Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller Review

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again is rightly reviled by all Batman fans because of how terrible the book is on every level but made doubly damning because Frank Miller wrote two of the most acclaimed Batman books - The Dark Knight Returns and Year One.

The plot is a paranoid maniac's delight: the President of the United States is a hologram created by Lex Luthor and Brainiac who're essentially in control of America behind the scenes. Superman is still their lapdog because they hold Kandor, the shrunken Kryptonian city in a jar, captive, blackmailing him into doing whatever they want. And various other superheroes are imprisoned somehow - Flash is made to constantly run on a hamster wheel-like contraption that gives the US free, unlimited power, while The Atom is held in a petri dish. The only holdout is Batman - the book takes place a few years after The Dark Knight Returns and people still believe Bruce Wayne, revealed as Batman, is dead while he's actually been secretly working underground to build a Bat-army from the former Mutant gang. And with Carrie Kelly, who in this book has discarded the Robin outfit for a ridiculous leopard-like skin tight thing with rollerskates, calling herself Catgirl, by his side, the Dark Knight is ready to strike - again!

The worst thing about this book by far is easily the art. The character designs are absolute garbage. Lex looks like a melange of Miller's Sin City characters Yellow Bastard and Marv, ie. ridiculously warped with gi-normous hands and a thick, grotesquely wide body that goes beyond cartoonish, while Brainiac looks essentially like a cybernetic frog! These are definitely the most awful visual depictions of these characters I've ever seen. Carrie Kelly's outfit is awful: a skin tight leopard outfit complete with cat-head ears and whiskers - with rollerskates?! Those are the worst offenders but going beyond character design, the pages are so poorly drawn, you won't believe this is the same guy who gave us some truly iconic panels from the 80s for characters like Wolverine, Daredevil and Batman.

Miller's still using the television pundit trope to explain plot points but whereas they were arranged in grid-like fashion in The Dark Knight Returns and said things that were relevant to the plot, in Strikes Again they panels are scattered haphazardly around the page and none of them are worth reading - they're just random idiots saying gibberish like "woah baby!" and "hubba hubba" around revealing shots of Black Canary and Wonder Woman. Women are going to hate this book the most as Miller presents every single woman here as an object. Hips jutting to the side, super-pouty lips, bum poking outwards - in every panel they're in! It's just so derivative, it's unbelievable - but there it is!

If the art is messy as hell, the story is handled just as poorly. Ideas are thrown in undeveloped and just left there. Black Canary hosts some kind of sex call in show on TV? The Joker is somehow alive but turns out to be someone from Batman's past who has, for some reason, chosen to dress like the Joker? Not to mention the plot is a libertarian's dream: Batman literally goes to war against the US government! Superman is presented once more as a one-dimensional boy scout while Wonder Woman is little more than an aggressive Superman groupie. I didn't know what to make of Green Lantern as he's just floating in space silently for most of the book while Elongated Man is a super-crazy nutball. The only consistent character was Barry Allen who remains as white bread as an old man as he was when he was a younger Flash. Why are Lex and Brainiac working together again? Why is Carrie Kelly Catgirl instead of Robin - and aren't rollerskates kind of useless if you're swinging everywhere on ropes?

And then amidst all of the chaos, 9/11 happened as he was creating the book and Miller decided to shoehorn that into the story too! So we literally have a 9/11 scene of citywide devastation, massive buildings falling down, that sits completely out of place with the rest of the story. It's just there because it happened and Miller thought he'd put it in his book. Because. Years later he would go on to make an even more polemical and nonsensical book with terrible art - which DC would see sense and deny him the use of their characters Batman and Catwoman - called Holy Terror, but that's another (godawful) story.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a remarkable book only for it being the product of a writer/artist who brought so much to the character only to return years later and produce such a terrible book for that same character - I don't think there exists a comic book where the original and its sequel are so directly opposite one another in terms of quality. When a book that's unreadable at best is also 250 pages long, it's an utter chore to get through, let alone make any sense out of. The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a book that, if you read it, you're going to wish hadn't struck again.

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

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