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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 59: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again #3

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!

Man.

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!

28 Comments

“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.”

Well, we get that he really digs the color green.

I forgot all about those characters…..I actually forgot a lot about DKSA….probably for the better.

That’s The Atom, right? I can’t recall the material, but as someone speculating from a distance and knowing that primary DCU characters (read: not Manhunter) would be involved, the guesses would be Martian Manhunter (green) or The Atom (in disguise).

[...] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 59: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again #3 – comicbookresources.com 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! [… [...]

Yeah, I always figured it was (somehow) the Atom.

It’s funny when you use this particular page to talk about Miller moving “far beyond his art style from that era into one dominated by minimalism,” because when I look at it all I see is Ralph Bakshi or maybe Vaughn Bodé, more than any era of Miller’s own style.

Interesting about Miller – he’s produced some of the comics I’ve loved more than anything (Wolverine, Daredevil, Dark Knight Returns, 300, Sin City) and some of the stuff I’ve detested more than anything (this mess, ASBAR, etc.). Weird.

It’s the Green Lantern isn’t it?

So, this is the dreadful DKSA everyone despises?
It does look pretty off-the-wall, but at the same time strangely awesome.

DKSA is a cool comic.

DKSA has become one of my favorite stories to re-read. It’s not only a slight parody of the sort of grim & gritty ‘re-evaluation of the character’ story he helped make popular, but a joke on the reader/corporation exploiting the reader who demands a sequel to a work already acknowledged as a Masterpiece. He went even further with All Star Batman, but unfortunately, the readers didn’t seem to enjoy. The median age of Comicdom has matured and seems to demand a story to impact on them in the same way as DKR did when they were 13. DKSA has become more fun to read than DKR because It is written for a fan who has been there from day one, and is less a nostalgic chore to slog through.

I think DKSA cost $7 to $8 an issue when It came out, and nothing seemed to happen storywise… I hated it! So I’m not fighting your opinions, just saying to give it another try.

I came to DKSA without any of the crazy-Miller baggage I’d glean from his later works, but man, I just detested it. In fact I think it was the first thing of his I read that I couldn’t stand. Lord knows it wasn’t the last.

I’m with Brian on this one. DKSA is a cool comic. At the very least, it would make a crazy ass cartoon, if WB actually had the stones to adapt it for their animated movies.

It’s basically just Batman reuniting with the old guard (Plastic Man, Barry Allen’s Flash, The Original Atom, The Question, etc.) to battle Superman’s worst villains, while bringing up the next generation. Some of the pages (like the one above) aren’t the best looking art, but I’m too much of a fan of the aforementioned Bat-buds to let it prevent me from enjoying the comics, and sometimes the art is so visceral it works, like Ray Palmer’s intro, or (SPOILER) Luthor’s demise

While the surprise ending feels a little tacked on, I still really enjoy the book for what it really is: an experiment in satire and style, and I love seeing Miller take a crack at the “next generation” of spandex-donning heroes.

One of the problems that I had with DKSA is that it was TDKR with the veil removed, so that all of Miller’s Ayn Rand influences suddenly came gushing out; frankly, I can only take Rand in heavily metamorphosed form (cf Ditko’s work on Spider-Man and Dr strange).

I always liked DKSA. I read it once, in one sitting in a library and had a blast. It was weird, energetic and like nothing I’d ever read. That being said, I’ve never had the desire to actually buy the book.

I remember this series. I was not impressed by the lateness between issues.
The only scene that I enjoyed was seeing Bruce kick the crap out of Clark (again).

Funnily enough, I would’ve thought that Burgas would end the FM regime with Sin City.

Tom: I zigged when you thought I would zag! I just decided against it, because I thought Elektra Lives Again to 300 to DKSA was a more interesting artistic shift.

I wish we could have seen the Wolverine miniseries this past week, as I think that is Miller’s high-point as an artist. Even if it’s less edgy and experimental than several of his later works, I think it most perfectly demonstrates his phenomenal ability as a storyteller. I think Batman: Year One is his best work as a writer. And I do agree with everything Burgas said about 300. I remember buying the series in 1998 and feeling like it was better than most everything else I was reading at the time.

But I still think Miller lost it after that. Hell and Back was his worst Sin City story, and even if ti was still a decent read, it aptly demonstrated that he was losing his touch. To be completely honest, I can’t bring myself to go near Dark Knight Strikes Again. I flipped through it when it came out and thought it looked awful, and I read enough poor/indifferent reviews to keep me away.

