Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: Frank Miller! Today’s page is from The Dark Knight Strikes Again #3, which was published by DC and is cover dated 2002. Enjoy!
By the time Frank Miller got around to doing a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, he had moved far beyond his art style from that era into one dominated by minimalism. This would reach new, almost absurd heights (from what I can see) in his newest book, Holy Terror, but I don’t own that, so we just get a taste of it in DKSA, which sees Miller still packing a lot onto the page even as his designs tend more toward the basic and cartoonish. More than a lot of his post-DKR work, DKSA is a parody, and one could make the argument that Miller, far from becoming a clown, is torpedoing the pretensions of superhero comics in general. But that’s a post for another day!
Consider this first page of the final issue of DKSA. We find out very little about that dude. Who is he? We know that he’s acquainted with “Bruce” and that he trusts him, because he’s the only person to whom he told his “address.” Other than that, we don’t get much information. But look at how Miller presents the characters. They’re as basic as you can get – just outlines of triangles, circles, and rectangles. This is partly a function of the characters being basic, and Miller shows that he is still ready to add details when necessary, but it does show a trend in his artwork toward abstraction, and even when he does use details, he still relies very heavily on basic building blocks, changing them hardly at all. Miller is still good enough that he can break down character designs to their component parts and still come up with compelling creations, but there’s still a crudeness to the art that makes it look half done – not quite completely impressionistic, but not detailed enough to be naturalistic. Miller doesn’t seem to want to embrace a completely abstract method, possibly because he still wants to tell relatively normal stories – and DKSA is a fairly standard superhero comic, when it’s all said and done. In some of his works (Sin City being the most notable), this tension between pared-down artwork and thick, pulpy storytelling creates an interesting tension, but it fails a bit here.
One of the biggest disappointments of DKSA is Varley’s coloring. Her beautiful paints are enhanced with computer effects, as we can see in the background and the characters in the second panel of this page. “Enhanced,” unfortunately, doesn’t mean “better,” and the artwork, which already looks somewhat sloppy because of Miller’s cartooning, looks even more unprofessional due to the lousy “special effects.” Despite the use of many bright colors, this is a shoddy-looking comic, and one wonders if the critical reaction to its insane story might have been lessened if the artwork didn’t look so cheap.
Miller continues to do his own thing, caring very little what anyone says about him, and that’s great that he’s able to do that. Many people think his masterpiece is The Dark Knight Returns, but 300 came at a point where he was able to balance the technical aspects of the linework with the bluntness of basic shapes, and it’s an absolutely stunning artistic work. Miller couldn’t or wasn’t interested in maintaining that balance, and his later work reflects that. For this writer, at least, it’s too bad.
I know that tomorrow is still February, but I’m going back to random comics, so it’ll be something you can’t predict! Get into the randomness by checking out the archives!
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