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Old October 23rd, 2006   CapeandCowl is offline   #1
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Default In Defense of a truly dark Dark Knight

Ok, I’ve tried.. I’ve tired to buy into the so-called “new” Batman in DCs ongoing Batman books. I’ve listened to the reaction of people who have a nearly pathological hate for Frank Miller describe All Star Batman and Robin – along with the rest of this Bat-works – as the insane ramblings of a disordered mind that has “ruined” Batman.

Well, now I am mad as hell and I ain’t shuttin up no more!

Well I am not that mad...not mad at all really... but disappointed both as a long time fan of Batman, fan of Miller’s works, and of the kind of comics stories I prefer to read.

I know, I know. There are people doing back flips over the Morrison/Dini books. That’s cool. But I think in the big silver age/1970s love fest that is currently going on, the depth and power of the previous version of Batman has been overlooked at best, or simply distorted by some at worst.

The place to start, I think, is to start with the guy who gets the blame for what some fans like to call “a-hole Batman.” Frank Miller. Year One. Dark Night Returns. DK2. For a whole generation of fans these works – along with the some of the best that followed in Miller’s footsteps like Batman: Prey or even Denny O’Neil’s “Venom” – defined what Batman was and how he should be.

Contrary to what is often spouted on message boards Frank Miller’s did not create a “crazy a-hole,” who was cold and unemotional and above all, unheroic. He was not, to be sure, the Batman of the 1970s or the Silver Age. But he was, in many readers opinions, including mine, a far more interesting and complex character. He is certainly not, as some claim, written “Marv in a cape.” Batman is not a mentally ill, bar room drunk and killer. Indeed, the two characters have almost nothing in common other than they are both written by the same man.

Miller’s Batman in every incarnation from DKR to the current All Star book, is a distinctly complex character. Prior to Miller, Batman was almost always portrayed as a typical superhero. He had the brightly coloured suit – light blue cape and cowl and light grey tights. And his behavior was, for the most part, indistinguishable from Superman, Green Lantern or the Flash. Given any particular situation Batman would probably make the same choices as any other guy in tights.

He was “dark” in the best of these kinds of stories, but not especially so. For example, there is a story of kids sitting around a camp fire with Bruce Wayne, talking about what they think Batman is. After a while, Wayne slips into the shadows and then jumps out in full Bat-gear and pronounce that THIS is what Batman is! Tada!! The kids immediately recognize him as Wayne, tell him to sod off and go to sleep. Wayne is left to muse that the image of Batman is only scary to criminal and the innocent have nothing to fear from his Dracula like appearance.

I don’t want to vent about this, but that is where the so called “heroic” Batman fell of the rails. Batman’s appearance will scare the crap out of a stone cold killer, but grade school kids aren’t affected?? Seriously, Batman is either scary, or he is not. If anything, it would be harder to spook the stone cold killer than it would a bunch of kids. But that is how it went.

But most of all Batman was – and apparently is again – an unlicensed cop. He is a defender of the status quo. Gotham was just like any other city in the DCU, plagued by the occasional villain – who was more interested in leaving obvious clues for Batman than committing any real crimes - but it wasn’t a really dangerous place. The cops and Batman kept everything safe.

Enter Frank Miller. His Batman first off isn’t a cop in a costume. He’s an urban revolutionary. Miller creates a Gotham that NEEDS a Batman. You see it in every Bat story he’s done. Gotham is a hell hole. Its public officials and police are largely corrupt. Its business leaders are selfish to the point of madness, and then it has disfigured homicidal super villains to boot.

This Batman fights not just crime, but an entire system of injustice. In Year One, once he gets his Bat legs under him, he attacks a dinner party filled with Gotham movers and shakers and tells them “None of you are safe.” The Batman of the previous era would never have done such a thing. He fights corrupt lawyers, cops and politicians as much as he does criminals. In DKR and DK2 Batman takes his war national, fighting the US government and its super powered proxy, Superman.

Then we get in him All Star – which if you believed internet posters, a story everyone and their dog hates. Sales figures tell a different tale, with the book being a top 5 seller every time out. This despite insane delays! That should tell you something….but I digress. Again here we see Batman fighting a system, not just crazy crooks.

