I’m not a DC guy. This is an important part of the context for the rest of the story.

I’m not a not-DC guy either, which people typically mistake for a “Marvel guy”, but there is only overlap there, not 1-1 correspondence. I’m not precisely a Marvel guy either, which I’ve alluded to before, but most of the comics in my collection were Marvel titles. Wait, I’m getting pretty far afield, there. We can go into that domain on some other post.

The “not a DC guy” is important because of the four “most iconic” super heroes, two of them are DC guys. Of those two, one is of course the most iconic superhero (Mr. Red “S” On His Chest), and the second is The Batman.

Now because I’m not a DC guy, my interaction with an iconic member of the DC canon is going to be different from co-blogger Jaybird’s interaction with that same character. We probably have some overlap, because the guy is iconic and all, but there are interpretations of the character that are going to resonate differently for both of us.

For example, Batman has a place in American culture that no other superhero has, because Adam West played Batman and Batman, the Television Show was enjoyed both ironically and un-ironically by an entire generation of Americans, and the people who resonate with “BIFF” and “BLAMMO” are only half of the story, but they’re still a very important part of the story if only because Batman, The Television Show is a cultural phenomenon itself.  Sorry about the run-on sentence, there.

Batman’s presence – in my formative years – is book-ended by The Batman Television Show on one end (in syndication), and The Batman (Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson) Movie on the other. This is, therefore, prior to the Chris Nolan iteration.


One of the things about being a member of ({American Popular Culture, The Consumer} AND {Comic Book Collectors} while NOT a member of {DC guys}) is that I’m different from people who are members of ({American Popular Culture, The Consumer} AND {Comic Book Collectors} AND {DC guys}) or just the run-of-the mill member of {American Popular Culture, The Consumer}.

That’s this.

To somebody like Jaybird, who is not just a DC guy but a Batman guy, this is possibly (?) little more than one of the wrinkles in the Batman canon. Something put forth, in a particular style, by a guy who went on to get obsessed with stylistic representations and rapidly become pretty boring.  Maybe there’s a post idea in there for Jaybird.

From my perspective, however, The Dark Knight returns represents the culmination of what Miller was trying to do in all of his previous gigs. He did something with Daredevil that actually made Daredevil interesting, and the Wolverine Limited Series is (as far as I’m concerned) the middle and the end of Wolverine as an interesting character in the entire Marvel canon (Byrne gets the beginning).  There just wasn’t any reason to write about the guy, afterwards.  Implicitly, I think the writers of the Nolan Batman movies gripped onto this because the parallels between The Dark Knight Returns and the Nolan movies are fairly evident.

The Dark Knight wasn’t Miller “jumping the shark”, it was Miller finally doing what Miller was trying to do his whole career. Then, to paraphrase Bane in the current movie, “Success made him weak.”

There are four pages that struck in my head, in particular, from reading the series. I found three of them via this series of blog posts, which is itself an interesting read.  Chronologically from their position in the series, here’s page number one (click to embiggen):

This sticks in my mind because Miller transmogrifies Batman throughout the series.  He starts off looking like this, and his costume rapidly changes to become darker.  This first panel is a celebration of rebirth.  It’s not until later that Miller gets into more detail about what is actually reborn.  At this panel, we don’t know what we’re getting into, yet.

This is the second page:

The multiple-perspective “what did we just see there” in various characters’ eyes is very well done. It’s also very much the turning point of the series.

This next one stuck in my mind because as a not-DC guy, this is part of what every non-DC guy thinks about Superman:

There’s resentment, in some cases oozing from every pore and in some cases buried deep down, from every fan of every comic book that isn’t Superman, about Superman.  I’ll write a post about that some day.

Finally, my favorite page, predictably I can’t find online.

It’s early in the first issue, a couple of pages after that first page.  Batman is in a building with a couple of low-grade bad guys who happen to be unlucky enough to be the criminals out and about on the night when the Dark Knight returns (the same night as the first page, above).  He’s crouched in a stairwell, in the dark, as one of them approaches.  As he gets near, Batman’s internal narration (if I remember it correctly), is…

“There are seven ways to neutralize an opponent from this position.  The first four disarm with minimal contact.  The second two kill.  The last one…

… hurts.”

At which point he delivers a devastating kick that (presumably) cripples the bad guy for an indeterminate amount of time, perhaps forever.  The point of the set of panels is that Batman isn’t just about truth, justice, and the American Way like Superman is.  He’s about vengeance.  He’s about penance.  He’s about pain.  Miller makes clear in the rest of the series that this is not just about inflicting it upon (deserving or not) others, but visiting it upon himself.

