As common as it is for comic book fans to proclaim The Dark Knight Returns as the greatest Batman book ever, it is also equally common for those same fans to deride and disown its sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again (DK2).
The fact that two books by the same writer/artist, based on (almost) the same characters, set in the same world, can get such different reactions is a true enigma, one that could probably be applied to Frank Miller’s work in general.
But what is it about the book that makes people hate it so much? Is DK2 really deserving of such widespread derision? In the spirit of research, we decided to revisit The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and figure out what’s hot and what’s not about the book.
The rescue of Ray Palmer and Barry Allen
DK2 kicks off in pretty spectacular fashion with Carrie Kelley, now known as Catgirl rather than Robin, executing two daring rescues – that of Ray Palmer (The Atom), who had been trapped in a petri dish, and Barry Allen (The Flash), who had been forced to run around in circles to provide electricity for half the country. This not only gives us a glimpse of what comes next, but also proves Carrie’s mettle as the leader of the “Sons Of Batman”.
Superman vs Batman (and friends)
When Superman comes a-calling to the Batcave in an attempt to stop whatever Batman is planning, he is in for a big surprise. With The Atom, The Flash, and Green Arrow now on his side, Bruce is able to deliver an even more comprehensive smackdown on Superman than in The Dark Knight Returns.
Batman himself only shows up in the final two pages in the first chapter of DK2, but when he does, it is to deliver the final blow to Superman’s ego, and to tell him to “Get out of my cave!”
Note: The above two items come in the first chapter of the story, which means it was the first issue to be released. After living up to the hype and more, it was downhill all the way from there.
NOT SO HOT
Frank Miller’s art
It started off fine, but with each issue, the art just kept getting worse. Without Klaus Janson’s inks, Miller’s art was a far cry from what it was in The Dark Knight Returns. At one point, it seemed as if he didn’t even care anymore, as the artwork got more rudimentary and the panels became a jumbled mess. Brainiac was reduced to a floating green blob at one point.
The Dark Knight Returns kept things tight – Batman, Robin, Joker, Two-Face, Superman, Green Arrow. The list of characters in DK2 includes (deep breath): Wonder Woman, Shazam (or Captain Marvel, as he was known then), Green Lantern, The Flash, The Atom, Plastic Man, Elongated Man, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, the Question, Jimmy Olsen, and a host of others, many of whom appear to have been chucked in randomly. Done well, this sort of who’s-who scenario can be fun, but Miller does it so haphazardly that it just makes the story even more confusing.
Plastic Man: Toilet seat.
The Dick (Grayson) joke
The addition of a subplot involving a mysterious Joker wannabe terrorising and almost killing Carrie turns out to be one of the most inglorious depictions of Dick Grayson ever. Considering how much DC has recently invested into trying to turn Dick into one of their A-listers, this is a blot on his record they must really want to forget.