Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The book is always better

Book: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Author: Frank Miller
Published: 1986 (DC)
Pages: 188

A couple Saturdays ago, I convinced my boyfriend it would be a good idea for us to watch the DC animated version of The Dark Knight comic run DVD he had checked out of the library. He groaned, said the DC animations were all terrible, and then we watched it anyway so we could practice for our Riff Trax auditions.

It was, indeed, not good. Better than the Green Lantern promo (which apparently used The Incredibles’ nonunion knockoff imitator for their CGI), though – and every time the paper comic came up, my boyfriend said it was one of the best. Cognitive dissonance and an empty afternoon got me to borrow it from him.

With only a couple hours and lunch between the animation and the comic, I couldn’t separate the two. I was reading all the cheesy ticks (lame trying-to-be-hip dialogue, lines of talking heads from TV giving too-pointed commentary, a bright sterile Arkham) straight from an illustrated script. So I put it down.

But about a week and a half later, I picked it up again, backtracked a few pages, and fell in. I got over the little hump where the animation had ended and discovered a better backstory for the ridiculous villains, the new Robin rapidly gaining her feet, and the newscasts getting more useful juxtaposed against the action they were talking about. Plus the Joker woke up and started releasing doll bombs that insulted people and cold fly. I KNOW.

And then Superman showed up, not quite randomly but definitely as a counterpoint to Batman. Superman’s introduction, in a row of panels where a waving American flag gradually morphs in his cape while he and the President are discussing duty off-panel, was my favorite bit of storytelling here. It did so much with beautiful simplicity.

The rest of the art was sort of ‘80s-tastic in a good way, with geometric shapes and non-neutral colors that stayed muted enough to keep focus on the whole picture. I liked that Robin was completely gender neutral and so distinctive at the same time, and I liked that the mayor was shaped a lot like the Joker’s bomb maker. I was waiting for them to be the same person (they’re not).

The story climax and ending suddenly jolted me into remembering that hey, this series is called the same thing as Nolan’s last two movies. But it’s just one (really crucial) detail; the rest is totally original and just as dark. The ending does make better and more interesting sense here because of what Batman does with it.

So – a keeper. My boyfriend has been long convinced, and now so am I.

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