Dark Knight Strikes Again: Politics as Usual

August 26th, 2013 Posted by david brothers


I always liked this page from Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book, alongside all of the stuff with Supergirl. I like it more for the dialogue than anything else, though Miller’s formless, chunky Batman is an obviously great take on the character’s design. But this bit is killer, from Hawkboy’s mouth to Batman’s heart: “Thanagarians do not believe in fate. We do not believe that anything is beyond the power of mind and bone and muscle and will. I do not accept these deaths. I do not accept this crime.”

I really dig that bit, despite the Ayn Randiness of it. I like how it perfectly sketches that character out, giving him a moral immovability that’s also present in characters like Rorshach. There is Justice and there is Crime, and one must be eliminated at all costs.

Hawkboy discusses his life as if it were a conflict, a constant series of battles between Us and Them, the Just and the Fallen. There is always something To Be Triumphed Over, which ain’t necessarily the best way to look at the world. The directness of the statement appeals to me a great deal. It posits a world where change is not only possible, but possible due to the direct intervention of human hands. If something’s gone wrong, you reach out a hand, you take hold, and you fix it, and that thing has no choice but to bow to your will.

“I do not accept these deaths. I do not accept this crime.” That mentality sits at the root of a lot, if not most, superheroes. With precious few exceptions, your average superhero is doing something that is wildly illegal, but they’re doing it for “good reasons.” When people talk about how cape comics have fascist or authoritarian elements, they’re talking about Superman bending a dictator to his will, Batman creating a surveillance state for the protection of the people inside it, the Punisher playing at executioner. They are the Good Guys, so what they do is by definition Right and Just, even when it is illegal and horrible, because we know their hearts are in the right place.

This sort of doctrine really only works in comics, where you can “avenge” someone’s death and have that be an actual ending or provide closure. Real life doesn’t work like that. There are a lot of things that will bow to the power of mind and bone and muscle and will, but then there are greater things that will never bow. You will have to accept death. You will have to accept crime. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you’re too poor to afford boots, right? But it’s nice to think about a world where we have total control, instead of none.

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Portfolio Review: Frank Miller

April 9th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Frank Miller, ably assisted by Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley.

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Sons of DKR: Dark Knight Strikes Again 02

April 10th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I am no man. I am Superman.

Frank Miller is kind of famous for being the guy who brought “Batman can beat up Superman” into the modern comics world. The fight in DKR is iconic and a classic, and probably the root of multiple fanboy arguments. Miller revisits the fight at the end of the first chapter of DKSA, where Batman and friends completely outclass, outmaneuver, and outfight Superman. Batman ends the fight with four punches from gigantic green gloves and tells Superman to get out of his cave.

There is contempt there, but I don’t know if that’s the right word for it. At one point, Batman says, “Look. Up in the sky. Gosh, we’re all impressed, down here.”

Batman, and possibly Miller’s, contempt for Superman is born out of expecting a lot out of the character. Superman is the most powerful being on Earth, but he spends his time fighting cackling supervillains and upholding the status quo.

Batman’s point of view, and one that Spider-Man shares, is that if you have power, you have no excuse not to use it. Superman has great power, and therefore great responsibility. He can fix the world, fight the real villains, and he’s made himself into a tool of the status quo. For Batman, that’s inexcusable. A man who can is a man who must.

In a sense, DKSA is about Superman growing up and finally coming into his own. The first of two key Superman moments comes toward the end of chapter two, after Supergirl has revealed herself and decimated Brainiac’s robot. He starts with an anecdote about being a child and trails off. “Lara. What sort of world have I given you?”
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Sons of DKR: The Dark Knight Strikes Again 01

April 8th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

There were a few comics that hooked me when I was getting back into comics in 2003. Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates, Frank Miller’s Daredevil Visionaries Vol. 2, and, probably more than anything else, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. The first three are generally well-regarded. They gave all involved a higher profile, tilted the direction of established characters permanently (when’s the last time you saw a not-depressing Daredevil story?), and left their marks on the comics industry.

And then there’s DKSA.

I came to DKSA backwards. I’d read Sin City, 300, and some of Miller’s miscellaneous Dark Horse work over the years, but I hadn’t touched his Batman work. Year One and Dark Knight Returns were just phrases I’d seen on book jackets, rather than works I’d actually read. I had the benefit of not coming into DKSA with 15 years of expectations for “Dark Knight Returns 2,” and found a book that I enjoyed greatly.

I’m sure you have already heard what DKSA gets wrong ad nauseum. Instead of that, I want to talk about what DKSA gets right. I think that it’s a deeply flawed work, but one which delivers plenty to talk about. It’s fascinating to me how much it gets right, despite being a dervish that’s attempting to hit seven or eight points at once. I don’t think that Frank Miller has gone half as crazy as people think he has, but I do believe that he looks at what bad writers made of the legacy of DKR (and Watchmen) and feels at least partially responsible. DKSA is, at least in part, Miller exorcising those demons and showing another direction things could have gone in.

You can even see it in the surface-level visual look of the book. DKR was fairly subdued and realistic. DKSA is garish, cartoony, and loud. There’s something even in its approach to comics that’s a violent reaction to the past. If you look at the book, it doesn’t look like your average superhero book, either. Frank Miller is playing in the same wheelhouse as Humberto Ramos, with the big foot style and perspective playing a large role in the storytelling. So, what is Miller trying to say or do, besides give older fans narrative whiplash?

For the record, any images or text is from DKSA or the Miller x TCJ interview I transcribed the other day.
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Sons of DKR: Frank Miller x TCJ

April 6th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

This is an interview in The Comics Journal Library: Frank Miller, a book I bought a few years back on a whim. It’s a fascinating read, both in terms of Frank Miller’s career and opinions and comics history since he got started. It’s currently out of print, I believe, but if you find a used copy somewhere, snap it up. I don’t know that I’ve ever read an entire issue of The Comics Journal, but there are some great interviews in this book.

I transcribed this interview on a lazy Sunday a few weeks back. It isn’t the full interview, but it is probably a little over half. I left out the bits that were not relevant to Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, partly because they weren’t relevant and partly because I didn’t want to retype the entire interview.

This interview is a beast and a half. It’s almost 5000 words, but well worth reading. I do not have any commentary for it or pithy remarks. It can stand on its own. I’m posting it here because it deserves to be read, and because I’m going to be using it as reference and context for a couple of posts on Wednesday and Friday this week. I want to talk about a couple of books that owe a lot to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, so maybe this will help me illustrate a few points.

I tried to go through and insert relevant links and images where needed, just to help with context and clarify a few points. Pardon the scan quality, as these aren’t my scans. Any errors are my own, though this should be pretty accurate.
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