BookBin2016: The Dark Knight Returns


I’ve had a copy of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns on my shelf since, I think, Christmas 2009. While I knew that this was one of those “must reads” for anyone who even dabbles in comic fandom, as I do, my feelings toward Batman have dropped precipitously in recent years. I loathed Christian Bale as the Dark Knight and I loathed the influence that those movies had over other superhero reboots. Dark and dismal affairs, the whole lot of them.

See, I grew up with the 1960s Adam West television show. My Batman was benevolent and odd. A quirky rich man who liked to dress in a onesie and fight cartoonish villains with his young ward. Plus, there was Eartha Kitt. And Julie Newmar. And Yvonne Craig.

My Batman was fun.

Then Tim Burton came along, and while his Dark Knight was decidedly darker than those campy capers of the Caped Crusaders, there was still a level of hilarity and silliness, mingling with the darkness. Because Burton.

Apparently, though, Gotham needed to lose all that because modern audiences are far more sophisticated and serious. We need the Dark Knight to be DARK. Even in the New 52, he’s moody and volatile, almost to the point of some kind of mental instability. I suppose that this take on Batman wouldn’t be that far off if you really considered the origin of the character. Seeing your parents murdered is bound to leave you with some serious issues. Why Alfred didn’t just get the boy into therapy is beyond me. Instead, he let him faff about with bats, feeding some kind of hero delusion until, older and reveling in the kind of privilege that stinking rich provides, he begins to build the ultimate cosplay fantasy world for himself.

Yeah, if you think about it, Batman should be bat-shit crazy. But that doesn’t mean he needs to be moody and boring, too.

What the hell was I talking about? Oh yeah, Frank Miller’s graphic novel. It’s not bad. It’s dark, but I kind of like his take on what would happen if Batman retired and tried to live a normal life. It was kind of prescient. It’s like when Michael Phelps retired but then was all like, “Hey, I kinda miss all those medals.” So he came back with a vengeance.

So did Batman. But not for medals. Just criminals. Which I guess are kind of like superhero medals.

I have no idea what I’m writing anymore. Clearly, I have forgotten how to blog.

Final Verdict: I liked the graphic novel. I’m keeping it. I’m also going to try to get back in the blogging game.

BookBin2012: Sin City Series

A wolf of my word am I. Although, actually, in my review of the final Sin City graphic novel, Hell and Back, I indicated that I wasn’t in that much of a hurry to experience Sin City in all its brutal black-and-white glory.

I guess that means that I’m capricious. I can live with that. It was just too much to resist when I reached the graphic novel section of the library and saw that all of Frank Miller’s Sin City novels were right there, lined up in order and ready for me to grab them from the shelf. For the record, this includes the following novels:

I’m not going to go into descriptions of each novel’s plot. I think that the Sin City Wikipedia page covers that more thoroughly that I could in this post. The gist is pretty much that each novel presents a vignette of vengeance and oftentimes jarringly unhinged brutality to be found within the confines of Basin City, known colloquially as “Sin City.” Many characters wind their way through several of the stories, sometimes trading up to primary characters and sometimes shifting down to secondary or tertiary ones.

I have to admit, Miller’s spin on neo-noir storytelling has moments of surprising brilliance and beauty. I was honestly expecting neither, considering how underwhelmed I was by Hell and Back. However, I now get the impression that the final two entries in this series might have been the point where Miller was winding down and running out of creative steam. I would definitely peg Booze, Broads, and Bullets and Hell and Back as the two weakest links in this chain of stories.

The rest of the novels, however, carry within their pages all the darkness and drama that one would pray for from a place called “Sin City.” Miller utilizes the strength of his monochromatic palette to stunning effect, the lines and angles fluctuating from fluid to fractured to intensely, inescapably haunting. Miller wields a controlled use of color to enhance even further the visual impact of his bleak world.

