I’m at best a tourist of Marvel and DC Comics–and by that, I mean my general exposure happens through whatever mainstream movie or TV series is occurring at the moment. Sorry guys, I’m not really a nerd. 😦 I watched the Tim Burton Batman film and then gave up on the horrific Batman and Robin (nipples on the Batsuit? really?). But I re-entered the Batman world when Christopher Nolan came out with his Dark Knight trilogy, which I enjoyed immensely. I’ve been meaning to read the Dark Knight graphic novels by Frank Miller for years, but it’s only been until now that I’ve been able to read it.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is, let’s face it, kind of a hot mess. He’s older and physically wrecked. He’s weighted by a sense of failure after the death of the second Robin. He’s also retired and trying not to think about the kind of world that Gotham is enmeshed in. The four-part series focuses on his re-emergence as a superhero, as well as his failure to be the Batman that he was before. There’s an interesting twist on the Robin storyline, and also a fascinating subplot with Superman.
Something that I’ve noticed with graphic novels from the 1980s (and I’m specifically thinking about Watchmen in this instance) is the interesting relationship with Reagan and the Cold War. While Reagan is not actually present in Watchmen (it’s Nixon), the American president is hyperbolized a bit, especially in presenting a face of confidence and domination to the American public. There’s a fear of nuclear warfare and annihilation present, and the presence of superheroes seems to exaggerate these anxieties in a way that are of deep interest to a contemporary scholar, such as myself. I’m excited to continue with the series.