That one three-panel section of that page, which I read when the book came out in 1986 (age 15), defined Batman in a way that neither Tim Burton nor Adam West did, to me.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. The essence of Frank Miller is Hard Boiled, Sin City, Big Guy and Rusty the Robot, et. al.. All else is just Miller wrapping himself around someone else’s motifs.

    • I found all that stuff incredibly boring, buried in his own appreciation for how awesome he is.

      Maybe that’s because I missed something… but I suspect it’s because Miller, as a wellspring of creativity, is kind of boring. If he was a science fiction writer, he wouldn’t have been Philip K. Dick. He would have been someone who tried to riff off of Asimov in Dick’s style. That comes off pretty mangled, just ignore this paragraph unless you can parse it charitably.

      Miller, as a re-imagineer of someone’s previous creativity, I thought that was the interesting part of his career, and when his genius was most apparent. Once he got enough kred to launch his own stuff, his limitations became more apparent, because there isn’t as much *there*, there. Underlying the there… there isn’t enough.

      • Hard Boiled was amazing, a work of demented genius. Geof Darrow’s pen is a wonder. Me, I find the superhero genre completely off-putting. But I can see why you reach your conclusions: I was buying trade paper for my boy at the time, intent upon turning him into a world-class freak. It worked, too. Airtight Garage, Moonshadow, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Hellblazer, Transmetropolitan, pretty much anything by DC Vertigo.

        Teeny Terror very much took to Spider Jerusalem. Now of course he’s no longer teeny, but he’s still a terror. I have a picture of him somewhere wearing Spider Jerusalem glasses.

        • Maybe I read too much Sin City and not enough Hard Boiled, I don’t know. I dropped out of collecting comic books shortly after discovering “beer” as a way to spend my disposable income, so my exit from regular reading of comic books pretty much coincides directly with Sin City/Hard Boiled’s launch.

          I might not be fair, here; my consumption of those things was half-assed.

          • I hate the word Fair anyway. It’s a contemptible word. Everyone ought to have Preferences. Keeps us interesting.

        • It’s extraordinarily creepy to know that Warren Ellis wrote the end of Transmetropolitan before Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide.

  2. Awesome post, Pat. I, like Jaybird, am not only a DC guy but most specifically a Batman guy. Roughly 80% of my collection is DC (if it weren’t for a chain-of-custody with Ultraverse, it’d be higher) and about half of that is Batman-related. The funny thing is that I have long considered Batman himself a less thoroughly interesting character than those who surround him: Huntress in particular, Tim Drake, Jean-Paul Valley. Like Superman, Batman himself is somewhat constrained by his iconic nature. Not nearly as much as Superman.

    I’ve long thought that a real superhero universe with Superman in it would be a very resentful one.

    “Seriously, man, I stalk the night with my brain and brawn and with an airgun and a beetle-shaped device I created because I can’t get the dang amulet to work, and he’s the brave hero?” – Ted Kord (Blue Beetle)

    “I’m actually more powerful than Superman by any realistic standard, but I’m not as good looking and don’t have connections to a world paper like the Daily Planet, so he gets to be Mr. Awesome.” – Nathaniel Adam (Captain Atom)

    “I hate how he is always getting on his high horse about making money as a superhero. Some of us have bills to pay. We don’t get free lodging at the North Pole.” -Michael Jon Carter (Booster Gold)

    • I very much liked the Justice League reboot that was basically “Blue Beetle and Booster Gold take themselves not too seriously and that’s the straight line of the comic… and Batman as the too-serious guy is actually the comic relief”.

    • The Justice League cartoon which ran on Cartoon Network (?) for a while had an interesting storyline which spanned two or three episodes. Gorilla Grod (the incarnation with some kind of telepathic abilities) comes up with a plan where he’s going to use his abilities to amplify any resentments the members of the Justice League have for each other and try to break up the band. He finds Supes along with Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Flash running a training exercise and it’s going poorly. Flash makes a crack at Superman about never ducking, and Superman responds angrily with, “Look, I take the shots like these so YOU don’t have to!” And then he just…flies off.

  3. I think there’s resentment of Superman because Superman is perfect.

    He’s smart. He can fly. He has x-ray vision, laser beam eyes, and knows when you’re lying to him because of his super-senses. His body is perfect, he’s incredibly strong, he’s good-looking, he can pull off the red cape and blue tights. When he fights, he wins. Bullets bounce off his chest.

