The Past Is Another Country, Batman Edition


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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65 Responses

  1. Nob Akimoto says:

    I think it might be interesting to trace Frank Miller’s career from 86 to today, too. And watch his descend into paranoid fascist delusions going on and on and on.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I don’t know that his paranoid delusions are fascist, exactly. If his stories demonstrate anything, it’s severe distrust of institutions.

      He puts his faith into Übermenschen.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t know, his interviews circa the movie adaptation of 300 suggest he’s definitely gone in the direction of ubermenschen dominated quasi-fascist iconography.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          I’m thinking about: Sin City, Hard-Boiled, Holy Terror (holy crap, did he go nuts when he wrote this one… you can tell that it was originally a Batman story and then he was told “THERE IS NO F*#%ING WAY WE ARE PUBLISHING THIS!” and so he erased the ears and did a find/replace with the names and published it somewhere else), and Martha Warshington.

          And, thinking back, 300 held politicians pretty much in contempt as well.

          The dude has faults and they are legion. They do not, however, include deference to established authority.Report

          • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

            I don’t necessarily think the fascism comes from deference to established authority so much as his desire to see some other form of authority erected by “chosen” people who are sufficiently badass/ruthless to get the job done. He’s voiced contempt for politics, mercy and “whining athenians” often enough, that you get the sense he’d love an authoritarian regime run by ubermenschen.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              “Chosen” by whom?Report

            • George Turner in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              Actually I think we should turn this discussion around. Fascism comes from one of the Marxist revisions that started around 1890 after it was noticed that people would fight for kings, nations, flags, mythical symbols, legends, and heroes, but not for things like paid vacations or seizing the means of production.

              The elevation of mythic leaders, symbols, and national images was done very consciously, and it might be interesting to contemplate the extent to which they were emulating comic book themes and heroes which did resonate. This would directly raise the question of whether Miller’s stories seem Fascist, or whether Fascism stems from the same source as comic book heroism, causing coincidental parallels because they’re drawing on the same human tendencies to look for a self-confident hero who wins through force of will.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

                That’s an interesting way of putting it. Fascism evolves alongside the science of advertising — or what science can be applied to it, statistics especially. What motivates people? How would you know?

                Old advertisements would simply tout the virtues of the product itself. But soon enough, advertising concentrated on lifestyle, almost an adjunct to what was being sold. Status symbols were very ancient but most were connotations of royalty, often commoners were prohibited by law from possessing them.

                Fascism was all about modernity, the elevation of the common man to an Übermensch.

                Frank Miller makes no bones about his fascism. Deconstructing DKR, we see how he’s taken the Batman mythos and pushed it one step farther, into blank enmity with a state so effete it can’t protect itself from criminals but does see fit to outlaw the superheroes.

                Batman is Milton’s Satan, a terribly misunderstood figure in his own mind.

                Ich sage euch: man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können. Ich sage euch: ihr habt noch Chaos in euch.

                Wehe! Es kommt die Zeit, wo der Mensch keinen Stern mehr gebären wird. Wehe! Es kommt die Weit des verächtlichsten Menschen, der sich selber nicht mehr verachten kann.

                Seht! Ich zeige euch den letzten Menschen.

                I tell you: you must maintain chaos in yourselves to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in yourselves.

                Sadly, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to that star. Sadly, the age of the most despicable man is arriving, a man who is no longer capable of contempt for himself.

                Look, I show you the last man.

                -Nietzche, trans mine.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I guess I just don’t see the Übermensch as Fascist.

                The world has seen Fascists, after all.

                The Übermensch is in a different category for that reason alone.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, that’s true. Nietzche wasn’t really a fascist, though we’re hard-pressed to comb out his sister’s Nazi influences. It’s sorta like the relationship between the Bible and all the maniacs who’ve justified terrible things in its name.

                Fascism is the worship of modernity, the incestuous child of Capitalism and the State. But it always seems to rely on a host of ginned-up archetypes: Himmler and Speer did that work for Hitler but Franco did it for himself, his ghoulish memorial to the Spanish Civil War at Valle de los Caídos.

