Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm already sick of Dark Knight reviews that...

...make vague, undocumented references to Frank Miller's so-called influence on Batman movies. David Edelstein mentions that Tim Burton's Batman was "partially inspired by Frank Miller and by the graphic novel The Killing Joke." Manohla Dargis says The Dark Knight "is closer to Bob Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s 1986 reinterpretation." Stephanie Zacharek says "the characters originally created by Bob Kane -- and further developed by the likes of Frank Miller -- were rich, fascinating ones," and so on.

Miller contributions to the Batman universe cannot be overstated but they're not as cut and dry as these tossed off mentions imply. Which Miller are we talking about? The Dark Knight Returns is set in the future with an sad, old Batman. Year One's Bats is young and prone to mistakes. His current book, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is like a Bizarro World version of Adam West - Burt Ward camp; bright colors, flashy gadgets, and Bat-profanity.

I'd welcome an in depth analysis of Miller's influence on the Batman movies but it irks me when people just auto-compare. Burton's Batman owes much of its story to a run in the 1970s by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers (truly outstanding comics collected in the trade paperback "Strange Apparitions"); Miller's contribution is, in my estimation, important but secondary (or tertiary after The Killing Joke). And frankly, I think Miller's work was much more important to Batman Begins, with it's obvious narrative parallels to Year One (and to several books, like The Long Halloween, in which other creators picked up Miller's interpretation and expanded it), than The Dark Knight. I saw the new film this morning and, to me, it's a whole new animal. This doesn't look or sound like any Batman comics I've read, any Batman movies I've seen and that includes Frank Miller's and director Christopher Nolan's own Batman Begins. Who cares if they talk about Gotham City; anyone watching the movie can see this Batman story is set in Chicago — not on a dressed-up backlot or garishly decorated soundstages but on the streets of the Windy City. There's no attempt to reconcile this Gotham with the one from Begins, with its impossible monorail transit system and computer fabricated skyline. Though this is a clear continuation of Begins, it's also a very different film with a very different visual style. This Batman is in a world that while not exactly our own is closer than anything that's come before.

I could write more but I'm hoping to get the opportunity to do so at length after I see it again. If that time comes, I promise I won't just name drop Miller or any other comic book author. We'll save that for Christmas and The Spirit.


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