This weekend, read the late 2001 sequel to the landmark 1986 miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns” (about the adventures of an older Batman who’s come out of retirement in a much darker near-future world), dubbed “The Dark Knight Strikes Again.” Apparently Frank Miller felt his original story needed a follow-up… and like many a Hollywood sequel, this story also felt both unnecessary, pointless, and not as good as the original story.
The plot to this one is something about Batman (several years after the events of “The Dark Knight Returns”) trying to retake back control of the world from Superman villains Lex Luthor the evil genius and Brainiac the android. However, there’s a mishmash of other stuff thrown in that seems both confusing and muddled, such as some subplot about Superman and his daughter, or some mysterious serial killer…
Admittedly, as a Superman fan, seeing him in this story was somewhat more depressing than it was in the original story (and much more than the superior-to-this-tale “Kingdom Come,” which was published several years before this story was—and also covered the same “dystopic future-needs-Supes-and-Bats-back” stuff in a much better story, which makes this sequel feel even more pointless…).
The bits thrown in about how vapid the futuristic media’s become (all the anchors are MTV-style, cover everything in as vapid a style as possible, and have a combined IQ of 75) were entertaining, as was seeing Barry Allen in action (the “Silver Age” Flash—the guy who was around from 1956 through the point they killed him off in 1986, which makes his use in this story even more confusing, though I guess this *is* an “alternate” future), especially since he was the character in the story who was apparently meant to be the one remaining hero to still hold to at least *some* of the classic Silver Age superheroic virtues, despite what’s going on around him.
I was also a bit disappointed that the “president” of the future-United States in this story was just a holographic puppet for Luthor and Brainiac. In the original story, the future-prez was a caricature of Ronald Reagan, complete with annoying Reaganisms, such as jelly beans; while the current guy in charge certainly has “puppet” written all over him in many ways in my opinion, I was hoping for a parody of George W. Bush. Then again, various numbers of ordinary citizens in this story, even after finding out that the holo-prez was fake, still seemed to show a sense of near-blind faith in whoever the unknown-to-them real leadership of the country was, despite having been obviously deceived for dubious reasons; maybe Miller was more dead-on in this plot choice than I thought (if recent polls on Dubya’s job conduct, re-election numbers and the war in Iraq mean anything…). Come to think of it, the near-police-state elements of Luthor and Brainiac’s rule *does* feel like some “worst-case-scenario” outcome of junk like the PATRIOT Act… and Dick Cheney *does* look like Lex Luthor (as “The Boondocks” kindly pointed out)… ;-)
Another possible reason for its lack of impact might well be the 15+ years’ worth of “grim and gritty”-style stories that imitators of Miller have churned out since “The Dark Knight Returns”, almost all of them generally pathetic or juvenile attempts at cheap shock value or catering to their presumed audience’s lowest-common-denominator tastes, all in the name of claiming it’s somehow more “mature” or “realistic” than the more lighter-hearted or even-tempered fare that dominated comics up until the late 80′s (as if there was anything realistic about a guy who can shoot heat vision or some other guy running around in a giant flying-mammal costume…). Of course, given the massive dropoffs in readership rates since then, I’d guess it isn’t exactly attracting new readers (or keeping the older ones on). But back to the point, I’d presume that seeing the level of violence seen here doens’t have the same shock value it did 15 years ago, with the spate of ultraviolent fare to come down the pike since then.
Another observation: the original story felt like it could’ve been a *possible* alternate future (Reagan’s apparenty serving way more than two terms notwithstanding) of Superman and Batman’s world (or “Earth-One” to comic fans) at the time… but this story doesn’t have the feeling of being either a complete continuation of the original’s world, or a “possible alternate future” of the current-day comics’ world. Capt. Marvel probably stood out to me the most in this regard (especially since it triggered comparisons to Cap’s major role in “Kingdom Come”), but then again, Cap in the same universe as Supes probably will always stick out as such (much as I liked the Marvel Family’s comic in the 90′s, it always seemed a bit jarring when Superman would show up, and everyone started acting like Cap was only good as a “substitute Supes” now that the “real deal” was here…one consequence of “Crisis On Infinite Earths” mid-80′s continuity shuffling/”only-one-universe, no parallel universes allowed” mantra I suppose. I’d argue that the Marvels probably *were* better off in their own universe, as was the case before “Crisis”, with occasional crossovers with Superman; I’d imagine it’s hard to be the “World’s Mightiest Mortal” if you’re standing in Superman’s shadow!).
To anyone who’s read this story and ran into the part about the Hawk and Dove-on-Christopher Street bit (where the caption to their one-panel scene read: “Don’t Ask.”) who *does* want to ask: Hawk and Dove were two superheroes whose schtick, IIRC, was that Hawk was a conservative and aggressive, and Dove was more liberal and, well, not as aggressive; Christopher Street was where general gay culture in New York City was once heavily congregated, though I recall reading something once about a heavy increase in African-American gays there. To my knowledge, the “real” comics’ versions of Hawk and Dove aren’t gay (though they did argue). And if anyone else is still curious, the rest of the story’s characters/elements are decidedly all-heterosexual (the anchors to the newscasts are mostly women engaging in sexually-aggressive tactics to get their news across—presumably another comment on how vapid the news media’s become [or *could* become]. Though I guess Miller hasn’t heard about the nude newscasts that’re on cable on Toronto’s cable TV…).
All in all, I’d recommend reading the original 1986 story, which is still available in trade paperback, or reading the mid-90′s series “Kingdom Come,” instead of this tale. Granted, Miller handles darker elements better than most of the writers currently in charge of writing Superman, Batman, etc., but here, “Dark Knight Strikes Again” doesn’t rise much above the level of mediocre sequel status, unfortunately.