Reading Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, part 7

Batman #404 (“Year One, Part 1”) (February 1987), page 23 (detail). Written by Frank Miller, art by David Mazzucchelli.

Seventeen years have passed since my last installment in this series, so let’s at last sit down and write some kind of conclusion. But first, a recap:

  • Part 1 and Part 2 provided background for Frank Miller’s groundbreaking four-issue comics miniseries—namely, I described what he’d been up to prior to that, as well as what North American comics were like at that time;
  • Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 offered close readings of the respective four books in the series;
  • Part 8 (now up) examines the impact TDKR had on Miller’s subsequent career.

Now, in these final entries, I’ll outline what became of Batman, Frank Miller, and comics themselves after the Dark Knight returned…

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Postmodernist Identity, part 1: IPCRESS, Bond, Austin Powers, and G.I. Joe

OK, time to get really geeky. Paul’s recent post mentioning Len Deighton’s The IPCRESS File (1962) jostled a few thoughts I’ve had about—well, about G.I. Joe. And pulp. Which I’ll get to. But first:

The Unnamed Spy

The IPCRESS File is a first-person Cold War spy novel. We never learn much about the novel’s narrator, other than that he once worked for Military Intelligence, wears glasses, enjoys good food, and doesn’t love his job (he doesn’t seem to make much money). Deighton conceived of the fellow in response to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, making his spy everyday and working class where 007 was glamorous and dashing.

Throughout the novel and its seven sequels, we never learn the spy’s name. At one point, someone calls him “Harry,” and he thinks,

Now my name isn’t Harry, but in this business it’s hard to remember whether it ever had been. (31)

What’s more interesting is that the unnamed narrator of the later novels might not be the same man who narrates IPCRESS. Throughout Spy Story (1972), the narrator is regularly addressed as “Patrick Armstrong,” and Deighton changes the character’s age (making him younger by about twenty years). And the novel begins with the narrator entering his apartment to find it refurnished, with a different person replacing him in his photographs. But there are also clues that it’s still, somehow, the same man…

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Reading Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, part 1

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

These days, Frank Miller is arguably best-known as a filmmaker. He co-directed Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of his long-running comic Sin City (1991–present), which he followed with his own peculiar 2008 adaptation of Will Eisner’s classic comic series The Spirit (1942–52). In between, he executive-produced Zack Snyder’s hugely successful adaptation of his 1998 graphic novel 300. Hollywood’s current infatuation with super-heroics has served him well.

Most of Miller’s work, however, has been in comics, a medium he has helped revolutionize over the past twenty years. Since comics sadly remain an understudied and under-analyzed literary medium, I thought I’d take advantage of John Madera’s generosity—and your patience—to sketch out some thoughts about the form and importance of Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

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