Fair enough some say, but Miller’s Batman is not heroic. Look at what he did to poor Dick. He slapped him once. He called him names!

The pre-Miller Batman was a pretty nice guy. He was a NORMAL guy despite the fact that is life was anything but normal from the time he was a kid. This was all part of keeping Batman a straight laced, never really does anything wrong, Dudley Do-Right kind of hero. What Miller did was look at what Batman was, lifted him out of his safe 1970s Gotham, and asks, “What would this guy really be like?” Given the extremes Bruce Wayne would have had to go to in order to become Batman, it is unlikely he is a normal guy. He would be harsh, hard, and arrogant. And to follow through with becoming Batman, Bruce would have to remain forever obsessed with the event that motivates him – his parent’s murder.

Batman is also, contrary to what many Miller haters say, far more emotional in Miller’s hands than he was previously, or since. Miller sees Batman through operatic lenses, and so the character is big and broad. He doesn’t get “mad”; he seethes with a white hot rage. He doesn’t get sad or depressed, he broods. The part of him that wants revenge for his parents death takes a gleeful enjoyment out of battering criminals. He retired and gave up on his mission, we learn in DKR, because Jason Todd was killed. Miller’s Batman is a character of extremes.

So when a brash 20 something Batman, not more than a year or so away from the events of Year One, arrogantly takes Dick Grayson under his wing, is he going to suddenly be this great and wise father figure? Is he going to know always what the right thing to do is, like the Batman of an early age? No. He is going to make awful mistakes. He is going to be plagued by massive self doubts. Indeed, this extreme man has nothing in his life to prepare him for dealing with a 12-year-old, never mind a traumatized one.

No, Miller’s Batman is not unfeeling or cold. He might act like an a-hole from time to time, but he is, and this is the most important point, no less heroic because he is not entirely likeable. Sherlock Holmes is not a particularly likeable guy, yet he is a hero and a popular one. TVs House is similarly a jerk a lot of the time, but also a hero. He is dedicated to fighting a system of injustice; he just doesn’t do it with a wink and a smile. He’s a badass mother, and Miller over the top style plays well to his take on the character. It is really not a mystery why so many like and continue to like Miller’s take on Batman.

Following DKR, some writers trying to capture a nimbus of the Miller magic. Some did it well. Stories like Prey and Gotham by Glasslight captured the notion of Miller’s Batman well. Loeb’s Long Halloween is told in Miller’s style and the fantastic Batman Begins is a blending of Miller’s dark and cynical Batverse mixed with some of Denny O’Neil’s stuff.

But others did not so well, and ended up writing a character who was dark, sure, but did not have the operatic feel of Miller’s Batman. Some of these stories worked well. Some did not. The worst of them started to play like a broken record.

Then came Infinite Crisis, which was to, in part, “fix” Batman. Johns writes a brilliant moment where Batman finally cracks. He has a vicious panic attack and collapses on the floor of the Batcave saying “I can’t do this anymore.” Brilliant stuff, considering the harsh world Batman has lived in since DKR and Y1. The set up was there for someone to write a new take on Batman, one that could set a tone for a decade or more, just as Miller had done and O’Neil before him.

But we didn’t get that. What we got was, at best, O’Neil lite. The current Batman inhabits a safe Gotham we are told in Morrison’s run. Suddenly its 1975 again and Batman is back to his old mojo…but he isn’t. The Batman of Denny O’Neil might not have been as harsh as Miller’s, but he was still interesting. He was dark and romantic, in the classical sense of that word. He was an adventurer instead of a revolutionary as Miller writes him.

But the “new” Batman, which isn’t new but a retread of the past, is neither dark nor romantic. He is not harsh. He is neither too nice, too much of a jerk…he is not too much of anything really. He is what the worst Batman stories always make Batman out to be – the most boring character in the book.

I can only surmise that someone, somewhere in DC figured that Batman had to be nice again, and the way to do that was to dial the clock back before Frank Miller. But this was done without, I would argue, a real understanding of the power and compelling nature of Miller’s Batman and an equally poor understand of what O’Neil and company did that made their work so popular.