    He’s a paragon of moral goodness. He always makes the right choices and finds a way to save the day and the girl even when Lex Luthor has set things up in a way that it looks like he has to choose something to sacrifice. He never even actually lies about being Clark Kent; he just sort of dodges those questions.

    He’s the friend of Presidents, the savior of Metropolis dozens of times over, and the idol of millions. He disposes of his enemies humanely, without killing them. There is nothing wrong with or bad about him. Maybe he gets a little lonely sometimes until he hooks up with Lois Lane. But even then it’s hard to feel sorry for him. His only weakness is kryptonite and that’s an exceptionally rare commodity.

    Kind of a hard guy to identify with.

    • It’s kind of why I don’t care that much for the Beatles. Perfection & infallibility is sorta dull.

      • Listen to “Mr. Moonlight” sometime. I wouldn’t normally recommend that, but if it lets you enjoy the 99% of their stuff that’s wonderful, well worth the pain.

        • I almost broke down and bought Revolver fairly recently, after finally hearing ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ in full or nearly in full at the end of that Mad Men episode. I was aware of the song, it having been cited and ripped off ad nauseam in the 90’s, but I don’t think I had ever actually heard the thing itself.

          And yes, it was magnificent.

          Still haven’t pulled the trigger yet though.

          Not sure of your tolerance for booze-inspired hissily-recorded amateurism, but do you like Guided by Voices at all? They are heavily Beatles-influenced (well, even more so than most bands) though there’s a zillion other bits of rock history in there too. But despite my thinking they are one of the greatest rock bands America’s ever produced, not everyone can get past some of their…quirks, a fact to which I have sadly resigned myself.

          • Kids these days. When I was young, we had to make do with a chopped-up Revolver with most of the Lennon songs missing (viz.), but we bought it anyway. Because it was the 60s, a new wind was blowing, and we all did our part. Now there’s a Revolver with all the chambers filled and you can’t pull the trigger.

            Seriously, it’s a great album. Listen to that one, the White Album, and Abbey Road. The Boys won’t disappoint.

            I’m not familiar with Guided by Voices , though. What songs of their should I start with?

          • I don’t want to give the impression I’ve never heard Beatles or something…they’re kinda inescapable culturally, and in pop/rock their innovations are so ubiquitously influential as to almost seem invisible. The base upon which so much that I love rests, the water in which it swims. I heard ’em from my dad, they were big in college, even now I work with a guy who’s a total nut for them. I have heard them on the radio, etc. etc.

            They make it sound easy and effortless and for them I think it was, at least musically, they really were that good. But for that reason I think, they have never fully ‘clicked’ with me. I like ’em well enough while they are on, but I don’t reach out to turn it up, and when it’s over I don’t have any desire to immediately hear it again.

            I love the Stones and the Kinks; you can hear ’em sweat.

            Anyway, I will probably get Revolver pretty soon. At some point I need to stop avoiding it, and I’m sure once I immerse myself in it, I’ll kick myself for waiting so long to do so.


            On to GbV.

            First, a history…frontman and primary songwriter Robert Pollard has been writing songs at an alarming rate for many years now. Wikipedia shows him with 1,500 registered with BMI. A surprising number are actually listenable 🙂 and a far more surprising number are good-to-great. He has recorded these not only under the GbV moniker, but many many other aliases and solo/band configurations.

            A former athlete (threw first no-hitter in the history of Wright State University), for many years he did music strictly as a hobby, as he worked as a schoolteacher, getting together with drinking buddies for marathon boozy 4-track recording sessions in whoever’s basement hadn’t been declared off-limits by their wife or significant other.

            He was just about to hang it up and get on with ‘real’ life in 1992 when people started noticing that somewhere along the way, these Dayton weirdoes had gotten good, expertly blending what Pollard (a lifelong student of rock) calls the 4 P’s: pop, punk, prog, and psych.

            The music they started producing around this time became less indebted to early REM, and sounding more like Beatles bootlegs (4-track recording being originally a matter of economics, later a matter of taste).

            As a lifelong lover of British Invasion groups like Beatles and Who (the latter of which is far closer to the live GbV experience) Pollard, despite being from Dayton, sings (strange dadaist lyrics, natch) in a British accent(!). The songs themselves are usually short, often very short, sometimes just fragments of melody, excising anything extraneous and jammed together on record to create interesting juxtapositions & transitions.

