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Bat Guano

  The Dark Knight Strikes Again #3

 

Frank Miller, Lynn Varley

DC, 2002

Rating: 2.0

 

 

Posted: August 2, 2002

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

Seven months ago, in this very space, your humble correspondent voiced his disappointment that The Dark Knight Strikes Again (DK2), Frank Miller's eagerly-anticipated sequel to his groundbreaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, would fail to enjoy the same cultural impact as its predecessor, and would end up "merely another tale (albeit exceedingly well-executed) of super-baddies slugging it out." (For those of you late to the discussion, let us charitably allow you to catch up, courtesy of our review of DK2#1.)

As it turns out, this writer was wrong, and if nothing else is big enough to admit his mistakes. DK2, it's true, comes nowhere close to tapping the same vein of innovation and insight as the original -- which is fine, since such was clearly not Miller's intention. Just what his intention was, however, remains a mystery. Because the concluding chapter of DK2, even more so than the middle chapter, is such a frustratingly disjointed, obtuse and just plain hard-to-look-at mess that any hope of its being "merely" a competent superhero slug-fest is a laughingly Quixotic pipe dream.

The story, such as it is, is pretty straightforward. The world teeters on the brink of utter apocalypse. Lex Luthor (or at least, a pulpy bag of scarred, discolored lumps we're asked to recognize as Luthor) has given up any and all pretense of running the world from behind the scenes, and in the face of widespread public displays of free will (instigated by the sight of super-powered beings such as Batman, the Flash and the Atom, come out of forced retirement) has, to borrow a phrase from Gladiator, unleashed hell. Even Superman, formerly a puppet of the U.S. government -- thanks to Luthor and Braniac holding hostage the bottle city of Kandor, containing the last surviving members of Superman's Kryptonian race -- has turned against his masters, and gotten only the cataclysmic decimation of Metropolis for his troubles. With orbiting satellites, armed with means of mass destruction, at his disposal, Luthor prepares to wreak further havoc, for no other reason than because he can.

(Anyone still seeking proof positive that DK2 doesn't play in the same sandbox as TDKR should be sufficiently clued in by now: Had Miller sought to further explore the Dark Knight Detective's character -- beyond sketching him as a gleefully violent sociopath -- he'd have reached for foes more suitable than Luthor and Braniac. These two are, after all, better utilized as -- indeed, designed only to be -- opponents of Superman. Why not Ra's Al Ghul? Or Two-Face? Or even Bane, for that matter? But we digress. No, Virginia, Miller isn't looking to add any further depth to the Batman canon, nor any further respectability to the comics medium as a whole. What he does seem to be doing, largely, is cashing the rather large check he undoubtedly received for this exercise in pointlessness.)

The plot description above gives DK2 #3 more credit than it deserves. As depressingly broadly-painted as it is, such a synopsis could lend itself to a decent story, if story were the goal here. It is not. Instead, Miller indulges himself in a disjointed, herky-jerky series of images that aim for the epic, Wagnerian scope of TDKR -- lots of destruction, lots of clenched teeth and melodramatic inner monologues -- delivered with all the subtlety and precision of a sledgehammer. No attempts at characterization or coherent storytelling are made: Characters appear, sometimes only for a panel or two, deliver non-sequitur harangues, and abruptly disappear; plot points are introduced, issues are raised, only to fade into the ether. Captain Marvel dies an empty hero's death, not to suggest a sense of mortal stakes, but because it looks cool. Genetically mutated children are liberated from the lab in which they were experimented upon, to no discernible purpose save to fill page space. Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, Green Arrow and the Question flit by as quickly as the blurry after-images of sunspots.

To be fair, there are some brief moments of coherence: Superman and his daughter, Lara, debate whether Kryptonians should protect and serve humans, or enslave them; Batman taunts Luthor as an omnipotent Green Lantern (who's flown in from wherever he lives with a family of what appear to be toad creatures) snuffs out his killer satellites. But they're undermined by ludicrous events, such as former Robin Dick Grayson standing revealed as the embittered attempted murderer of Carrie, Batman's loyal aide-de-camp, or the implication that Batman and Carrie share feelings (implicitly romantic, and hopefully not consummated) for one another.

Worse, Miller attempts to tell DK2 in the same hyperactive, cross-cut media style that dotted TDKR, with nonsensical snippets of television commentary that are criminally undercut by their sheer preposterousness. A series of misshapenly drawn commentators cue each other with "Dude," while spastic talking heads rendered so crudely as to suggest Japanese anime as viewed during a bad LSD trip blather about the heroes' impact on society or the import of the breakup of a singing girl-group outrageously clad in superheroine outfits. It's all effect and no cause, form without substance. And it's all rendered in a barbaric approximation of Miller's latter-day art "style," a crude degeneration of the work in his various Sin City projects.

So no, there's nothing "exceedingly well-executed" about DK2. Instead, it heartbreakingly documents the creative decline of one of comics' brightest lights. That Miller felt the desire to revisit some timeless characters and indulge in a good old-fashioned super-powered Battle Royale, shrugging off any attempt at matching the poetic grandeur and visceral majesty of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is both understandable and forgivable. The Dark Knight Strikes Again, on the other hand, is neither

Related Links:

Batman: Bruce Wayne: Murderer?

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1

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