Part 2 in my ongoing struggle for comic nerdity.

Taking on Batman means, at some point, taking on Frank Miller. I'm familiar with Miller's work mostly through movie adaptations, I'll admit. I enjoy the aesthetic, and my masculine reptile brain — I admit with a little bit of shame — likes the tits and brawn and violence of films like Sin City and 300. I've heard about Miller's Dark Knight books, and figured I'd get around to them eventually, and I picked up The Dark Knight Returns a few weeks ago.

So How is it? Dark, but what would you expect? Miller's Batman is an alienated vicious old man with a broken body and a mind full of contempt for the rotten world around him. He seems motivated not out of any drive for vengeance or a quest to save Gotham so much as a compulsion to keep fighting until the end. It's a compelling story with plenty of thrills and turns. The characters aren't really rounded out, but they are bold and striking, and the flatness of the characters seems to allow Miller room to really explore the clash of wills between Batman and the heroes and monsters around him. The artwork fits the story — at times it is more caricature than character, but it fits the story, and there are some great full-page glamour shots — come on, who hasn't wanted to see Batman on horseback?

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On the other hand, you have to take the bad Miller with the good. Miller's protagonists seem to embrace a strong fascist streak, and the civilians are not lives to be protected so much as weak sheep to be herded. And nearly every panel expresses a contempt for hippies, liberals, and women that is so strong that it's hard to believe it isn't Miller's own. Add to this the relationship between Batman and a young, female Robin that borders just slightly on the icky. If you can stomach all this, though, it's a legit classic.

Did I learn anything about comics? Batman's kind of a dick.

Did I get to show off my comic knowledge? Not really. Batman's always bumping into old friends and enemies, and I caught the name Selena Kyle (who runs an escort service), but I didn't recognize the Green Arrow as such until he started shooting arrows.

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What about my knowledge-y knowledge? The President is a pretty clear caricature of Reagan, and the cold war aspect of the plot brings up not altogether pleasant memories of my childhood.

Grade: A— (Required reading that you know you should get to before the end of the semester but you are putting off until you're ready for it)