Here’s one to split a room. In 2012 I lent The Dark Knight Strikes Again to a friend who had previously borrowed its predecessor. I gave him a cautionary warning about the sequel’s differences and left him to it. On its return, the response I got was “they should make this into a film.” I politely took back my book and walked away. This idiot would never be allowed my comics again…
Cue a year later, after Man of Steel and the Warner Bros. release of The Dark Knight Returns, and I’ve decided to give Strikes Again another whirl. It really is such an odd book, and coupling this with the story behind it regarding September 11th (that I heard from a Grant Morrison podcast on a trip back from Paris) makes it all the more intriguing. And boy howdy is it hard to find someone with whom you can have a decent conversation about Strikes Again without them trying to stab you in the heart for “liking this abortion”.
To be fair, the way I look at this work now is this: the amount of amazing things that are done in The Dark Knight Strikes Again are completely destroyed by Miller taking liberties or making some really silly basic mistakes. I also think that this book should be called ‘The Man Of Steel Triumphant’ because I really think this is more of a Superman story than a Batman one, for the simple reason that Superman is a much more developed character and has a better story arc than Batman. Miller seems to have thrown out all of Batman’s development from The Dark Knight Returns. I didn’t get the feeling Bruce Wayne was old at all. He didn’t even thrown in one “I’m too old for this shit” line like Arnie would have done.
To recount the story would be an exercise in futility. It’s the comic book equivalent of Finnegans Wake. You’ll get moments of clarity, then Miller will throw in some curve ball and you’re back at square one. Basically, Lex Luthor and Brainiac team up and then loads of crazy stuff happens – which is made worse by the talking heads which pop up. They were used effectively in Returns, but sometimes in Strikes Again you just feel that it’s controversy for the sake of it. So, instead I’m going to pick my 5 best moments from the book… but first I’m going to address the historical criticisms aim at TDKSA.
The artwork is generally criticised, but this was obviously a stylistic choice by Miller. He basically drew frames like how Burroughs wrote – cut and paste at 100 MPH – and it’s better than anything I’ve seen by Adi Granov…
People moan about the book’s misogyny, but I think if any other writer had the free reign of Miller, they would do the same or worse. At least Miller makes female characters such as Wonder Women appear stronger and harder than they do in their own volumes. One thing that bugged me was the Carrie Kelley character. She is my favourite Robin, so it bothered me that she was now Catgirl and in an appalling leopard skin costume. And as for the Bat Boys, the name just made them sound gay…
So, now we come to the 5 moments that made this a good, though bonkers read:
1) The introduction of Ray Palmer, The Atom:
A great build up to his entrance in the story, and it’s not until the last couple of frames that you get who it is. In just a couple of pages Miller gives a short story on how Palmer has literally spent the last few years just surviving, forgetting his past and even the idea of day and night, fighting marine microbes who he thinks are sea monsters, until Catgirl rescues him.
2) Lex Luthor and Brainiac confront the JLA:
A half-page frame shows both Lex and Brainiac towering over the JLA Tower holding Kandor. It is so grotesque, and whether it is symbolic that they are that size, I could never work out. They make the surviving JLA look tiny and powerless. Combine this scene with the fight in the Batcave afterwards and Superman looks truly vulnerable and defeated.
3) The storming of Arkham Asylum:
Paedophilia and cannibalism all on the same page. Gritty stuff, and it legitimately surprised me when I read it for the first time. Plus, I liked the Riddler and Solomon Grundy references… finally they appear in a Miller comic.
4) The destruction of Metropolis:
Two great bits here. First is the emotional death of Captain Marvel as he’s being crushed by debris. Out of all the heroes that die in this, his death is the most poignant and heroic. This is also Superman’s turning point in the story; after the death of Lois, Jimmy and Perry, he begins his move from self-doubting government puppet to becoming master of the human race with his daughter Lara.
5)The Return of Hal Jordan
Like Ray Palmer’s introduction, this section has a long build-up over several pages, but it is worth it for the single frame of Hal Jordan appearing godlike over the planet with the line “Dear old Earth, I’ll always love you, warts and all.” Spine tingling… and I have it on my iPhone.
I guess you can take something from these five points: that Batman is only involved in one. And that’s my main issue with The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It should be either a Superman or JLA story.
Had Miller called it something else, The Dark Knight Strikes Again may have swayed people’s judgement. But labelling it a Batman story is misleading. And before aspersions are cast, I’m not against the Dick Grayson sub-plot , though I did hate the weirdest bit in the whole thing – the blowing up of the freak baby orphanage…
The Dark Knight Strikes Again is, in the words of Robin, so billy.