            There is way way more, as someone who was for many years just completely obsessed with these guys I am trying to keep it simple and failing utterly. A secondary, also-very-talented-but-only-humanly-prolific songwriter named Tobin Sprout (!!) who often serves as a melodic foil to Pollard’s weirder side trips, sometimes providing sweet harmonies and great little songs of his own. Recurring lines and images and themes that pop up in the songs, so that if it clicks for you, you realize that he has created this fantastical other world. A misguided and mostly unsuccessful attempt (at least commercially, if not always artistically) to go big-time, recording in expensive studios with well-known producers. The concerts, legendary affairs epic in length and power and camraderie and (probably not coincidentally) booze consumption (they give the Replacements and the Small Faces a run for their money here).

            I guess only one thing more…the 4-track lo-fi recording they used at their peak, they developed into an art form; using Pollard’s knack for aural collage (oh yeah, he also makes visual collage art) and using the medium’s limitations to their advantage, what sound at first like ‘mistakes’ in the recordings often gradually reveal themselves as dead intentional (or at least serendipitous), at least once they recorded their ‘classic’ records (of which the most well-known is Bee Thousand). This lo-fi sound is usually the hardest thing for people to get past, but if you get hooked, you will find it addictive.

            Man, I apologize again, this is so long, maybe I shoulda just asked if JB would let me post about this instead of Sandman (and LMK yr thoughts on that Mike?). Rather than further overwhelm you with too many tracks, I’ll give just a couple links, and tell you to get Bee Thousand and play it a few times, even while you work, and see if it starts to lodge in yr brain. If you like it, I can tell you where to go from there (their discography is huge and unwieldy and wildly uneven).

            Here is a *slightly* altered version of one of their best-loved songs, I Am A Scientist:


            Here is a rockin’ drivin’ escapin’ (but not really) song, Motor Away:


          • And Patrick, sorry for the extended sidebar in your post. I didn’t mean to be rude, just got carried away (and I was working last night, not even drinking!) 🙁

            When it comes to Frank Miller, I think I have only read Dark Knight Returns, and honestly wasn’t crazy about it. I may re-read it soon though and see if it lands better.

            The only other Batman I have read as an adult are Arkham Asylum (great art, so-so story on paper that would still make a great raw gritty lower-budget Batman claustrophobic action movie – think Batman as John McClane in ‘Die Hard’ – than the studios would ever accept, because you lose all of Bat’s cool ‘toys’. I understand this comic is essentially the premise of the video game of similar name) and Killing Joke (which I adore, and always wondered Nolan didn’t just straight-up adapt that, though I thought he used quite a few of its themes in the second flick with regard to Joker).

          • Extended sidebars are always welcome unless you’re a spam comment.

            Conversations that are worth a damn usually go places. It’s to be expected.

    • I don’t know. Let’s find the closest human being to perfect we can.

      Mr. Rogers.

      Fred Rogers was the baddest badass on the planet. He took on Congress (and won). He got his car stolen, he reported it to the police, of course the reporter who looks over the police blotter ran the story, and THE NEXT DAY, the car was back without a scratch and there was a note that said “we’re sorry, if we knew it was yours, we never would have touched it”. He was capable of talking to children, adults, and congressmen.

      If you had a moment, just a moment, with Mr. Rogers… what would you possibly say? “Thank you”? That’s all I can think of. If he happened to touch your cheek and say “I like you just the way you are”, can you imagine doing *ANYTHING* but ending up on the floor in a puddle?

      Now imagine if he could fly. If he were bulletproof. If he were also friend to presidents, the savior of Metropolis, and idol of millions.

      He’s spend most of his time asking people to stop bowing and kneeling and retake their feet.

        • The jerk.

          I’d modify Jaybird’s description thus: “He was capable of talking to children, adults, and congressmen, in descending order of educability.”

          • Heh. That stuff he did with the Kingdom of Make Believe was incredibly subversive stuff. Nobody got it but the kids and some of us who were sitting there with them. I still secretly mutter “Correct as usual, King Friday” to pompous old kingly figures.

      • I think an important part of Rogers is that he is awesome in a very non-threatening way. The same can’t be said for the nigh-indestructible immigrant from Krypton.

        • Non-threatening physically. If you ran a kid’s show that was 50% mindless violence and 50% advertisement for the action figures, and your secretary buzzed to say that Fred Rogers was in reception and wondered if he could have a few words with you, do you have a choice that doesn’t involve pretending to be out of the country indefinitely?

    • To give Superman a valid struggle — the sort wherein the possibility of failure exists — one either has to handicap Superman, or leave it entirely to the mental, emotional, or moral spectrum.

      Whipping out Deus Ex Machina (generally “glowing rocks”) is generally frowned upon — doubly so when it seems the only literary purpose is to give the fight some actual stakes. As to the other types of struggle — watching a man grapple with his moral code is interesting, but probably not something you can base a superhero on. Same with angst — interesting character traits, but defining the entirety of a character’s life and struggle on it? Probably a better book than a comic.

