder of your parents was part of the appeal of batman. It made his actions a little understandable. It allowed him to do things we normally don’t associate with heroic behaviour. In my personal case it is part of the reason I wouldn’t hold it against him if he broke the “not killing” rule just once.
As I mentioned before, I know he won’t do it. I just thought it would be interesting to hear what people had to say about it.
Superman was brought in to provide a polar opposite to contrast the behaviour of the dark knight. A role he played to perfection in my opinion. I wasn’t up to speed on Frank Miller’s personal politics until recently. Now I know a bit more, I think he was probably just crossing the tipping point as you said because there is a fair balance between liberal and conservative portrayals. Both sides had there faults exposed in the story.
The artwork, the text and the emphasis on imagery helped get me more engaged in the story than I normally would have. I’d like to thank this group for getting me to think about these factors that I would normally feel without really considering. I think I have a better appreciation of comics as a result. All that aside, I am still someone who is story focused. The medium alters how it’s consumed, but for me the story must be the strongest component and I liked the story a lot. A very good read.
Haha, yes, well, at least his experience of turning up at the premiere and being like ‘what, is this the same film as the script?’ wasn’t as bad as Adrien Brody, who told everyone he was essentially the main character of The Thin Red Line.
You’re absolutely right, parents dying is a trope-and-a-half, I didn’t mean to suggest it was unique to Batman, more that it explains to me the big draw, not just that his parents die, but he (and we) watch them being murdered. Though I’m going on my own experience of watching the Tim Burton film as a kid. Which also made me afraid of Prince.
Hey Nana. Thanks for your reply! Yes you’re totally right, he can’t kill because that’s what got him started on the whole thing. It’d be like if Captain Planet decided to pollute (rather than just turn people into trees…)
Weirdly, I remembered Batman killing the Joker. Which just goes to show how closely I read things… (But then… ooh aah conspiracy maaaaaaybe he already did!!!). Like you said, many people wouldn’t hold it against him had he done. But wouldn’t the Joker have won? Isn’t that the point of the scene? Or actually, maybe, it works both ways: Batman succeeds in not succumbing to the Joker’s level, holds on to his principle to the end. But at the same time Batman (and we) never get the satisfaction and are laughed at for it. I like this confusion.
I mean – oh my goodness: how could we get this far and not bring up (ok yeah yeah) one of the best (=one of my most favourite) directions like ever?
I mean: I’m only about halfway through the second chapter (is that the right thing to call it?): the mutant leader just gave Batman a massive beat-down etc etc: but yeah – Verhoeven’s stink is like all over this book: that whole kinda pushed-to-the-maximum-level of satire (has anyone coined the phrase “nuclear-satire” yet? for that whole kinda 80s “oh my god we’re all going to die / the planet is gonna burn” type of thing: but let’s all have a good old belly laugh). I mean – I thought it was Alfred who got the good chuckles in: but – man – there’s like a joke on every page.
Mazin already mentioned this bit – but man oh man: it’s such an ass-kicker of a moment (really love that smug smirk of the guy on the right):
Like people talk a lot about Frank MIller’s politics (and to be fair: it’s seems pretty clear after Holy Terror that yeah – ok: he’s totally lost the plot) – and oh my: how comes we haven’t dipped into that whole “IS BATMAN A FASCIST??!” thing yet? But yeah – I mean: my feeling at least is that there’s not really a political “point” of DKR (unless: “OMG BATMAN FTW” is a political point?) – it’s more just about having the most fun ever: that kinda Verhoeven sorta way – where it seems like the only way to capture the blackness of the world is just to paint things MORE BLACK.
Mazin mentioned Devil’s laughter – but this is more like a whole other level beyond that: because yeah: living in (with?) the fear of nuclear war is gonna screw with your smile in a crazy new way.
This is the point where I realise that – oops – actually Robocop came out in 1987 so really it’s Verhoeven who’s stealing all of Miller’s moves (and yeah yeah: Frank MIller and Robocop is like a whole thing: seeing how he acted in and kinda wrote / didn’t write the screenplays and whatever: but that’s not the point).
