I just finished Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Back and I have to say I’m a bit perplexed. I read The Dark Knight Returns back around Christmas for the first time and while I was a little underwhelmed I still liked it overall. I thought the story was great, there were some amazing moments(the amusement park scene, Carrie Kelley becoming the new Robin, the battle between Batman and the Mutant Leader, and of course the battle between Batman and Superman), but I couldn’t help but feel this feeling that around each corner Miller was giving a little wink, as if to say, “Hey, look at what I’ve done here.” The constant Greek choir of journalists and politicians throughout ranting about this and that(some of those pages were quite hard to follow, btw) just seemed too much like the book was a political satire about news journalism and how stupid we’ve become as a society. I get that. We have gotten stupid, but I don’t want to necessarily read about it in a Batman story. Anyways, there was still enough there for me to stay interested and then end up glad I stuck in it to the end. The DC-animated film version of this story is a must watch for anyone that loved this book or were a bit perplexed by it like I was. It takes all those amazing elements and puts it all together in a way that flows beautifully. You get the noir-ish tale without feeling you were being schooled.
So like I said, today I just finished The Dark Knight Strikes Back and I have to say for the most part I was just confused by it. The writing seemed to be all over the place(Green Arrow a liberal progressive while The Question a libertarian.) The societal riffing Miller does here overshadows the overall story. And that story? Lex Luthor has taken over the world and the President is just a computer program that seems to glitch all the time. Batman is still presumed dead by everyone, while a disgruntled Superman looks as if he’s seen far better days. Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, Cat Girl, and Green Lantern all make appearances as does Ray Palmer’s The Atom. This book has its moments of wonder, but those moments are steeped in sometimes extremely odd illustrations, preachy dialogue, and a story line that takes incredible flights of fancy. The nude female newscaster popping in to detail what’s happening in this world, the jabs at politicians, and the overall stupidity of Americans gets old quickly. Miller has a very specific voice in his writing, and at times it can be damn brilliant(Year One was an absolutely amazing story), but his gruff, noir-ish Mickey Spillane-meets-David Mamet writing comes across more as just spiteful to me than growing these characters at all. Maybe he wasn’t trying to grow them, I don’t know. I was expecting a lot from these books given the overall history and reputation as an incredible writer and illustrator that Miller has established over 30 years worth of creating comic stories, but I’m disappointed here. I will go back and re-read both books and see if maybe things come into clearer focus, but for now I’m leaving my opinion for The Dark Knight Strikes Back at “meh”. The Dark Knight Returns is a far better experience.
I need to dig into a Frank Miller story that’s solid start to finish. I know he’s got some out there. Any recommendations? Hard-Boiled, maybe? 300? Daredevil? Sin City? Ronin? I’m looking for another way in here. It is possible that I’m just not going to be a fan of the guy overall. I try not to let politics get in the way of me enjoying a great story, but Miller’s politics seem to teem from most of what he’s done since the 2000s. I’d read that his inspiration for The Dark Knight Returns was the Dirty Harry flick Sudden Impact. While I can sort of see that(graying cop comes out of retirement to fight the bad guys once again), it doesn’t make me want to like the book any more than I already do. And some of his far later work has been labeled by none other than fellow writer Alan Moore as “homophobic and misogynistic”. He’s made some rather pointed comments in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement as well. We’re all entitled to our opinions, for sure. But I’d prefer my comic stories to pertain more to the fantastical as opposed to political.
But hey, maybe I’m just some of that “pond scum” he was referring to in the quote below:
“Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy. Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.” – Frank Miller, November 2011
Despite all of that, I still have a lot of respect for the man’s art. Batman: Year One is brilliant. Tell this pond scum what else is by Mr. Miller. I want to know.
Below are a couple responses to Miller’s comments by fellow comics. Thought they were worth sharing here.