And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013)

Part 4: More Comic Book History You Don’t Care About But Need to Know in Order to Understand What the Hell’s Going On in This Review:

"We now return you to our regularly scheduled film, already in progress."

“We now return you to our regularly scheduled film, already in progress.”

Since Warner Brothers insisted on adapting this story into two, one hour and twelve minute movies I made a point of not revisiting Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 in preparation for this review of Part Deux. If it’d been up to me, I would’ve adapting Frank Miller’s four-issue story arc into one movie. Even with everything here it’d still be at least an hour shorter than the last two live action Bat-films. And make no mistake – the WB’s straight-to-video animation department threw in a lot.

They had no choice.  These are adaptions of one of the best-loved Batman stories in history. Find me a Bat-writer and, with a little help from my friend Google, I’ll probably be able to find you a choice quote about how 1986’s Dark Knight Returns either got them into Batman in the first place, or brought them back after a period of apostasy. Current Batman/Superman writer Greg Pak just provided me a perfect example in this interview, dated February 27th, 2013:

I dropped out for a little bit, and I was still picking up indie comics like Cerebus and Usagi Yojimbo, but it was Batman that got me back into superhero comics when I was in college. Specifically it was Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, which then led me to other stuff. It was basically Frank Miller who dragged me back in, and I was hooked. I was obsessed with Batman. Continue reading

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)

Introduction: Comic Book History You Don’t Care About But Need to Know in Order to Understand What the Hell’s Going On (with apologies to Linkara).

Shazam...! Oh, no...wait...Batson doesn't show up until The Dark Knight Strikes Again. My bad.

Shazam…! Oh, no…wait…Batson doesn’t show up until The Dark Knight Strikes Again. My bad.

Yes, friends, it’s time once again to examine the hilariously over-praised work of comic book writer Frank Miller, whose slow slide into insanity, inanity and irrelevance has provided amusement to comic book fans for the last fifteen years. Before that, though – and still to this day in some corners of Bat-fandom – Miller is/was considered a godhead, the wellspring from which all modern conceptions of Batman flow.

This is patent bullshit, ignoring at least fifteen years of hard work by other creatives. My favorite Batman editor, Dennis O’Neil, started out as a front-line writer in 1969, and made the conscious choice to move Bats away from the campiness of his by-then-canceled TV show. Together with writer/artist Neil Adams, inker Dick Giordano and editor Julius Schwartz, O’Neil returned The Bat to his roots in the pulpy Crime Dramas of the 30s and early 40s. The SF elements common in American comic’s Silver Age either shuffled off to the background…or were not-so-subtly twisted to reflect the changing (or “evolving”…and I’d dare say “improving”) tastes of the 70s. This culminated in Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers 1977 run on Detective Comics, now sold under the title Batman: Strange Apparitions.

For my cash, that marks the first appearance of a truly “modern” Batman, complete with all the baggage and angst that define him still today. O’Neil sent the First Robin, Dick Grayson, off the college, leaving Bats and Alfred alone in their mansion, just the way filmmakers (apparently) like it. Englehart and Rogers introduced the first of many Bruce Wayne love interests, all of whom inevitably moved him to question his crusade, and its end game…before just as inevitably departing his life, leaving him with even more to brood about. Put those elements together, shake ’em up, add villains to taste, and you’ve got every (good) live action Bat-film to date…and through Batman’s influence, most of the Superhero sub-genre.

Continue reading



Batman: Year One (2011)
Yeah, when I heard this was coming to DVD, I more or less pulled this face.

When I heard this was coming to DVD, I more or less pulled this face. Because I knew, sooner or later, I’d have to write this review.

I hate to sound like an ungrateful fanboy but I find myself with no other option. Why does this film even exist? It’s too late for Year One. What idiot would want to adapt it now, after all its major elements have been translated to the silver screen at least twice?

