My Comic Book Crisis

A woman of a certain age, a computer, and a love of comics

Cover of The Dark Night Returns

Well this certainly didn’t go as planned – I was supposed to do a weekly blog item on comics, based on a different letter each week. By now I should be up to about ‘I’ or ‘J’ but instead I’m at ‘B.’

I guess Batman was a no-brainer, although it required Ian to suggest it because I was frozen with indecision.

So he lent me his copy of “The Dark Knight Returns,” which was really quite nice of him, and, although it’s been two months since he loaned it to me, hasn’t asked for it back yet. Then again, he’s been holding my Issue 1 of “American Vampire” and my hardcover copy of “Kickass” as ransom. Well played, Mr. Clark. Well played.

“The Dark Knight Returns” takes place sometime in the future, yet at the 80s at the same time. There is a Ronald Reagan-esque president, Robin is dead and Batman has retired, is 55 years old and facing his own mortality. And things aren’t going so well in Gotham: There are Mutants running amok, Two-Face is on the loose and the Joker is up to his usual pranks.

Panel from The Dark Knight Returns

Gotham needs a hero, so Bruce Wayne returns to crime-fighting — some guys buy a sports car when they hit mid-life; Batman goes back to battling the bad guys. But he’s not quite in the shape he used to be. It’s like “Take that mutant! Oy, my hip.” What do you expect, the guy IS 55 after all. My husband is 55 and I’m trying to picture him in a cape and cowl fighting crime on the mean streets. I’m having a little trouble with that. But he does grill a mean steak and makes a killer Margarita, and really, that’s a pretty good talent that makes the world a better place, too.

Fortunately for the Batman, help is at hand in the person of Carrie Kelly, a 13-year-old who wants to be Batman’s sidekick although I don’t know why she’s so eager to get the job. Seems to me it’s a job that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of job security. But she’s definitely up for it — she buys a Robin costume (oh the irony!), leaps a few buildings for practice and saves Batman’s life. Holy Halloween, Batman! She’s the new Robin – albeit with a with a wicked pompadour and funky Bono glasses.

The bad guys are all pretty over the top, which is a Batman hallmark. There are the Mutants, a group of retro-futuristic bad guys that look like something out of the “Road Warrior,” which, by the way, I saw for the first time while in London in the early 80s at a bar on Queensway. The bartender loved it and seemed to have it on an endless loop.Page from The Dark Night Returns

That really has nothing to do with anything but it is kind of a nice memory.

Meanwhile, Harvey Dent/Two-Face has returned to a life of crime and while Batman defeats him, all the TV talking heads start debating the merits of vigilantism and pretty much don’t shut up for the rest of the story. Then the Joker wakes up from a catatonic state and wrangles his way out of Arkham Asylum only to start driving people crazy with a weird lipstick that obviously wasn’t approved by the FDA. The Joker gives Batman a run for his money, but as the caped crusader closes in, he breaks his own neck. You gotta give props to someone who can break their own neck. He does it so people will think Batman did it, the police will arrest him and the populace turn on him. But Batman gets away.

“The Dark Knight” returns doesn’t have the lush artwork of some comics and it’s densely written – meaning there’s a whole lot of writing – so it’s a bit meatier than some of your everyday comics. It’s a dark, gritty novel that I’m told, like “Watchmen”, changed the comic landscape — it was named among Time magazines 10 best English language graphic novels ever written. Although not everyone agreed with that assessment. Mordecai Richler, in his 1987 review in the New York Times, wrote: “If this book is meant for kids, I doubt that they will be pleased. If it is aimed at adults, they are not the sort I want to drink with.”

Critics. What do they know? There aren’t that many people I’d want to drink with anyways.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: