Dark Knight or Bright Spot?
By Craig Lemon
“The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Part 1 of 3”
Written and drawn by Frank Miller, coloured by Lynn Varley, published by DC.
“The biggest selling comic of 2001, and by far the biggest disappointment.”
“It's not as good as the original. It couldn't be.”
“this is a fast-moving story, that takes you back to a world that many fans will be overjoyed to see once again”
“shame on you if you don't read it and read it now. “
“engaging plot … knife-edged dialogue, lots of action”
“Let us hope this starts a new creative trend and a renaissance for Batman”
Reviewer: Craig Lemon
Frank Miller’s Batman is back (well, at the end of the issue he is); Robin is back (except she’s now Catgirl); Superman is back (and he’s still a dork); Barry Allen is back as the Flash (oh dear...); Hal Jordan is down as being Green Lantern (oh save me…)…and the DK universe has gone from being a possible future of the DCU to a pile of pants.
OK, so let’s talk about the hype. How could this book ever live up to the pre-release hype? Well, I’d just like to say the question should really be how could it fail to live down to the pre-release hype? From the dire preview pages (which, unfortunately, were the best the issue had to offer), to the rumours of just being in it for the money (see Alex Ross’s comments all over the place for details), things didn’t look promising…and this issue has delivered on that lack of promise, and in spades.
Yes, it is as awful as expected.
You may have expected a similar panel arrangement to the original book – a sixteen panel per page grid, making four 48 page books feel like a novel. Instead you get a conventional comics layout, meaning these 80 pages flow past incredibly quickly and you’re vaguely dissatisfied with the brevity of the read when you finish it. Thank the lord the page layouts weren’t as minimalist as in Sin City!
You may have expected some detailed artwork, some inspired colouring – instead you get no background, and you get insipid colouring. I’m afraid that colouring has moved on since the days of DKR; Depuy, Hollingsworth and Wildstorm FX at the forefront of dynamic, modern colouring. Unfortunately this book is all too obviously computer-coloured, with what looks like standard PhotoShop paints, mixes and effects. Let’s be charitable and say that it was done in a rush, as that’s what it looks like.
You may have expected this to be the best Batman book of the last ten years. Sorry, guys, but Rucka’s current work on Detective kicks the arse off this one. Someone told me I should try and say something nice in the midst of all this negativity…okay, then, um, there are some nice plot ideas. I liked the usage of the Flash as a power generator. I liked the places Carrie hid the Atom whilst she was in action. I thought the “News in the Nude” section was a shameless rip-off of the renowned website. Damn, that positivity just couldn’t last…
So, where to lay the blame? Miller, for taking the money and running? DC publishing, for being too scared to innovate and having to dig up and desecrate past glories in an attempt to steal Marvel’s thunder? DC editorial, for being too scared to turn around to Miller and say “sorry, mate, this is just substandard”? DC’s marketing department, for forcing the book to be released on a six weekly schedule, which cleverly coincides with three month’s worth of Previews, meaning that retailers barely have time to judge feedback on issue #1 before determining orders on issue #3? Or the consumers, for rabidly buying this book because “hey, it’s Miller, man; it’s DK2, man”?
The choice is yours – you could find several dozen other comics far more worthy of your money than this one…I wish I hadn’t’ve bothered. The only reason this has two bullets instead of one is because it got one for the cover, and one for the handful of nice plot ideas, and I’m feeling generous in my old age. Finally, I can’t be doing with people who say you can’t judge the whole DK2 story based upon the first issue out of three - I can’t accept that, are you saying I should spend $24 buying the whole 240 pages before making any judgements at all?
The biggest selling comic of 2001, and by far the biggest disappointment.
Reviewer: Michael Deeley
Three years after "The Dark Knight Returns", the world has become a capitalist police state. Some of the world's greatest heroes have been reduced to slaves for the corporate-military-industrial complex. And Batman decides it's time to fight back.
You've probably read this book already. Hell, it's been the most hyped comic book series this side of 'Just Imagine Stan Lee. . . '. So I won't bore you with a re-hash of the story.