Point is: DKR = cool comic. And if you wanna doubt that it’s manages to hit parts of your psyche that other comics (other films, other books, other whatever) just can’t touch / that Frank MIller (at least at one point) had a level of empathy that ok yeah: is actually kinda shocking and surprising then you must have forgotten the crack to the skull that’s “Woman explodes in subway station.”
Film at eleven.
Question: even if the political views are kept balanced, are evenly satirised, everyone has a point and everyone takes it too far, is there any argument to say that the hero of a story always has the final stamp? In that, the world of DKR is still ultimately as Batman sees it?
So for example, the constant gullibility and stupidity of the people. Not just the government and the poncey academics, but the ordinary people (“What’s that? Mass murderer The Joker is on Letterman and you have tickets? Sure I’ll go!”) It’s not just their gullibility, also and ultimately, their need to be lead (and, sure, both the benefits and the dangers that come from that.) It’s as if Frank Miller really thinks that Batman is the hero Gotham deserves. Sorry, needs. Wait that always confused me.
But then, but then… the sequence with the public putting out the fire during the chaos at the end! Though significantly one of the silhouetted helpers is a nun… Costumed do-gooder strikes again.
(Also is it just me or does Frank Miller use boy-rape as a bit of a go-to Evil beyond evil? It happens in Martha Washington, and then the bit near the start of DKR with Commissioner Gordon saying he doesn’t even want to think of what happened to those boys. Bit of a cheap short-hand, as if to say, ok raping girls whatever, but boys now that’s fucked-up!)
The er, what-I’m-gonna-refer-to-as the ‘I’m too old for this shit’ motif is pretty strong, dare I say, even laid on thick. We get it, you’re not the man you once were. Though in saying that I suppose it’s a way for him to goad himself (later in the story his bat totem does as much). Or it could also work to lower our expectations of Batman, raise the stakes in any fight he’s in: although he never seems old, he never seems less than a power-house, apart from the odd slip-up. Luck is another motif that Batman’s constantly jibing with himself for : ‘you were lucky that time’. Maybe that’s how old athletes talk, I dunno, I’m not one. (yet).
(This is all despite the, to go back to an earlier point, strenuous efforts made to make bats scary / cool. Which they’re not (“rats with wings!”) I mean, Wolfman or Tigerman, these lend themselves to a certain obvious fearsomeness and coolness. Then, it’s a testament to the power of cultural inertia that we all still buy it. Like imagine an alternate world where they’d successfully made Newtman happen. (“I am slick. I dive. I am NEWTMAN”.).)
Can I be the wanky guy who talks about the intertextual po-mo-ness, if that means anything, which it doesn’t probably. Batman saying ‘I am the law’, that’s a reference right? I wonder how Harlan Ellison felt about his ranty cameo, and as for this woman… Also, Watchmen and DKR both came out the same year, but which was first? I only ask because, although it’s a lot more explicit in Watchmen, the whole Corto Maltese nuclear stand-off thing felt familiar, though maybe as has been said upthread, that’s just what the 80s culture was like. (Also both have that unexpected cooperation at times of pseudo-nuclear crisis bit). Lastly, who else felt a bit of a moment seeing the panel of the airplane about to fly into the skyscraper? It looks just like one of the famous camcorder shots. Maybe it’s inescapable, maybe after the Titanic sank, even stories about ships sinking that’d been written before had an inevitable and spooky resonance.
Related to pomo things is what I want to call the scatter effect. Initially it’s a very TV effect, the switching between ‘scenes’, cutting in talking heads for a panel or two. But it’s really nice how collage-like this becomes, how the same talkshow conversation gets dropped in only a couple of panels at a time but across dozens of pages. Intercutting in a way that was ahead of its time for TV and film of the mid-80s, predicting the quick shot and scene length to come.
Someone help me out here: pseudo-zombie nuked Superman, that’s the first time we’d seen Superman degraded like that? I mean I’m sure by now there’s some parallel universe story where he gets eaten by a monkey or sold into sex slavery or whatever. But I imagine at the time the shock of that image was pretty profound, like seeing John Wayne getting whipped.
