The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

June 20, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

In the world of comics and “graphic novels” there are a few titles consistently mentioned as being superlative. One is Watchmen, and I was extremely impressed with it when I read it three years ago. I thought it would therefore be a good idea to read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns on the grounds that anything mentioned in the same breath as Watchmen is worth my time, even if it is Batman.

Unfortunately, compared to Watchmen, there’s not a lot going on in Dark Knight Returns. Much of it is just procedural. In the second half there are indeed some interesting ideas, but Miller doesn’t have the space (and possibly not the ability) to really make his case. It’s nifty to say that Batman actually inspires the “supervillains” who oppose him, and furthermore that as a vigilante he is an anarchic force, but ultimately this stuff needs more time than Miller is able to give it. Much of the Batman psychology is relegated to a few stray shots of TV talking heads debating the “Batman issue”, for example. Meanwhile, much of Batman’s world remains as difficult as ever to take seriously. Even apart from the sort of silliness that is perhaps inevitable in superhero comics, Batman only makes sense in Gotham, a film noir city of boundless crime and corruption. Maybe this was a compelling setting when Dark Knight Returns was published in 1986 and suburbanites were convinced the “inner cities” were going to soon become completely lawless, but after two decades of violent crime holding steady or declining, it all seems kind of irrelevant. Meanwhile, the action storyline is reasonably engaging and probably fun for fans of comics, but as an outsider I didn’t get much out of it. I’d recommend it to people who really like comics in general or Batman in particular, but unlike Watchmen there’s no need for the rest of us to take note.

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