I will say this: It's not as good as the original. It couldn't be. One of the qualities of a truly great, ground breaking, original work of art is how nothing like it was seen before. But because of that, the work is impossible to duplicate. New ground can only be broken once. Any further digging just gets you a hole. 'The Dark Knight Returns' was a complete story in and of itself. Nothing more needed to be said. There were no loose ends left or any burning desire to read more about Bruce Wayne and his "Batboys". It's like "Casablanca"; You could tell stories about the further adventures of Rick and Louie, but why would you? It couldn't possibly be as interesting as the story you've just seen.
'DK2', like its predecessor, is social and political commentary. The world it depicts is supposed to be our world. Wealth and power are in the hands of the few, while the masses toil in ignorance under a hidden despot. At least, that's what we're told. In 80 pages, we see one clear instance of police brutality and the coldness of government. ‘DK1' gave a clearer, broader view of the world. It was obviously the mid-1980s, with slight exaggerations for dramatic effect. Even the page layout, divided into regular rectangles, reinforced the idea that this was the real world. The world of 'DK2' is an exaggeration of the late 90s, one almost to the point of parody. Its constantly varying and almost chaotic page layouts and panel arrangements emphasize the action and violence of the book over any serious commentary it may have.
(Incidentally, I'd like to say to those of you who've read my review of 'Elektra: Assassin' that yes, I remember praising the chaotic artwork of that book. But remember, that was drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz. That had rigid pages to emphasize reality, followed by chaotic pages to reflect the characters emotional states. In 'DK2', we are meant to believe that the world entire is chaotic, hence the varying page layouts. Clearly, the story is meant to affect the reader on a purely emotional level. And that would be difficult if it was grounded in cold, objective reality.)
The story's distance from a familiar reality is increased by the characters. Or rather, caricatures. People are presented as being absolutely good or absolutely bad. Anything more gets in the way of Miller's social criticism. Batman is good. Luthor is bad. Carrie is young. Superman is weak. And so forth. Granted, these characters have become icons for certain values and beliefs. But 'DK1' got behind that and presented them as real people. The characters in 'DK2' are no more than what they appear to be.
Klaus Janson's inks are sorely missed. His thin lines helped give each character their own distinctive personality, even minor ones who only appeared for a few pages. It also allowed for more detailed backgrounds and a greater range of facial features, further communicating a broad range of emotions and personalities. Artistic subtlety is a quality that Miller has yet to master. I must also comment on the sharp drop in Lynn Varley's color quality. 'DK1' had a water-colored look that could make a scene look sensitive, ominous, hopeful, or passionate. Here, we loose that range of emotions for more traditional solid colors. The addition of computer-generated effects only detract from the art, rather than enhance it. Once again, a certain subtlety in the art has been lost. Of course, the story was lacking in subtlety in the first place.
I'd say the biggest difference between the two books is their attitudes towards people. 'The Dark Knight Returns' showed how ordinary people can be inspired and influenced by the action of one noble soul. 'The Dark Knight Strikes Back' sees a world that needs saving from itself. The extraordinary beings are returning to fix our messes. Something tells me Miller's lost a little faith in humanity.
If you've loved, (I mean really loved), Miller's 'Sin City' stories, then 'DK2' is for you. (How much you want to bet DC cuts that last line out of this article and sticks it on the TPB?) For those of us who thought 'Sin City' was dark, violent, and depressing to the point of making us suicidal, we can always pretend this work has no connection to a modern classic of graphic literature.
Reviewer: Jason Cornwell
As the book opens we discover it has been three years since the end of the original story, and the future hasn't gotten any brighter, as the response to the raging crime-rates of the original story has been the installment of a police state. We then see that Batman has reached his breaking point, and has begun to take steps to fix this world gone wrong, with his first move being the rescue of an old ally. As the new Catgirl, his most trusted operative, manages to pull off a daring rescue, we then look in on Superman, who recognizes this rescue as a sign that Batman's back in action, and given his desire to keep everything the way it is, Superman moves to halt Batman's plan before it can advance much further. Meanwhile, Batman is busy rescuing another ally, who is quick to join the cause. Meanwhile, Superman has finally managed to free up a window where he's doesn't have to save the day, and he uses it to pay a visit to the Bat-Cave. However, Superman soon learns that Batman's not big on uninvited guests.
