World Comic Book Review

A Deep Six’d Publication

21st May 2022

The Slow Boil Lacks Steam

Dark Knight Returns III: The Master Race
DC Comics, February 2016
Writers: Brian Azzarello and Frank Miller

Review by DG Stewart, 12 January 2016

One of the most striking pages of one of DC Comics’ epic titles, “The Dark Knight Returns” (1986) by Frank Miller, features the character Batman, an ordinary human, aged, silver-haired and driven by sheer force of will (albeit in mechanised body armour), punching to a pulp the near-omnipotent character Superman. Batman’s brutal victory relies upon wits, cunning and impeccable planning. Fierce and grim, steeped in observations about the nature of the facades of media and politics, and the fundamental inability of the title character, Bruce Wayne, to stand by and watch violence descend upon his neighbours, the series is properly celebrated as paramount in the field of superhero comic book writing. In 2001-2002 DC Comics published a second instalment of the story, “The Dark Knight Strikes Again”. Entangled in DC Comics’ continuity and failing to tap into the libertarian rage which propelled the original series, this continuation of the tale was not a critical and commercial success. Climbing upwards from the pinnacle of a mountain is, after all, a miraculous feat.

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Batman: a Study of Homages

An homage is defined as a special honour or act of respect delivered publicly. In the genre of super hero comic books, the character which is most frequently referenced by other publishers is Batman, a character property owned by DC Comics.

Mainstream superhero comics books since around the turn of the century have seemed like the ourobouros, the snake of mythology which consumes its own tail. Sometimes this has been dubbed “post-modern”, a reference to the school of fine art that questions the form through its limitations. A detached reader with an historical overview of trends in the genre might believe that the industry has instead been engaging for the past decade in a very contemporary concept, ecological recycling: no concept of value is allowed to go to landfill, and instead is put to a new use.

Part of the allure of reinvesting in a well-established concept must be the belief that the concept taps into the zeitgeist, and will have instant appeal to a pre-primed readership. Sometimes it allows a writer to creatively indulge in a character property which is owned by someone else, and to which the writer has no permission to use. Sometimes it is sheer laziness, and sometimes it is parody. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

This essay is a survey of those homages.

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