Tag Archives: DC

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

61H8BOtqAbLThrough chronological coincidence, my next comic entry is an excellent choice to follow the previous one. Having seen where the Batman got his start, The Dark Knight Returns gives me a chance to see where he ended up. And where he ended up isn’t pretty.

One Robin, Boy Wonder has left him and a second has died in his arms. He has been retired for ten years, due to a nebulous agreement that retired or co-opted the other superheroes at the same time (save for Superman, who is now employed by the US Government). Gotham is overrun with crime, filled with gangs of teenagers who own the streets and can make and carry out threats at will. Commissioner Gordon is facing mandatory retirement, and among most of the talking heads on TV, the rehabilitation into society of such criminal masterminds as Two-Face and the Joker are cause for celebration at the success of the system rather than horror and fear at its failure.

Whether because of the declining morality of the youth population, because of guilt over his involvement in Harvey Dent’s (that is, Two-Face’s) inability to cope with his freedom and subsequent return to villainhood, or simply because he doesn’t feel like an entire man without the Bat, the re-costumed Bruce Wayne hits this socio-political climate like a thunderbolt, taking on the gangs, old enemies and old friends alike, condemned by cartoonish liberals for what he is doing to criminals and by cartoonish conservatives for what he is doing to law and order, and joined at an opportune moment by a new Robin. It’s a very raw take on an old man’s unstoppable crusade against everyone who brings society down instead of building it up.

Being raw, though, it does have its flaws. The stories are held together by the world around them, but seem pretty episodic in nature on their own. The art, while excellently frenetic, occasionally lends itself to being difficult to follow. It’s hard to really like any of the characters on a consistent basis (with the exceptions of Gordon and Robin). But flawed or not, it has the power of its rawness, and I’m not a bit surprised that the Batman mythos since this work has owed far more to it than to anything that came before, outside of those initial episodes that first set the character down on cheap pulp. (And which, frankly, were a lot like Frank Miller’s vision in this book. It’s much easier to imagine a straight line between the two graphic novels I’ve read that doesn’t go through Adam West than one that does.)

Also: as you’d probably expect, the Joker (newly revived from catatonia at the news that he once more has a nemesis worth committing senseless murder for) steals every scene he’s in, whether it be praising the media for being his own personal fan club, highlighting all of his criminal activity on the evening news so he doesn’t need to keep track of it himself or whether offhandedly promising to kill everyone within sight of his face and being laughed at for, well, joking (he was not, of course). It’s easy to make an argument that the Batman needs a Joker, an enemy that the forces of law cannot hope to cope with, that justifies his vigilantism. This story makes the far more compelling argument that the Joker needs a Batman; because, if there’s no chance of failure, is there really a point in proceeding on the basis of sociopathy alone?

[Late-breaking full disclosure: I actually read this in the Absolute format, but it contained two books, of which I still in 2015 have not read the second one. So it’s hard to produce a link and image for only half of a book, much less one that is by now long out of print.]

Batman: The Dark Knight – Archives, Volume 1

After the extensive silliness of the archival Superman collection, I was a little trepidacious at the idea of the cracking open the initial Batman collection from the same people. (Well, okay, the people are DC, so that’s kind of a dumb way to put it, I guess.) But for lack of a better system I’m reading them chronologically, and that one was next. Therefore, in I plunged.

I’m pleased to report that this was a much stronger entry off the bat. (Er. Sorry.) I found that I kind of missed the full magazine approach that the other one used; no text stories amid the comics and no X-ray glasses or Batman fan-club order forms for me. I think as much as the nostalgia factor, I missed them because it left me less certain that I was actually reading all of the first few Batman adventures. (It didn’t help that one episode referenced a previous encounter between our hero and the villain in question. I have no idea if it was an in media res device or an actual backward reference to a missing story.) And in one unfortunate occurrence, Batman stole a story directly from the Superman of the same period: a football player is kidnapped, so Bruce Wayne uses his make-up and disguise talents (which are, admittedly, a lot more palatable than contemplating Clark Kent’s, whose best disguise consists of a pair of unlensed frames) to render himself identical to the missing player and win the big game. That’s, uh, heroic.

