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Superhero Comic Books Are Good Literature! Part 10: The Dark Knight Returns is Still Relevant

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The Dark Knight Returns proves itself an excellent story on many fronts. But really, how can we consider this story, about an old man who dons tights and fights clowns, be considered Good Literature?

In short, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns tells a good story that also delivers on a deeper level because, like any good allegory, it places a mirror in front of the world and yells, “LOOK!  Look at yourselves!!”  Though it was written over twenty-five years ago the characters and what they symbolize still resonate today.  The president in the story is a clear parody of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush but one could easily juxtapose an image of President George W. Bush or Barak Obama onto this character and see the similarities. 

Also, Superman (Clark Kent) represents the “good soldier” stereotype who simply does as he is told without asking questions.  Miller doesn’t stop there though.  He also attacks media, politics in general, liberals, conservatives, and a whole slew of other “types” one sees in America. 

It is ironic I think as we discuss this right now that the situation from 2008 between Russia and Georgia in our world seems mirrored by the situation between Russia and the fictional island country of Corto Maltese (the cause of the aforementioned nuclear bomb’s detonation) because in both cases there is a much larger country invading a much smaller country for reasons that are, at best, to citizens of the United States, unclear.  

I’m not even going to get into the terrorist flying an airplane into a building scene.

Clearly, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns makes the grade.  The story is a Hero’s Journey in all of its classic glory.  The connections to older examples of Good Literature are everywhere, from the way the teenagers talk and behave—reminiscent of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange—to the overall theme of death, resurrection, and almost Biblical end of times. 

The allegorical premise works on so many different levels as well.  Miller seems to be telling us we are all at fault when measured against the will, might, and strength of a true hero.  He shows how other people behave—the pundits, the criminals, the world rulers, others who call themselves “heroes,” and the misguided children.  They fall victim to their own fears, their own inner desires, their own forlorn self-loathing or self-loving problems, but like a true hero, Batman rises above it all.  He pays no attention to the words of his detractors, he plows on, doing what is right, heedless of personal costs.  Finally, the characters, while a far cry from complex, represent all readers and are allegorical in nature, therefore they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

Read with a simple love for comics and Batman, The Dark Knight Returns can be nothing short of an excellent read.  Read with the eye of a reader looking for Good Literature, The Dark Knight Returns is nothing short of amazing writing.

But we’re not done yet, class.  Though I know the sun is starting to set and some of you may be getting bleary eyed and dreamy, we still have two to go.  Since the air is getting cooler, the bright blue sky is darkening, and we’re all worn out from our trip through that figurative tunnel, now is as good a time as any to visit everyone’s favorite nocturnal hero, Sandman.

Come back next week before we all fall asleep.

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AE Stueve is a former regular contributor to Broken Frontier.  His first novel, The ABCs of DInkology is due out this fall from WSC Press and The Wave, a line of comic books he is editing, is also due out this fall.

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