      Batman is more interesting than Superman simply because, night after night, Batman can lose. Superman only struggles during a Boss Fight — the rest of his life is Easy Mode.

      Not that overpowered heroes versus random, basically helpless mooks isn’t a Batman problem too — that varies with the writer. But there’s nothing special about Batman. He is not, out of the crate, invincible until you handicap him.

      He’s just a guy — one with fancy toys and training, but just a guy. Whether it’s written that way or not, all it takes to end Batman is one lucky mook with a gun.

      Easier to identify with. Easier to see struggle. Easier to see “failure” as a possibility. Sure, Batman always wins. But not because he’s Space Jesus.

      Plus, I think Batman taps into a little of what Stephenson refers to in Snow Crash —

      “Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.”

      Batman lived that. You got to be BORN Space Jesus to be Superman. Batman? Anyone can be Batman. (well, if they’re rich as sin and crazy).

      • A while back when Heroes was on TV (first season) I wrote a rant about how there was no way it could survive into second season because they had four (Four! Count ’em!) characters who were unbeatable, Parkman, Hiro, Sylar, and Peter. And Peter and Sylar are double-unbeatable!

        Second season launched and they had Peter forget he could do anything, Sylar lose his powers, Parkman go mildly crazy, and Hiro get trapped in the past. Otherwise, there was going to be zero dramatic tension.

        Because Tim Kring never read comic books. And really, there was silly dramatic tension in the first season because Tim Kring wrote original storylines that… anybody who had read comic books for more than six months had already read, like, 100 times.

        I never understood why more comic book fans didn’t put more hate on Heroes.

        • I think a lot of comic book fans didn’t put hate on S1 of Heroes because a lot of them felt like it was doing a good job of portrayings ome of the complexities of Superhero comics in a way that made it interesting for the non-readers. It’s kinda like how X-Men was considered a good comic book movie for its time.

    • Have you read “Irredeemable” by Mark Waid?

      It’s basically “What if Superman got fed up with being perfect?”

      • Watch out, Irredeemable goes to some dark places. Mark Waid has even complained about such when he’s writing it. Telling the story of Superman asking “Why do I even give a crap about these people?” in such a way that you’re asking that too? Heavy stuff.

        You’ll want to get Incorruptible to read at the same time. It’s the story of Earth’s greatest villain realizing that he needs to change his life and become a good guy in the wake of what happens in Irredeemable. (There’s a lot more potential for humor in showing someone who has always been bad trying his damnedest to be good than someone who has always tried to be good finally saying “hell with it” and going full id.)

        • Just put the latter on hold at the library. That will make the 4th comic book I’ve ever read (after V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and the Dark Phoenix Saga).

          It still feels faintly embarrassing, but I should get over that.

          • Oooh. I’d almost want you to switch Incorruptible for Preludes and Nocturnes.

            I worry that Incorruptible will be closer to the “oh, so that’s why I don’t read this adolescent crap” than the “oh, that’s why those guys read this stuff”… while I know for a fact that Preludes and Nocturnes will make you say “oh, that’s why those guys read this stuff”.

          • Ah. This is the first issue of The Sandman?

            It has 46 holds on it, so it’ll have to wait, but I’ll remember the recommendation.

          • Katherine, If JB is referring to what I think he is (Sandman), then yes, yes, yes. Just stick with it, it doesn’t stay seemingly-horror-oriented or superhero-universe-dependent for long.

            JB, I think I am going to take you up on your offer re: Sandman if it is still open. I know you said October, but I will try to have something sooner, that you can look over for edits or suggestions.

          • Katherine, Sandman builds up to “Seasons of Mists”. That’s one of those storylines that I sound crazy when I talk about how good it is so I try to not talk about it too much. I told Mike that it’s one of those stories that will have you considering quitting your job and becoming a writer.

            I’m not exaggerating when I say that.

            Preludes and Nocturnes is one of the books you read as backstory, setup, foreshadowing, and all those literary things that will allow you to get the FULL EFFECT of reading Seasons of Mists.

            I’m half tempted to just tell you to get Seasons of Mists and read the rest of Sandman after reading that (not that I’d have to tell you to read the rest of Sandman after that… wild horses wouldn’t be able to keep you from reading the rest of Sandman after that).

            Incorruptible, by contrast, is a superhero book with a couple of cute twists.

          • I got Gaiman to sign my ‘Season of Mists’ back in college and if I ever break down and get a tat, it’ll probably be The Key.