                Perhaps I was conflating too many thoughts at once. Batman really is a Miltonian Satan in DKR, not a fascist. But Frank Miller, ecch, there’s a whiff of sulphur about his flirtations with fascism.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, conflating thoughts on this subject is hard to avoid because the themes and images are so easily intertwined. Heck, Albert Speer probably could’ve designed the Justice League’s headquarters, and a large fraction of our superheroes are devoted to fighting social decay and evil human scum bent on profit and exploitation (awfully close to a lot of Nazi propaganda).Report

              • What made Superman so interesting in the 40s was the fact that he was deliberately subverting the mythical imagery elevation of the Nazis in the form of a very Jewish character. Evidently Hitler and Goepels really hated Supes for being the superior person that wasn’t Aryan.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                That’s sort of the dynamic that drives the modern version of the Superman/Luthor relationship. Luthor is very Nietzchean, and expects Superman to be the Nietzchean Superman. He’s more or less the opposite, and therein lies the conflict.Report

          • James K in reply to Jaybird says:

            Fascism isn’t about established authority, it’s about investing total power in a single Great Leader whose vision and power will lead a nation to glory. It’s very anti-institutional.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

        But in general I kind of think his descent into self-parody kind of mimics the same deal with movement conservatism in a way.Report

  2. Mopey Duns says:

    I would pay a lot of money to have Frank Miller and Mark Millar work on a comic book together, with the condition that they wrote alternating issues and were required to shoehorn their political convictions in at every turn.Report

    • Mopey Duns in reply to Mopey Duns says:

      Alan Moore and Frank Miller would be another interesting pair to force to work together. I cannot think of two comic book writers whose work is more politically opposed (though both have a curious belief in the power of violence as the solution to the world’s problems).Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Mopey Duns says:

      Millar seems to hate superheroes, comics in general, his family, and, most importantly, the people who read comics. If you pick up one of his stories, you’re one of the people he’s talking about.

      Miller, on the other hand, sees the people who read comics as people who are thirsty for the lessons that he has to give. Those who are receptive to his sermons are rewarded, those who are not receptive are punished.

      Miller has the sense to make his comics into storyboards suitable for movie pitches. Millar, by contrast, requires significant rewriting to make something marketable (though, I admit, Kick-Ass turned into a surprisingly moral movie given its surprisingly nihilistic roots).Report

      • Mopey Duns in reply to Jaybird says:

        I definitely got that feeling of contempt from Millar’s Authority run, so I could agree with that. Moore’s deconstruction in Watchmen was an act of love, I think, on some weird level. You got the feeling he just might care for, if not like, the sad, lonely souls he portrayed, from the Night Owl up to Dr. Manhattan. Hell, you even get the feeling he respected Rorshach, at least enough to give him an ending that was true to the character, and from what I understand he wrote Rorshach as a symbol of everything he despised in comic book vigilantes.

        Moore and Millar may have both written deconstructions, but you can feel Millar’s hatred (incidentally, I would argue that the Authority in general and Millar’s run in particular is as offensive as anything Miller ever wrote).

        Speaking of Rorshach, it occurs to me that he basically is a Frank Miller character. Even the overwrought narration works. He would fit pretty nicely in Sin City, as far as I can see. It might be that Moore is capable of encompassing Miller’s work in a way that Miller cannot reciprocate.Report

  3. Zach says:

    “So it’s with that in mind that we look at the opening pages with a Bruce Wayne who, while driving a prototype racecar, we find musing about how, perhaps, dying in pursuit of winning a race would be a good death.”

    The key part of that scene is Bruce deciding that dying in the crash is not good enough. I think Miller’s brilliance is never clearer. Denny O’Neil wrote a more noble Batman (closer than any other writer to the Dark Knight concept), Grant Morrison wrote a more intelligent Batman, but no one else has understood the internal drive of the character so well.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    I rarely have much to contribute, but Maus (and Maus II) were some of the most powerful books I read growing up.Report

    • aaron david in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yeah, I am not a comic book guy, but think that it is really the only way to make that story approachable. In a lot of ways it’s like Bulgakov putting Satan in Moscow during the purges, it is the only way to make sense of it.Report

  5. Ethan Gach says:

    Jay, curious: How many superheroes do you think have a comic run/graphic novel that’s as integral for them as DKR is for the caped crusader?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Daredevil had “Born Again” (also Miller). Superman had “Death Of Superman” (but, honestly, we’re past that and have been past that since, oh, 9/11 or so).

      We’re still not past Dark Knight Returns.

      Hell, Peter Parker was killed in the Ultimate Universe and a new Spiderman, Miles Morales, is now web-slinging and that hasn’t proven to be half as integral to the Spiderman Mythology as DKR has proven to be. The Hulk has been revamped somewhat to demonstrate that it’s not The Hulk you need to worry about, it’s Bruce Banner… but there isn’t a single storyline that established that as much as Peter David having 12 years to bring his vision to the page.

      And now I’m going down the rest of the big names. Captain America? The Truth was a really interesting storyline but everyone averted their eyes. The rest of the Avengers? The Flash? (Maybe Crisis on Infinite Earths…) Green Lantern? Wonder Woman? Fantastic Four?

