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The World Outside – Dark Knight Returns on Girl Meets World

This is the first in a new feature where I examine comic books showing up in outside media, like TV shows, sports, novels and films.

The first example is based on a suggestion by reader Lynn J., who thought that I should write something about this usage. It is about the TV show Girl Meets World and its use of the Dark Knight Returns in a lesson plan.

Girl Meets World is a show on the Disney Channel about Riley, the teenage daughter of Cory and Topanga Mattews, from the 1990s sitcom, Boy Meets World (which was about Cory’s teen years).

In a second season episode of Boy Meets World, Cory had a new motorcycle-riding English teacher, Mr. Turner, who used X-Men comics in his lesson plan.


On Girl Meets World, the kids are almost always seen in History class, as that is taught by Cory. However, in Season 2’s Girl Meets the New Teacher, we see them in English class, where their new teacher is a motorcycle-riding woman named Harper Burgess (likely a Burgess Meredith Penguin reference, but I dunno).

Harper teaches them Dark Knight Returns (and yes, it is neat to see a Disney show use a DC comic), although the show has a somewhat peculiar take on the comic (“it’s about a world that has become so tough that Batman has to fight Superman”)…


But the main theme is a fair enough one, which is that “heroes” and “villains” are sometimes hard to determine. Burgess gets fired by the principal for refusing to teach To Kill a Mockingbird instead of Dark Knight Returns (the kids note that it is like she is Batman and the principal is Superman) and the case ends up in front of the superintendent, who turns out to be…Mr. Turner.

Anyhow, in the end, the kids learn about how Dark Knight Returns speaks to a changing world where things aren’t so black and white.

And, of course, the teacher’s full name is Harper LEE Burgess, so obviously she was going to get around to teaching To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s it for this first installment! Thanks for the suggestion, Lynn, which inspired this whole new feature! If anyone else wants to suggest a topic for this feature, just drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!


““heroes” and “villains” are sometimes hard to determine”

It’s a shame that Disney doesn’t own a comic company that features stories where heroes fight when they first meet because they think the other guy is a villain.

Or even a whole team of heroes that are hated and feared by the people they save.

So I guess they had no choice, but to use a comic from another company.

I think it comes from the writers on the show feeling that Dark Knight Returns was much more likely to seriously be taught in an English class unlike Civil War. God Loves, Man Kills, though, would have been an interesting choice.

“This is the first in a new feature where I examine comic books showing up in outside media, like TV shows, sports, novels and films. ”

How much Big Bang Theory stuff can we expect to be seeing then?

I suppose The Simpsons would be fair game for this as well. In fact–and I say this as a Simpsons lover–I hope Brian either puts a moratorium on Simpsons episodes in this column, or else lumps them all into one column. And I mean that in relation to *actual* comics appearances, like the one where Mr. Burns pays Homer to eat a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #1 in front of Comic Book Guy just to troll him.

Don’t forget Krusty lighting up with the assistance of ‘Action’ #1


Harper Lee/ Anthony Burgess?

Harper Lee Burgess’ name is in reference to HARPER LEE, the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. it was her father’s favorite book, so he named his daughter after the author.


And, of course, the teacher’s full name is Harper LEE Burgess, so obviously she was going to get around to teaching To Kill a Mockingbird.

seriously not explicit enough?

I’ll attest to the point about DKR being more likely. When I was in high school we had a graphic novel section in the library. It was mostly serious, non-superhero stuff like Maus or Persepolis, but the two exceptions were The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

I had a teacher who used Galactus and Silver Surfer to talk about the nature of good vs evil, pointing out that Galactus isn’t inherently a bad guy,

As a side note, what IS the Marvel equivalent of “The Dark Knight”? A self-contained, medium-redefining work that’s considered “serious” enough to be “real literature?” Personally, I’d say that Elektra: Assassin is of at least as much artistic merit as The Dark Knight and it’s pretty self-contained, but it’s a lot wackier than the DC masterpieces of ’86. God Loves, Man Kills is really great as well, but I feel like it’s nit considered as momentous as Miller on Batman since it’s very much of a piece with Claremont’s continuing X-Men saga.