So we are left with an empty cowl. A Batman that is only “heroic” because he fights “villains”. But the challenges he faces are not all that dangerous at all. Victory is a forgone conclusion and we know that Batman will always do the right thing – which is of course very easy to do in the once again very safe place of Gotham City.

I do not suggest Miller’s take is the only one that can work. But what he understood, and what made his version to compelling, why it spawned so many pretenders and imitators, why it inspired so many writers and fans, was that he understood that Batman to be Batman needs to be dark. He’s a hero dressed in black, not pale blue. His darkness is deep and profound and terrible. But his heroism is equally huge.

It is this depth of character that has been lost in the attempt to make a nicer more “heroic” Batman. And one wonders how long it will take before someone has the imagination and courage to restore the essential darkness back into Batman and take the character into a new direction instead of going back over old ground.

Or so it seems to me.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   DarkNight1939 is offline   #2
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i whole-heartedly agree with you.
Batman is always the one to change everyone's mind.
Batman's always the one who makes the most sense.
Batman will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
he was just fine before infinite crisis.
he was perfect.
he doens't need to be re-made or re-done, they don't need to make him a nicer guy, that's not what Batman's all about, he can be nice, but he pushes all of that away to do what's right. i hate the new color too, blue???? blue???
WTF!?!?!
and heroic?? have any of you ever read no man's land?
i really do not like this new direction.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Matches is offline   #3
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Just as Alan Moore has been unfairly blamed for rotten Watchmen rip-offs, Miller has had his name attached to the last 20 or so years of Batman stories. Thing is, the Batman of the last decade or so ISN'T Miller's Batman.

Writers who followed Miller unfortunately took only the surface elements from Milller's work - Batman uses lots of military terminology, flashes back to his parents' death at least once per issue, and is really violent. That's a totally superficial understanding of Miller's interpretation.

The Batman of the last few years needed to be fixed. He was no longer being portrayed as a likeable protagonist. He was completely unable to carry on a healthy relationship with even his closest allies. He was extremely manipulative of everyone, including his friends. That's not Miller's Batman. Batman in DKR had reasonably healthy relationships with Gordon, Carrie, Selina, and Alfred. He was an intense guy, but not a jerk. Above all, he was honest - maybe brutally so at times, but *always* honest. The Batman who doesn't tell Robin his girlfriend is about to die, who thinks it's a GOOD thing when Robin creates a fake uncle, isn't Miller's.

Moreover, the Bat-books in the last few years took on a very nihilistic tone. It seemed that Batman rarely succeeded at actually doing anything. Look through Winick's run - other than defeating Amazo, does Batman actually accomplish *anything* over the course of the story? Increasingly, we've just seen his life get worse and worse, his allies die or turn evil, and he doesn't even seem to stem the tide.

Again - that's not Miller. Denny O'Neil once noted that he had no desire to edit a downbeat comic; he pointed out that life is full of falling beams, but it's also full of falling flowers. Good things AND bad things happen. Batman's story was never intended to be depressing or nihilistic, and Miller understood that. As dark as they both are, both DKR and Y1 end on positive, optimistic notes. Contrast that with War Games, War Crimes, or Under the Hood.

The Bat-books were broken pre-IC and needed to be fixed. They needed a change in tone, a return to basics. That need wasn't Frank Miller's fault. It's been a problem for some time, and we've been promised fixes repeatedly. The "Murderer/ Fugitive" story, for example, was supposed to be a turning point for the character. Problem was, it was forgotten about two months later, largely because its subtlety was missed by many of the subsequent creators.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   superfriend is offline   #4
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I agree with everyone here. And I STILL like Miller's Batman and the latest stuff. I can like both right? :P
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Icon is offline   #5
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In general I agree with Matches on just about everything he said. I have nothing against DKR, never have, it worked superbly. What caused the problems was subsequent creators ascribing personality traits from the older, jaded, worn out Batman, to Batman of the past and present (Year One on). DKR was fine as it was only a possible future, it shouldn't have ever been viewed as a starting point.

I would debate, that whilst DKR Batman had allies, I'm not sure I'd call them friends as everything has to be on HIS terms or not at all, and the complete alienation of Dick Grayson, his son in all but blood (He get's one mention in the whole thing) seems to indicate some failure to communicate with those closest to him, though there was a touching side to his developing relationship with a "daughter" in Carrie.

