The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001)
WRITER and ARTIST: FRANK MILLER
COVER DATE: 2001
Back in the day Frank Miller gave the world the landmark miniseries The Dark Knight Returns
, telling the story of Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl of the Batman several years after leaving it all behind. The story remains acclaimed as an alternate future tale of a grim and gritty older Batman taking on enemies in more than one battlefield as he tries to reclaim Gotham City. I get why the story is so acclaimed, but personally, it didn’t work for me- it was too pessimistic, too misogynistic... and the art style just didn’t work for me.
After the turn of the century Miller returned to that grim future with The Dark Knight Strikes Again
, a follow up three issue miniseries picking up three years after the ending of the first. Bruce Wayne is still alive, having had faked his death, and still dealing with the world in his own way. It’s a world where Superman has been even more cowed into meek submission and following orders, where the President is not quite what he seems, and where arch-villains Lex Luthor and Brainiac still operate from the shadows. And liberally spread throughout his story, lots of angry people spend time yelling at each other on television, while misogyny runs rampant. This is Miller even crankier, more pissed off, and more yelling at the world than ever before.
Bruce and his confederates, particularly Carrie Kelley - who’s graduated from Robin into the new Catgirl - and Green Arrow, are busy making moves, gathering allies including the Atom, the Flash, and Plastic Man, while taking steps to safeguard themselves against possible threats like Superman if he’s sent against them. The world’s become even more bleak, even more dystopian, and a world where tyrants rule over the masses. For Bruce, that’s intolerable, and so of course that’s going to bring him into conflict with the powers that be. Along the way, an enigmatic face from Bruce’s past is making moves.
kicks Superman out of the Batcave
The series taken as a whole is frustrating. It takes the problems I had with The Dark Knight Returns and intensifies them. And there’s little substance to the tale; instead it’s all yelling and screaming, ranting to the world. The art is uglier than before, apocalyptic and vicious, and totally misogynistic. Characters are completely off in their interpretation. We’re not seeing these characters as they are, but as they are in the mind of a man pissed off at the entire world, and it’s painful to see. Miller is in effect spending his time being the angry old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. You get the impression from this, and from his other work, that he’s always been this angry at the world, that even as a kid he was an angry old man furious at everything around him. The man could benefit from decades of therapy.
Batman and Catgirl
The attitude where women are concerned is particularly appalling. Miller is well known for this bitter loathing worldview of women, in the misogynistic way he portrays them in things like Sin City. They’re all whores, strippers, and women to be used and cast aside in his bleak mind. It’s startling to find that his colourist in this project was his wife at the time, Lynn Varley. They divorced several years later, but the book’s attitude feels like a miserable old man’s ranting and roaring “and another thing” diatribe against women. We see that misogyny play out time and again through the book, most often in the form of the “Superchix” pop group who exist for little more than eye candy and on a subliminal level Miller’s contempt for any woman who thinks for herself.
Finishing the collection, I came out of it feeling as bleak as the tone of the story. It’s a hatchet job in more than one way, a great big screw you to more than one person, perhaps including Miller himself. That much hate in one person, some of it must be directed inward. Reading it as a writer, I found the essence of the man’s personality coming across in every shouted word and every jackhammer of scorn in his art. It’s an unpleasant personality, and when you match that to the stories one’s heard down through the years, it’s hardly surprising. The Dark Knight Strikes Again is an abysmal failure that adds up to little more than a seething cauldron of rage screaming at the world.