So the big event of the season has arrived, and the first question on your mind is probably is it as good as the original? That would be very hard to say at this point as I've only seen the first of three chapters, but I think it's safe to say that at this point that I did enjoy the opening chapter of the original quite a bit more, as it had a greater focus on Batman & his faltering first steps to renew his war on crime, while this current book is more centered around expanding this possible future, and as such it didn't seem to be as focused. Oh there's some great material in this issue, from a wonderful moment where we discover how a naked man battling a massive sea monster is related to Batman, to the thrilling action sequence that serves as our introduction to the new Catgirl (aka. the Robin from the first story). Oh, and there's also round two of the Superman Vs. Batman fight that served as the big climax to the original, and we see that this time out, Batman's got himself some old friends to lend him a hand.
Though I do tend to like characters who have to survive battles using their wits & intelligence rather than a superpower, I'm never really been a huge a Batman fan. Namely it's because the character's fan base has come to see the character as a perfect detective/fighting machine, and raise a big stink whenever the character is shown to make a mistake. So what you have is a character who is always expected to win, and he's suppose to look damn good when doing it. What I've enjoyed so much about Frank Miller's work on Batman is that he seemed to understand the basic idea that Batman can get the crud kicked out of him, and that having your hero in a battle where it looks like there's no possible way he can win, makes for a more exciting battle. However, this opening issue does make it seem that Frank Miller may have fallen into the trap that presents Batman as the infallible man, as the big opponent from the original story is dispatched with an ease that has me quite uneasy.
Frank Miller is a great artist, as he understands the idea that comics are first & foremost a visual experience, and as such the art must grab the eye, and say this is exciting. Oh sure, I'd agree that Frank Miller inking his own work isn't quite as crisp as I'd like to see, and frankly I miss the more muted colors that Lynn Varley used on the original story. However, the art on this issue is a real treat, as frankly it's been close to ten years since I've seen Frank Miller's art (not including the various "Daredevil" back-issues I've managed to find). The battle between the man & the sea monster, the running battle as Catgirl escapes the lab, the one-page spread where we get our first look at Superman. These are all wonderful looking moments, but the highlight of the book would have to be the final ten pages, where we see Superman & Batman go at each other once again. In fact my only real problem is one that the story pretty much acknowledges itself, as the new costume design for a certain speedster isn't all that great (I mean bicycle shorts just scream pretentious snob).
Chances are if you've read the original then you're entering this sequel with high expectations, and while it's too early to make too many comparisons, it does look like this sequel is aiming for a more epic scope, as this issue is more focused on the world, than it is on Batman, who doesn't even show up until the final three pages. In fact, the big star of this issue is really the new Catgirl, who fans of the original will recognize as the Robin from that story. In the end this is a fast-moving story, that takes you back to a world that many fans will be overjoyed to see once again, and it sets about to build a bigger cast of players, as while the original had Superman & Green Arrow on hand, this one adds about a half-dozen more characters from the DCU, and has them taking sides for what looks to be one heck of a final battle.
Reviewer: Ed Spillane
Three years have passed and the government has taken away all the basic civil rights of the citizens, including blackmailing Superman.
This has been as eagerly awaited an event as any I've seen in several years and Frank Miller delivers the goods. I remember first reading The Dark Knight Returns and being thrilled when Batman's figure appeared full spread on the page and that feeling of exhilaration is no less with this sequel. No, this is not going to cause the revolution that the original Dark Knight caused simply because this is a sequel. Miller's DK2 declares to the world how great and exhilarating a superhero story can be.
Miller's story moves the reader three years beyond the events of the DK1. The government is running roughshod over any civil rights its citizens have. The news anchors now are in the nude (there's progress). I don't want to spoil the reading of this first issue, a delightful 76 pages well worth the $8 price. Essentially, Superman, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman gather to discuss how they are to deal with the impending crisis caused by Batman, who now has a team which includes a 16 year old Catgirl, the Atom, Flash, Green Arrow, and a team of young Batboys. Enough said; just take my word for it you will love the story.
The artwork by Miller shows the amount of time Miller must have spent in planning and drawing this book. The background shots in shadow of Batman's face and clenched fist on the first few pages were priceless. There is less dialogue in this book than there was in DK1 which only helps the art to flow more smoothly . Catgirl is a teenage rollerblading adventurer who learns quickly but still loves the thrill of experiencing crimefighting for the first time.
The coloring by Varley is superb and displays equally the length of time it must have taken in creating this first issue. This is high quality paper DC is using for our $8 and it shows. The variety and boldness of the coloring explodes before the reader's eyes. Miller does a fine job at introducing us to the superheroes and villains (who they are I won't reveal) without getting bogged down in detailed exposition. Wonder Woman did look in the full page shot like a boxer out of Sin City but that's a small complaint and she is Amazonian anyway.
