Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reader's Diary #861- Frank Miller: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


I really wanted to like Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns for a couple of reasons:
1. I've yet to like a superhero graphic novel, yet I love plenty of other graphic novels. This makes me feel pretentious. I'm really not. I like the idea of superheroes. But just as I also like the idea of vampires, I've never found a book about that them that I've enjoyed. If this critically acclaimed graphic novel wasn't the one to convince me, what is? (And please don't recommend Watchmen, I've also already tried that).
2. My son has gotten me into the Marvel characters. I also don't want to be one of those DC Comics vs Marvel nerds. Why can't I like Batman simply because he's rich and has no superpower? I like Iron Man and can't we say the same about him?

Alas, I'm not a fan of this either. I didn't hate it, but I've been on a roll with graphic novels as of late (Joe Sacco's Palestine, Brian K. Vaughan's the Pride of Baghdad, Will Eisner's Contract With God, and Charles Burns' Black Hole) and I didn't come close to enjoying it as I did those. What mostly did me in was the artwork. It's quite terrible. The pictures look really rushed and frankly, lazy— almost as if done in one take. They're especially bad during action scenes, where sometimes I could barely make out what in the heck was going on.

And the story's not great either. Basically it's a story about an older Batman (who even has a moustache at the beginning), who comes out of retirement to clean up an increasingly violent Gotham City. His vigilantism however, rubs many people the wrong way and it culminates with a showdown against his former friend and ally, Superman. This could have been a great premise. To me it's like the US at war with itself. Superman is often seen as the iconic American hero, but could the vigilante Batman be the better representation of American ideals? But if it's a two man civil that Miller was trying to get at, he certainly took a circuitous route to get there. The Joker and Two-Face, two of Batman's most classic villains show up, but their story lines fall flat, their potential entirely wasted. Don't get me started on what he does with Robin and Selina Kyle.

The middle age angle was probably interesting in its day. Published in 1986, the same year as Watchmen which had similar themes, I was wondering if one copied the other but couldn't find any suggestions of that being the case. Maybe it's just a coincidence in history that comic writers were just then acknowledging an aging fan base.

A final positive note: I did enjoy the news clips. Throughout the story we are shown news broadcasts sometimes reporting on Batman, sometimes on world events (significant and trivial), and sometimes showing people debate whether or not Batman is a hero or a villain. It's part social commentary, part satire and I thought these bits were probably the most intelligent part of the book.


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