I need to stop before I even begin this evening. It is even harder than normal to know where to begin. The layers of contradiction, the pain, the struggle with a code. The Dark Knight Returns is and has been a legacy of a change in the comic book genre, one that brings about the turn of the hero to the anti-hero. Batman’s complexities emerge even further with Frank Miller’s the Dark Knight. (For those who have already talked about this graphic novel at great lengths…I apologize, I just read it for the first time.) I had always heard about this story being told. My friends would describe what they referred to as the “greatest Batman” story ever! I stared at the opening pages for several moments and thought to myself, this art is amazing. Then questions started rushing into my mind. Will this book live up to all the hype from not only my friends but all the people that have always said so many great things about it. I turn the pages. I didn’t flip around, the panels were too much at times, overwhelming my eyes, confusing. But then you get great images, or “splash” images, full pages, montages, the sort of thing that I always liked to see. It was the simultaneous display of images, things happening in different places all at once. The drawing and illustrating often times I felt was mediocre. However, the story, always maintaining a compelling stand, and interesting tone, a dark tone. I was confused at first, I kept wondering, when is this guy going to show up? Where is the man known as the Bat? Where the hell is Bruce Wayne at? At least then you know there is some part of Batman living within the pages of this book. I kept reading, waiting for the Dark Knight to Return, his image leaping onto the page.
At first there was just the mere hint of his return with the shaving of a mustache, Bruce Wayne’s alternate mask being removed, his mask of retirement, the denial of what he really was. After 10 years he is nearly forgotten, legend mostly. He is like the pop culture icon that remains heavy in the minds of the older generation that grew up with the icon during their youth. Now in their 30’s, the younger generation only getting trickling tid bits of the man that fought for Gotham as it slept. It reminds me of the A-Team and talking to someone in their 20’s that may or may not know who or what an A-Team is, or who B.A. is and that he was once played by Mr. T. The kid would look at me with a blank stare not knowing who Face was or did on the television show of the 80’s, or that they drove a van with a red stripe down the side. Incidentally, some of the nostalgia and the legend is revitalized with the tellings of a new story, a reinvention of the original tale. Much like the Dark Knight Returns, stories are told over again to solidify their ground within the echelons of society. It is a way to endure the test of time. By reshaping and retelling and molding the young to idolize, to remember, to retell, the Batman lives on. He becomes the symbol, the image, that is ever so discussed in Chris Nolan’s version of Batman in “Batman Begins”. Having never read Miller’s version of “Year One,” or even reading the Dark Knight Returns, I thought that they were one in the same, not that Batman had aged. It’s funny how you begin to forget the things friends once told you. Here I was forgetting that my friends were obsessed with the fact that Batman had aged, that he was reemerging as the Batman to take care of a menace, a new evil, an evil that will continue to reshape and retell itself as one head and another mask is removed.
For those that have not read it, you should, but beware that what I discuss may spoil the story. (Spoiler Alert) Even the Joker has aged significantly, which I find interesting, he is portrayed in a light that is not as vibrant as before. Although, much of the comic is portrayed this way. Perhaps that is why I found this particular rehashing or shaping of the Batman archetype so dismal. In some ways I really hated the portrayal of Batman. It was so contradictory on so many levels. But I think that is what I also loved about it at the same time. Here is Batman, struggling with aging, while Superman is still young, still self righteous in his own way. I am not saying that Batman does not have some type of Holier than-thou attitude at times. Indeed he does, and feel free to argue against that, but he does have his own code. I have been discussing this in a series of threads on this blog if you haven’t noticed. Go back and re-read the one where I talk about “Dexter.” Batman could stop so many crimes if he just kills the people. But then as he kills more and more, where does he begin to enter this area of turmoil, this inner conflict. He already suffers from a degree of trouble, or conflict. What interested me about this story is his temptation to break so many rules in his code, like coming to the idea of holding guns, of firing a weapon. Even his confrontation with Harvey Dent and the Joker is something that I would not have considered to be possible. But I also wonder if Batman had not decided to moonlight as a hero again, what would the Joker have done? Would he have remained comatose? Similar to a Pixar movie, The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible, aging, getting fatter, now with kids and wife, longing for the old days, forced into hiding. The desire to help the innocent running deep in their bones. However, he is ultimately noticed by the villain, who also comes out of hiding, which makes one question; If the superhero or the hero remained a “normal” person, out of the light, avoiding the temptation, would the villain return or would a villain emerge? I think that in the particular situation of the Joker, he either would have come out of his catatonic state to find Batman and bring him out to fight again, or it would have just happened the way Frank Miller wrote the story.
The beaten and bloodied Batman returns to the cave, wounded and “dying” as he says, not from his wounds, but from age. It is the complexity of the character that made me appreciate this comic, if not for the art, but for the story itself. I love this Batman, the one that is corrupted with human morality and mortality. One that questions his own agility, his own motives, and most of all his actions. The debate for or against Batman is strewn across many panels. You are bombarded with the question of whether or not there should be a Batman. Ultimately, with the final panels, the revealing of Batman as Bruce Wayne, loss of identity, that brings about the emergence of the one sole identity that he has always maintained and fought to secure as an icon for the people, the Batman emerges in the caves once more, training the future legacy of what it is to be the Batman…
Next Up… Looking at Vanishing Point, Hush Batman, Batman and Superman Apocalypse on DVD, and perhaps even a little more from Dexter Morgan (The new season just started and I wonder, if you were in Dexter’s shoes, would you cry or just be in plain shock?? If you were already desensitized by death, wouldn’t you look at it as a crime scene as way of a defense mechanism?? I don’t know, I think so…)