As for the stories themselves, I feel secure in saying that they are not for everyone. Miller’s city is inhabited by a level of depravity, violence, and horror that I know would turn away a majority of readers, right from the very first novel. There are assassins, cannibals, rapists, prostitutes, strippers, dirty cops, dirty politicians, dirty clergy, psychopaths of all varieties, mobsters…pick your poison and you’ll probably find its flavor somewhere in these pages.

Then again, anyone entering the city limits of Miller’s world must surely know that this is what they’ve signed up for, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

I will say this: I’m completely conflicted about my feelings toward the women of Miller’s world and how he depicts them, both visually and narratively. Right away, I think it’s safe to state that more often than not, whenever a woman is depicted in a comic book, it’s in a rather objectified way. Sadly, I’m resigned to the fact that this is the nature of the beast. Comics audiences are predominantly young heterosexual males who find scantily clad and impossibly endowed women (even of the cartoon variety) to be the type of titillation to bring them running.

Bottom line, ladies: We’re a minority if we’re into the comics scene. There are exceptions to the rule, but not often. And not in this case.

Miller’s pages are filled with innumerable images of naked women…naked women who are unrepentantly cruel or uncomfortably victimized, with the middle ground oftentimes inhabited by frustratingly clueless and/or naive “broads.”

That being said, one of the most powerful characters from the entire series is “Deadly Little Miho,” a mute assassin from “Old Town” (where the prostitutes rule by whatever means necessary) who appears in four of the Sin City stories. While one could argue that she is at times drawn in as equally objectified ways as most of the other women in Miller’s novels, she’s also powerful, frighteningly adept with her weaponry, and highly effective…all without ever uttering a word. She was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of this series.

She was also one of my favorite parts of the movie. I decided, after reading the novels, that I should give Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic take on three of the novels another shot. I’m glad that I did. While definitely not a perfect film and still not one that I would list as a favorite, I must credit Rodriguez with giving Miller’s artwork a glorious visual send-up. Rodriguez claims that this isn’t an adaptation of Miller’s work but rather a “translation.”

Watching this movie with a better understanding of the world being depicted, I think that this is one of the better “translations” of comic-inspired storytelling to come from Hollywood. Rodriguez is honest to and respectful of his source material, using his filmmaking expertise to enhance rather than negate any of the elements he adapts for his story. One could argue that he’s a bit too true to some of the novels’ visual styles; however, I think that he does an impressive job of balancing his obvious reverence for the original novels with his own personal aesthetic.

For those who are interested, the movie adapts the stories from the Sin City novels The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard, and The Big Fat Kill. Also, apparently the sequel has finally been greenlit for arrival in theaters by October 2013. This one will be based on A Dame to Kill For (which I admittedly didn’t like as much as others). It will be interesting to see a return to this world, nearly a decade after the first movie.

Final Verdict: I’m actually glad that I gave the rest of these novels a chance. While I’m by no means enamored enough of these tales that I would want to own copies for myself, I do concede that they were an interesting journey, both in print form and in a return to the movie.

BookBin2012: Sin City: Hell and Back

This is an addendum of sorts to my last book review. Really, though, it’s not even going to be a review.

I have nothing to say about Frank Miller’s final Sin City entry, Hell and Back. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the story. Didn’t like the writing. Didn’t like the artwork.

Just didn’t like it.

I wish I had more to say about this book, but I really have nothing else I want to say. My response was decisive and persistent the entire time I read this book; to be honest, I actually dreaded this particular review because of my keen lack of interest or investment. I suppose it’s my fault for picking up the final volume in the series without having read any of the others. However, I also didn’t like the movie based on three other volumes from the series. I haven’t seen the film since it was at the theater, so I don’t remember specifics of why I didn’t like it. Of course, this speaks volumes, in my mind at least. If I can’t remember anything about it other than it left a lingering tang of disinterest on my palate, it’s obviously not going to be high on my list of re-watches.

