Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

After my tepid review of Watchmen, Joker suggested that I try Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, as another well-known, groundbreaking graphic novel, and one that he particularly likes. I definitely preferred it to Watchmen, and while I would absolutely recommend it for the medium, I wouldn't list it among the greatest reads of all time.

Dark Knight Returns was my first Batman comic, though I have seen the movies. For the most part I had enough context to understand what was going on: I knew Harvey Dent was Two-Face, I knew who the Joker was, and though I didn't know they were both there, I was aware of Arkham Asylum. The key thing missing for the uninitiated is that Superman and Batman have a long-standing relationship. For the most part they are allies, but they come from such different places their methods are often at odds. Superman is an idealist, the consummate good guy, man of steel, et cetera. Batman is a realist, driven by revenge, and sometimes forced to blur the line between right and wrong. I had no idea that Superman and Batman ever crossed paths, so I found that storyline to be a bit confusing. Oh and the old dude Oliver near the end? He's also a superhero, known as Green Arrow.

The book is a collection of four individual comics under one main arch. Batman has been retired for ten years, following the Joker's (for clarification, not MY Joker) murder of his sidekick Robin. Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, both now in their 70s, have maintained their friendship as Gotham has become increasingly overrun with criminals. With Gordon finally about to retire, Batman feels he has no choice but to put the bat-suit back on.

But times have changed. The media, the government and the general public don't necessarily embrace Batman's vigilante ways. The case is even made that Batman is the criminal, and that Two-Face and the Joker, who have been locked up in Arkham Asylum, are repentant and ready to be released. While the Batman deals with the fallout of these two being back on the outside, we continue to understand what is driving him and his return to crime-fighting.

The second two books change gears somewhat, with Batman and Superman involved in the US vs. USSR nuclear arms race. Superman saves the earth, but an unfortunate side-effect is that Gotham descends into chaos. When Batman rights the city, it's an embarrassment to the government, which forces a Superman/Batman showdown.

The artwork is very appealing, and I understand how Frank Miller has become such a brand name. The dialogue and inner monologues - especially Batman's and Superman's - provide a depth of character development I wouldn't have suspected possible in a comic book. All in all, it's a very enjoyable read, well worth the short time it takes.

Next up: I've only got 100-150 pages left in War and Peace, so I'm a one-book woman until it's done.

4 comments:

chris keane said...
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chris keane said...

Sorry, I had a typo in my previous comment. If you enjoy Frank Miller, I'd recommend Elektra:Assassin as one of his best works. It's just so totally 80s it'll hurt your teeth, and the illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz is one of the best in the industry. Also recommended is Hard Boiled, which is lighter fare in terms of the writing but has insane art by French illustrator Geoff Darrow who is so cool that he was hired as the concept artist for the Matrix trilogy (where he designed all the robotic stuff).

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