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Author Topic: Superman in "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller  (Read 21327 times)
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #16 on: December 22, 2006, 06:30:10 PM »

Good to see an old fashioned dang argument around here.  One thing I would say is that I don't think Aldous is saying that he should tell anyone what a movie means, just that the screenwriters, producer, or director shouldn't either.

As for the DKR, I enjoy it as a future "imaginary" story, one that could occur if certain aspects of the characters are emphasized at a writer's preference.

And I really think the idea of Golden Age heroes as dark vigilantes outside the law gets over-emphasized, neither Superman or Batman really stayed in that character for more than a few issues.
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« Reply #17 on: December 22, 2006, 07:15:26 PM »

All art is meant to understood on many different levels, in fact if it can not understand on many different levels, then it's not really art!

So what are the levels? 1st of all this is based on my findings, so feel free to disagree with me here.

These levels are not in any order.

The Literal Level Anyone can understand any work of art, in this case a comic book, on this level. All you have to do is read it. In this case, that would be the plot, aging Batman beating up villains, and the rest of what happens within the story.

The Metaphorical Level This is what the artist was trying to say with the story, the reason for creating the art in the 1st place. This could be allegorical or simply a political, social, or personal view or all four.

The Symbolic Level This level is about particular things within the story and what they mean besides what they are on a literal level, the happy faces in Watchmen for example.

The Interpretational Level This level is the viewer own personal take on the work of art, it does not have to agree with what the artist had in mind. In fact even the artist themselves will reinterpret an earlier work of art later on in life.
« Last Edit: December 23, 2006, 02:57:36 AM by Super Monkey » Logged

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« Reply #18 on: December 22, 2006, 11:33:02 PM »

What -I- don't understand is WHY Superman, who tries to keep up the status quo, would LET the world get to the point it did in DKR. 

Why did they weaken Superman so much, too? 

As Julian noted previously, one atomic(?) bomb will NOT slow down Superman in the least!  And why didn't Superman disarm Batman's armor before the fight started?  One heat vision blast from Neptune's orbit would have taken out Batman's weaponry (not to mention Batman himself!). 

What happened to Batman's "body" between the fight and his "funeral"?  Wouldn't the government do about 2,000,000,000 autopsies on Bruce Wayne? 

And what happened to the HOMES that were destroyed during their battle?  Sure, they were slums, but people LIVED in 'em!  I'd guess Wayne's fortune went towards rebuilding the apartment buildings, but Wayne was shown to have been rich enough to have equipment capable of tracking Superman in the sequel, and that would've been VERY expensive!  Wink 

There are so many things wrong with that story it's not even funny.  Sad 
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« Reply #19 on: December 23, 2006, 01:36:34 AM »

One heat vision blast from Neptune's orbit would have taken out Batman's weaponry (not to mention Batman himself!). 

Certainly quite a few wholes in the plot --which explains why many people have been tempted to read the story solely as metaphor.  But since there is so much in the story that strives for verismilitude, be it Miller's attempts to capture the rhythms of conversation, our experience of tv news, etc, the metaphorical view is constantly intruded on.

I always wonder about the use of heat vision in so-called "adult" versions of Superman as well.  I understand that the conventions of the genre demand actual physical confrontation and fisticuffs (although most Silver and Bronze Age Superman stories dispensed with this), but when I try to imagine Superman as an adult science fiction concept, the first thing I think about is the heat vision.  I wonder what the range of Superman's heat vision is --does it function like a laser in which case it would be like light (?) and only mildly subject to physical forces like gravity/thermodynamics?  or is it some other form of radiation/heat?  The second thing I would imagine Superman doing with most foes (especially robots or weapons/machinery) would be to sneak up behind them at the speed of light and throw them into the sun.  How a robot ever gets the drop on Superman is a puzzle to me...

Interesting discussion on the levels of meaning in Superman.

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« Reply #20 on: December 23, 2006, 03:48:47 AM »

Nightwing:

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If you think you know more about Miller's work than Miller himself does, that's your right.  But in my book, if Miller went in with an agenda and you took away something totally different, that just means he failed, not that he's an even better writer than he thinks.

No, he didn't fail, and I'm not saying I know more about the comic than he does; that's ridiculous. Remember I'm talking about how I see Superman in this story.