Non-comic book readers should know Year One first appeared as a four-part story arc in Batman #404-407 (February – May 1987). Like most of the Bat-stories published around that time, it quickly became a cornerstone of the character’s modern continuity. Creative teams have referenced it and referred to it ever since, and it’s inspired some of the finest stories of Bat’s modern age.

For example: Bruce Timm (who executive produced this film), Paul Dini and Alan Burnet used it as the inspiration for whole sequences of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (otherwise known as The Greatest Batman Movie Ever Made), including the flashbacks to Bruce’s early crime-fighting years and his extended  flight from the GCPD in the second act. Christopher Nolan turned wide swaths of Year One into my favorite parts of Batman Begins, including the slow build-up to our first sight of Bruce in the Bat-suit…and his extended flight from the GCPD in the second act. Both used Year One as inspiration: a ball they ran with into their separate In-Zones. How can any screen adaption of Year One hold up against that, or the quarter century of expectation Bat-fans have built up? Continue reading



The Spirit (2008)
See? Isn't it pretty?

See? Isn’t it pretty? Doesn’t that distract from how empty it all is?

You know what’s really hard? Trying to tell when Frank Miller’s kidding. Does he take us all for suckers? Is his latter-day career just an extended practical joke? Or – like all good artists stewing in their own pretensions – does he take himself and his work 100%, no-holds-barred seriously? Honestly, Frank…why so serious?

The Spirit is one of those movies that got lost in the shadow of that other superhero flick from the summer of 2008. And that’s really too bad. Sooner or later, someone’s going to “rediscover” it and label it a cult classic. We’ve got to be prepared for that, and prepare to fight against it, because this movie is everything hateful and wrong about modern superhero stories. Continue reading



300 (2006)
February 1, 2011, 12:00 am
Filed under: Movies, Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,
"My 300 friends and I would like to have a word with you. About tolerance."

"My 300 friends and I would like to have a word with you about tolerance and multicultural pluralism."

In spite of all the horrible things I’ve said about him over the years, I can’t really find it in myself to hate Zack Snyder. He is, in many ways, what we’ve always hoped for: a director who stood by his promise to faithful translate one of his favorite comic books to the screen…and succeeded. Unfortunately, he chose to translate this one, and I’ve got more than enough hate in me to spare some for Frank Miller. Despite everything he’s done to change the face of modern comic books, the man’s creative juices just don’t flow the way they used to, and there’s no better picture of the arid waste that lives in Miller’s head than this: his fantastical re-imagining of the battle of Thermopylae.

300 begins with an extended bit of ancient Spartan propaganda, following the long journey of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) from birth to adulthood, narrated (like the rest of the film) by Leonidas’ friend and comrade-in-arms, Delios (David Wenham). Delios’ narrative selectively edits any embarrassingly-accurate pederasty or slave-killing out of the Spartan agoge in favor of gratuitous slow-motion wolf-killing. Because that’s really so much better. More dramatic than slave-killing, really…especially when the wolf is safely CGI. Continue reading



Sin City (2005)
That's the power of love...it colorizes.

So that's the Power of Love: color correction.

As I said in my Predators review, Robert Rodriquez earned the deserved love of millions for his quite bad ass, pseudo-mythic Mariachi films…though I only developed my man-crush on him after From Dusk Til Dawn, which is still the best vampire film of the last twenty years. (Yeah, that’s right. Eat it and like it, Twihards.) As a comic book fan, I’m supposed to have a similar man-crush on Frank Miller, but honestly I’ve hated everything with his name on it since about the mid-90s…round about the time he began publishing Sin City under the banner of Dark Horse Comics.

Even my love for Miller’s early superhero work is purely intellectual. I certainly appreciate its influence. Without The Dark Knight Returns, Batman as we know him would not exist…and neither would the rest of modern superhero film. Some might say that’s as good a reason as any to deploy a time-traveling cyborg with orders to kill Miller in infancy…but “some” might just be cynically stalling for time rather than actually talking about Sin City. Continue reading