I’m a big fan of huge stories told over multiple parts. However, they can get a little tricky to figure out when you try to put them on a timeline. With Chronologically Speaking, I’m looking at multi-part stories not in the order they came out in, but in the timeline of the fiction.
As you might imagine if you read my less-than-effusive reviews of the first and second parts of Frank Miller’s overarching Batman epic, I was a bit tenuous about finishing the more recent works. To my surprise and delight, though, I had a great time with the last three parts (as of now). If you’re just joining us, I’ve gone through the Dark Knight’s early days in Batman: Year One, something similar for the Man of Steel in Superman: Year One, an odd-ball intercompany-crossover in the form of Spawn/Batman, the very-bad-but-beautiful All-Star Batman, the somewhat forgettable Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns which is a great story with way to much skipable material (I really hate talking heads in comics). All of which brings us to the newer additions which I don’t believe many people like. Then again, I’m not most people.
The story that follows up DKR is The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the last full story in this world — Earth-31, if you’re keeping track — to be written and drawn by Miller. As I mentioned last time, when I was learning about comics DKR was one of the top two books you just had to read. So, when it was announced that he was working on a sequel in 2001, I was definitely interested (even though I had probably only read the original one time by that point). I remembered liking the story even though it seemed like my conception of “comic book fandom” did not. Of all the books I gathered for this project, these were the only single issues I pulled from my own collection and I was pretty excited to give them only a second-ever read!
If I had to guess now, I’d say fans didn’t dig this for two reasons. One is that literally nothing could have lived up to their love of the original. He had done that classic work, then Year One, which is basically the origin of all Batmans for a few decades and then he went off and did Sin City for awhile (which I will probably revisit after taking some time away from Frank’s particular brand of storytelling). Strikes never really had a chance with some readers. The other reason is that this does NOT look like the Miller of DKR or even Sin City (from my memory at least). This is a looser version of his style that seems more interested in lithe figures than the blockier ones at least I associated with him for so long. There are also a lot of interesting choices made with digitally added backgrounds and effects. I thought they were fun, but I’m sure purists were all in a tizzy about them.
I should probably get into the story, huh? This one picks up three years later with Batman and Carrie — now going by Catgirl — putting together a team of heroes to topple the rest of the corrupt world. To that end, she saves the Atom from a petrie dish and Barry Allen was used to power the whole country. They also get Elongated Man, Plastic Man, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and the children of Hawkman and Hawkwoman on their side. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor holds sway over Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel because he threatens their loved ones by way of his associate Brainiac. Meanwhile, there’s a new Joker running around killing heroes while dressed as other heroes (often Legionnaires, which made me laugh). There’s a lot going on and I kind of love it all. This Batman is fighting for freedom of information and against fascism. I also think that bringing in all of the other characters takes some of the spotlight off of Batman’s more jerky qualities while also making him more human. I mean, he actually helps Superman in this, realizing that it’s much better to have him on his side than to keep beating him up with those Kryptonite gloves (though that also happens in this tale). I love a crazy future story using these heroes and this certainly fits the bill.
DKSA also goes a long way to set up the world moving forward. Did you know that Superman and Wonder Woman have a daughter named Lara who has been kept secret by living with the Amazons? Yeah, she thinks humans are way inferior to her. Did you also know that they conceive another child…during this story? They do! And you see it (sorta)! Oh and without giving away the identity of the new Joker in this, I will say that it makes all the sense in the world if you read All-Star Batman…though I still don’t want to read that book ever again.