            Yes, I am a dork; why do you ask?

            JB is right, it is just ridiculously good, and even if most people view it as the pinnacle of the series, I don’t feel the series seriously flags at any point. I will save any more comments for future 🙂

          • The other books in the series have less holds on them, so I’ll just start with the second one. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. The comparison I saw that made sense to me was this:

    If crime ended tomorrow, Superman would still have his hands full. Forest fires, car accidents, cats stuck in trees. Asteroids, even.

    Batman, by comparison, would have nothing to do.

    I will chew on your essay some more and then I will try to write something better than that (but today is crazy in the lab).

    • That’s what always bugs me about Batman.

      There’s so many problems in the world that could conceivably be solved with nigh-unlimited money and research resources. Many of them kill and harm more people than crime does. Given that, being Batman is at least as much about catharsis as it is about heroism.

      • How much heroism can be given by a comic, though?

        Dig this: Bruce Wayne drops the cowl. He says “I’ve been neglecting my true job” and goes over to Waynetech and puts another hundred million in Wayne Medical. He commissions a team that figures out a cure for Type II Diabetes.

        Compare: Bruce Wayne dons the cowl. He goes out and finds Joker threatening a Husband, Wife, and Little Boy. Joker laughs and says something about how shooting the parents might be the best thing that could happen to the tyke. Batman goes on to beat the ever-living itshay out of the Joker.

        Which of these two comics would leave a better taste in your mouth after you put them down and then get ready to go run errands?

        For me, I see deus ex machina *ALL OVER* the former. The latter? That’s a story I wouldn’t mind watching someone else tell.

        • That’s sort of my fundamental problem with superhero stories. They start with a dual requirement: they want to present some kind of moral story/message/fable, and they need to do it in a way that includes action, so it will be interesting to the reader. As a result, we get a concept of heroism that revolves around punching bad people.

          Your first option, obviously, isn’t an interesting story to read, especially not in comic book form, because it doesn’t include any action and conflict. And it can be frustrating, almost insulting, to see ongoing real-world problems solved easily in a fictional universe (unless it’s science fiction and those problems just having been solved is part of the setting) – which is one of the reasons why a genre filled with super geniuses has increasingly high-tech war machines but hasn’t advanced technologically beyond the real world in any conceivable way (ReedRichardsIsUseless, if you read tvtropes).

          The second option, we get a straightforward good-punches-evil story which more entertaining, although not something I’d get anything out of reading. It also doesn’t quite relate to the point I’m discussing, because it’s not a story that requires Batman to have massive amounts of wealth backing him up.

          Superhero stories (those that aren’t deconstructions) are about the character being a hero. But can Batman be one? For him, and for any other super-rich superhero,
          it’s so clear that what they’re doing isn’t about trying to do as much good as possible. It’s about themselves and their own issues. (It likely has a lot to do with being raised pacifist, but in any situation where there’s a choice between someone accomplishing some amount of good through violence, or accomplishing an equal or greater amount of good without using violence, I have a gut-level moral opposition to choosing the former.)

          I realize that “Bruce Wayne funds a cure for tuberculosis” isn’t a plot for a comic book, or even a necessarily interesting story. That’s my problem with the fundamental concept of the character: Batman, in context, cannot be truly heroic, yet the comic depends on treating him as such. I don’t know if there even is a way to deal with the fundamental dissonance of the “hero uses massive wealth to fight criminals” concept in a way I’d find satisfying.

          • Your comment brings up a question: when did Good v Evil stories with the Good Guys Winning actually start (at least in the western tradition)?

            The bible and the myths ancient Greeks & Romans (and the plays of the Classical Greeks & Romans) are filled with not quite good people doing sometimes good things – but often not – and sometimes winning – but often losing. Fast forwarding the Shakespeare, you see the same pattern. In the fairy tale genre, Red Ridding Hood comes close to pure Good beating Evil, but ‘the lumberjack’ is more of the deus ex machina and in any case not a ‘main’ character. (and the rest of the Greater Grimm Metro Area collection is a very mixed bag for clearly defined Good and Evil)

          • I wonder to what extent this is an American thing? American optimism and such? I don’t consume a whole lot from elsewhere.

          • I’d go back to the Victorian Era. When children stopped dying when you looked at them the wrong way, suddenly, you could stop telling cautionary stories to children (don’t talk to strangers or you’ll die, don’t touch other people’s stuff or you’ll die, don’t get lost in the forest or you’ll die, don’t go above your station or you’ll die), you realized that you could (indeed, had to) start telling stories that had moral lessons above and beyond the “thou shalt nots”.

