The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Miller takes on Batman again
in 'Dark Knight Strikes Back'


May 4, 2000
By Franklin Harris

If all comic books were like "The Complete Frank Miller Batman," no one would ever dismiss them as "kids' stuff."

Published by DC Comics and Longmeadow Press, the leather-bound edition, with its gilded pages and cloth bookmark, even smells like something meant to last the ages, despite countless re-readings.

Then, of course, there also is the small matter of the stories inside.

It collects Frank Miller's three Batman stories: "Wanted: Santa Claus -- Dead or Alive," "Batman: Year One" and Miller's masterpiece, "The Dark Knight Returns."

There is only one thing wrong with it: By this time next year, it will no longer be complete.

Yes, it's official. Hell has frozen over. Will the last demon out of Hades please remember to lock up? (Insert additional cliché here.)

Coming in 2001: Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Strikes Back."

Granted, Miller never said he would never work for DC Comics again, nor that he wouldn't return to the film-noir world of the Dark Knight Detective. But given his views on creators' rights -- Miller believes comic-book creators should own the characters they write about -- and the fact that he has stayed away from superhero comics for more than a decade, Miller's decision to write a sequel to "The Dark Knight Returns" was something of a shock.

It seems creators' rights or no, Miller has the itch to play with DC Comics' toys again.

First published in 1986, "The Dark Knight Returns" is the story of Batman's final days. It's set in a near future in which Bruce Wayne, now in his 50s, has retired his crime-fighting alter ego. But despite the rosy picture the politicians and the media paint of this future world, everything is in chaos.

Crime is rampant. Nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union looms. The president looks and talks suspiciously like Ronald Reagan. And Superman, the World's Oldest Boy Scout, is but a puppet of the big-E Establishment.

Wayne decides Batman is needed again, not only to take back the streets, but also to take down his old friend, the Man of Steel.

Along with Alan Moore's "Watchmen," "The Dark Knight Returns" stands at the pinnacle of superhero storytelling. It's proof that the genre can transcend its cartoonish reputation, and its influence on comics in the late '80s and the '90s is undeniable and profound, even though not always for the better. (For instance, Miller unknowingly launched the tiresome trend of virtually every subsequent Batman writer portraying the character as a psycho, even though Miller's Batman isn't.)

In "The Dark Knight Returns," Miller set the stage for the 15 years of Batman stories that would follow, even influencing the dark look of Tim Burton's Batman films.

Miller was the first to hint at the second Robin's tragic death -- that's Jason Todd, not Dick Grayson -- which DC Comics later worked into the regular Batman comics. Miller also was the first to recast the relationship between Batman and Superman as uneasy at best. He realized that, given their different backgrounds, circumstances and philosophies, the two wouldn't be best pals, as they were portrayed during the '50s, '60s and '70s.

So, will "The Dark Knight Strikes Back" live up to the standard Miller set with "The Dark Knight Returns"? After all, when Moore finally returned to superheroes recently, he fell (mostly) into re-telling comics stories from the '60s, only with a knowing wink and nod.

It's the odd sequel that is better than the original, but Miller's interview with Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Resources Web site, www.comicbookresources.com, shows at least that Miller has some interesting ideas.

"There are so many possibilities," Miller says.

"The superhero makes a great metaphor for all kinds of things about society. I've planned 'Dark Knight Strikes Back' so that you will see various political fronts and points of view and forces of society represented by these superheroes."

Miller's cast includes Green Arrow representing a left-wing point of view, Superman representing the establishment, Batman as an "idealistic anarchist" and, most interestingly, a lesser-known hero, The Question, created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, representing Ditko's own Ayn Rand-influenced politics.

When DC Comics resurrected Charlton Comics' The Question in the late '80s, he bore little resemblance to his original incarnation.

"No Denny O'Neil/Alan Moore-I'll-use-this-guy's-own-creation-against-him approach here," Miller says. "I want to have Ditko's Ayn Randian point of view as part of my story."

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