In virtually every story there is a device called exposition, essentially giving a reader the background of the characters and the situation at hand. Of the many failings evident with a reading of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it is a lack of exposition that is the most obvious and troubling.
Picking up about three years after The Dark Knight Returns, which I read last month, Miller presents a world run amok. Lex Luthor runs the government by controlling a generated president. Jimmy Olsen is on to the madness occurring but is widely discredited by everyone as off his rocker. Superman had a daughter with Wonder Woman a decade and a half before. Shazam apparently is controlled by the government just as Superman was in DKR. Braniac uses the lives of the citizens of Kandor to blackmail Superman. The public gets their news from scantily clad women on the web, and love their president even after evidence has arisen that he doesn’t even exist.
How did all of this happen? Beats me. Miller doesn’t really spend any time setting up the situation, he just dives in. As a result, I felt lost for most of the narrative. Characters just seemed to show up for no reason, out of the blue (Martian Manhunter, I'm looking at you.) Some characters I even had to look up online because they were so obscure (Hawk & Dove, The Question).
Doing his own inking was another of Miller’s mistakes. He has a fairly cartoonish style, as evidenced in the adjoining picture, which of course wouldn’t be a problem but it clashes with the overall tone of the story. Another issue is Lynn Varley’s colors: bright and bold. She also uses a lot of computer generated coloring that sort of work with the media criticism in the book, but don’t seem to gel with Miller’s drawings.
The reimagining of character’s looks is also problematic. Barry Allen would never wear bicycle tights with giant sneakers. Wonder Woman does not look attractive with a helmet that obscures her nose and brow, in other words her whole face. And Carrie’s not Robin anymore, she’s Catgirl. Her shoes are huge too, but they have rollerblades inside. How cool is that? Not very.
I feel like I have a lot more to criticize, but I disliked this novel so much that I think I’d just end up listing a bunch of gripes, and The Dark Knight Strikes Again is savaged all over the web, so I will resist. You can seek it out if you wish.
Media criticism is prominent in this volume as well, but while I enjoyed the satire on television in Dark Knight Returns, Miller falls short of making any sort of effective commentary on the internet and doesn’t really function as an effective device. Whereas the television panels allowed the reader to view the action from the point of view of the average public, it is impossible for me to believe that anyone would be getting their information from these sorts of web feeds, not matter how much latitude I give Miller for his satire.
I read this afternoon that Miller will release another lengthy Batman graphic novel called Holy Terror, Batman!, whose plot revolves around Batman defending Gotham against al-Qaeda. That sound you hear is a combination of Bob Kane rolling over in his grave and common decency fleeing the offices at DC.