            For that, you needed beatitudes. “Do this and you will get rewarded thusly.”

            Much more uplifting. Indeed, they sold like hotcakes.

          • You can’t discount the Christ story, since he’s the archetype for Supes himself. Prior to the New Testament, even the best of the best and the biggest and baddest (Moses, David, Samson) screwed up royally, and paid dearly.

          • Forgot to add, I am not disagreeing with JB and think he is onto something, that we had to get to a point where we could see that life wasn’t ALWAYS and completely random pain and sudden death, to get to more optimistic stories.

          • I suppose it might be too late and more than a little hypocritical to say “no religion” but…


            No religion.

          • (And, to explain myself somewhat, one of the ideals this little sub-blog aspires to is to not discuss religion, or politics, or philosophy. The joke is that it discusses nothing but. That said, the ideal is that people from any creed can come here and discuss these things without any overt hostilities. A safe space, as it were. I fail just as often as anybody, of course… but, failing, we pick ourselves back up again. It’s not aimed at you, Glyph, half as much as it’s aimed at me. And feel free to put “no religion” or “no politics” as your opening line for any given response to anything I say. It’ll probably be appropriate.)

          • Sorry, JB, didn’t mean to cross a line. But I was referring to those guys in the archetypal/mythical sense of literature (Samson being sort of the Hebrew Hercules), not making any normative judgements on the truth or moral content of the accounts.

            Will be more careful, I understand why you have the rule.

          • (And if you want to say “YOU STARTED IT!”, you’d be absolutely right and I have no excuse.)

  5. Something else I just loved about Dark Knight Returns was Miller weighing in on the age-old fanboy question with what has to be the definitive answer: “Batman, because he’d cheat.”

    • Well, to be fair to ‘Supes, the situation in The Dark Knight is gamed so that Batman has to “win”. So he “wins”, because he has to win.

      Alan Moore sort of did this too, except he made the powerful guy the practical one and the non-powerful the principled one, and the principled one lost in The Watchmen as well.

      There is a tradition in comic books for having the principled guy lose to the pragmatic one when the chips are down, and they duke it out over a conflict. At least, post 1981. Captain America got shot.

      I suspect this is largely due to the fact that “Mumble culture is in mumble mumble decay” or something, in some persons’ minds.

      Me, I think it’s because being edgy has been corrupted by laziness.

  6. four “most iconic” super heroes

    I’m not a comic book guy, so I’m guessing that #3 is Spidey. But who in the Marvelverse is #4? (Hulk? Wolverine?…Daredevil?) (j/k) And why isn’t #4 that certain Amazon from the DCverse?

      • You would, you DC-fanboy!

        Cap and Superman are the most iconic characters, because they’re both basically propaganda pieces for the “Awesomeness of America” during the Golden Ages of their respective publishers. They ain’t actual characters. They’re America, baby. That’s about as close to a textbook example of what “iconic” means as you can get. Batman and Spiderman are the two others.

        Batman is Achilles, avenging Patroclus at any cost, choosing Justice over all. Superman is Hercules, performing the impossible Feats. Captain America is Beowulf minus the bloodlust, stupendous, self-confident, and honorable. Spiderman is every-coming-of-age and screwing-it-up-at-first story.

        These guys really have been around since forever, comics just took them and put masks on them and then put masks over the masks and sold colorful mock-up modern cover tunes of classic hero stories.

        My thoughts about Wonder Woman are complicated, partially because of the presence of the television show. It wasn’t campy the way that Batman was campy, but it didn’t take itself any more seriously than Batman did, really. But, aside from that… also because her story doesn’t map onto the female warrior queen stories much, directly. She’s a personification of the Valkyrie, and the Amazon, certainly. But those two archtypes weren’t personalized. There’s patriarchal reasons for that, of course. It’s not her fault. If she borrowed more heavily from Boadicea she’d have a longer bloodline. But I can’t really think of a named, mortal heroine in Greek mythology except Atalanta (who isn’t always depicted as being mortal), and I didn’t think growing up that Wonder Woman took much from her (maybe I’m dead wrong on that score, didn’t read much of her).

        It’s not really a badge of honor or anything, just a descriptive one.

        • I actually have a rather negative opinion of Wonder Woman. She’s even more restrained than Superman, but with the existential confusion of Hawkman. The only Wonder Woman stretch I ever loved was Byrne’s… because Wonder Woman wasn’t in it. (I did think the GraphicAudio WW story was surprisingly good.)

