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Author Topic: Superman in "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller  (Read 21028 times)
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Great Rao
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« Reply #8 on: December 21, 2006, 12:03:08 AM »

Quote from: SuperMonkey
I think that it is one of the best Batman stories ever made. But, the reason why Superman is the way he is in this tale is because it's the Man of Steel John Byrne version.

I think you've got that reversed: the Batman/Superman relationship post-Byrne is more influenced by Frank Miller.

No. I got it from here: http://superman.nu/a/History/end.php


As a reminder, the quote in question reads
Quote from: Peter Sanderson in Amazing Heroes #96, 1986
In fact, Byrne talked to Miller about the Batman so that in The Man of Steel "I could suggest the kind of Batman he was going to do."  Similarly, Miller talked to Byrne so that the Superman in Dark Knight could be based on his version.

I've never known any news article to be completely factually correct, nor to be spinless (that's not a typo).  The only thing we can know for certain is that Frank Miller and John Byrne had at least one conversation about their various takes on the characters.  It sounds to me like they may have been bouncing ideas back and forth and just wanted to make sure that their versions were consistent with each other's.   I don't think we can know for certain who got what from whom.
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"The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be?  As a writer and an artist, I've drawn my answer."   - Jack Kirby
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« Reply #9 on: December 21, 2006, 03:30:22 AM »

I've read the same Miller interviews Julian has, and yes it's quite apparent Miller had real issues with what Batman and Superman had become by the early 80s, namely "fat and happy", watered down shadows of their once vital selves.

That said, I think we can see that Bruce is the one who gets the sympathetic portrayal here, while Clark remains the government lackey, the willing tool of men not worthy of bossing him around.  Batman is vital, effective, indimidating...a force unto himself and a magnet for all sorts of people looking for inspiration and leadership.  Superman, despite being more physically powerful, is forgotten...relegated to working invisibly, he no longer has the power to inspire (traditionally perhaps his greatest power of all).  He has surrendered even his right to decide his own life path.  To paraphrase the Maggin quote, Superman's motto here is, "There is a right and wrong in the Universe, and I'll rely on the government to tell me what it is."

If it's true that Miller believes the basic worth of these characters lies in their roots as vigilantes with a strong personal sense of justice, then he's obviously holding Superman up as an example of how NOT to be a superhero.  In other words, Aldous, if you think Supes comes off looking good in this story then I'm happy for you.  But judging from his own comments about the work and the characters, I don't think that was Miller's intent.

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« Reply #10 on: December 21, 2006, 05:53:39 AM »

Nightwing:

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If it's true that Miller believes the basic worth of these characters lies in their roots as vigilantes with a strong personal sense of justice, then he's obviously holding Superman up as an example of how NOT to be a superhero.  In other words, Aldous, if you think Supes comes off looking good in this story then I'm happy for you.  But judging from his own comments about the work and the characters, I don't think that was Miller's intent.

There's the problem, and the difference between us, Nightwing. To find out what an artist's intentions were, you ask the artist. Me, I haven't read any interviews with Frank Miller. I interpret his work for myself. Like any good artist (pick one from history), even Frank doesn't fully understand what he has made, and I am positive he will see different things in his work as the years go by. I guarantee he will look at "Dark Knight Returns" in ten years and find something he never knew he put there. (For all of us who are creative, this is not an unknown phenomenon.)

"How NOT to be a superhero"?! What you seem to have missed in the story is that Superman agrees with you, and he hates it, but he is working with what he has as best he can. For all the prattling on about Batman's psychology, Superman is by far the richer character psychologically. He is far more complex than Batman, and that is the reason he holds my interest. Because Superman is so complex, his very character is open to interpretation; and in my interpretation of Superman's character, it is quite possible he would act in the way he does in "Dark Knight Returns", and it is also entirely possible he would hate it (as he does in the story), and here is where you also may have missed the great sadness of the man, which is also a wonderful facet of his character. Bruce had to watch his parents being slaughtered, but he is not sad; any sadness Bruce had, mutated into hatred long ago. Superman has never been twisted, and that is why I am happy with the way he is portrayed in the story. He is still the good guy. For you to call Clark the "government lackey" -- I think you must have missed so much...

