What good are opinions if everyone shares them? With that in mind, this is the first installment of They’re Gonna Kill Me for This, in which I present an unpopular opinion I hold and my reasons for it. It’s fine to dislike something, but you have to have reasons.
I just reread The Dark Knight Returns. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and it didn’t grab me. I also read The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but didn’t enjoy it or study it enough to really get into. Finishing DKR this time, I just don’t like it. But why?
1) The Villains – Two-Face shows up, freed from prison. “Healed.” But just to turn back to crime and be arrested again.
The Joker kills a bunch people, then himself.
Then we have the Mutants. Who are these guys? What motivation do they have? I’m of the school that a hero’s last hurrah should have ties to their career. If Daredevil is to die, the Kingpin should have a hand in it. So, if Batman is going to “go down,” one of his villains should be involved. It ties the whole mythos together. Instead, we get a group with no background and no explanation (They’re just people in costumes, right? Or have they actually disfigured themselves?) If we accept this as the end of the Batman story, Bruce’s enemies (later allies) come out of left field.
The final protagonist is Superman. Is Frank Miller telling us that Superman is Batman’s greatest enemy? Then why does Supes complain (in his narration) about being used a government tool? “No, I don’t like it. But I get to save lives.” Sacrificing one’s self for the greater good. Isn’t that what heroes do? Not to mention that Superman doesn’t wholly disagree with Batman. After all, he gives Kelly that wink when he hears Bruce’s heart.
2) The Media – Is this anything more than annoying exposition? Instead of showing us cops being lax in pursuing Batman’s murder charge or the Joker killing 20 people at the fair, Tom and Lola tell us these things happen. Show. Don’t tell.
I would understand if they were used to show how Batman’s exploits were re-presented for the masses, spreading someone’s “sinister agenda.” (Can you tell I was a communications major at a liberal arts college?) Instead, they tell us something we haven’t seen or how to read panels we’ve been shown.
3) Is This Really a Batman Story? – Who is this guy? To call back an earlier point, looking back through Batman’s history, there could a lot more natural evolution of some of the ideas. This all started when a little boy lost his parents (See: Superman, Spider-Man). A man used fear to strike at his enemies. This Batman just uses fists. And bombs. And a tank. Making Batman into an old man, saying “this is a possible future”, is just a device to have some cool moments. I’m not sure what it says about Batman as a character other than “He’s an ass.”
People criticize Mark Millar for building stories around cool ideas with no substance. A friend tried to defend DKR the other day by telling me how cool it is to see Batman on a horse or Green Arrow firing a kryptonite arrow. But it all boils down to “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”
Wouldn’t it be cool if Green Arrow lost an arm? We don’t have to explain it, but as a bonus, we get to see him draw a bow with his teeth!
Wouldn’t it be cool if a nuke blew up a ton of dust, blocking the sun, depowering Superman? But don’t worry, it’ll be fine two pages later when he pulls solar energy from the earth.
Wouldn’t it be cool if Robin was a girl? Which leads me to …
4) Carrie Kelly – Yes, a female Robin is a cool idea. But Carrie’s a female for no reason. Cut her hair and you wouldn’t even know. Frank Miller isn’t known for his subtlety with female characters, but girls look at the world differently. Does Carrie do anything in this book differently than Dick or Jason or Tim would? It’s just another cool idea with nothing to back it up.
5) The Art – I’m not a big art guy, so I don’t have much to say. I dug Miller’s Daredevil art. I think Sin City‘s moodiness is amazing. Here, I find everything too ugly. Ugly in the “Yes, I know this is on purpose, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it” Paul Pope way. Uneven lines, early digital coloring, lack of backgrounds, lack of details that aren’t just more skin creases. Not my cup of tea.
These are just my thoughts, trying to rationalize why I didn’t enjoy what has repeatedly been called one of the best graphic novels of all time. Maybe these justifications are bullshit. At the very least, we can start a dialogue, no?