Your thoughts on Superman and Batman, and which version of the world they are better suited to, are very interesting. Yes, I can see exactly where you are coming from, and there's no doubt Superman doesn't belong in the world of "The Dark Knight Returns". But then, if he doesn't fit (which is painfully obvious), doesn't that give you a big clue that he IS Superman, and not a "loser" who isn't Superman (to quote DBN).

I would say to DBN, OK, fine, the guy in red-and-blue in "Dark Knight Returns" is not Superman. So, who is he? Or, to pin you down a bit more, if the Superman we know and love (Silver Age/Bronze Age) was faced with that world and those circumstances, what exactly would he do, and how would he behave? If not how Frank Miller has suggested, then how?

Did anyone ever see that creepy "Twilight Zone" type of TV show where the little boy has the power to do very nasty things to people who do not behave how he wants them to, and who do not maintain the status quo? How, exactly, would you like Superman to change the world of "Dark Knight Returns"? He could use his super-speed and super-strength to force everyone to behave how HE chooses, and if you misbehave, what then? The jails are already overcrowded and the system is in utter chaos, and the government cannot help. What will he do with you? And how can even Superman watch everyone all at once, peering into your living room to make sure you are not breaking his rules? An alternative would be to overthrow the government. (That's what you all would like, I'm supposing.) Great. Now what? Back to square one. Can he watch everyone? Can he be the politicians, the police, the lawyers, the judges, and the prison guards? (Super Monkey, is my detailed review still around of that crazy Bob Haney "Big Brother" comic, in which Superman's supposed brother does just what I'm talking about? -- takes over the whole country and imposes his will on the population. The Prisoner of the Kryptonite Asteroid.) I guess he could make himself President, but President of what? He would have to be mad -- making himself President of a corrupt system. And who is comfortable with Superman being the dictator of the country? What problems are solved? He couldn't solve them. Even Superman is one man, with one brain and one pair of eyes.

So I come back to this: our Superman, faced with THAT world, would act something like he does in "Dark Knight Returns". And that's why I say he's still Superman, not a "loser" Superman or a "Byrne" Superman, or whatever.

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Superman, on the other hand, works best as a defender of the status quo.....

Agreed. Which is why he is screwed up in this comic. For the time being, in that story, he's in a kind of holding pattern. He really doesn't know what to do; the real Superman wouldn't.

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Clark refuses to live up to his potential.

All right. Then what is his potential? What would you have him do? That particular story may be harder to write than you realise.

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But in this story, a paragon of Silver Age ethics...as Clark is...becomes a useless clod.

This is what I'm saying! That's why he's still Superman, even if you don't like how Frank is presenting him. Maybe he has presented a truthful aspect of Superman that is uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean it's not really Superman in that story.

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Let's face it, Ghandi is a great movie and Dirty Harry is a great movie, but put Ghandi in a Dirty Harry movie and you'd lose patience with him fast.

OK, everything I'm reading from you shows you agree with me. Superman is Ghandi in a Dirty Harry film, which means he really is Superman and not some Miller-Universe version. You can't argue it both ways. And that's why I say Superman could well act like this under these circumstances.

What -I- don't understand is WHY Superman, who tries to keep up the status quo, would LET the world get to the point it did in DKR. 

Why did they weaken Superman so much, too? 

As Julian noted previously, one atomic(?) bomb will NOT slow down Superman in the least!  And why didn't Superman disarm Batman's armor before the fight started?  One heat vision blast from Neptune's orbit would have taken out Batman's weaponry (not to mention Batman himself!). 

What happened to Batman's "body" between the fight and his "funeral"?  Wouldn't the government do about 2,000,000,000 autopsies on Bruce Wayne? 

And what happened to the HOMES that were destroyed during their battle?  Sure, they were slums, but people LIVED in 'em!  I'd guess Wayne's fortune went towards rebuilding the apartment buildings, but Wayne was shown to have been rich enough to have equipment capable of tracking Superman in the sequel, and that would've been VERY expensive!  Wink 

There are so many things wrong with that story it's not even funny.  Sad 

Hello, Gernot.

How could he prevent the world from getting to that point? I'd like to know. Actually, the world of "Dark Knight Returns" is not really so extreme. That world is on our front step and has one foot in the door.

