by Randy Lander

(Best of the Week!)

Highly Recommended (10/10)

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1

DC Comics
Writer/Artist: Frank Miller
Colors: Lynn Varley
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Bob Schreck

Price: $7.95 US/$13.25 CAN

When this project was first announced, I was interested but not that excited, but as time rolled on, DC hype or my own thoughts about the possibilities (more likely both) got me more excited. By the time this book actually hit the shelves, my anticipation and expectations were pretty high, and Miller and Varley delivered. It's too early to say whether DK2 will be as revered and important as The Dark Knight Returns, but Miller has delivered a sequel that certainly stands alongside the original as great comic-book reading. This is Miller's chance to expand the story, to make it less about the last days of Batman and more about a renaissance of heroism in the face of a dark world, and though the story is similar in tone to Dark Knight, it is quite different in approach and story. Believe the hype... The Dark Knight Strikes Again is worthy of the excitement it has generated.

It's a little deceptive to call this a Batman tale at this point, though. While Batman's philosophies are guiding the story, the story itself is more about a corrupt world and how heroes function in it. Though Miller maintains a somewhat cynical outlook, he balances it with an idealistic sense of heroism straight out of the Silver Age. For example, though Superman is a right bastard, having compromised himself to the point of being a villain, there's a small sense in this issue that he's finally coming around and realizing that life can't go on like this. Batman, even with his almost fascistic approach, still holds to a set of ideals that forbids his soldiers from killing. And while the dark fates that the various Justice Leaguers have met are dire indeed, it's interesting to note that the first thing the heroes do when rescued is to jump right back into action, ready to save the world again.

Rather than Batman's narration this time, much of the point-of-view comes from a more mature Carrie Kelly, promoted from sidekick Robin to Catgirl, a sort of leader in Bruce's army. She's still got the attitude and edge that made her so much fun, as seen from her use of teen-speak code words for her gadgets, but she has a more serious and analytical side to her that is not unlike her mentor.

The story stands alone quite well, but fans of the original Dark Knight Returns will get a kick out of some of the small references. Seeing comedy relief characters Don and Rob (former Mutants) as "Bat-Boys" was a whole lot of fun, and it was a treat to see Green Arrow once again. There are also any number of DC characters making appearances, from Jimmy Olsen (now turned gonzo reporter) to The Question. In addition, Miller litters the series with cute little references and in-jokes, with the intriguingly-named Lana Harper-Lane (a daughter of Guardian and Lois Lane?) or National Security Enforcement Chief Bill Prick being only a couple of examples.

While Miller's sense of cynical humor and analysis of culture is dead-on as always, he also handles some incredible action sequences. The Atom's sub-microscopic battles, Carrie's daring escape from the prison facility or the confrontation with Superman are all fantastic to read. Though it should surprise no one, Miller shows off a command of the language of comics that is second-to-none. Honestly, I missed some of the definition that Klaus Janson brought to the work, and the art here seems to meet halfway between Miller's original style and his current style, as seen in books like 300 or Sin City, but there's no denying that the storytelling and designs are well-done. And though Varley's colors are somewhat odd, I found them quite suited to the tone of the story, which strikes a balance between Silver Age idealism and Dark Age grime.

Reading this, I got the sense of visiting old friends again. It takes me back to my early days reading comics, and remembering when names like Frank Miller and Alan Moore were fairly new, really shaking up the industry and re-shaping it into what we have today. However, this is no mere nostalgia trip... The Dark Knight Strikes Again fits squarely in the realm of Kingdom Come or Moore's unpublished Twilight, but it also echoes the kind of work Miller did with The Dark Knight Returns, and the synthesis results in something new.

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