Sunday, June 29, 2014

Redeeming Miller's Superman

Superman fans might not feel that The Dark Knight Returns represents the best in our boy in blue. And they'd be right. At first glance, Frank Miller's Superman is the opposite of strong. He's weak, fearful - well, I think the word Frank might use is impotent. The question is, why?

It's not that Superman has gotten selfish. He continues to serve the American people, secretly, as an agent of the United States government. He is still as great a physical threat as ever. And he is willing to risk everything for a people who don't even know he exists, and are too foolish to preserve themselves.

Fans who consider TDKR's Superman to be a weak rendition are missing many of the nuances which make him such a great character in the book. After all, it is Batman who is the most flawed, even if his triumphs are Olympian. Clark, in many ways, is cooler than Bruce, more level headed. He first tries to reason with Batman, before trying to fight him - never suspecting that he might actually lose. And when they do battle, Superman pulls his punches. His goal is to take Batman in alive.

Superman's motivations in TDKR only become clear at the very end of the book, when he happens to overhear a heartbeat. At this point Superman has a choice. He can "out" Batman, or he can leave him alone to carry out his mission secretly. Here's what happens.

In the end, Superman is redeemed - albeit with a couple bruises. His mission is - and always has been - keeping the peace. He is neither tyrant, nor pawn, but simply doing what needs to be done to keep the planet safe. Upon discovering Batman is still alive, Superman's immediate feeling is relief. He is happy to leave Bruce alone, as long as it's kept quiet. Batman understands Superman, and was counting on Clark to do the right thing... and with a wink, Clark proves Batman right.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

O'Halloran, Ma'am...

This is a quick but imaginative scene, which packs a lot of information into very few panels. It starts with a steamy silhouette between an escort and a congressman.
The congressman, under the influence of the escort's mind-control lipstick, ascends to the roof and starts calling for nuclear war, wearing an American flag. Police try to rescue him...
He falls to the ground and is quickly proclaimed street pizza.
Commissioner Yindel is then approached by Batman, disguised as a detective O'Halloran. She tells him what she knows.
As O'Halloran #1 walks away, the commissioner is approached by the real O'Halloran.
The jig is up, and Batman is forced to make a hasty getaway, peeling his mask along the way.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

His Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come is a labor of love. A sort of sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, many of the elements will feel familiar and supremely satisfying. At its core, Kingdom Come goes beyond the TDKR's Batman/Superman rivalry to tell a true story of the entire Justice League - and then some.
Kingdom Come might easily have been titled The Man of Steel Returns - in many ways, it is a mirror story to TDKR. It has been ten years since Superman was chased out of Metropolis by Magog, a more "modern" superhero who has no qualms about killing villains. As in TDKR, the Justice League has long since retired, too. A legion of rowdy young super-punks has taken over the world - doing a lot of damage in the process.
This is a classic tale of how the old cowboys come back to settle down the youngsters, only to quickly find themselves grappling with moral dilemmas. In this beautiful little scene, Superman and Wonder Woman tangle over how to lead and whether might makes right.
Batman shows a tenderness in Kingdom Come which is I believe what Frank Miller intended in some of his scenes in TDKR. Notice Alex Ross' mastery of the human facial expression in these lovingly drawn panels - and a touch of humor - as Superman rouses Bats to reunite the World's Finest.
As its title suggests, Kingdom Come also features a Biblical theme. It's narrated by a Spectre-paired pastor, whose calling is to bear witness, and ultimately to judge. Here, the pastor watches in horror as Armageddon finally arrives. 

There's a healthy dose of nuclear war thrown in there, too. It's almost too much to handle, but Ross et al. pull it together nicely in the end. One senses somehow that this story is personal, that it's the author-artist's childhood which he is turning real on the page. Kingdom Come is a fitting tribute to a legion of Superheroes which inspired great stories - and a reminder that they are never past their prime.