I've never found this sort of material irrelevant. It lends itself so much, especially to political humor, that I'm amazed at how little it's used that way.
Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Written and Drawn by Frank Miller
Colors by Lynn Varley
Lettered by Todd Klein
What is it?
The Dark Knight Strikes Again (DK2), is a sequel to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (DKR) comic.
The series was originally published in three 80 page issues. The first issue was released on December 5th, 2001 and the last two issues were supposed to come in six week intervals. The second issue was released in January of 2002. The third and last issue wasn't released until July 31st, 2002. They cost $7.95 a piece and were printed on high quality glossy paper with no advertisements.
- Cost so far: $23.85 plus tax
A hardcover collection of the series was released in November of 2002. The design of the hardcover collection was done by Chip Kidd, who did a bang up job. The front and back covers are close ups of illustrations from the third volume that show the halftone dots from printing. The front cover is an enlarged illustration of Batman's eye from page 66 of the third issue or page 238 of the hardcover collection. The back cover is Superman's profile from page 43 of the third issue or page 215 of the hardcover collection. Rather than having a dust jacket it has an end paper which isn't terribly attractive but removes the need to have a bar code, price and ISBN printed directly on the book. The collection includes an introduction written by Frank Miller, in the guise of an article by Vicky Vale written about Jim Gordon's speech at Bruce Wayne's funeral. It also includes a sketchbook section with character sketches and uses rough ink over pencil drawings to decorate the interior of the book.
The hardcover collection costs $29.95.
- Total fanboy cost: $53.80 plus tax
First off, I liked it. The Dark Knight Strikes Again has been critically panned for a variety of reasons. "It's not dark." "It doesn't take itself seriously." "It feels like Infinity Gauntlet or Crisis on Infinite Earths, where they just toss in as many characters as possible." And when I first picked them up, I felt the same way. I love The Dark Knight Returns and I wanted a sequel to it. I wanted a series that recaptured everything I loved about the first series. And I felt cheated when it didn't deliver. It's something very different from DKR. While I'd be the first to agree with many of the criticisms aimed at it, I've personally grown fond of it.
The Spoiler Warning
In my analysis and review of the series, I will be unabashedly revealing plot points and other things that count as spoilers. If you intend to read the series, I'd recommend not reading anything below until after you've finished.
This is how pop culture works. We process things and turn them into a product that is at once more palatable but deeply resonant. And I think it's going to be a while before pop culture does that with 9/11 and what seems to amount to World War 3.
The series begins three years after Bruce Wayne's "death" at the end of DKR. Bruce has spent those years training his army and preparing. Lex Luthor and Brainiac have spent those years ensuring that they can keep every superhero under their thumb, in their employ or safely locked away. They've also collected enough dirt and blackmail information on everyone of note to take control of the US. Batman and his army of well trained teenagers begin freeing imprisoned superheros, starting with breaking Professor Ray Palmer out of a petri dish. Professor Palmer helps them free Barry Allen from his duties of powering the East Coast. All the while, Super Man is off running errands for Lex and company and cursing Bruce for coming back and risking everyone's safety. That's the setup. The rest of the series is devoted to Batman's plan to dismantle Lex Luthor and Brainiac's rule, a new Joker that surfaces and Plastic Man being...well...Plastic Man.
Politics in DK2
Much has changed in the last three years. The United States Congress has passed the Freedom from Information Act making virtually everything worth knowing a state secret. The US has been under martial law for 19 months. The president is a computer generated hologram, but that hasn't affected his approval rating. Satire abounds.
Culture and Media in DK2
Simultaneously parodying the media and using them to explicate his narrative is not new for Frank Miller. In The Dark Knight Returns, Miller used the dominant form of news delivery, the local television newscast, as a story telling element. That was in 1986. These days, the personal computer and the obscene number of cable channels have changed the way people receive news. DK2 parodies the increasing specificity of news delivery. Five news sources are shown and used. The first is an unnamed panel show. The panel consists of Jimmy Olsen and a plethora of caricatures of prototypical talking heads. It acts as a court of public opinion, quickly and succinctly communicating a situation by giving the reader a handful of easily identifyable takes on it. Next is News in the Nude with its easily identifiable female anchors and straight forward approach. Then there's Happy Hacker which is truly a reflection of the new media. Happy Hacker generally has the inside scoop, gleaned from security cameras and such. The last two, Super Manga Giant Big News and scifigeeknews.com are only used briefly but are pretty funny. The anchor for scifinewsgeek.com is some sort of bizarre alien. Super Manga Giant Big News has a typical bulbous eyed manga character as an anchor that speaks in horribly translated english.
It gets even weirder. I turned in the second book on Sept. 12. And there are events in it that... people are going to think I did the whole thing after the attacks.
Near the end of the series when Batman engages the Batcave's destruct sequence, he uses the password "Zap. Biff. Pow." This is obviously a throw back to the 60's TV series. The new Joker attempts to override the command with the password "Kitt. Newmar. Craig." This is a more obscure reference to the 60's series. Ertha Kit and Julie Newmar were the two actresses to play Catwoman in the old series and Yvonne Craig played Batgirl.
1NPR's FreshAir, http://discover.npr.org/features/feature.jhtml?wfId=841850