I had one more note that just said ‘Superman denial’ but I can’t remember what it meant, and I’ll just assume I was reminding myself I’m not Superman. And so to bed.
I was gonna start this sentence with the word “Actually” until I read a thing that said that “Actually” is “the official prefatory clause of male-privilege assertion in online discourse” so – yeah: maybe one to avoid from now on?
But yeah – actually (as best I know): “I am the law” didn’t become a Dredd catchphrase until this happened. (although as much hate as this film get – it does have the best trailer music EVER: so yeah…).
Re: is there any argument to say that the hero of a story always has the final stamp? In that, the world of DKR is still ultimately as Batman sees it?
Stuff: I mean – I can’t think of any examples (except maybe The Tick?) but yeah: you could totally tell a story where the main hero of the story is totally deluded about what is going on (in fact – that’s something that people seem to be doing more of in the way that they approach films at least: there was that whole thing with the Man of Steel film where from the POV of Superman he was all like: yeah – I saved the day. Go me. While people on the internet (people on the internet = a whole separate branch of humanity at this point yeah?) was all like: “129,000 people would’ve been killed, over 250,000 left missing, and almost a million injured.”
But – oooh: more interesting (maybe?) = is that I don’t think the world of DKR is really the world as Batman sees it. In fact (for me) one of the things that the whole never-ending stream of TV screens show is that there is a whole world out there that is going on beyond the reach of Batman and beyond anything he might even imagine. I mean – there’s that “hope he goes after the homos next” as we already mentioned: and well – yeah – I mean all Batman sees is crime and criminals and people needing to be brought to account (“Then, with a voice like steel, so frightfully formal, his dark eyes flashing, Master Bruce asked–no, demanded: “The killer was caught. And punished.”). I mean – of course – that does raise the question – what would happen if he lived in a place where homosexuality was illegal? Would his fetish for justice mean that he would go and arrest them / beat them up? Or – does Batman subscribe to a higher set of values higher than the written word of the law? (In fact yeah: that would be interesting: I mean normally superheroes are about doing the things that everyone knows to be right (there’s a cool Garth Ennis thing where talking about 2000Ad and Judge Dredd (him again!) he says: “And that, I think, is why I’ve never been able to care about Batman, or Wolverine, or Iron Man… or any of them, really. Not because of what characters like that would or wouldn’t do, but because their publishers would never have the courage to have them written into such a situation.”) but yeah: what would happen if you put Batman in a situation where he was doing something that he thought was right and but you thought was wrong: Batman and Abortion! Batman and Gun Control! Batman and Immigration! But then yeah – that’s not what the fantasy is about is it?).
But yeah – sorry – my point about DKR: there’s that whole sequence where you see these little stories of other people being inspired (or not inspired) by Batman and doing stuff and having it being (or not being) reported on the news? (If you’re read it – then you know the bit I mean yeah?). Because yeah: because Batman is “so big” and everything – he stretches out into the world and has all these consequences that he could never have dreamed of (which I guess is another thing that ties it into Watchmen): you know – chaos theory etc blah: we affect the world in ways we’ll never know and all that.
‘In that, the world of DKR is still ultimately as Batman sees it?’
I think that’s one of the differences between DKR and DKSA, the former is Batman reacting to the world, the latter is Batman running through a very stupid world with ‘god mode on’, all cheats engaged and a walkthrough provided by the writer. In the former the talking heads are providing commentary and allowing Frank to tell a wider story than he has space for, in the latter they are telling the story that Frank can’t be bothered to show because, hell, that’s work.
Many writers turn to rape as the ‘ultimate evil’, seeing as all women are whores in Miller’s work it does mean that boy rape is all that’s left, because men are all that matter in Miller’s work. I think it crops up a few times in Sin City as well doesn’t it?
