Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Books: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again


Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
By Frank Miller


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Why are people always using "comic book" as a pejorative?

Mostly I notice it when people are talking about superhero movies they like: "Yeah - it was good. You know: It wasn't too comic-booky." As if "comic book" was synonymous with "simple-minded" or "stupid" or "something just for children."

I mean - yeah - ok - I understand that there are reasons. Culturally and all that - comic books have usually just been things to keep the kids quite or (even worse) something for nerdy fanboys to drool over and vent all their unhealthy little fantasties. But if I was going to insist on better language use and all (and yeah damn right I'm gonna insist) then I guess I'd say something about how - one - it doesn't really make that much sense to define something with such a board brush (think how much sense it would be if someone said: "yeah - that was a bit too filmy." or "It was a bit novelly." - no?) and - two - even if we just go with the flow and accept that "comic book" is tied to this kinda juvenile definition well hell: what the hell is wrong with things being bright and wild and fun?

Good example of this: my and my girlfriend watched Batman Returns the other day. Now so you know - my girlfriend isn't really big on comic books or any of that kind of stuff and had only ever seen the Christopher Nolan Batman films - and so her expectations were for something gritty and realistic and well much less-comic-booky - so that in the first 5 minutes [1] she was like "What the hell is this?" and then - when the posh parents dumped their monster baby over the bridge and into the river she turned to me accusingly and said: "Oh my god - is this a Tim Burton movie?"

"Striking terror. Best part of the job."

Who knows why fifteen years after the universally praised, game-changed graphic novel masterpiece stupendousness of The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller thought it would be a good idea to write the sequel that no one was asking for. But hey Frank knows best and - thankfully - rather than try to rehash the first book he decided to opt for something completely fresh, different and insanely inspired: The Dark Knight Strikes Again aka (if you really want to) "DK2." Reportedly inspired by the prevalance of all the dark, grim, gritty and nasty comics that sprung up in the wake of DK1 (sorry) and Watchmen - that all seemed to think that the only thing that made those books so successful was that that it mixed up superheroes with mental health issues, psychopaths and rapists - DK2 is an attempt to re-connect superheroes to their fun, crazy, wild starting point: when it was all about heroes in bright coloured costumes effortlessly doing all sorts of silly and impossible things. Or to put it another way: when even comic books are afraid of being too "comic booky" - well: you know that something's up.

So: while it loosely continues the previous book's storyline: this is it's own thing, done it's own way. Or to put it another way: if The DK1 was a orchestral symphony: carefully structured, multi-layered, restrained and delicated poised (or at least as much as a comic about Batman could ever be) - then DK2 - is raucous, dischordant, snot-nosed, day glo punk played hard, fast and loud. With artwork that feels like it was thrown at the page (abstract expressionist superheroes? yes please) and computer-generated colouring that - for once - is used for cool effects rather than as a lazy shortcut and a story that sizzles, flies and explodes like a fireworks factory on fire dropped from the sky. (Or put another another way: it's like Radiohead decided to follow up Ok Computer with something totally different. You know: like Kid A [3]). Revolutionary - but maybe not in the way that you wanted (and yeah: I should say it was panned and booed when it first came out [4]) - but if you want something that's not more of the same and adjust your expecatations from what you thought The Dark Knight Returns Again was supposed to be - this is a comic ready to show you a good time. It's like Batman Returns - but added double-rainbow [5].

Exuberantly bonkers.

[1] And man if you haven't watched Batman Returns before you can see the opening here - which I'm hoping should be enough to whet your appetite enough to go and see the whole thing. Think it could be my favourite of all the Batman films: it's got such great lines: "Still... could be worse. My nose could be gushing blood." "Why is their always someone who brings eggs and tomatoes to a speech?" and (my personal favourite and best line in a Batfilm ever): "Selina!? Selina Kyle, you're fired! And Bruce Wayne - why are you dressed up like Batman?" Plus - I never really realised when I watched it when I was young (back then I just thought that the casting people must have made a mistake) but Michael Keaton is such a great choice as Batman. Yeah - he's not muscle-bound and he doesn't have the square jaw that I thought was pretty much a must have prerequisite for all Bruce Wayne wannabes: but he's so off kilter and bizarre - like a mixture of Tom Hanks and Jerry Seinfeld that it makes total sense that he want to spend his nights dressing up in a leather suit and go around beating up bad-guys [2]. And - god - after watching the po-faced Nolan Batfilms - it's just really refreshing to watch something that doesn't take itself too seriously - I especially love the bit when Keaton's getting his Batsuit off the coat-hanger. I mean - I know that there was a big fuss when Tim Burton's first Batman film came out that it wasn't anything like the old campy Adam West Batman - but in retrospect they both have the same sense of twisted fun: and the sense that although it's real people - they all live in a cartoon world. Plus (you know): how can you not love something that has Christopher Walken in?

[2] In fact (if I may?) check out this Rolling Stone interview Tim Burton gave when his first Batman film came out: Question: "What's Batman about to you? Bruce Wayne's depression?" Tim Burton: "It's about depression, and it's about lack of integration. It's about a character . . . unfortunately I always see it being about those things, not about some kind of hero who is saving the city from blah-blah-blah. If you asked me the plot of Batman, I couldn't tell you. It's about duality, it's about flip sides, it's about a person who's completely fucked and doesn't know what he's doing. He's got good impulses, but he's not integrated. And it's about depression. It's about going through life, thinking you're doing something, trying very hard. And the Joker represented somebody who got to act however he wants.

[3] Ha: Yeah: try disliking it now without coming across as a philistine.

[4] "OH MY GOD!!! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!? Honest-to-God, this has got to be the worst comic book that I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s as if you accidentally left a copy of “The Dark Knight Returns” in the washing machine with a handful of crayons, then thought to yourself “f**k it” and repackaged it as a sequel. If I didn’t already know you were the author and artist of this atrocious sequel, I would be angry at this apparent insult to your good name. To realize that the genius behind “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” is also the moron responsible for this clustered mess just makes me sad... DK2 was released between 2001 and 2002, shortly after the tragedy of 9/11, and therefore it had potential to touch on the feelings of anger and the desires for retribution that were on the hearts and minds of its readers. It had potential for historic relevance and to touch on the issues that were on the collective consciousness of its readers, much like its predecessor title did. It was during this time of anguish that we needed our heroes more than ever, something to give us hope and inspiration even in those worst of times.Unfortunately, it is here where DK2 fails utterly. Our beloved heroes are just another series of casualties, assassinated by mischaracterization. They are neither inspirational nor admirable. At some point, this stopped being a graphic novel and degenerated into a bizarre and inappropriate snuff fanfic. While DKR definitely succeeded as a product of its time, DKSA served to illustrate not only how out of touch you were with the times and the readers, but how out of touch you are with reality in general.Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe you’re angry because you’re out of touch with the new generation of comic book readers. It would certainly explain why reading this book feels like an old man with a shotgun is yelling at me to get off his lawn." (from this guy here).

[5] So intense!

Links: Frank MIller AV Club Interview, 4th Letter Review Part 1 / Part 2 / 4th Letter Transcript of Comics Journal Interview with Frank Miller, Comic Book Resources Frank Miller Interview, Good Comics Review, GraphiContent Article: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7, Thoughts On Stuff Review, Flak Magazine Review, Sean T Collins Review.

Further reading: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: All Star Batman and Robin, Elektra: Assassin, Tom Strong, The Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot, Batman: Year One, Batman: Year 100, Kingdom Come, Marvel Boy, Special Forces.

Profiles: Frank Miller.

All comments welcome.

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