As for Denny O'Neill not wanting to "edit a downbeat comic", is this the same Denny O'Neill who edited "Ten Nights of the Beast", "A Death in the Family" and essentially the whole "Jason Todd; Street punk" concept? Not too many flowers there, IMHO.... DKR might seem optimistic in it's ending, but as it was preceded by complete catastrophe, it would be harder to get more downbeat without a bodycount. (Though again, in the just pre-IC Batman, there WOULD have been a bodycount just to give it greater "impact")

Miller has his flaws (ASB&R highlights most of them in a nutshell) but DKR wasn't an example of them, nor do I blame him for the retroactive dehumanisation of the Batman which followed.

The only specific point I will take specific issue with in capeandcowl's post is the bit about;

Batman’s appearance will scare the crap out of a stone cold killer, but grade school kids aren’t affected?? Seriously, Batman is either scary, or he is not. If anything, it would be harder to spook the stone cold killer than it would a bunch of kids. But that is how it went.

You have to face the fact that the concept of Batman is absurd, there is nothing abut a guy in a cape which is innately scary at all. That's your starting point. Comics IGNORE that starting point for dramatic effect and we go along for the ride. (Personally I'd be more freaked out by the grinning kid in the shorts who tags along with him, now THAT would be creepy.)

Kids really don't scare easily, kids are incredibly hard to scare properly because they don't appreciate the concept of abstract fear yet. In this context, to a kid Batman is a guy in a silly suit, but to a criminal, he's the nightmare people have whispered about in every lowlife dive he's ever been to.

The kids are unaware of the horrors the stonecold killer has confronted and possibly embraced, nor the rumours Batman has generated in the criminal class, the kids lack the depth of dark imagination which feeds Batman.

As an example, just after Prodigal, Tim is woken from his bed by Batman in his new outfit, and is shocked by the scariness of it. Rarely has an emotional reaction seemed more fake, there's nothing about the costume which SHOULD inspire fear, particularly not in someone like Tim who has seen a LOT scarier stuff in his time.

Batman is essentially absurd, the fact they modulated that absurdity to highlight the defining moment of batman "Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot" isn't something to be derided IMHO, but embraced.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Icon is offline   #6
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I agree with everyone here. And I STILL like Miller's Batman and the latest stuff. I can like both right? :P
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Not legally no. And if you do, both sides get to poke fun at you !

Surem enjoy, have fun, sit down, we're discussing a comic, it's not like it's something important, like, say, football teams, or cars (Two topics of frequent conversation which continue to bafffle me)
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Matches is offline   #7
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As for Denny O'Neill not wanting to "edit a downbeat comic", is this the same Denny O'Neill who edited "Ten Nights of the Beast", "A Death in the Family" and essentially the whole "Jason Todd; Street punk" concept? Not too many flowers there, IMHO.... DKR might seem optimistic in it's ending, but as it was preceded by complete catastrophe, it would be harder to get more downbeat without a bodycount. (Though again, in the just pre-IC Batman, there WOULD have been a bodycount just to give it greater "impact")
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While Death in the Family was certainly a downbeat arc, I always viewed that, along with Year Three and A Lonely Place of Dying, as one big story. Viewed that way, it's a story about death *and* rebirth, and gives one a much more optimistic viewpoint. Ten Nights was a fun story, but to this day I'm still amazed O'Neil let it be published, especially with that ending.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   CapeandCowl is offline   #8
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Just as Alan Moore has been unfairly blamed for rotten Watchmen rip-offs, Miller has had his name attached to the last 20 or so years of Batman stories. Thing is, the Batman of the last decade or so ISN'T Miller's Batman.

Writers who followed Miller unfortunately took only the surface elements from Milller's work - Batman uses lots of military terminology, flashes back to his parents' death at least once per issue, and is really violent. That's a totally superficial understanding of Miller's interpretation.

The Batman of the last few years needed to be fixed. He was no longer being portrayed as a likeable protagonist. He was completely unable to carry on a healthy relationship with even his closest allies. He was extremely manipulative of everyone, including his friends. That's not Miller's Batman. Batman in DKR had reasonably healthy relationships with Gordon, Carrie, Selina, and Alfred. He was an intense guy, but not a jerk. Above all, he was honest - maybe brutally so at times, but *always* honest. The Batman who doesn't tell Robin his girlfriend is about to die, who thinks it's a GOOD thing when Robin creates a fake uncle, isn't Miller's.

