Sunday, November 12, 2006

42. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

by Frank Miller

I’ve wanted to get into the superhero comics for a while, but the eternal question for someone who didn’t grow up with comics is, where do I start? I really wanted to get into X-Men so my knowledge of their stories would extend beyond what I’ve seen in the movies, but they’ve got a lot of stuff out there but a lot of different writers and artists and I’m still at a loss as to where I should begin. Most answers to this question have been to jump right in wherever, but I’d like to make the most of my reading time so it’s kind of hard for me to do that. Plus, this would be a much easier decision if, say, I were able to pick up some for cheap at a used bookstore. That is, after all, how I make a lot of my reading decisions. But where can you find used comics in Chicago? Seriously, if any of you know, drop me a line.

So I went with Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The story takes place when Bruce Wayne is about sixty and Batman is thought to be gone, ten years having passed since his last sighting. Gotham’s no less plagued by crime and Bruce is still haunted by his first encounter with the fearsome bats and by the death of Robin. The early hours of the morning find Bruce staring at the chamber that holds his late sidekick’s costume. (Kudos to Miller for giving Alfred the word “somnambulism” to describe Bruce’s late night habits. Such a great word.) The breaking point is when Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, is released from the sanatorium and the murders again run rampant. Here, also, is where we meet the new Robin, a brainy girl named Carrie who isn’t so much asked to be Robin as she takes it upon herself to follow Batman around and get into trouble. She kind of saves his ass, too, so she does prove her worth in the end.

Also making a return is the stone-faced man in a nearby sanatorium cell who breaks out into a devilish grin when he learns of Batman’s return. After he’s deemed cured, the Joker wastes little time in driving the public to insanity. The two eventually wind up in a carnival fun house where Batman gouges out the Joker’s eyes but can’t bring himself to kill his enemy. The Joker dies anyway and his body explodes, killing a number of cops. Prior to this Batman was fighting a bunch of mutants (okay, I didn’t really understand what this was about, but maybe I’m just not familiar enough with the Batman oeuvre) and all the ruckus in Gotham has caught the attention of the President. Who does he call to reign in the overzealous crime fighter? That would be Superman.

Bringing in Superman as both colleague and cop was an awesome turn, as was seeing the two of them battle it out. When I first heard of this book I also heard that Superman dies at Batman’s hand and I thought, what? Superman can’t die. He’s a super man. Regular men can’t best him. At least not without some kryptonite. But I didn’t really hear right and while he shrivel up and die while trying to stop a nuclear warhead, he doesn’t really die. Batman, on the other hand, meets an end of sorts and we come to the book’s close as Clark Kent mourns at his grave. The final page, however, tells us this is nowhere near the end.

I guess I’ll read the sequel to this book. I don’t know that I liked it as much as I could have, though. To be honest, I really didn’t like Robin and thought she was kind of annoying. And I feel like my huge lack of knowledge in the genre worked against me; I was in the dark most of the time so stuff that may be been really cool to those in know left me confused. Like the mutants. I still don’t know what those were about. But can you fault a girl for trying to undo her comic-free upbringing? I’m just trying to figure out all that I missed.

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