CARTOONIST: Frank Miller
COLORIST: Lynn Varley
ISBN: (#1) 1-56389-870-5, (#2) 1-56389-871-3, and (#3) 1-56389-872-1
Color, $7.95 each; paperback originals
When I read the first issue of The Dark Knight Strikes Again at the beginning of 2002, I had mixed feelings. I tried to put this series predecessor, The Dark Knight Returns, out of my mind, but it was difficult. I stopped reading the series after I found the second issue incomprehensible. Quite frankly, the entire thing seemed to me to be an exercise for a cartoonist with a bloated ego, who was picking up an easy paycheck. I decided to put off finishing the series, and a year later, I finally have finished reading it. However, rather than reading it as a trade, I simply purchased the third issue that I was missing and approached DK2 (the popular title abbreviation and ad logo) as if I were reading single issues again.
Since quitting, I’ve read Internet articles that claimed the series was an homage to the old wacky Fawcett Captain Marvel comic book by C.C. Beck. According to Steven Grant, this series is a reflection of the DC Silver Age heroes and that this story details the final point in the logical evolution of those Silver Age greats. I can understand both points of view, and I recognize the two theories in the work itself. Now that I’ve read the entire DK2, I also recognize it as a mature, creative, experimental, and fun work by an artist whom the company has give much leeway in playing with the corporate properties. He takes full advantage of this and creates a rousing adventure and a great read – perfect for everyone accept for hardcore fanboys who can’t let DKR go or at least let DK2 stand on its own.
The story is relatively simple. In the three years since Batman apparently died (in Dark Knight), the world has entered an age of prosperity and harmony, but at the cost of individual freedom and privacy. Lex Luthor and his alien menace/partner Brainiac actual rule the world and keep the people like cattle, sated with television and material things. Enter The Batman, not dead and ready to deliver a big beat down to Big Brother, with his new sidekick, Catgirl, formerly the new Robin of DKR. Batman begins to free the various heroes that Luthor had captured and kept prisoner over the years since the end of DKR, including The Flash (Barry Allen), the Atom, and Plastic Man. With these guys at his side, and the thuggish Green Arrow, Batman eschews fighting street criminals and muggers and fights the real evil powers on the planet, the controllers who would deny people the right to think freely. However, some old comrades stand in his way, enslaved to the will of Luthor and Brainiac. They are what is left of the old JLA: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel. Can Batman win his old and bitter colleagues to his side, or must he fight against their god-like powers as he also battles Luthor?
I really liked the story. It’s great social commentary, as biting as you can expect from superhero comics. Miller has a sharp eye on the ills of our society, and his pin is sharp as he transfers his commentary to the comic pages with attacks on the endless barrage of media garbage, infotainment, and “ad-vertainment” companies feed the American masses. The third issue of this series was also late because Frank apparently rewrote some of it to reflect the post 9/11 social paranoia and the government’s attack against individual liberty in the cause of protection from and defense against terrorism, post 9/11. I think an important theme in DK2 is that a government that treats us like babies in need of protection will also act like the big, bad parent, treating us like they always know best and we’re just children. It’s bold important work, but most people won’t appreciate the ideas behind this series until years from now. And yeah, I do think Miller may be showing us the logical final evolutionary step of DC’s Silver Age heroes – them as terrorists against the power elite that would enslave the populace.
The art is simply excellent. Stylistically, it is very close in spirit to the primitivism of most Golden Age comics. Miller mixes that with a sense of expressionism and symbolism that adds a textual layer, beyond the words, to the tale. This almost Picasso-like abstraction turns many of the panels into iconic images of classic comic book heroes. Miller gives them a meaning beyond simply being pulp heroes and famous superheroes. They stand for something: heroism, bravery, intelligence, adventure, chaos, order, etc. It is truly a blend of words and pictures – cartoons.
I gotta give a shout out for Lynn Varley (Mrs. Frank Miller). At first, I was lukewarm to her work in DK2. Her colors are a dazzling blend of the skill and talent of a human and the virtuosity of computer art. She’s the finishing touch that gives the art symbolic and storytelling power. Lemme also holla at production designer, Louis Prandi. He doesn’t get in Miller and Varley’s way, but he uses the beautiful illustrative output of Miller/Varley to create a pretty and imaginative layout plan for each issue that captures the attention of the viewer, but also accentuates rather than take from the story.
If you haven’t read this yet, I would recommend getting the individual issues. Reading the book collection might be fun, but there is something about handling an individual Miller comic that cannot be reproduced. He ends each chapter on an almost perfect note, satisfying you with what he just gave you, but whetting your appetite for the next installment. That’s something the great comic book talents do, and they keep you coming back for more. Trades steal from that delight. A+