The knight is darkest in this new dawn

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

(This review appeared in the ReadReverb newsletter, Nov 11, 2005, and on the ReadReverb website)

"What happened to them? Where are they? Where are our heroes?" cries Jimmy Olsen, now veteran reporter at the Daily Planet, at the start of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again. What has happened to them? While the eponymous knight has been in exile, presumed dead, Lex Luthor and Brainiac have wrested control of the planet from its democratic governments, and the Freedom From Information Act and a hologrammatic president support their every move. Even the Justice League—the sorry, remaining superhuman trio—are in their thrall. Who dares to free mankind?

This, the sequel to Frank Miller's earlier work Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is both a departure from the graphic novel's current trend and a return to its roots. Bombastic, technicolor, graphic in more ways than one, it was originally subtitled DK2 as a wry nod to the trend of art-house classics spawning explosive if shallower sequels, packed with special effects and a star-studded cast: DK2 can boast such one-time news-stand regulars as The Atom, The Flash, Green Arrow. While the heroes look like heroes, the humans look, well, sub-human: cartoony, big-headed and less realistic than those wearing the tights. But none of this should be considered disparaging: the Dark Knight is still intelligent, thoughtful, multilayered and complex; only now there's no more time to analyse and consider, only time to act. And we are happily dragged along on the roller-coaster, through page after page after page.

Indeed, in The Dark Knight Strikes Back we see the completion of a journey begun in part with the seminal 1987 Watchmen by Alan Moore. The first Dark Knight novel succeeded in blurring the traditional boundaries like never before: human, everyday stories interspersing the action; grim plotlines and realizations, and no easy answers to the questions it posed. In the final step, this sequel, we actually see the resilience of the graphic novel, even to the intellectual fashions that Moore and Miller impose upon it. The medium has nurtured Moore's irony, ambiguity, self-reflexivity and self-pastiche, and then happily absorbed it: understood it, studied it, but ultimately moved on. With its increased musculature and an enhanced self-knowledge, the genre can now walk tall once again, safe in the knowledge that anything the written word can do, it can do just as well. Between them, Miller and Moore have reminded us that a giant indeed walks the earth.