      None of them have stories that changed the way we think about them, really.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

        What about Civil War? That’s the one I can think of that comes closest for me.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I don’t know that we’ll still be talking about Civil War in 2017. The most interesting stuff that happened (Peter Parker revealing himself to the world) had the reset button pressed (One More Day is pretty much universally reviled) and such things as Captain America being shot have been demonstrated equally overcomable.

          We won’t see Marvel living in the shadow of Civil War 10 years afterwards (other than jokes still being made about One More Day).Report

          • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

            I think if it sticks, the Flashpoint/New 52 stuff will be pretty definitive for DC in ten years. For Civil War yeah, they’ve already undone a lot of it between One More Day and the Caps stuff. (Which is unfortunate, really, since Bucky as Caps was one of the best runs of Captain America I can recall ever reading)Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        While taking a shower, I remembered the X-Men.

        They underwent a change since the 80’s and 90’s, kinda. The analogy used to be to racial minorities… Magneto as Malcolm X, Professor X as Martin Luther King Jr. and this is made somewhat more explicit in the first X-Men movie as Magneto massages the number tattoo on his arm as he listens to Congressmen give speeches about mutant registration. There has since been an evolution of sorts. Now the analogy is to gay rights and we saw that manifest in the 2nd X-Men movie (“have you tried *NOT* being a mutant?”).

        So we’ve changed the way we think about the X-Men, but I don’t know when that happened.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

          “Injustice anywhere is a thread to justice everywhere.” –MLK

          I think X-men has always drawn parallels to a variety of political struggles. Didn’t Genosha (Apartheid analog) and the Legacy Virus (AIDS analog) show up at about the same time?

          Also is there anyone besides me who thinks that comparing Malcom X to a terrorist is a little bit unfair?Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

        Emerald Eclipse/Green Lantern Rebirth with Hal Jordan was a big thing for Green Lantern, and it’s still pretty integral to the character.

        Winter Soldier for Captain American. The new 52 for Wonder Woman has been pretty substantial.

        Crisis on Infinite Earths for The Flash.

        For a lot of DC, I’d argue Kingdom Come was a big defining moment, especially for the Trinity, but YMMV.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Turning the Green Lantern sub-universe into the Skittles Lanterns was an earthquake for the characters involved and changed the direction of the stories… but I don’t think that they’ve fundamentally changed the way we think about Green Lantern.

          Winter Soldier was an epic storyline but Joe Q relies a little too heavily on “The Republicans Win An Election == Kill Captain America/The Democrats Win An Election == Resurrect Captain America”. He’s essentially Episode I-IIIing the Winter Soldier storyline.Report

          • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

            I was thinking more on the Hal Jordan going insane and wiping out the Corps, then Geoff Johns bringing in the reset button stuff. That did pretty much change the mythos a bit and gave us a new perspective on all the main Lanterns, IMO.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              The reset button ruins that dynamic, for me. When you press reset, we no longer have to live with the changes we’ve made… which, effectively, means that we don’t have to change how we think about the characters.

              See, for example, the Green Lantern movie. Or, now that I think about it, don’t see it.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                The reset button ruins that dynamic, for me. When you press reset, we no longer have to live with the changes we’ve made… which, effectively, means that we don’t have to change how we think about the characters.

                This, ultimately, is why I stopped collecting comic books.

                Because neither Marvel nor DC can resist hitting the reset button. The inability to come up with new, actually interesting characters and let the old characters actually die and become part of the pantheon of myth got old.

                I miss First.Report

        • Zach in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Well, Kingdom Come (along with the Comics Crash and the near-implosion of Image) helped to bring the Dark Age to an end. It was probably the most influential period since for comics since 1986, and hasn’t really been equalled since.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

        Also I’m not entirely sure if DKR is really as influential as you say. It hasn’t aged well at all, and arguably Death in the Family has had a more lasting impact on Batman, as has perhaps Year One. The Dark Knight Strikes Back and All Star Batman & Robin have also kind of made that universe feel even more ridiculous than it already was.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

        “None of them have stories that changed the way we think about them, really.”

        Well, unless you count (as Movie Bob on the Escapist pointed out), that Wonder Woman was more or less ‘normal’ by the late Silver Age and Lynda Carter era, but her original incarnation and story lines were *really* out there.Report

    • Jack in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters reengineered and repopularized The Green Arrow one year after DKR. It set the tone for GA for decades. Without TLH you don’t have CW’s modern incarnation, Arrow.Report