Famed wrter-artist Frank Miller presents sequel to 1986 ‘Batman’ classic
In 1986, something shocking happened to the comic-book industry. It essentially hit puberty, grew up, got a job and moved out of the house.
Before then, comics were considered purely kiddie fare. They were thought of as something with all the depth of the paper they were printed on, the literary equivalent of a Harlequinn Romance. That image changed thanks to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, a tale that looked at a run-down, geriatric Batman, written and illustrated by Frank Miller.
DARK KNIGHT takes place in the near future, in a world overrun by violence and crime, and focuses on a Batman who’s been drawn out of retirement. His return draws the attention of old foes and allies who, like “The Bat,” have changed, too. Green Arrow, the Robin Hood of superheroes, has lost a limb, which makes shooting his bow a little tough. Catwoman runs an escort service. The Joker is a favorite talk-show guest. Worst of all, Superman has become a puppet of the U.S. government.
This Batman mini-series brought a wholesale change in how comics were written and who they targeted.
Out was the “Holy Cheez Whiz, Batman!” kitsch, in came what was to be known as “grim and gritty comics.”
This new writing style afflicted nearly every comic writer, and most stories took superheroes out of their star-spanning, high-technology fantasy worlds and dumped them into bleak, urbanized cultures saturated with violence and bled of more child-like themes.
With those changes, combined with the increased popularity of video games, cable TV and other diversions, most children stopped reading comics.
Like I said, the comic-book industry was forced to grow up, all thanks to Frank Miller.
Dark Knight returns to Strike Back
Striking back: Now, 15 years later, Miller has returned to the world he created, as DC Comics prepares to release the sequel to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. The new three-issue series, called THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK, will hit stores Wednesday and pre-order figures suggest it might sell more than 180,000 copies. At $7.95 per issue, “Strikes Back” will give the industry a much needed shot in the arm. From sample images presented at DC Comics’ Web site, there’s a lot in store for readers, including appearances by Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, the Black Canary and others.
Before you dive into DK2, as it’s being called, you might want to take a look at some of Miller’s work over the last few years, where he has been exploring the industry’s limits and tolerances.
Although largely considered an innovator, Miller does seem to follow a pattern, often writing about quiet, intense heroes, big guns, scads of violence and the seedy side of life.
Other Frank Miller Works
- RoboCop — Miller took a fancy to the Flatfoot of Steel and wrote the generally awful screenplay to ROBOCOP 2. Shortly after that, he wrote the 1992 ROBOCOP VS. TERMINATOR four-issue series that pitted Robo against the a cybernetic Schwarzenegger. The final issue ended with a neat twist that I won’t divulge here.Future project: In 2002, the series’ 10th anniversary, Miller could do a kinder, gentler sequel titled ROBOCOP VS. TERMINATOR IN HAWAII, in which Robo and Termi compete for the love of a cute little pink iMac computer.
- Martha Washington — In these series, Miller created a tough-as-nails heroine who was named after a president’s wife and lived on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The series’ titles had cool retro-sounding names, including MARTHA WASHINGTON GOES TO WAR and MARTHA WASHINGTON SAVES THE WORLD. Future project: All you need are titles like MARTHA WASHINGTON GOES TO THE HAIRDRESSER and MARTHA WASHINGTON SAVES $45.15 WITH COUPONS and the anniversary story writes itself.
- Daredevil — With the intensity of his Batman work, Miller took on Marvel Comics’ resident acrobat and dropped him into a world of secret societies, martial arts, assassinations and intrigue.Future project: Miller takes the so-called “Man Without Fear” to the circus. There he’s dropped into the strange world of clown college, dancing poodles and carny folk. Clowns? Dancing ?poodles? Carnies? Now that’s scary.
- Spider-Man — I don’t want to get you nervous, but my favorite issue from Miller’s Spider-Man work was in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL NO. 15, wherein Miller illustrated the mechanical-armed Doctor Octopus as he dumped contact poison into the ink used to print the Daily Bugle newspaper. Luckily, Spider-Man and the Punisher, the skull-logoed vigilante bent on stopping all crime, end up stopping Doctor Octopus.(By the way, Marvel Comics is about to release a collection of Miller’s Spider-Man work.)Future project: In response to heightened fears of domestic terrorism, Marvel Comics has Miller write a story where Doc Ock announces that the so-called poison was actually just “a harmless white powder” and that the threat to Bugle readers was “not credible.” As an additional show of patriotism, Octopus says he’s going legit and will use his extra arms to make American flags 24 hours a day.
- Hard Boiled — Yet another tough-as-nails hero wreaks havoc in a near-future. This immensely violent graphic novel was illustrated by Geof Darrow in excruciatingly realistic detail; it follows the story of Nixon, an insurance investigator, living through one incredibly bad day.Future project: Nixon has a so-so day in Soft Boiled.
- Batman: Year One — This 1987 series was Miller’s follow-up to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, but wasn’t a sequel. Instead of looking at Batman’s future, this story looked at how Bruce Wayne became Batman and covered the first year of Wayne’s costumed career.Future project: In a story packed with bottle-feedings and diaper changes, Bruce Wayne: Year One, shows us little Brucie’s actual first year.
- 300 — In a pre-Gladiator comic series, Miller takes a look at the hard life of a legion of Spartan centurions.Future project: In “301 vs. 101,” the legion and a whole lotta Dalmatians duke it out in the gladiator pits.
- Sin City — Of all of the above, his work in SIN CITY stands out. His stories focus on tough-as-nails heroes in a city of greed, corruption, and crime (are you seeing a trend?). The series, with a high contrast film-noir look, has titles like SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and SIN CITY: THAT YELLOW BASTARD, and often ends with the heroes getting executed or, at the very least, beaten to a pulp.Future project: It takes 10 years, but a new mayor cleans up the town, thanks to guidance provided by a nifty computer game called “SIM CITY: A GAME TO KILL FOR.”