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November 24, 2010

Discussing Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Posted by Dana

Riddle me this Batman:  What happened in Austin that included Frank Miller, Bonnie Brzozowski and the caped crusader?  A book club discussion, Fellow Citizens of the World.  One that will give you the key to world domination.     

Batman-9781563893421.jpgThis month Austin Public Library’s Graphic Novels Book Club lightened up a bit and discussed Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns. Not having ever dived into a superhero comic with plenty of character history behind it, we found ourselves discussing the evolution of Batman and Miller’s portrayal of him, the city of Gotham compared to present-day cities, legal justice vs. vigilante justice, and the psychology of criminals and so-called “heroes.” No one at the meeting had spent any of their youth reading Batman comics, leaving us to wonder if our perspectives would have been different had we grown up with the Batman character.
Like any major comic book superhero, Batman has an extensive mythos behind him. Miller in many ways spun the Batman mythos on its head by giving us an older, retired, possibly alcoholic Batman. This Batman is much grittier than the sort of cheesy, fairly simplistic character everyone was familiar with before Dark Knight Returns (first published in 1986). Miller gives us a dark, complicated Batman struggling with his own values and position in the world. We discussed this shift and the other Batman stories, such as the films by Christopher Nolan, for which this comic laid the ground.
Gotham City is also a place with quite a bit of grit – it’s crime-ridden and a gang calling itself the Mutants terrorizes Gotham’s citizens. The media is pervasive and not at all shy to show complete video of grotesque crimes they manage to catch on tape. The media as portrayed by Miller compared to the media of today was discussed at length. Particularly, in the face of the Internet and the multimedia experiences we can have 24/7, we found a number of similarities and discussed the effects this can have on people.
Bruce Wayne watches as Gotham slides further and further into crime and begins to feel drawn to his Batman persona once again. He takes up the cape and mask for the first time in ten years and, throughout the book, deals with the likes of Two-Face and Joker. The media actively debate Batman’s role in society – is he a vigilante who must be brought to justice, or a hero? We discussed this fine line as well and speculated on how our current society may react to such a figure. We debated about the effectiveness of the law versus the effectiveness of being able to flout legal procedure. The ability of the law to deal with super-criminals Gotham must face was also of interest to us. The Joker’s psychology, in particular, was focused on and we addressed an issue brought up in the book several times – would the Joker even exist without the Batman?
So, for a small group of ladies-only this month, we managed to have a pretty involved conversation about Dark Knight. The social and cultural issues relevant to Gotham City are, in fact, not terribly different than those we find in our own reality. The appeal of Miller’s Batman is that he is the would-be Batman of the real world. Here are some questions that could get you started in your discussion of Dark Knight:
  1. Do you approve of the Batman? Why or why not? Is what he doing moral or wrong or something in between? Is it necessary to flout the powers that be to effectively fight crime? What prevents the police from doing their jobs more effectively?
  2. Is Dr. Wolper on to something when he frequently suggests that it is Batman’s own psychosis and role that encourage the psychosis and behaviors of criminals such as Harvey Dent and the Joker? Particularly, in terms of the Joker, would he be so set on committing his deadly crimes without the Batman?

-- Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian, Austin Public Library