Subsequently, this book isn’t going to be high on my list of re-reads. I’m also not in any particular hurry to track down any other volumes from the series. I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised by my reaction to this novel. I remember the hype surrounding Miller’s saga. In fact, this might be an early example of my hype deflector going into overload. The more I heard, the more marketing I witnessed, the more raging fanboy glee I watched, the less interested I became in this series. I’m sure there are earlier instances of simliar responses from me, but I can’t think of them right now.

Final Verdict: Meh.

BookBin2012: All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Volume 1

Well, there’s a mouthful of a title, right?

Seems that I went on a bit of a binge the last time I hit the local library, especially when it came to graphic novels. This time, I was surprised to find a couple of selections from Frank Miller’s catalog. I’ve been looking for Miller’s work to show up for a while now; mostly, I’ve been waiting for his Batman work as well as 300. I got part of my wish with this selection.

Even though it wasn’t The Dark Knight Returns, which is what I was hoping would show up, I was more than willing to give All-Star Batman & Robin a go. With this series, we get Miller’s take on how Dick Grayson found himself under the protection and training of Batman after events left them sharing a defining moment involving their respective parents (how’s that for vague?).

Mainly, I was drawn in (ha) by the fact that Jim Lee was the artist for this collection. Lee was an integral force behind the artwork of the X-Men back in the late 80s and 90s. He pretty much helped establish the appearance of that merry band of mutants to which I was first introduced through the Saturday morning cartoon that I still love. Not only that, he helped Chris Claremont create the character of Gambit, who was always one of my favorites on the cartoon. Also? Anyone who gets a vote of confidence from Chris Claremont definitely gets my vote, too.

Obviously, at some point Lee shifted his talents from Marvel to DC, which led to his teaming up with Miller on this retelling of the Boy Wonder’s arrival in the Bat Cave.

Taken in its entirety, this is an amazing collection. Miller’s dark sensibilities work well in conjunction with the world of the Dark Knight. This is not the glowing realm of Metropolis, protected by their alien immortal in bright patriotic splashes of blue and red. This is seedy, gray Gotham, full of characters composed of gritty complexity. There are rarely clear delineations between good and evil, as intent and integrity blur into the deep shadows that Lee so eloquently elicits through his artwork. Kudos should also be given to Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair, who were responsible for inking and coloring, respectively.

Where the weakness of this collection shows is where the weakness of most comics appear: the depiction of female characters. Miller’s women are vapid, vituperative, and vindictive, not to mention extremely objectified through language and artistic renderings. We meet Vicki Vale in her very skimpy lingerie. Later, we see her preening in anticipation of getting close to Bruce Wayne and his huge bank account. The Black Canary is a busty, bawdy barmaid with indecent curves and impossible heels. Wonder Woman…she was the greatest disappointment of all. Apparently, in Miller’s Gotham, a woman of strength and independence by default must be an angry, violent man hater secretly harboring crippling lustful urges toward the primary target of her man-hating ways.


Miller’s depiction of all the women in this collection was infuriating, but no take was more insulting or offensive than his on the Amazon goddess.

Plus, there’s the added insult of the comic-standard ass angle in which we see nothing but the…butt of whatever woman happens to be in frame at the present moment. What a dull, tedious angle, lacking in any artistic integrity or imagination.

That being said, I did find certain other choices by Miller to be intriguing. I liked that his Batman was just the least bit, shall we say, unhinged. Sure, he’s the Dark Knight. Yes, he’s a crime-fighter. But he’s not a “hero.” He’s surly, unpredictable, uncooperative and just a tad bit…cracked. He refers to himself as “the goddamn Batman,” which made me think of the awesome Twitter feed of the same name every time I read it. I’m assuming this comic is also from where the idea for Christian Bale’s gravelly, growly Batman voice came? Interesting. Works better in print form.

Final Verdict: I’m not really sure I want to add this to my library. As much as I love Lee’s artwork as well as many aspects of Miller’s re-imagining of Gotham and its Dark Knight, I didn’t feel any particular desire to revisit. This might change. If it does, I’ll let you know.