Dark Knight Strikes Again:
an epic review for a little less than epic storyline
2001, DC Editor Bob Schreck defended Frank Miller's The
Dark Knight Strikes Again by comparing it to sex. You
can never recreate your first time, Schreck alluded, but you
can still have times that are great. To that, James Robinson
leaned forward and commented, "you've just made Frank Miller
sound like a cheap hooker."
we've seen the completed series, many fans are crying that
Miller did that to himself. Though the long-awaited final
issue was released on the eve of Comic-Con 2002, nobody really
seemed to want to care to talk about it. It wasn't so much
painful as just ignored, a far cry from the enthusiasm awaiting
the first issue last December.
we learned something from The Dark Knight Strikes Again
and the competition's major event of last year, Origin.
As fans of comics in general and, yes, superheroes in particular,
we don't so much want hype as we just want good stories. This
year at Comic-Con, there really wasn't a buzz about any particular
project; perhaps the most came for The Obsidian Age,
but that's a project happening within a regular series and
(thankfully) not loaded with a lot of extra costs. (Yes, one
smart-ass did ask Joe Kelly why anyone would want to look
for Aquaman. Happy now?)
all the hype and the cost involved in each individual issue,
we expected something like the second coming. Instead we got
a pretty good Elseworlds, and that seems to have ticked people
also true that Miller fell victim to his own legend. Even
though he said at the outset of the project that he wanted
to play, and was (at least temporarily) tired of grim and
gritty in the DCU, nobody believed it. When he delivered a
book with bright colors and overamped satire, we cried foul.
Where was the grey?
every other facet of American culture, we love to build 'em
up so we can watch 'em fall. But take a step back from the
ire for a moment, and look at The Dark Knight Strikes Again
as a whole. Yes, the story and art have their flaws. Occasionally,
big deep ones. But there are moments in every issue that balance
out the problems.
the book tells a nifty story, just not the one we thought
admit that after my first reading of the final issue, I had
mixed feelings. And the more distance I had from the super-sex
scene in issue #2, the more it bothered me. But upon taking
a second look, some of the things Miller was reaching for
became clearer. The Dark Knight Returns may have ushered
in the grim and gritty age of comics, but The Dark Knight
Strikes Again is about a struggle between ages, using
the one character who has managed to fit in all of them without
story, the book seems to have left a lot of people cold. The
plotting could have been stronger, with a lot of dead ends
as it is. But Miller also managed to pull off moments of greatness,
with concepts and dialogue that deserve to be talked about.
I have grown tired of Captain Marvel being the Elseworlds'
whipping boy, his death scene in the final issue befits his
heroism, and leaves us with something to ponder: "…where's
a wish go? Where's a dream go when you wake up and can't remember
it?" We should all do so well as to go out saying, "it's been
about the new Saturn Girl has a creepy cool to it, in particular
the mind-bending idea for this precog that she's the second
Saturn Girl, even though the first one won't appear for another
not be in vogue now, but the Superman that Miller works with
here is the one with an emphasis on "super," not "man." Rendered
near-messianic by writers in the seventies, it makes sense
that the Last Son of Krypton (and his daughter) would finally
reach the conclusion that they are beyond humanity. Granted,
the same realization in the case of Hal Jordan just seems
bizarre; why become an extra-dimensional play-doh man? But
even that can be summed by the Superchix incarnation of The
Star-Spangled Kid, "…that is so Silver Age." It was often
a silly time, and once upon a time we bought into it. The
Dark Knight Strikes Again serves as a logical extension.
Dark Knight himself, Miller may have provided the best moment
of the year with his willingness to be beaten to death by
Luthor, just to see the look on his face when the plan comes
to fruition. Superman most often gets the credit as a Christ
figure, but it's misplaced identification. To be Superman,
he gives up nothing. It's easy to forget that Batman really
has sacrificed just about everything in his pursuit of justice.