Moreover, the Bat-books in the last few years took on a very nihilistic tone. It seemed that Batman rarely succeeded at actually doing anything. Look through Winick's run - other than defeating Amazo, does Batman actually accomplish *anything* over the course of the story? Increasingly, we've just seen his life get worse and worse, his allies die or turn evil, and he doesn't even seem to stem the tide.

Again - that's not Miller. Denny O'Neil once noted that he had no desire to edit a downbeat comic; he pointed out that life is full of falling beams, but it's also full of falling flowers. Good things AND bad things happen. Batman's story was never intended to be depressing or nihilistic, and Miller understood that. As dark as they both are, both DKR and Y1 end on positive, optimistic notes. Contrast that with War Games, War Crimes, or Under the Hood.

The Bat-books were broken pre-IC and needed to be fixed. They needed a change in tone, a return to basics. That need wasn't Frank Miller's fault. It's been a problem for some time, and we've been promised fixes repeatedly. The "Murderer/ Fugitive" story, for example, was supposed to be a turning point for the character. Problem was, it was forgotten about two months later, largely because its subtlety was missed by many of the subsequent creators.
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As always you put it better than I. You are exactly right. The so called "on note" Batman of recent years is a vastly different creature than the emotion volcano that is Miller's Batman, and I am often puzzled why people equate a stoic emotionless Batman with Miller's work.

I agree that its time for Batman to change, and the set up IC was great. I also think Morrison is on an interesting track from reading his interview in Newsrama on the subject (despite a rather sour grapes swipe at Miller). I just don't know if it is working in the execution.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Icon is offline   #9
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While Death in the Family was certainly a downbeat arc, I always viewed that, along with Year Three and A Lonely Place of Dying, as one big story. Viewed that way, it's a story about death *and* rebirth, and gives one a much more optimistic viewpoint. Ten Nights was a fun story, but to this day I'm still amazed O'Neil let it be published, especially with that ending.
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Looked at that way I agree that "A Lonely Place of Dying" makes for much more optimistic ending, but I just don't see it as an extension of the other two. Dramatically speaking A Death in the Family seems all but the definition of "Stand alone".
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   stephbarton is offline   #10
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I have to agree with Matches. A lot of those early 'dark' Batman stories are amazing and are great Batman stories. But somewhere along the line writers took the 'dark' aspect of Batman and made it all that Batman was. Basically Batman started becoming a character that you couldn't like because of how he treated others and how manipulative he was. None of the great Batman stories ever have him as being a complete, manipulative jerk. The great Batman stories always show him as being complex. The Batman right before pre-IC was not complex, he had become a one-note character in the worst way.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Captrose is offline   #11
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I agree with the majority of things said here. I agree that Miller gets blamed for the "grim & gritty" Batman, which is true and not true. Try to convince someone that Batman showed compassion to villain in DKR. When disagree, show them the scene where Batman seems to be almost hugging Two Face towards the end of the 1st issue. Just after the, "Harvey, I have to know.." comments.
Batman is driven, and probably like all of us, sometimes would go a bit far. Not to the point of killing someone, but to where he's pushing people away by with his determination. The Gotham that Miller creates would require this. I think also though, the Gotham of Year One is NOT the Gotham of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo & Dick Gordiano. It had moved toward being cleaned up. Sure, there was still crime & corruption, but there had been progress.
I pretty much accept all versions of Batman as legit. 2 notable exceptions are the campy tv show from the 60's & Joel Shumaker's movies. Ok, Joel, you don't want to make the "Woe is me" Batman, fine. You don't have to remake the crap from the 60's as a million dollar nipplesuit.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Matches is offline   #12
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As always you put it better than I. You are exactly right. The so called "on note" Batman of recent years is a vastly different creature than the emotion volcano that is Miller's Batman, and I am often puzzled why people equate a stoic emotionless Batman with Miller's work.
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During Alan Grant's run (Detective #642, I think), there's a scene where Batman shows up at a crime scene right after he's been dumped by Vicki Vale. He's kinda cold and surly to Gordon, and Bullock makes a comment as he swings away, "well at least he's human." Gordon replies "he's more human than the rest of us combined."

