Friday, August 23, 2013

The Dark Knight Strikes Again Strikes Back

The Dark Knight Strikes Again...I haven't thought about this book in years and haven't read it since it was originally released in three issues between November 2001 and July 2002.  Yes, it took 9 months for three issues; with that in mind everyone should be amazed we even got the 10 issues of All-Star Batman & Robin that we did.

Obviously this is a book that had a lot of hype before it ever came into existence because it was a follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns, one of the most important stories in comic book history for a myriad of reasons.  Just like the Before Watchmen initiative, it was flat-out impossible for DKSA to live up to its predecessor regardless of the level of quality and, having not read the book since its release, let me just spit out a few words that pop in my head when I think about this Frank Miller work...





...delays delays delays...

So with those recollections in my head WHY on Earth would I BUY the hardcover collection of this book and WHY on Earth would I choose to reread it?

The answer to the first question is because I am (a) a total mark for Batman who has a need to get as many collections of Bat-stories as possible and (b) it was 50% off cover price.

The answer to the second question is this:

Blame Kevin Smith and Grant Morrison's conversation that you can listen to here and Morrison's reflections on DKSA.  It made me curious to read this book again, a decade removed from its publication, and see if my thoughts have changed at all.  So I am going to press pause, so to speak, go read this much-maligned work by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley and will return to the writing upon completion.... doubt about it...Dark Night Strikes Again was an ugly comic just speaking solely of the visuals at the moment. The art, which is the most immediately noticeable thing is a far cry from that of Miller's first venture into this alternate bat-future.  Just compare Dark Knight Returns

 To Dark Knight Strikes Again


Messier, uglier, far harder on the eyes than its predecessor and I know that was an immediate turn-off for me 12 years ago when I first spent my money on these books.  Still maybe that is the whole point because DKSA is an ugly comic about an ugly world filled with stupid ugly people doing stupid ugly things and it takes stupid ugly things to even begin to make the slightest change in this stupid ugly world.

This is a world that is LOUD, OBNOXIOUS, and god damn annoying in its god damn chitter chatter about god damn everything and you can see where the god damn Batman got its god damn start in this book with how god damn much god damn pops out of people's mouths. 

I can only assume that this is how Frank Miller either sees the world as it is today or ugly, stupid, and obnoxious is how he expects the masses to become in the future because this is a world in which a hologram can be president, in which Superman is stupid, fights for the status quo, kowtows to the authorities (Luthor & Braniac here) seemingly to protect ONE person, albeit his daughter, over the world and then chooses to risk Earth in favor of Kandor.  This world is littered with media personalities that make the ones in DKReturns (that damn movie makes me feel like I have to point out if DKR refers to Returns or Rises) look like a world filled with Walter Kronkite's.  Stupid, ugly, loud, obnoxious, nameless talking heads, even the one news broadcast that actually seems to be taking a deeper look into the holographic president is presented in the nude.  Hell even the Warriors-esque Happy Hacker talks in nothing but sexual innuendo...

This is a book that is totally lacking in subtlety and again, that is no doubt intentional.  The politics of governmental control are screaming on every page, the condemnation of corporations bleeds out even in the names of those representing the power structure: National Security Enforcement Director Bill PRICK, Secretary of State Robert RUGER-EXXON, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Four Star General CORNELL STARBUCKS.  You have the verbal jousting between Green Arrow & The Question over Communism, Marxism, and whatever other random ideology they can fight about. 

Then there's the random digs at San Francisco like on pages 151 & page 192 of the HC where in the latter an interview subject says "Those people of Metropolis should just get over it." followed by "Yes, I AM from San Francisco. Why do you ask?" and maybe I'm reaching because of the stereotype of San Francisco but then he pulls out a Hawk & Dove who are obviously a gay couple living in NYC off Christopher Street with the line "Don't ask" (a shot at the "don't ask, don't tell" policy perhaps?).

This book is all politics and social commentary, be it government, media, technology, even on our outlook on life which is what I got out of this panel:

The idea that we, as a people, overlook the importance of events because we are either distracted by the barrage of crap thrown our way or we are too cool to appreciate things.  Maybe it's a commentary on comic book fans/creators, maybe this whole book after a point is a reflection, as Morrison pointed out and I never realized in the moment, on the fact that this comic was being produced during the 9/11 terrorists attacks; that wouldn't come as any kind of surprise to me because, from reading this interview from 4thletter! I stumbled across while looking up more background info, Miller actually talks about it quite extensively.

In case you haven't noticed, I am kind of writing this with no flow...just flowing with my thought process I suppose.

I was bothered by the general portrayal of Wonder Woman in this book...I thought the sex between Supes & WW was ugly, what Diana implies when she says Clark "...threw me to the ground and took me as his rightful prize" really bothers me..and the "I am better than the humans" crap their daughter spews is just so the antithesis of everything either of her parents would say in any reality.

The Dick Grayson reveal is...well...whatever, it felt like an attempt at replicating The Joker's arrival after the fall of the Mutants (I just laughed that I typed that...I'm a nerd) in DKReturns and I thought it failed miserably.

The, I suppose I will call it nerd-porn, aspect of throwing in so many damn characters was kind of cool in that "what's character X doing in this world" aspect but did we really need Creeper or Guardian or Lana Lang or a reference to Saturn Girl. 

I think, ultimately, this attempt at social commentary/satire in comic book form was a failure because, well..there's nothing in the book that I find...hopeful.  We've got Flash making bunny ears behind the face of the government (which is admittedly amusing and something most of us would probably like to do), GA & Question bitching, mocking religion, a Superman religion, Supes & Lara kind of declaring Earth THEIR planet, and Batman basically telling us that nostalgia is stupid: "Souvenirs darling. Nothing but souvenirs. I was sentimental- back when I was old."

Ultimately, after reading through these issues, I think the best thing about the entire book may be the opening excerpt from a Vicky Vale newspaper article on Bruce Wayne's funeral...yes it's kind of silly in it's references to Eartha Kitt but the core story itself uses references to the Adam West TV show as a key story point during the Dick & Bruce fight so it works.

All in all, this story make a great attempt at social commentary but it is so god damn heavy-handed and the book is just so god damn ugly to look at that I just didn't get much god damn pleasure out of reading it.  It's not as god damn bad as I remember it being 12 years ago but I'm not sure if I will open these god damn pages again or if it will just become a god damn fixture on my Batman book shelf...