Something else that has been missed by a country mile is this: with his every "invisible" action (and you use "invisible" as an insult), Clark saves thousands or millions of lives. THIS is his consolation, his comfort. He's still there for us. He is still Superman. He did nothing in that story that made me lose confidence in him.

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There is a right and wrong in the Universe, and I'll rely on the government to tell me what it is.

You've gone way too far with that comment. Did we read the same comic? Use some imagination and you will realise the American government is probably VERY conscious of the fact it cannot change Superman's character. Did the President order him to destroy the country of the enemy? Did the President order Superman to kill? Have another look at the story. There are certain things Superman will and will not do, which he will decide for himself. He is doing the best he can and accomplishing his most important mission: protecting us. (That includes the "enemy".)

Every limitation placed upon Superman in that story has been imposed by Superman himself. He is not a government "lackey". He is a man temporarily at odds with himself. He has a lot to figure out. Even Superman is still a man, and occasionally he will find he hasn't all the answers. During the time of this story, I see him doing a lot of soul-searching. In the meantime, "I get to save lives."

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« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2006, 04:51:06 PM »

He is still Superman. He did nothing in that story that made me lose confidence in him.

Ripping Oliver Queen's arm from its socket?  Innovative solution, that.

Actually, I tend to agree with both Aldous and Nightwing:  Miller's Superman is a complex and tragic character, fulfilling the "American way" in a fascist state.  But Batman is the vital force, the inspirational force, the force that gets governments shivering.  Miller's Superman has lost his ability to inspire; he is still noble, but damaged.
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« Reply #12 on: December 21, 2006, 06:14:22 PM »

Aldous writes:

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There's the problem, and the difference between us, Nightwing. To find out what an artist's intentions were, you ask the artist. Me, I haven't read any interviews with Frank Miller. I interpret his work for myself. Like any good artist (pick one from history), even Frank doesn't fully understand what he has made, and I am positive he will see different things in his work as the years go by. I guarantee he will look at "Dark Knight Returns" in ten years and find something he never knew he put there. (For all of us who are creative, this is not an unknown phenomenon.)

That's a neat spin on it, Aldous.  So basically you're saying that it doesn't matter what the artist intended, it only matters how you as a reader interpret it?  Fair enough to a point; all art is subjective and one man's Rembrandt is another man's "Dogs Playing Poker."  But it shows some hubris on your part to assume that your interpretation is the "correct" one and the opinions of others, including as you say a lot of people on this board and the artist himself are wrong.

Next time I see a movie, remind me to check with you to see what my opinion of it is.

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"How NOT to be a superhero"?! What you seem to have missed in the story is that Superman agrees with you, and he hates it, but he is working with what he has as best he can.  For all the prattling on about Batman's psychology, Superman is by far the richer character psychologically.

No, I didn't miss all that.  It's a story about two men with very different approaches to surviving in an impossible time.  Bruce has the will and drive to change the world (fix in, in his view) but he's only one man, and an aging one at that...there's only so much he can do.  Clark, meanwhile, has the power to fix all that's wrong with the world but he holds back out of whatever notion of non-interference has dominated his character since the Silver Age.  This is the conflict that defines their relationship in the mini-series: Bruce is frustrated that Clark refuses to make a difference (as he sees it) and Clark tut-tuts Bruce's petulant, even infantile notions of saving the world through fisticuffs.  I'll grant you it'd be possible to come out on either side of this argument, IF the deck wasn't stacked in favor of one character or other.  But in DKR, the world is so rotten, so out of whack, so obviously in need of fixing, that it's darn hard to side with Clark's viewpoint, which seems to amount to "wait this out and hope things get better."  If this is a story about Batman, which it is, and his struggle to achieve his goals, which again it is, then Superman is essentially a big fat obstacle.  He's a bad guy.

