Monday, July 04, 2005

The Influence of DKR in the DC Universe

The Influence of Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns in the DC Universe.

Needless to stay this piece is only a fraction of the stories and people inspired by the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley. There tale of an aged Batman defending Gotham City once again is a benchmark for the comic industry along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen.

Both books caused other creators to rise to the occasion with stories and artwork improving nearly all around the board. It also caused comic stories to take a more darker tone overall. Whether this is a good thing or not varies from read to reader.

Here are a handful of events in the DCU that have roots in the Dark Knight Returns (DKR).

The Death of Jason Todd

DKR was published in single issue format in 1986. Batman: a Death in the Family was published in single issue format in 1988.

Of course, if you’re following the DC Universe at the moment, you know that recently Jason Todd has returned from the dead.

“It would be a really sleazy stunt to bring him back.” – Denny O’Neil from the back of a Death in the Family TPB.

A Girl Robin

In the foreword of DKR, Frank Miller credits his fellow comic legend John Byrne with the idea to make Robin a girl.

According to Miller, Byrne suggested it to him and even showed him a drawing of a female Robin drawn by Love & Rockets artist Jaime Hernandez. To drive his point home, Byrne drew a sketch of a female Robin himself on the spot. Miller liked the idea and with the help of Lynn Varley, Carrie Keane Kelly came to life.

She wouldn’t be the first (or is it last) person with the XX chromosome to carry the name Robin though. Nine years later in Robin #126 Damion Scott and Bill Willingham turned Stephanie Brown, into the new Robin. Stephanie was previously known as the Spoiler, but after Tim Drake was forced to quit being Robin after his dad found out about it, Batman took her on as his partner for a short time.

As you probably noticed the Robins aren't the luckiest birds in their flock.

I like how Robin is one of those names that cater well to both female and male characters. Another name that works well with both boys and girls is Speedy. Speedy was originally a male character, but he grew up and became Arsenal. The current Speedy is a female and is training under Green Arrow.

Speaking of the Emerald Archer..

Superman Cutting Off Green Arrow’s Forearm

In DKR, Bruce seeks out an old acquaintance to help him in his fight with Superman. It comes to no surprise that the liberal, fascist-hating Oliver Queen is willing to help. He obviously has his reasons especially considering the tool of Uncle Sam that Superman has become.
One question though, how did he lose his arm? A possible scenario was played out on this in Green Arrow #100 & #101. With Ollie trapped on a plane, his arm trapped in a mutagenic bomb that could destroy all of Metropolis, Superman had a tough decision to make. He contemplates severing Ollie’s arm. Ollie says he would rather die than do that, he removes his arm from the bomb and sets it off before it gets to Metropolis. He sacrificed his own life to save thousands.

Note that in DKR he was missing his left arm, which matches up with what would have happened in #101 with Superman cutting off his left arm in order to save him.

I must say that was a nice nod by Chuck Dixon. His first nod at DKR, but not his last..

Batman Using a Rifle

In DKR, Batman used guns on a few occasions. This led to much controversy according to Miller on the History Channels “Comic Heroes” documentary. He claims he got letters from old Batman creative teams saying how he ruined their character.

In the 80’s Batman would never pick up a gun, let alone fire it. However in DKR an aging Batman may need to use them for his advantage.

Chuck Dixon did a nice homage to this scene as well in Detective Comics #710. After a brutal fight with Deathstroke, Batman is forced to use Slade’s sniper rifle in order to save the lives of two characters. While he hates guns and seldom uses them, he mastered long range sniping off of Henry Ducard. He used it with expert efficiency. Deathstroke said himself that the shot was impossible, but Batman hits the target and Deathstroke leaves his sword at the scene of the battle to honor Batman. He has yet to get it back.

Batman using guns is a very sticky issue. He has trained his partners to use them, even throw them under Dixon’s run. In the opening episode of Batman Beyond, an aging Bruce has a mild heart attack and is forced to use a gun to defend himself as Batman. This causes him to retire. As a Batman fan, I’m alright with him or any of his “clan” using guns when they have absolutely no choice under the direst circumstances. Although over in Robin, it looks like Tim Drake will be using them if he decides to work with the Veteran. Perhaps foreshadowing his gun-toting future self in “Titans Tomorrow”?

Two Face –> One Face

DKR shows how far the plastic surgeons and psychiatrists in Gotham will go to in curing Harvey Dent. They put him under surgery hoping that in accordance with his psychiatric rehabilitation, he will cease to be Two-Face when his face is fixed.

Needless to say the guy in bandages is a very familiar face throughout the DCU now. Heck, it turns out that the guy under the bandages in DKR was also under some bandages in HUSH. HUSH is the critically acclaimed storyline by Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Jeph Loeb where Harvey's face is also fixed as you can see.

This isn’t the first DKR reference in HUSH..

Beating on the Joker

In his final battle with the Joker, Batman just snaps. He almost kills the Joker, but backs off, only to have the Joker twitch and break his own neck on purpose. Getting the last terrorizing blow in on Batman he dies with a grin on his face.

In HUSH, Batman believes that the Joker killed his boy hood friend Tommy Elliot. Up to this point the Joker had killed Jason Todd, Sara Essen (Jim Gordon’s wife), crippled and raped Barbara Gordon and murdered countless others. Batman finally loses it and starts beat the crap out of him. He puts his hands around his throat ready to crush his larynx. Luckily a good friend stops him from becoming his nemesis.

Batman vs. Superman

In the History Channel documentary, Frank Miller claims that he will gladly take credit for breaking up the Superman & Batman friendship. He believes that each of them have such a different outlook on the world and its natural state, that they just wouldn’t like each other. After this epic battle in DKR, these two have tussled many times. My personal favorite was guessed it HUSH.

Batman is in Metropolis, but so is Poison Ivy. She uses synthetic Kryptonite lipstick to put Superman under her spell. She forces Superman to fight Batman, but cunning thinking by Batman and Catwoman brings him out of it.

Muscled Up Batmobile

While not the most direct comparison to comics out there, the Batmobile in DKR is obviously some sort of inspiration for the car in Batman Begins.

While the one in DKR is more of a tank, the one in Batman Begins is more of a Hummer and Ferrari hybrid.

So that’s what I got out of years of comic reading and noticing these kinds of things. While some of these could be questionable, I believe that a book like DKR influences people on so many levels. Even on the subliminal level in the back of our minds, DKR is in the head of all comic fans..

-Jason Aiken is a huge fan of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, so much that he’s afraid to read The Dark Knight Strikes Again (DK2).


At 2:22 PM, Blogger todddavid said...

Great post here! Love the reviews; Always read them!


Post a Comment

<< Home