Of course he would be willing to take the final step on that
has also put a whole lot of comics' past into a blender to
come up with this book. Several figure and facial designs
come cribbed from Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Sheldon Mayer, and
John Severin. Some of it is jokey, and meant to be. These
guys all dabbled in humor comics as easily as they did in
other forms. We're not so willing anymore to let our artists
be that flexible. Where the cribbing becomes most jarring
is when the anime look pops up, and though everyone involved
denies it, yes, many of the pages do look rushed. When Miller
gets lazy, the reader pays.
his overall design, Miller has dug deeply into pop culture
(some might say kitsch). From the cover of #3, an obvious
pastiche of LeRoy Neiman, to Saturn Girl's eerie china doll
look, it's obvious that Miller wants a strange haze of the
sixties to rest over the series. Even the placement of the
Superman religion panel fits just where a DC house-ad used
to go. Find God and the Palisades Amusement Park in one fell
the classic Legion of Super-Heroes uniforms are revived, Miller's
design work isn't limited to the sixties. Superman wears an
"S" right out of Siegel and Shuster's original design, and
Lois Lane's (literal) cameo could have been lifted directly
from one of Max Fleischer's cartoons. Furthering Miller's
plea for us to know the history of this art, many shots of
Wonder Woman could fit on a Grecian urn.
it's all pointless if not put in a modern context. Recalling
Bill Jemas' infamous remark implying comic books' masturbation
potential, many of the aforementioned Legion uniforms suddenly
have nubile young women in them (many did originally, at least
after Dave Cockrum got through with them), definitely posing
for our pleasure. Thank heavens Miller has never been known
for drawing attractive women, just designing them. But he
also throws in the voice of an Ashcroft clone, commenting
on "conspicuously ample breasts."
quite a clash between Silver and Modern age sensibilities,
and it's still unclear where Miller really falls on the issue.
When Barry Allen recoils at the savage killing of Luthor by
"Hawkboy," Bruce Wayne grins, "Get used to it, Barry. These
youngsters play rough." Sure, heroes don't kill, but it's
important to remember that originally (and now infamously),
it all just a satire? Certainly, Miller has amped up that
element. But when real world headlines place the movements
of Angelina, Billy Bob, Brad, Jennifer, and Jason Priestley's
back above continued unrest in the Middle East and a toxic
brown cloud over Asia, it's not hard to imagine superheroes
becoming just another fashion trend. Satire should have a
pointed barb dipped in poison truth.
places, the satire does go too far. The doppelgangers for
Ashcroft and White House spokesperson Ari Meyers are no worse
than David Endocrine in the first tale, though they may be
more obscure to Miller's readers. But pitting Green Arrow
and The Question against each other on a political talk show
may make a point, but it's a near criminal waste of the characters.
In particular, it turns The Question into just an excuse to
jab at Steve Ditko's objectivism, after build-up that promised
to make him into a major player in the series.
lie the most unsatisfying elements of the story. Many threads
either lead to nowhere, or come out of same. The third act
revelations of both Hal Jordan's and Dick Grayson's fates
need a heck of a lot more explanation than we actually got,
no matter how cool in concept they both may be. With Grayson,
it seems that Miller didn't even read his own original tale,
which held the implication that he had quit associating with
Batman after Jason Todd was killed. Bruce's heart trouble
feels tacked on for dramatic tension, rather than actually
flowing from the story, especially since it really doesn't
have anything to do with the denouement as it did in the original.
wants to complain about the tendency for the book to fall
into big, empty art spreads, please go ahead. As stated above,
there are moments of awful laziness sown amidst the good stuff.
the collected edition comes out, it would still be worth recommending,
preferably in paperback form. It's a good story in a great
has it that Miller wants to continue playing in his self-created
pocket universe. (Which makes sense, considering how terribly
open-ended this was.) If we can get back to letting the man
just draw comics instead of having to carry the weight of
the industry on his back, maybe, just maybe, we can have as
much fun as he wants to have. In exchange, though,
DC has to let us have those comics with a minimum of hype