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immediacy

immediate thoughts on the ephemeral environment I've been reading books since the early 70s and writing about them since the 80s.

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again - Frank Miller, Lynn Varley Unlike a fair number of people, I enjoyed Frank Miller's return to the world of his groundbreaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It's not the same work, it's not even the same world, but Miller hasn't lost his ability to be both provocative and interesting. This is a true example of the DC "Elseworlds" concept--this is not the Bob Kane Batman, nor is it the Siegel and Shuster Superman. Instead, every character here is revisioned and recreated by Miller to fit the story and the themes that he wants to explore.

The problem with this graphic novel, and what has turned a lot of Miller fans against this book, is that it breaks down in the last book, delayed in its original publication because of the events of September 11. Maybe it's because I didn't read the book as it came out in its installments that this didn't feel like that much of a break to me, for even in the earliest moments of this graphic novel, Miller's disdain for authority, especially that of governmental "big brotherness," is readily apparent. If it becomes even more over the top at the end, why that seems just a natural extension of how the book starts.

What The Dark Knight Strikes Again reminds me the most of is Howard Chaykin's wonderful 1980s comic, American Flagg!, that was quite prescient in its vision of a world of reality TV and police-for-hire. Miller's extrapolation of current news-as-entertainment and rock-stars-as-political-gadflies doesn't seem all that wild in comparison. Outside of comics, the quick comparison for this volume is to John Varley's thinly veiled diatribe against the Hollywood system in the third volume of his Gaia trilogy, Démon. Like Varley, Miller's got a hefty axe to grind, and he swings with some impact against such easy targets as John Ashcroft and the television media.

With each successive project, Frank Miller's artwork has gotten more crude and yet more expressive. I believe his writing has as well. There's a rawness here that is quite emotional and yet so raw that you wonder if it ever saw an editor. It's rare to see such an individual expression of belief in a superhero comic, where most of what we see is company-produced on the assembly line. I hope we get to see more of this kind of thing, even if it produces the kind of mixed response that has greeted this particular work.