But like I said, on the whole it was a much stronger book. For one thing, it had iconic villains from the earliest stories. While Superman is off fighting interchangeable industrialists bent on raping the middle class and poor countries around the world, Batman is fighting the Joker or Catwoman. Definite advantage here. I have to think the smaller scope in general is part of what makes him a better superhero for the ages. He can be hurt, he can face real setbacks, he has enemies that can make realistic plans to take him out of commission.

And, he has a sidekick that… well, okay, Robin bugs me a little bit, in that he seems to be as effective at sixteen as the full-grown man he’s working with, despite the latter’s drive to avenge his parents and past. (As I understand it, Robin has an equally grim past, but it was never delved into in this volume.) Plus, he’s always grinning widely. Artistic decision, sure, but it also bugged me a little. I guess it’s part of the propaganda portion. He doesn’t really have a character of his own besides ‘generically happy’. He is clearly there for no better reason than to stand in for the teenage boy reader, which isn’t so bad by itself, but then he’s constantly used in that role to teach moral lessons. And I know that’s probably more good than bad, but I’m here for the plots and the characterizations, and I’m simply not going to like it when things get in the way of that. So, less Robin, more Batman, please.

Anyhow, that was as minor of a concern as the football adventure, really. The point is, Batman is dark but likeable, easy to identify with, has excellent opposition, and is just downright fun. Plus, he seems more averse to leaving a trail of corpses behind him, which it took the (seemingly more moral) Superman a little while to accomplish. The misogyny, though, that’s still there. Sure, he keeps saving Catwoman from other villains and now and again from the law simply because he thinks he can get in there, someday. (And watching Robin be confused over that hidden motive was worth his character being present at all.) But that’s the kind of misogyny that I’d think a girl could get behind, if it means she gets away with thousands of dollars worth of jewels every so often.

It’s the other kind that made the book for me, based on the shocked giggles it provided. (I know it’s a double standard, but since it happened 65 years ago and is so, well, cartoonish on top of that, it just doesn’t feel real; as I know it couldn’t happen now, I permit myself some obviously morally defective enjoyment out of it.) I will now describe a single panel of the book, from Batman’s first encounter with the Cat. Awful, I know. But also kind of awesome? You be the judge.

He has just removed the old lady wig, revealing Scooby Doo-style that she’s the villain. Now, he is forcibly wiping the old lady makeup from her face. She cries out, ‘Let go of me!’ His response: ‘Quiet or Papa spank!’

Batman Begins

mv5bmje3njqyodexmv5bml5banbnxkftztywnzyxmti3-_v1_As you can see, I’ve been kinda busy this weekend, with all the movies being watched and whatnot. The thing is, the whole moving thing has pushed me way behind. Even now, there are two theatrical releases I’d like to hit, and two more just days off. So, it’s nice to take a few moments of breathing space and enjoy myself. Which I did do, and the result is all this.

To wit, Batman Begins, the apparent start of a new DC movie franchise to finally compete with 5 years of Marvel supremacy. It’s tempting to claim that the franchise had small shoes to fill, what with the oddity of Batman Returns and the horror of the two later sequels to the original, but this was a genuinely good superhero movie in its own right, in the same quality tier as Spider-Man.

With so many quality stars in supporting roles, of course the acting was great. The leads did well too; Katie Holmes hit her usual eye candy marks with ease, and I’m not very sure what the complaints I’ve heard about her acting were based on. She did perfectly fine in every scene I watched. Nothing that cried out for an award, but not everything has to.

As with all origin stories that are completely familiar to the viewer, a big part of the fun was in watching the characters come together. Jim Gordon’s first meeting with Batman, Alfred transitioning so smoothly into the parental role, the very first Bat signal: all as iconic as they should have been.

Thematically is where it was a giant, though. In the opening act, the movie did a better job of explaining the Jedi/Sith dichotomy than George Lucas ever has, no matter how hard I’ve tried to read between the lines. The League of Shadows’ method of improving the world one fallen city at a time despite the individual cost in lives perfectly nails everything that Anakin Skywalker never had a sufficiently good script to say in the second and third prequel films. So, that made me fairly sad for my fandom, but happy for the potential future Batman movies, as long as they keep the same team working on scripts and direction.

Also: Serenity trailer. Shiny.