I woke up one morning and had a dream... Could I own every single issue of Detective Comics, Batman and all of the other subtitles in the Gotham universe?
Insane? Stupid? Inspired?
This can only end in obsession and financial chaos.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Dark Knight Strikes Again

I was well away from comic book news and outlets at the time, but I heard the news: Frank Miller was going to release a sequel to one of the definitive comic book stories of all time. A sequel to one of my favourite stories (and you can add that I loved it as much as ANY story in ANY media). Yessir, Frank Miller was going to follow up The Dark Knight Returns. And I was excited.

Fortunately, I was well away from fanboy forums, comic shops so when I bought a Trade paperback in 2003 from Waterstones in Aberystwyth. I was able to read it without any influences upon my opinion. I was expecting more super intense story-telling, glorious plot points. I was expecting another game changer of a book. I was expecting the second coming...

Of course, I was gloriously disappointed.

I got something that I wasn't expecting, something that I actually started to hate.

A lot.

That book got lost three years later in a house fire in Bristol, and it took another five years (and a lot more comic reading) to summon the bravery to have another go at it. I tracked down the three issues on the Bay and paid next to nothing for them. And after the second reading, I started to Get It.

So what's to Get? Spoilers exist from here on in...

The first thing you have to understand about DKSA is that this is a totally different Frank Miller that wrote DKR. As an artist and writer he'd simply moved away from the superhero comics he'd influenced during the eighties. Sin City was finished and in this crime-noir baby, his art and storytelling evolved into what we have in DKSA. There were also all manner of 'dream-team' combinations with other comic heavyweights (the Martha Washington series with Dave Gibbons, Spawn with Todd McFarlane, and my personal favourite, the one that no-one talks about: Robocop versus Terminator with Walter Simonson), these also affected Millers storytelling in DKSA. Basically, Miller experimented a lot to get to where he did by the point he wrote DKSA, and I now understand that he must have decided that the super intense, frame heavy pages were now no longer needed, as he'd done it; and he must've wanted to do something different. Because creative people need to move forward, therefore the sequel to DKR needed to be different.

The other major thing about DKSA is that Miller is not necessarily trying to create a classic, he's actually trying to make a commentary on the comic business all the while including politics and social commentary. He's also doing this a lot more blatantly than he had done in DKR. Yes, the Frank Miller Goddamn Batman is there, but it is a work that is definately more preachy and sure of itself. Miller continues this trail of thought in other creative endeavours around the time (DKSA follows '300' and precedes 'Holy Terror', for you continuity junkies out there).

Influences on this book are subtle. But they are there. Miller is aware that the Dark Age, as Grant Morrison calls it, that he helped usher in is slowly coming to an end, and maybe that is why he attempts a Team Book. Therefore, Grant Morrison's JLA run is definitely an influence here, and I also sense a touch of city-destroying, we're-obliged-to-save-everyone-regardless-if-they-want-saving-or-not-Authority.

Artistically, I see a lot of Simon Bisley influence on the art. Miller makes some panels intentionally messy, chaotic and anarchic in places. There's a direct reference to Manga (remember manga was supposed to lay seige to the American comic book market at the turn of the century!). There are cool references to The Great Wave off Kanagawa during the Sexual Acts of God Superman/Wonder Woman scene. This, in itself, is proof that Miller is still thinking about what he is drawing and why he's drawing his pictures. Hell, to give me my monies worth, and make me grin cheesily, he even references himself, redoing a splash from Sin City: instead of a car knocking over the bad guys we get a Bat-Plane!

What really impresses me about this work, and this has been noticed by others is the social media contexts, questions and that Miller raises. The Superchix thing is all about celebrity without being much else other than being a celebrity. He successfully parodies all superflous reality TV shows where beautiful, un-original people throw tantrums for no reason... There loads of numerous internet and blogger references (although, Miller isn't entirely certain what to make of them). The political rants that are featured in DKSA, are less political debates (which are seen to be more developed in the original DKR, even if a bit one-sided) but are featured as a series of very SHOUTY sound-bites. There are plenty of in-jokes, and these only really exist simply to be picked up by sad bastards like me: I mean, have you actually been to www.scifigeeknews.com (and please don't click there on my account, as no one owns this domain)? In fairness, I feel Miller had more fun writing this than he did the original. That's probably why it couldn't be anywhere as near as intense as DKR.

And I'm not even commenting upon the satire of an American President being just a computer generated sprite yet be considered a true American.  Lets face it, this is cool concept, and a scathing attack on modern day politics.

Of course, this is still a sequel, and sequels often retread some of the same things. Done differently, and in DKSA's case better. The Bats/Supes rematch is better executed than the first fight. The 'talking heads' stuff that dominates much of DKR, returns, but has a lesser significance. Again, the story's flow is better for it. When the super-intense storyboard layouts make an appearence, they actually have bigger significance (hell, that's what should happen). I'll also argues that the splash pages in DKSA are much cooler that the splash pages than DKR- true, there are a shedload more of them! The scope of DKSA's plot is also way bigger than just Batman and Gotham, and Miller should be applauded for his ambition.

It's still Millers' Batman, the Dark Knight, which is the main draw though. Miller revisits the Batman mythos, with a nod to Zorro. And it is done in a startlingly fresh, yet chilling way. Yes this is a grimmer Batman (even grimmer than Miller's original Dark Knight), but it's not yet a superhero that abducts children in order to keep them in a cave without food...


Everyone that has read this book, knows that DKSA is a divisive piece of work. More than most think of it as an incoherent, self-indulgent mess, but there are people like me that now appreciate it as an failed masterpiece. Regardless of the merits of the work, DKSA is not DK2, it's no where near as immersive and intense as DKR, and I think that this is the core of all the books criticism. Truly, for everyone, DKSA should be read as a stand alone work to be liked. Trouble is because of the importance of The Dark Knight Returns, which is standard issue on every comic book shelf, it cannot be.

To bottom-line this blog. I'd like to make a point, that appears to be lost amongst the comicarrati. Frank Miller, one of the most visionary, revolutionary comic creators, is now lost to the Hollywood machine. Its happened slowly over twenty years and that is a great loss to the hobby. As a result, every and any piece of Frank Miller work is now equally important. From Daredevil to DKR to the Dark Horse collaboratives to Sin City, we-as readers- have witnessed Millers' progression as a writer and an artist. And frankly, we should be thankful for the experience.

And it's always been a privilege for me to read his stuff.

I, for one, miss him. I selfishly want to see him producing more comic work. I know it isn't going to happen too often now, so I'll take DKSA for being simply a Frank Miller book. Dark Knight Strikes Again might be an extreme example of Miller's glorious creator independence (And he'll do anything with the Batman he goddamn pleases) but it does deserve a place on my shelf now.

At present, I don't hate it like I used too....