Catgirl says at one point while staring at a huge fingerprint: "Totally Awesome Almost Hypnotic" and those words best describe this first issue. Miller has another masterpiece on his hands and shame on you if you don't read it and read it now.
Reviewer: Nix Olympica
It is three years since Bruce Wayne "died" at the hands of Superman in Frank Miller's classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. Wayne is only dead to the waking world, however - we readers know that he faked his death, destroyed Wayne Manor, and went underground. DK2 is the story of Batman's return to the surface and the execution of his plan to change the world.
In this first of three issues, Miller shows the changes that have shaped society from the communism paranoia of the cold war era to the corporate/government paranoia of modern times. America is a rich, connected, technological civilization. Its citizens are ignorant of the power the government holds over them, or even who holds that power. In reality, it's what comics readers would call "supervillaIns" who pull the strings. “Superhero" is a forgotten word. Former crusaders like Barry Allen and Ray Palmer are merely pawns of the government, unable to free even themselves from bondage. In a world like this, where even The Man of Tomorrow is a government stooge, a true hero is needed - his name is Batman.
I pretty much got what I expected from this book. An engaging plot featuring DC's finest (and not-so finest), knife-edged dialogue, lots of action, and a rematch between Batman and Superman to conclude the first issue.
I was only disappointed by two things: the final look of the artwork, and that I've already read one-third of the story.
Miller's line work is not unlike that of The Dark Knight Returns. In fact, it seems like no time has passed since that work was published fifteen years ago. Characters are portrayed elegantly in the Miller tradition - they seem larger than life without looking inhuman. Missing this time around are the inks of veteran Klaus Jansen. Jansen's style is close to that of Miller's Dark Knight, so his presence is not missed; but he could have helped flesh out the somewhat unfinished look to the art, giving Miller more time for his pencils and layouts.
And then there is the color. I was surprised that Lynn Varley decided to go with computer color in place of the beautiful watercolor variety used in TDKR. The results look more like Digital Justice than Dark Knight. The line art is so organic that computer coloring just doesn't look quite right. Varley is responsible for adding backgrounds to many of Miller's panels. Most of them look sloppy and rushed, adding only a cold atmosphere to the images. But overall the book is vibrant and fun to flip through. Upon a second reading, I found the color schemes easier to tolerate.
The story appears to be only beginning in this issue, but isn't that how it always is? I really can't comment on it until I've read the ending. Ever read Hannibal? Then you know what I mean. The Dark Knight Returns was Batman's opus. The Dark Knight Strikes Again places more importance on many of DC's most popular and iconic heroes and villains and their places in Miller's Dark Knight world. This series seems like it will be more of a Justice League battle royale than a Batman versus his own mortality tale. Which is fine by me. Now every icon of the DCU must face his or her own demons. It will be interesting to see who comes out on the side of the righteous.
Reviewer: Ray Tate
Despite my best efforts, I have heard many a rumor involving The Dark Knight Strikes Again. They say this is a pure money job for Frank Miller. They say the project's not as good as The Dark Knight Returns. They say that Frank Miller's artwork has seriously suffered. They say his writing has been so divorced from the super-hero genre that he can no longer write about men and women who wear tights. They say the financial success of The Dark Knight Strikes will in part largely be due to the PR machine. What do I have to say? To paraphrase Ford Prefect, nuts to your rumors.
Maybe Frank Miller did this project for money. Earning money isn't a crime, and in my humble judgement, Mr. Miller deserves his paycheck. I would not compare The Dark Knight Strikes Again to The Dark Knight Returns simply because it is a different book in tone and execution, but the book certainly stands up admirably to the quality of the classic.
Frank Miller has said in interviews, I have try as I may attempted not to read, he enjoyed himself immensely on this project, and you can feel his ebullition in the mood of the story, the little touches to the artwork--he puts a bat decal on Carrie Kelley's skates for no good reason--and the humor rampant in the dialogue. I have no doubt the hype will play a part in the sales. Hype improved the sales of many a DC debacle, but this time the book actually deserves the hype.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again differs strongly from The Dark Knight Returns. In order for it to make any sense, it had to be different. The only similarities the book shares with The Dark Knight Returns is its cast: Batman, Carrie, Superman and his band of reformed Mutants the Batboys--"They hate it when I call them that."