Peter –

“As a side note, what IS the Marvel equivalent of “The Dark Knight”?”

Secret Wars II.

Just kidding.

Seriously, I don’t think there is a direct equivalent. Marvel had plenty of great comics, but they’re not quite self-contained (Claremont’s X-Men, Miller’s DD, Devil in a Bottle). And/or they’re too long for us to separate into one teachable comic (Starlin and Gerber’s various comics from the 1970s).

I would say MARVELS, as it tells a very humanistic story, but it’s also as much the story of the Marvel Universe, and that isn’t of inherent interest for anyone not already a fan.

Peter Hohman- Elektra: Assasin is a straight up masterpiece, I just don’t think it made the impact that DKR did, even though it should have.

What about Kraven’s Last Hunt? I don’t it’s equivalent to DKR but close enough?

Yeah, Marvel has more classic comic stories, but they’re at root very much comic stories. I think at the top of the superhero fare you have the DKR and Watchmen, and the works that have some parallel themes a big step below them in Kingdom Come and Marvels. The former of each group paint the heroes as bigger than just human, like the gods of myth almost, and the latter tries to put their really fantastic things in as real world a setting as possible with fantastic people. But the lesser group was more influential on comics than defined as literature.

As the father of two young girls, we are contractually obligated to love Girl Meets World. This was a really fun episode, and prompted by older daughter (just turned 13) to read DKR. She didn’t make it very far before losing interest, though.

One book I hope makes it onto the blog is Stephen King’s Gunslinger series. There is some stuff in Wolves of the Calla that comes from comics for sure. It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, so there may be some other stuff that I’m forgetting.

Marvel might not have a lot of stand alone “teachable” books but Image has about a hundred.

Marvel’s answer to DKR? A dark-and-gritty future where an elderly version of their most popular character has to come out of retirement One Last Time?

Spider-Man: Reign.

Pretty sure they made the right choice there.

The reason that The Dark Knight was great was because Frank Miller had something he wanted to say about the world, and he could say it with Batman while simultaneously utilizing the comics medium in a way such that the story could only be told to its full potential with comics. The reason Reign wasn’t great, and wouldn’t have been even if the script was tighter, was because Kaare Andrews didn’t really have anything to say about the world; he just had something to say about how cool Frank Miller is.

Peter –

I am not sure that great fiction needs to say something about the world. IMO, people tend to look down unfairly on escapism. Also, sometimes fiction is admirable for technical skill alone, regardless of relevance. But regardless of philosophical discussions about the role of art, fiction, and entertainment, I agree with you that Reign sucks big time.

M-Wolverine –

I was just thinking that now is the time for Marvels to reach a larger audience. The reason I (and many other people) gave for Marvels being of interest only to superhero fans no longer applies. The general public is now much more knowledgeable about the Marvel Universe, and it’s possible for non-readers to know about Gwen Stacy, Galactus, the Avengers, and the X-Men.

I’m a teacher. To Kill a Mocking Bird has been banned from schools where I live because of the use of the “n” word.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned in the school board I teach in because of the use of the “n” word.

And Marvel’s answer to (correctly) being more accessible to a larger audience? Post Secret Wars merger, where even lifelong fans have no idea who is who and with who or what. I think they’ve pretty much given up on trying to attract new readers, and are just trying to create stories that can be adapted into movies someday.

Love the show

March 9, 2016 at 9:55 am

So, When I watched it, it taught me a valuable lesson. That, not all people are bad, sometimes, those who think they are bad, are actually good. We all have good in us, even know people think we are bad. Also, With the book “To Kill A MockingBird” It tells us what growing up will be like, and how the human dignity unites us all. We can’t just say that someone is bad or good, or just do whatever as we grow up, or even treat people different. There really is no good or evil, It’s how, and what we think of them.
Sometimes just doing the right thing or anything to fix something, do it, It’s what connects us all. Doing the right thing. If you think someone is evil, like “batman” he’s not, just because his name is the DARK knight, it does not mean he is evil. He does the right thing for his people, if he can do things like that, then we can,

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