Dark Knight III: And Where Is the Bat-Man?
That was spoiled by the internet like a week, maybe two weeks ago, so I don’t feel the least bit bad about it. It does pose some basic logistical questions…in both prior volumes…yes, I’m even using “Dark knight Strikes Again” as evidence here…Carrie Kelley is like a hobbit compared to the gargantuan Frank Miller Bruce Wayne. What kind of massive lifts are in her boots? Are her pectorals covered with faux muscle, presumably some kind of battle armor? Because, given prior artwork in the setting, there is virtually no way that anyone in Gotham would buy Carrie Kelley as BatMAN. Batboy…perhaps a Batwoman, given the art in “Strikes Again”…but she just isn’t the hulking figure of Bruce.
Which the art sort of deals with, by the end, as the reveal is coming up. It deals with it in a way that is a bit forced, a bit like, “No one noticed that? Really?” Still, there was a real attempt for the issue to be a set up for…well, something.
So…let’s talk format. First, the book looks beautiful, having been drawn by Andy Kubert. The plot feels like…well, a rehash. There’s the crime ridden Gotham city, the corrupt cops, the exiled superheroes. The trademark slang of the first volume is a narrative text speak here…cute. There’s a “mini comic” insert that makes the pages a @#$% to leaf through, and seems like a forced addition to the story. Couldn’t those pages have been integrated in a smoother fashion, or been a back up feature? Who knows, I’m not DC editorial.
Azzarello does a good enough job of working in Frank Miller’s dark Gotham city of the future, without feeling too much like a Frank miller cover band. Azzarello includes themes that suit him as a writer, including the current issues surrounding police brutality and race relations. This is actually a topic that Azzarello has written about before in Batman, so to have him tackle it here proves that he’s injecting his own voice into this pre-existing universe. So, there’s that.
The thing is….although in many ways this actually feels much more like a direct sequel to Dark Knight Returns…the problem therein is obvious. Dark Knight Returns is so strong in part because it gives the character of Bruce Wayne narrative closure, a kind of peace and legacy. Then the ill-fated sequel, Dark Knight Strikes Again, came out in 2001 and Miller took on a different tone. While Dark Knight Returns was sharp, timely and dissected the idea of the superhero, the sequel was loud and messy, with none of the universality of the original. With no sense of closure or narrative, just a lot of random, bombastic events with no sequence or motive…just scope.
Here, the visual style of Dark Knight Returns is more closely followed, as well as the narrative idea…Bruce is dead (reportedly) and his protege is attempting to do the same work, in a totally corrupt place. Although some of the ideas seem forced, it is far more on point with the first volume than the second ever was.
That being said…I can’t say that I liked it very much. It seemed very “Paint by Numbers,” very much an exercise in “doing Frank Miller from the eighties.” It wasn’t bad per se…it doesn’t give the bad taste that “Strikes Again’ did. It probably won’t become returnable by retailers like “Strikes Again” did. Still, with that said, it very much had a “what was all the fuss about?” feeling at the end. Well done, by people who have talent and have been shown what numbers to paint by.
Aparo and Neal Adams very much defined Batman for me, and Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, in the mid-80’s, was a logical closure for that character. I think it was often too heavily referenced, and still is, with a superior body of Batman stories existing in the 70’s and 80’s. Still…you’ll note a subtle nod to Frank’s politics here. While not being as on point as Miller’s “Holy Terror,” while drawing, I had a bit of a Je Suis Charlie moment. Hence why Carrie and the protagonist are going after bad late 70’s fez hat wearing terrorists. It seemed like a moment to get a little bit of my Charlie Hebdo and Paris anger out, and worth it, since I am discussing Frank Miller.
Frank would have gone for broke, and made each one of them a bomb vest and turban wearing stereotype. I couldn’t, and decided to go for a more classy, organized James Bond villain kind of group. To each their own, I guess.
You’ll note that Carrie Kelley is kicking the fez right off of a guy. That part was fun to draw. Still…that suit had to have a whole lot of padding in it. Maybe this is part of DC’s attempt to make peace with the transgender community that they have been making so angry lately, with Justice League 3001, and the Dagger Type character in the Batgirl of Burnside?
I’m thinking it isn’t, but thought to put it into the zeitgeist, as it were.
This, by the way, was the Thanksgiving post. Hope all of you, Gentle Readers, had a restful day, preferably reading comics and eating good food. Those are things to be thankful for, I think.