I’m not sure you can use the publishing dates to tell which came first out of ‘Watchmen’ and ‘DKR’ just because we can’t tell when each work was created and how long it was sitting in the hopper before being published, plus ‘Watchmen’ is the much longer work. Have Moore or Miller talked anywhere ever about reading the other’s work? Even though they are both about the exceptional individual’s ability to affect world events and nuclear war and coming back to fight after retirement they both seem like very different stories to me, almost an example of how two writers can tell you very different stories from a similar starting point.
Fine, I’ll just have to upgrade my openers to ‘Factually…’
re: “Have Moore or Miller talked anywhere ever about reading the other’s work? ”
From the 300 wiki page which seems rather apt (my two favourite lines: “You know, I mean, read a book, Frank.” and “The times we live in”):
Writer Alan Moore has criticized 300 as being historically inaccurate, with particular reference to the characters’ attitudes towards homosexuality:
Miller, in the letters page of the series, replied to accusations of homophobia from a reader regarding the phrase “Those boy-lovers”:
Moore Vs Miller
ha ha, that’s wonderful. Everybody’s right and justified in their own world(s)!
thank you for sharing such gems!
Trust me to be pulled out of my splendid isolation by adiscussion of Ancient History, rather than the pow-wow of superhero duff-ups we were all invited here to talk on…
So – to jump onto someone else’s tangent on Greek society, I always saw that ‘boy-love’ comment in 300 as referring to actual boys (as in children), rather than merely homosexuality. Attempting to judge Spartan attitudes to the subject of paedophilia (or anything for that matter) is difficult, as they left so few written records (most of the contemporary accounts were written by sympathetic foreigners, often Athenians who romanticised the austere Spartan way, in comparison to the indulgences of the Athenian mob). Plays like Aristophanes’ The Clouds (a send-up of the ramblings of Socrates and his mates) suggest that paedophilia (as in being attracted to young boys) was seen (at least by Athenians) as something of a phase for young men to go through – legitimate, if unhealthy – but that continuing it into one’s later years was pervy and distorted. So in the play they lampoon an old philosopher/ sophist for describing in gross detail young boys penises (think of the old pervert with the zimmer frame in Family Guy and you’re not far off). If the Spartan comment in 300 was related to paedophilia (rather than homosexuality), this may suggest the Athenians were seen as soft, backward and corrupt by the Spartans – who of course did indulge in homosexuality, but maybe in more of the beefcake variety than young boys one. Just a thought. Here endeth the (non-Batman) lesson.
As others maybe have already commentated, DKR was an attempt to fashion The Final Chapter for the Batman mythos, in a similar vein to Alan Moore’s muted Twilight of the Supermen. Only shot through with Miller’s own personal style (noir primarily – interestingly enough, Alan Moore once praised Miller for his astute handling of lighting/ shading on his Daredevil run). In this I think it really succeeds – it is the definitive Batman comic for the ages.
I see the epilogue of the comic, with him retreating to a cave to marshal his forces, as akin to the legend of Frederick Barbarossa (famous German Emperor in the Late Middle Ages), who to this day is said to slumber in a cave in Germany, only to awaken in Germany’s hour of need (apparently WWII didn’t count).
To my mind (‘actually’) DKR did more to destroy Superman’s reputation than just about anything (including the unimaginativeness and desperation of the character’s writers in the ’80s and ’90s). DKR is a scathing indictment of Krypton’s Last Son, of his obsequiousness and obediency, and how political expediency leads to awful compromises (something Rorschach takes issue with at the climax of Watchmen). It knocked him off his pedestal for many years – you only have to look at all the attempts to inject something new into his character throughout the ’90s, including his infamous Blue/ Red and … er… dead stages. He arguably only really regained his lustre with Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman.
Finally, I love someone’s description of Superman’s nadir in the nuclear cloud being like seeing John Wayne whipped (which is funny, as Clint Eastwood, in many ways the successor to Wayne’s mantle as the archetypal Western actor, is badly mauled and tortured in every one of the ‘Fistful of Dollars’ trilogy. I know whose films I’d rather watch. And whose comics I’d rather read).