Now, the richness of the story comes in the fact that any reader with even the slightest objectivity can see that Bruce's outlook is far from a sure bet.  Depending on how you look at it, he's no hero at all, just a raving nut job and a danger to everyone around him.  This is a subtext that runs throughout the series...is he right or isn't he?  I'd argue that neither Bruce nor Clark comes off too well in this story...Bruce risks his life and Carrie's in a battle he cannot win, while Clark agrees to work within constraints he finds unfair and wrong.  Both are compromised, neither is wholly admirable.  But in the end, it's Bruce who makes things happen, not Clark. 

For me, DKR reveals the basic weakness of Superman, which in other contexts is also his great strength.  Namely, that he is not one of us.  In the end, Clark understands, I think, that he cannot fix the world's problems by himself, or change a corrupt system, because he has no right to.  He's from somewhere else and it's none of his business.  Bruce, on the other hand, is as human as any of us, and if he doesn't have a right to break the law, he does have the right as a human being to do what he thinks is right.  Even if it does him in.  And aside from questions about his sanity, or his politics or whatever, that makes him a more sympathetic and indentifiable character in this story.  He is one of us, Clark is not.  We may want to run up to Clark and give him a kick in the shin for not helping, but if he did help it'd be even more wrong.  Bottom line, he doesn't belong here.  It's an uncomfortable truth for any Superman fan to deal with, which I imagine is why a lot of them have trouble with it.


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For you to call Clark the "government lackey" -- I think you must have missed so much...

Well, he does what he's told, whether he likes it or not.  Maybe a better way to put it is that he's not true to himself.  He disagrees with government policy and he's not happy about his role in it, but he figures that's "the best he can do," so he compromises.  He has the power to change it all, which is what bugs Bruce. But as I said, and as Clark knows, he doesn't have the RIGHT to change it all.  Which means he's emasculated as a character, really.  Or at least as a superhero.  He's gone from Jerry and Joe's social avenger knocking down slums and coercing confessions, to a bureaucrat who has to ask permission before doing anything.  At least Hal had enough self-respect to leave the planet rather than give in.

My point is that while you may value a man's ability to compromise, it's not held up as a virtue in this story.

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Something else that has been missed by a country mile is this: with his every "invisible" action (and you use "invisible" as an insult), Clark saves thousands or millions of lives. THIS is his consolation, his comfort. He's still there for us. He is still Superman. He did nothing in that story that made me lose confidence in him.

So those people are alive.  To live in the misery that is the world in this book.  Thanks for nothing.

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You've gone way too far with that comment. Did we read the same comic? Use some imagination and you will realise the American government is probably VERY conscious of the fact it cannot change Superman's character. Did the President order him to destroy the country of the enemy? Did the President order Superman to kill? Have another look at the story. There are certain things Superman will and will not do, which he will decide for himself. He is doing the best he can and accomplishing his most important mission: protecting us. (That includes the "enemy".)

It's been a while since I read the story, but do we not see Superman holding an enemy tank over his head?  Maybe he was careful not to kill the occupants, but it's hard to imagine our boys didn't win the battle that day with Superman on their side.  Just having a Kryptonian trooper in your outfit pretty much ensures victory every single time, and that's kind of cheating, isn't it?  If the US can get whatever it wants in a battle...land, oil, a puppet government it can run, etc...then I don't think the President would mind if the body count's a bit lower. 

Who knows, maybe Superman considers each assignment on its own merits and there are days he says, "No way."  But we don't see that here.

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Every limitation placed upon Superman in that story has been imposed by Superman himself.

Exactly, and for a good reason.  He doesn't belong here.  If he wants to save lives, good for him.  But historically superheroes are about more than that.  At their genesis, anyway, they were about empowering the powerless, about cutting through the red tape and doing what's right regardless of the "justice system."  Bruce Wayne, Don Diego, Brit Reid, Ollie Queen...they all have the right to do that.  Kal-El of Krypton does not.  He has the power to change the world, but he doesn't have the right to. 
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« Reply #13 on: December 22, 2006, 05:30:38 AM »

Now, now, Nightwing....

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Next time I see a movie, remind me to check with you to see what my opinion of it is.

....be nice.