We already know the Dark Knight is back, and so Mr. Miller gives to his readers a bona fide super-hero story. Whereas The Dark Knight returns was political and attempted to explore the symbolism of Batman and Superman as well as the depth of their characterization, this story's plot is more ingrained in the mythology of the super-hero. The motivations of the characters all are tethered to super-hero standards.
Because Dark Knight Returns was political, some will accuse Mr. Miller of pulling his punches, but really, he's not. The political climate changed when Bill Clinton was elected. Within his two terms, that President, despite being forced to wallow in the mud with his enemies, changed things for the better and left a brand spanking new ship for President Bush to sail. Out of the tragedy of September eleven, political games have largely fell by the wayside to the passion to actually doing the right thing. Imagine the shock of abortion proponents when recent arrestee Clayton Lee Wagner an antiabortion nutter and criminal maniac was put on the FBI's Top Ten Wanted List during the administration of John Ashcroft whose appointment frightened many, myself included. Frank Miller's artistic claims regarding Reagan and nuclear war are still valid but thankfully history and have no pertinence today.
The apolitical theme of The Dark Knight Strikes Again works in the book's favor to at once give Batman a reason to wear the tights again, split the world into two factions, involve the stellar JLA guest stars and lend sympathy to Superman whose emaciated look here reflects his turmoil. Whereas Superman was the government's tool in The Dark Knight Returns and worked for them honestly, his role here is more of an enslavement. Wonder Woman falls in with Superman because she loves him. However much antagonists to Batman and his wonderful schemes every one of them sensible and ethically sound, Superman and Wonder Woman have the potential to shine their tarnished glory, and I suspect this will happen in the finale. I don't expect a tragedy from The Dark Knight Strikes Again. I expect a triumph.
The apolitical theme changes the way Batman looks. In this book he is not the vigilante. He is not the enforcer. He is not a creature of the dark. He is a super-hero. The Dark Knight Returns brought back Batman's darkness. The Dark Knight Strikes Again returns to the Batman his status as a more optimistic hero. Both incarnations however are forces of change, and both are the same character. While many, myself included credit Mr. Miller for resuscitating Batman, he never forgot the heroic aspects of Batman. This is why in the final scenes of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman charges on horseback--a classic heroic image--to bring sense to a world shattered by holocaust. Frank Miller did not usher in the so-called Dark Age of comic books. His misinterpreters are the culprits, but with The Dark Knight Strikes Again, he emphasizes the reclamation of some of what was lost from this character.
The least appealing factor in The Dark Knight Strikes Again is the artwork. Those expecting the focused, fine-line comic art of The Dark Knight Returns will be somewhat disappointed. While the story is brighter, Frank Miller's work has grown rougher. Wonder Woman looks awful, but Carrie Kelley and Batman--seen only at the end of the story--resonate with the look of the valiant not found in such hard-boiled work as Sin City. The heroes who do make an appearance are visually appealing including Green Arrow whom I usually hate.
Scenes for which Frank Miller is not known to have any skill in rendering thrill with a heretofore unknown knowledge of super-hero mechanics. Mr. Miller made a career out of having Batman and Daredevil break bones, but in The Dark Knight Strikes Again the Atom travels the subatomic with an equivalent flair, and the Flash visits the Grand Canyon.
Mr. Miller's attention can also be found in the various points of view he draws upon. The narration as well as the format--a tip of the fedora to letterer Todd Klein--suits a completely unexpected cameo. Two different forms of subversive news reporting one an offshoot of the Naked News have two different voices while making the same points. The science fiction of the Atom sounds plausible. Batman's reason for living--to save lives--becomes integral to the plot. Carrie's and the Mutants' lingo have been scrubbed free of nonsensical gibberish, and now slang just lightly peppers their talk. The change in the dialogue exemplifies the growth toward Batman's ideals.
I recently dropped the lion's share of my Batman books because I felt the character I recognize as Batman no longer participated in them. I'll soon be dumping the last continuity title to elude the ennui and insanity of Bruce Wayne: Murderer? Batman the hero, Batman the genius, Batman the anarchist is all over The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Let us hope this starts a new creative trend and a renaissance for Batman when the foolishness ends.
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