Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I have an odd relationship with The Dark Knight Returns.

I've nearly always enjoyed Frank Miller's work, and it's certainly considered the work. And the complication isn't that fact, I'm old enough and dorky enough that I discovered it before it was the anything. It was just this fucking weird Batman comic by the guy who did Ronin. I doubt it was that to everyone even then, but that was how I saw it.

Over the years, though, it seemed like other people had read a different book than I had. The book I read was batshit crazy! Not as a bad thing, mind you. Just a fact.

A fact that made it confusing when people would say the answer to over-the-top vision of Joel Schumacher, or in some cases Tim Burton, was this manic looney tunes. ride through the Ralph Bakshi side of Gotham didn't quite make sense to me. Not as a mainstream commercial venture.

And it's reputation as extra badass only made a kind of half sense. In the kind of way that Superduperman by Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood is extra super.

That seemed to me proved by The Dark Knight Strikes Again. The first two issues seemed to be taking me on that same ride, and the fans seemed to be angered by it, in a way that felt, to me, like they'd read an entirely different precursor. Of course, the complete mess the third issue devolves into makes it a hard book to defend as a whole, but I still fail to understand where most of the original criticism was coming from.

Watching The Dark Knight Returns part 1, the first of two DC Universe Animated movies finally adapting the book, I caught a glimpse of what those people saw. When you strip away the style of the book, the chaotic images superimposed and seeming to interrupt and mock the other images and lay them out as a straight-forward story, it is kind of badass.

And Peter Weller, frickin' Robocop, which is hilarious, is a terrific choice as the older Batman, although, sadly, no Michael Ironside.

Of course, The Dark Knight Returns part 2 isn't able to maintain that. Too many things go nuts in the story to maintain anything but a nutso edge. I'm not quite sure how everyone imagined that turning into a "normal" and badass live action movie, with Bruno, the topless neo-Nazi criminal with swastikas on her breasts, and a Superman being manipulated by a cartoon Ronald Reagan.

I'm sorry... Here, I suppose there's some question, as it is a cartoon and the character is Ronald Reagan, so in principle there's no reason for me to refer to the character as a cartoon Ronald Reagan, but he's just always come across so Spitting Image to me that I just can't help it.

I don't see how a mainstream live action movie could have even hoped to deal with those kinds of story elements. Here we know these are trying to preserve the original story.

And there's definitely something subversive in the one-two punch here of part one setting up the exact expectation the book's reputation has built up for those who haven't ever actually read it and the second part taking you deep into the world of the original book's madness.

Personally, I could have used a bit more mania, a bit more of an open embrace of that level on which the original material seemed to occur on, but I see why it's where it is. If nothing else, it's an open door, inviting the unsuspecting visitor to a much stranger part of the comic's world, and that's a pretty cool thing.

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