01 October 2007

A Wild Obsession

It seems only fitting, having mentioned on Saturday the magnificent late eighties superhero autopsy that was Watchmen, to today point you to the rather more exuberant brass band funeral that was The Dark Knight Returns.

Back in the false dawn of that 'Wow! Comics aren't just for kids!' craze, these stood along with Maus, Love and Rockets, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and perhaps Cerebus as pretty much the only comics you could show to an adult and keep a remotely straight face.

Dark Knight is a masterpiece, it has to be said. A messy, chaotic, ideologically questionable masterpiece, but a masterpiece for all that. I don't think Frank Miller's done anything close to it since - in some respects Batman: Year One surpasses it, but Year One is intentionally a more limited work than Dark Knight, being a humble beginning rather than an epic finale. It lacks the scale, the ambition, the sheer hubris of Dark Knight.

Alan Moore, in his fine introduction to Dark Knight notes that Miller's great achievement is to bring time to the Batman, transforming him into a legend. Miller's Superman, Moore notes, is an earthbound god, a child of the stars whose presence is marked only by the destruction left in his wake but who is, for all his unearned greatness, hopelessly compromised in his position as a government agent.

And he knows it. He may damn his old friend for his intransigence, his utter refusal to surrender, but it's clear that he doesn't sneer at him: he's afraid of him. To be blunt, he's in awe of him.

Awe? Yes, because Clark Kent knows he was given amazing gifts, and has failed to even live up to them, settling for being allowed to live what passes for a quiet life when you're faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

But Bruce Wayne? He's just a man.

A man, yes, but an absolutely terrifying man.

A man who owes as much to Captain Ahab and the Count of Monte Cristo as he does to Zorro and countless other masked avengers...

A man who would strike the sun if it insulted him, a man who would tear fire from heaven, a man who could transform himself into a match for an 'earthbound god' through absolute self-belief, sheer determination, and an burning need to be true to himself.

It's a hell of a reading, which is one of the reasons why this website, juxtaposing shots from the old Adam West Batman TV series with lines from Dark Knight is hilarious.

Wild Obsession indeed.

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