IMO that hit the nail on the head, and illustrated the same point you're making. Batman comes off at times as cold and unfeeling, but in reality he's the exact opposite. Miller absolutely gets that. Somewhere along the line, though, the Bat-writers forgot it.

Instead, everyone turned pop psychologist, and we've gotten all these stories devoted to convincing us that Batman is crazy, or at least mentally unstable. Again, IMO, that's not Miller's version. Miller's guy goes right up to the edge of losing it, but he's totally in control, totally rational. If his actions seem nuts, it's because the world around him is nuts. Just like the Englehart version, Miller's Batman is the ultimate sane man in an insane world.

Other the years, though, it's become trendy to opine that Batman must be nuts because, after all, why would anyone risk their life night after night, sans powers, dressed in a Halloween costume. Yet no one asks the same question about Green Arrow, or any of the other dozens and dozens of non-powered characters running around. The question ignores one of the basic conceits of superhero comics - that is, that it is perfectly normal for people to put on costumes and fight crime. IRL, no. In comics, yes. Unfortunately the amateur psychologists have been writing the books at times, so we get stuff like Batman hallucinating giant bats (Devin on GK).
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   konanken is offline   #13
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I love DKR and year one, I though DK2 read like it was a bit rushed. I am not a Miller hater, but I just haven't been able to enjoy Batman & Robin yet. I will buy all the issues just to see what the finished product reads like. But I do enjoy the dark knight as a grittier darker character, it makes more sense.
 
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Old October 23rd, 2006   Jeff Shabazz is offline   #14
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I think many writers that followed in Miller's foot steps not only made Batman too cold, but way too arrogant. What makes this character, Batman, different from the other non-powered capes is the fact that his drive to save everyone and the world so badly it has totally consumed him, to the point where he has become the symbol and cause he began fighting for - if that makes sense.
 
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Old October 24th, 2006   CapeandCowl is offline   #15
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During Alan Grant's run (Detective #642, I think), there's a scene where Batman shows up at a crime scene right after he's been dumped by Vicki Vale. He's kinda cold and surly to Gordon, and Bullock makes a comment as he swings away, "well at least he's human." Gordon replies "he's more human than the rest of us combined."

IMO that hit the nail on the head, and illustrated the same point you're making. Batman comes off at times as cold and unfeeling, but in reality he's the exact opposite. Miller absolutely gets that. Somewhere along the line, though, the Bat-writers forgot it.

Instead, everyone turned pop psychologist, and we've gotten all these stories devoted to convincing us that Batman is crazy, or at least mentally unstable. Again, IMO, that's not Miller's version. Miller's guy goes right up to the edge of losing it, but he's totally in control, totally rational. If his actions seem nuts, it's because the world around him is nuts. Just like the Englehart version, Miller's Batman is the ultimate sane man in an insane world.

Other the years, though, it's become trendy to opine that Batman must be nuts because, after all, why would anyone risk their life night after night, sans powers, dressed in a Halloween costume. Yet no one asks the same question about Green Arrow, or any of the other dozens and dozens of non-powered characters running around. The question ignores one of the basic conceits of superhero comics - that is, that it is perfectly normal for people to put on costumes and fight crime. IRL, no. In comics, yes. Unfortunately the amateur psychologists have been writing the books at times, so we get stuff like Batman hallucinating giant bats (Devin on GK).
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Exactly! Its funny for all the unfair flak he gets about creating a dor and dull and cold Batman, Miller himself warned that to impose too much reality on comics is a quick way to ensure the genre loses its story telling power.

"People are attempting to bring a superficial reality to superheroes which is rather stupid. They work best as the flamboyant fantasies they are. I mean, these are characters that are broad and big. I don't need to see sweat patches under Superman's arms. I want to see him fly." -Frank Miller
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Old October 24th, 2006   jafabian is offline   #16
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Knowing Morrison, I think it's gonna take him about six, maybe seven issues before he really gets rolling. I think he's taking his time and going one step at a time to set up a solid, memorable run.
 
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