Yes, of course, as soon as you read the scene in which Superman burns the word "WHERE?" into the ground in front of Bruce with his heat vision, you think, "Well, he could have just burned Bruce to ashes right then and there." (I know I did.) So why didn't he? That's part of the story.

I'm quite sure the government got their "body", and the Bruce Wayne of that future era is easily ruthless enough to provide them with one.

And you answered your own question: the homes were destroyed. I don't see that as being something wrong with the story.

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« Reply #21 on: December 23, 2006, 04:28:26 AM »

Nightwing:
(Super Monkey, is my detailed review still around of that crazy Bob Haney "Big Brother" comic, in which Superman's supposed brother does just what I'm talking about? -- takes over the whole country and imposes his will on the population. The Prisoner of the Kryptonite Asteroid.) I guess he could make himself President, but President of what? He would have to be mad -- making himself President of a corrupt system. And who is comfortable with Superman being the dictator of the country? What problems are solved? He couldn't solve them. Even Superman is one man, with one brain and one pair of eyes.

So I come back to this: our Superman, faced with THAT world, would act something like he does in "Dark Knight Returns". And that's why I say he's still Superman, not a "loser" Superman or a "Byrne" Superman, or whatever.



Well, he actually IS the Byrne Superman, Frank Miller and John Byrne talked to make sure that it was. That is not an opinion but a fact.

Now you can say that the Pre-Crisis wouldn't have acted any differently anyway, but that is something different. However, the Pre-Crisis Superman wouldn't ever let the world to get to that point in the 1st place, IMHO. The Bryne Superman however, well he actually did (SEE IC, if you dare) but he's gone now so it doesn't matter anymore.

This is the only hunchback reference I could find:

http://superman.nu/smf/index.php?topic=2887.0

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« Reply #22 on: December 23, 2006, 04:38:55 PM »

Super Monkey, by that logic, is the Silver/Bronze Age Superman guilty for letting his world go to oblivion by not pulling out all stops to defeat the Anti-Monitor?

Throughout the buildup to IC and IC itself, the Post-Crisis Supes is still out there saving lives and serving as an inspiration for the people. Something, the lackey in DKR failed to do.
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nightwing
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« Reply #23 on: December 23, 2006, 05:02:14 PM »

Aldous writes:

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Your thoughts on Superman and Batman, and which version of the world they are better suited to, are very interesting. Yes, I can see exactly where you are coming from, and there's no doubt Superman doesn't belong in the world of "The Dark Knight Returns". But then, if he doesn't fit (which is painfully obvious), doesn't that give you a big clue that he IS Superman, and not a "loser" who isn't Superman (to quote DBN).

Let's make sure we're participating in the same argument here.  I don't share DBN's view that Superman is not Superman in this story.  In fact I agree with you that Miller understands the Superman of the Silver and Bronze Ages and does a good job of plopping him down in a world he can't handle.  Compared to what other writers would do to him in the years after DKR -- making him a whining victim, a morally conflicted doofus and a murderer -- Miller's Superman is almost as "on model" as Maggin's or Hamilton's.

The point I'm trying to make -- apparently without much success -- is that Miller was telling a story about a world where Superman's strengths become weaknesses.  And it is not intended to be a wholly fictional world.  Miller sets the tale in an unspecified future, but the talking heads of the media, the appearances of Reagan and Letterman and so on tie the tale solidly to the 80s.  Miller isn't projecting some possible future, he's commenting on the here and now.  And that means he's saying that Superman is as useless and irrelevant to us in the real world as he is in the DKR world.

And the part I don't like about all that is he's absolutely right.  Miller takes an objective look at both characters and sees that Batman resonates in the modern world; he has a purpose.  Superman does not; he's an anachronism at best and a fraud at worst.  He nails down something we all knew on some level already, but it's uncomfortable to have it pointed out so starkly.

