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Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again review
"Oh, what a sordid state of affairs"
Frank Miller's seminal 1986 The Dark Knight Returns is often hailed as one of, if not THE best comic on the block. It changed a character, a genre, and an industry all in one fell swoop. Some would venture to say that since it's inception all comics to come after in some way have been influenced by it, in short: It's a mother-fucking masterpiece. Now, you might be saying something along the lines of "but Mr. Scarecrow, I thought this was a DKSA review", and you'd be right in that assumption. However, one must tell the tale of a predecessor before they can shed any light on it's sequel. That's right, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is indeed marketed and considered a direct follow-up to the classic DKR, and therein lies the problem…..
Pretty much all comic aficionados back in 2001 waited with baited-breath at the prospect of a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns . When it finally did come around screams of excitement and anticipation quickly turned to those of pain and betrayal. Some were directed towards the story ("It's so disjointed/incoherent/unsatisfying") others towards the art (There's no backgrounds! THERE'S NO FUCKING BACKGROUNDS!!!"). That my friends, is the mythology behind DKSA, from here I will try to review and critique it like any other comic book out there.
The story of DKSA is this: Three years have passed since the events that transpired in The Dark Knight Returns and the world is enjoying a prosperous time. However, Batman (apparently) knows better! He sees and knows the world to be a fascist place that is being run by the likes of Lex Luthor and Brainiac who are controlling all the other superheroes through blackmail and manipulation. So, Bruce Wayne (who everyone thinks is dead) has been plotting and building his army of warriors, along with previous Robin, Carrie Kelley who is now "Catgirl", to bring back freedom to the people. Sounds pretty kick-ass, right? eh...
The plot of this book isn't the worst I've ever seen (see Witchblade #80 by Red Fox for further details) but it stands out due to it being horribly underused and underdeveloped. I think the main problem for this is the fact that it's only a three issue series, and this REALLY should have been a four at least, five would have been best. A good portion of the comic is Batman breaking out old friends such as Barry Allen (the Flash), Plastic Man (Eel O'Brian) and The Atom (Ray Palmer). Now, if done properly this could have been really fucking awesome but alas, characters come only to do one task and are hardly ever seen from again. If more time and effort was afforded this could have worked out perfectly, but it just ends up being one of the book's many shortcomings.
Another problem I had was character development. Due to the aforementioned problem, loved characters usually come off as two dimensional. Green Arrow is a politics-obsessed communist (I love communism as much as the next guy but it comes off as trite here), Plastic Man is just an asshole, which is normal but when more fleshed out the character has redeeming factors. Hell, even the characterization of Batman is shallow.
The ending is horribly ridiculous and blatantly rushed. Now I'm not one to divulge any good plot twists or what not but this atrocity has to be pointed out. Firstly, Superman for years now has been the US government's, for lack of a better term, bitch. He has fought with Batman twice through this timeline and pretty much betrayed the good people of America . The reason for this was that Luthor and Brainiac have the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor in their grasp and will destroy it if Kent disobeys them. Now, all in the course of two pages the highly intelligent Batman comes up with the most ingenious plan I've ever heard: "Well, we'll just steal it back!". Look, I understand Wayne 's most valuable power is his intelligence, that's why I'm such a big fan, but to make Batman come off intelligent you don't need to make Supes look like a freaking invalid! Is Miller really trying to say that it never occurred to Kent to just take the fucking thing? I know the guy was always more reliant on his powers but I think the man has basic logic skills. Next up is even worse, throughout the book a Joker-esque villain has been stalking Batman and his comrades. He shows up so little that you don't really "bat" (PUN IS GOOD) an eye, but when the world is saved and Miller realized that there was no big climatic ending all of a sudden: "Catgirl in trouble, my stomach is grumbling like a train and whatnot, I get there...OH NOES! it's ex-robin Dick Grayson!" and instead of him being the Nightwing we all know and love he's a crazed jealous clown who can't die and is trying to kill Bruce and his new ward ALL FOR NO FUCKING APPARENT REASONS. To be fair some witty banter is attempted ("I always hated your bats!"= no attempt at all actually), but it doesn't really amount to much.
One part of this all I found pretty passable was the artwork. The penciling almost seems like caricatures of all the uh...DC characters, like a skewed perspective that is almost mocking itself. It feels very sketchy and has influence from work Miller's done since DKR ( Ex. Sin City ). I feel that where the art really shines is the coloring, Lynn Varley does wonder with what's afforded to her. It's hyper-active and symbolic of a generation living with ADD and distractions galore. Always overly-bright and colorful, at least this book is nice to look at.
In conclusion, the trick to really enjoying The Dark Knight Strikes Again , I have found, is totally disassociating it with The Dark Knight Returns . This isn't a terrible book and is good for a rainy afternoon but when it comes right down to it, it's a damn near insult to call this book the follow-up to DKR. While that practiced ingenuity and barrier-breaking, DKSA is really just mediocrity in trade paper-back format.