        • But besides having a broader pop culture appeal and recognition quotient than Cap (she would definitely be the 4th on the Superhero Mt Rushmore), and besides the fact she’s the far most famous and iconic *female* character, she is also the symbol (at the time, and perhaps later) of what comic book writers (and comic book guys) thought a woman was – or at least a non-Lois Lane woman.

          • Write a guest post.

            Actually, consider this a general call for someone who is a fan of Wonder Woman to write something about Wonder Woman.

  7. Batman is a response to Superman. I don’t want to run with the whole “two sides of the same coin” because they’re not, not exactly, as much as they’re the two different neighborhoods of the same city. No, not even that…

    I’m sure you’ve heard it said (or something like this): Metropolis is New York during the day. Gotham is New York during the night.

    As such, Superman is a response to the things that go wrong during the day. Batman is a response to the things that go wrong during the night. During the day, under sunlight, there’s room for “justice”. At night, the ideal really doesn’t go a lot higher than vengeance. Looking at Superman’s “iconic” bad guys… who do you have? Lex Luthor. Brainiac. General Zod. Doomsday. Straightforward, right? Guys who want to take over the world or guys who punch really, really hard.

    Let’s look at Batman’s gallery: Joker. Two-Face. Ra’s al Ghul. (Granted, there are also a number of nutjobs who belong in Arkham that I’m not mentioning.) These are villains that pretty much come out and say “your institutions have failed, your institutions are false fronts, your institutions will fall and be replaced”. These bad guys don’t want to take over the world or blow things up. They are pretty much saying that it’s all over but the crying.

    This is why, I think, we have Batman able to beat Superman whenever it comes down to that.

    Batman’s bad guys mean things that are much worse than the things that Superman’s bad guys mean. (Seriously, if Lex Luthor won… would things *REALLY* change that much?)

    • Well, the archetype of the 00’s housing bubble would have been Otisburg instead of Ventura County.

          • At some point I am going to go back and read The Authority’s Coup d’Etat storyline, wherein (from what I understand) they decide that governance is too important to be left to politicians.

  8. It’s probably just me…but I really find Frank Miller books to be hideous and sadistic without any redeeming value.

    While I mostly reserve it for crap like Holy Terror and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, I still resolutely believe that The Dark Knight Returns is a hideously overrated book.

      • Not sure if it’s a function of age. I tend to have a lot of disagreements about comics with my own peer age group, particularly about the “gritty” stuff like Watchmen (which I loathed) and TDKR.

        It might simply be that I had a wider exposure to manga culture when younger, where some of the most provocative work is substantially more nuanced and interesting than Miller.

        • No, I mean, some of these things are responses to things that were happening when the things were created, and they don’t resonate with people who weren’t in that place in that time when they were originally created.

          I don’t think it’s easy for anyone who was born after about 1988 to appreciate the context of the cold war. Nobody who was born after 1980 can easily appreciate the violent crime rate in the 70s. Nobody born in 1994 can easily put “Colors” in context and evaluate it fairly.

          None of those things are impossible, granted, but certain cultural phenomena are responses to the feelings of the culture, right now… and ten years later, they’re just not parsed the same way.

          Maybe they’re parsed *more correctly* -> I’m not arguing that Miller’s TDKR isn’t violent, and perhaps unjustly so to make the point(s) that Miller was trying to make. But Miller was talking to an audience with a context.

          • Maybe you’re right, but I just see Miller as being a bit of a sadistic boob who just happened to hit a decent zeitgeist and got massively overpraised for it.

            Compare to say Tezuka Osamu and his works at around the same time, such as Adolf, or Buddha…or say the manga version of Nausicaa. This is my sense of cultural bias showing I guess, but those works are profound in a way that whatever Miller was doing doesn’t remotely compare.

          • They’re a response to something that was going on somewhere else. Manga was where comic books would have been if this hadn’t happened.

            I’m wandering into “no politics” region, but suffice to say that there were plenty of legitimately adult pulp magazines that were taken to wholesale slaughter and it wasn’t until the resurgence of black and white mags in the 1980s that they started to claw their way back.

            Lacking a mass extinction event, manga doesn’t compare fairly.

    • Holy Terror is Frank Miller at his most batguano insane following the attacks of 9/11. (He thought that they were fundamentally cultural in tenor rather than political.)

      The Dark Knight Strikes Again deserves more than what has yet been given it as criticism (though, seriously, that first book and its fight against Superman using The Flash and Green Arrow and Atom? Awesome with a capital ‘A’), but his books like Sin City and even Dark Knight Returns have a moral world view that should be argued against as one would argue against any opposing moral stance rather than how one would argue against, say, a stance of convenience.

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