Consider: Superman was at the top of his game in the Golden Age when he tapped into a need for heroes who could take the law into their own hands, inspiring tons of imitators.  He adapted to the post-War years by becoming the defender of the status quo, and stayed on top through the mid-60s with the same approach.  That's not to say the 50s and 60s were a perfect era, but they were the last time we allowed ourselves to believe we could achieve perfection.  Superman's world was not our world, but it was our world the way we liked to imagine it.  Then came Vietnam, race riots, Watergate and a never-ending parade of troubles and our illusions of an idyllic America were gone.  It's no coincidence that Superman began losing popularity just as the Marvel crowd took off, and in fact from the late 60s on, it was all downhill.  By the 80s, Superman had little if anything to offer comic fans which is why he was rebooted.  I think this is what people are really getting at when they say he was "too powerful."  It's not about how much he can lift or whether he can move a planet, really.  It's about whether he has any relevance to our lives, our world, our problems and our hopes.  1980s Superman was pretty much the same thing as 1960s Superman, but the audience grew up when he didn't.

This is why I, along with everyone else, rooted for Bruce to pound Clark's face into the pavement in issue 4, and why I cheered when he did.  Which in my book, makes this a great Batman story but a hard read if you like Big Blue.  Miller doesn't make Superman a bad guy here by having him kill or maim or anything like that; he makes us furious with him because he's the same guy he's always been, and it's not good enough.

Quote
I would say to DBN, OK, fine, the guy in red-and-blue in "Dark Knight Returns" is not Superman. So, who is he? Or, to pin you down a bit more, if the Superman we know and love (Silver Age/Bronze Age) was faced with that world and those circumstances, what exactly would he do, and how would he behave? If not how Frank Miller has suggested, then how?

I know that's directed at DBN, but I'd like to chip in a thought.

This is the same reasoning people use in defending Byrne's decision to have Superman kill the Phantom Zone villains.  "What else could he do," they ask, "Under the circumstances?"  The problem with that argument is that Byrne is the one who created the situation.  Byrne decided he wanted Superman to kill and so he moved heaven and earth to create a story where it could happen.  So the complaint is not that Superman does a terrible thing; it's that Byrne orchestrated it so that he "had to."

It's the same with Miller.  He has a comment to make about Superman here and creates a situation where he can make that comment.  So yes, Superman might do what he does here given the circumstances.  But why did Miller set it up that way?

There's two answers: one, Miller is making the argument that to be true to their roots, superheroes need to work outside the law and be bigger than life...certainly bigger than government approval.  By the time the book came out, that had been lost for decades.

The second reason is that if you're going to tell a story where Batman...or any other hero...matters at all, you have to deal with the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and that is Superman.  Green Arrow's outnumbered by the Royal Flush gang?  No problem, call in Superman.  Batman can't stop the Joker before he blows up the reservoir?  Call Superman, he can stop him in the blink of an eye.  If Miller was going to sell the notion that ONLY BATMAN can fix things, he has to account for why Superman and the rest of the League can't do it.  Thus the removal of Diana to Paradise Island and Hal to space, and the neutering of Superman, who as you say will never abandon us, even if he won't go all the way and fix what really needs fixing.


Quote
Quote
Clark refuses to live up to his potential.

All right. Then what is his potential? What would you have him do? That particular story may be harder to write than you realise.


Superman cannot live up to his potential in this story.  That was Miller's intent.

Superman lived up to his potential in many stories by Seigel, Hamilton, Coleman, Schwartz, Maggin, Bates et al.  But then they were paid to make him look good.  Miller was paid to write a Batman story.

Quote

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But in this story, a paragon of Silver Age ethics...as Clark is...becomes a useless clod.

This is what I'm saying! That's why he's still Superman, even if you don't like how Frank is presenting him. Maybe he has presented a truthful aspect of Superman that is uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean it's not really Superman in that story.

Aha, then we are on common ground aren't we?  It's not that I think Frank's version is WRONG, it's that I don't like seeing Superman put in a situation that points out his irrelevance.  Again, Miller isn't just saying Superman is useless HERE, he's saying that Superman as a character passed his sell-by date a long time ago.  The fact that I agree doesn't make it fun to comtemplate.  I like to see Superman in his element and at the top of his game.  That doesn't make this a bad story, but it doesn't make it a good Superman story...for me anyway.

I get the feeling we're going in circles, but anyway what it comes down to in the end is a matter of taste.  I like DKR and I respect Miller's frankness (no pun intended) in pointing out Superman's failings.  But when I make my list of favorite Superman stories, I'm not likely to ever include the one where we learn just why Superman doesn't work anymore.  Intellectually, it works, but emotionally it don't make me happy.

Merry Christmas, Aldous, and everyone.

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