And I truly believe that All-Star Batman & Robin is the single worst comic I’ve ever read in my life (narrowly edging out Old Man Logan). I don’t think it has any discernible difference from a Rob Liefeld comic except for the name in the credits and better art.

I also thought the Spirit was a horrendous movie, and I haven’t read Holy Terror, though I did read a scathing review of it that pretty well eliminated my interest.

I’m, generally speaking, a huge Miller fan, and I think the majority of his work from the 80s simply cannot be praised enough. His influence on American comic book style is virtually immeasurable. But the man has lost it. There’s no shame in that. It happens to the vast majority of artists out there, in all fields. Later failures don’t diminish previous successes unless we let them. But previous successes also shouldn’t force us to defend later failures.

Like his later Daredevil work, Miller only did layouts for Wolverine. Joe Rubinstein did the finishes, so if you’re looking for great examples of just Miller’s artwork, best to look in different places (like DKSA).

DKSA is awesome, and this makes me want to dig it out and reread it.

I would almost say that Varley’s garish computer colors are part of the parody (in that by the late ’90s, most superhero comics were doing the computer color thing, many colorists nowhere near as talented as Varley, and they applied a gloss that wasn’t necessary, and in many cases was lipstick on a pig, if you will), in that she definitely pulls back on them when needed. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but the colors are a bit more muted in the sequence with WW and Superman, and the sequence where Metropolis is under siege and Captain Marvel is involved, iirc. But on this page, for example, the colors seem to give us the feeling of actually being inside Hal’s ring (yes folks, that’s Hal Jordan there).

I think if you read DKSA thinking it’ll be as good and just like DKR, you’ll be disappointed, but if you go in reading it as a parody, it’s quite good. I first got to that view after reading someone who mentioned that Bruce looks like the Batboy early Mad Magazine parody by the end of the book.

Same deal with ASBAR — Bruce’s tough guy narration is SUPPOSED to be so over the top even a 10 year old kid thinks he’s nuts. It’s a way of showing that Bruce has built up a wall so much, he needs to see his life reflected in this kid he takes in before he figures out he can ease up. The end of the trade of ASBAR is quite an emotional one. Plus, that kick ass yellow room gag with GL. “Have some lemonade!”

And the last line of DKSA is awesome.

But anyone who hates DKSA but thinks any Watchmen prequel/sequel stuff will be decent, well, I guess you have to keep touching the stove when it’s on to see if it’s still hot or not.

This was one of the first miniseries I bought where I just didn’t even care enough to buy the last issue. That being said, I should probably give it another try. Now that I know it’s pretty much meant as a gag on hardcore fanboys, maybe I’ll enjoy it on that level.

DKSA is the only new comic series I purchased between 1992 and 2007, so … not sure what that says about me. ;)

For a guy who purged all his childish affectations in Ronin, Miller sure uses every chance he gets to draw dinosaurs.

So . . . that’s Ambush Bug?

I didn’t like DKSA much when it was released– like most readers, I was hoping for something more in the vein of TDKR– but digging the issues out a year or two later and re-reading them without any expectations, I enjoyed it quite a bit for the grand satire it is. It’s a very fun and well-done series when judged on its own merits.

Holy Terror, on the other hand, was just atrocious… damn glad I got to read it for free, and didn’t waste any money on it.

DKSA is a cool comic.

It’s really a Justice League comic though.

And about passing the baton to the next generation. The next generation, having not endured some of the rites of passage (ie being orphaned) don’t have the same psychoses, or moral anchor points, as the parents, so… getting into spoiler territory here.

Certainly it’s a parody, and certainly it’s not genre-defining like TDKR was. And certainly it’s many leagues better than the terrible Batman/Spawn thing that Miller said was a follow-up to TDKR when it came out.

Oh yeah, I didn’t read Batman/Spawn until later, but it remains the worst thing Miller ever wrote, in my opinion. However much I may dislike the stuff he’s put out in recent years, Miller would have to work pretty hard to write something THAT bad again.

I can’t remember how bad Batman/Spawn was (and I thought I just read the whole ASBAR/Batman/Spawn/DKR/DKSA “saga” recently), but I know the Spawn 11 that Miller wrote was one of the worst things I’d ever read. And I read that not too long after it had come out, and that was back when I had absolutely no critical faculties (now it’s only very little…).

[...] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 59: Batman: The Dark …Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas 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 … [...]

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