So, what does Miller do with this new world? Well, it sits for another 15-or-so years until he starts working on Batman: The Dark Knight – Master Race with co-writer Brian Azzarello and main artist Andy Kubert along with some shorter stories drawn by Miller, Eduardo Risso and John Romita, Jr. Even with the gap, it felt to me like Miller picked right up where he left off. I should note here that Kandor has been a running theme in a lot of these books. Supes flew off to deal with Brainiac at the end of his Year One and the threat of destroying the bottle city — holding the only other known living Kryptonians — was what Brainiac and Lex used to keep Superman in line all that time. Atom figured he could get them out and started working on a new process with some help from inside the city. Unfortunately, that person turned out to be a member of Quar’s murder cult, which tricked the shrinking hero into letting him out so they could take over the Earth (which makes them the “master race” of the problematic title).
With all of these super-powered nuts running around looking to kill and dominate, Batman and his squad –which now features Carrie in her own Bat costume — have to figure out the best way to deal with not just one Kryptonian, but a whole army of them. This leads to a lot of nice moments between Batman and Superman that leads to the ultimate one in which they both admit — at least to themselves — that they had the other pegged wrong. Between that and a recreation of the famous DKR cover, I admit to getting a little misty towards the end of this one! What can I say, I’m a softy who wants the world to actually improve through positive discourse, exactly the kind of person Miller would have skewered in DKR! By the way, I absolutely loved Kubert’s art on this book. I gotta look around for some of his other
Last time, I noted how much I disliked Miller’s tendency to make anyone with a heart out to be an idiot. There’s definitely less of that in these books. In fact, I think the writer has mellowed out quite a bit since DKR. I mean, the way he sets Batman up moving forward fells way more hopeful than the Miller of the 80s would have ever let himself get. There was one thing that bugged me a little and that’s that he’s always setting up these epic fights against fascism and then…there’s just another bigger, badder fascist looking to control things. I mean, I get the metaphor for real life (how could you not, especially these days), but it almost feels like there’s no real win. Then again, maybe I just want more of these Miller stories to see where they go?
Well, we do actually have one more, a DC Black Label graphic novel called Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child from 2020. In this one, the grown ups are out of town — off fighting an inter-dimensional menace — so the kids take over. That means we see the deeply unlikable Lana and her super powered little brother Jon working with Carrie (now in her coolest Bat costume yet) working against Darkseid and the Joker. This is a quickie with some absolutely gorgeous art from Rafael Grampa (his style is like if Frank Quitely and Geof Darrow had a love child with inking clearly nodding back to Miller).
At first I just enjoyed this is as a fun story, but then I started wondering if the whole thing was kind of a metaphor for Miller’s Batman books as a whole. As I’ve mentioned, Lara has a low opinion of humanity which plays into both Master Race and Golden Child. She sees us as a bunch of apes who can’t help but hurt one another and ourselves while Carrie understands that humanity can’t possibly thrive in such a corrupt environment. It occurred to me that Miller might have taken something cold and uncaring (DKR/Lana) and injected it with humanity (all of the more recent follow-ups). I could be totally wrong, but I kind of like the idea.
Okay gang, that brings the Frank Miller Batman edition of Chronologically Speaking to a close! Here’s a quick run-down of the books I talked about in chronological order with their release dates afterwards. The last few will have Amazon Associate links if you’re so inclined to pick one of them up!
- Batman: Year One (1987)
- Superman: Year One (2019)
- Spawn/Batman (1994)
- All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder (2005-2008)
- Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade (2016)
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
- Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001-2002)
- Batman: The Dark Knight – Master Race (2016-2017)
- Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child (2020)
I gotta say, it was an odd journey with these books. Even I was surprised at how little I enjoyed some of these titles, but at the end of the day, I’m glad I read them because I think there’s a lot of good stuff in the last few installments that a lot of people may have missed. What do you think? Oh, also, I do realized that I didn’t talk about the Miller-drawn DKR stuff in World’s Funnest. I’m still looking to get my hands on a copy, but didn’t want to hold these posts up too much. I did actually flip through Countdown Arena which Miller did not work on, but does feature the Superman of Earth-31. It was pretty funny seeing the Regan-loving Supes deal with the Russian one from Red Sun, but ultimately it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of these stories so I didn’t write about it.