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In the end, Clark understands, I think, that he cannot fix the world's problems by himself, or change a corrupt system, because he has no right to.

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He has the power to change the world, but he doesn't have the right to. 

You seem to be agreeing with me, which is a disturbing state of affairs, but there we are. That is exactly what I am trying to say. Superman has imposed limits upon himself because he has always worked with the authorities  (I am not even considering the Golden Age Superman because he is not my favourite version, and I doubt he's yours either), and now he is in the very uncomfortable position of realising he is at odds with those authorities, ie. the American government, and now he is right on the edge of what they can get him to do and what he can stand to live with. You understand this, yet you are still critical of what I said in my post. He KNOWS he hasn't the right (as you put it), but he SO wants to do it (ie. change the system) he can hardly stand it. Can you see that? I think so.... and that is why I say, he is still our Superman in that comic.

As to what the artist intended, well, I have a view on that and I've expressed it. But there's more. You will not like my opinion on this, but I have always felt that if an artist NEEDS to explain his work at length in order for it to be understood, it's poor art. I don't need any explanation from Frank about his comic because I read it, and it's a VERY good comic. The catch is, my interpretation is mine alone and no one else's, not even the author's. That's strange, but that's what you get with good art. I could read a few interviews with Frank and find out exactly what he intended, but I do not believe that would be as true an interpretation of the comic as my own when I read it for myself.

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So those people are alive.  To live in the misery that is the world in this book.  Thanks for nothing.

Nightwing, you seem to have become cynical lately. That's an observation, not a criticism. There is great misery in our real world also, and societies worse than what is presented in the comic. Yet there is always a flipside, and that is where you will find the "triumph" of the human spirit, even if you gag on such ideas. Superman is the one character that would believe "where there is life, there's hope", and I totally disagree with you that to be alive in a decaying society is worse than being killed by bombs and released from the nightmare -- for that is exactly what you're implying. "Thanks for nothing"? I think you're wrong. Furthermore, Batman is not the only ordinary person who makes a difference in the world. Now, Bruce (arguably) has trouble understanding that, but someone like Superman would never doubt it.

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Just having a Kryptonian trooper in your outfit pretty much ensures victory every single time, and that's kind of cheating, isn't it?

Except Superman is not operating to ensure his President's victory. Take another look. Here's where Superman's belief in "The American Way" becomes interesting. Superman, I am sure, in working with the authorities, being brought up by Americans, and adopting American culture, saw something he liked in the culture; that is to say, he came to "The American Way" and stayed with it, even after he became a super-enlightened being who has travelled the universe and understood many alien cultures. Now, in the comic, "The American Way" is no longer something he would have gladly adopted (and Pa and Ma Kent wouldn't have liked it either), except for the fact he was already American.... So where does that leave him? Confused; see my previous posts. My interpretation of the comic, coming from what I know and like about Superman, is that Superman is not happy about the culture anymore, yet it is HIS culture, and of course it will take time for him to reject it. Who knows when that point will be.....

What's the alternative? The Man of Steel imposing his will on humanity?

That's kind of what ends up happening in DK2 at the end.

.....and if that point is reached in the sequel, then I would like to read it. I actually once had the chance to buy the sequel, but I looked through the book and what turned me off was what I thought was terrible drawing. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to what the drawings are like together with the story, because it may have been too far outside what I'm used to and it scared me off. Who knows.

Nightwing wrote:

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But historically superheroes are about more than that.  At their genesis, anyway, they were about empowering the powerless, about cutting through the red tape and doing what's right regardless of the "justice system."

Don't come the raw prawn with me, Nightwing. Please use the Superman we grew up with to back your argument, not some "historical" version that is far removed from the characters I'm talking about.



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« Reply #14 on: December 22, 2006, 12:40:05 PM »

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Nightwing, you seem to have become cynical lately. That's an observation, not a criticism. There is great misery in our real world also, and societies worse than what is presented in the comic. Yet there is always a flipside, and that is where you will find the "triumph" of the human spirit, even if you gag on such ideas. Superman is the one character that would believe "where there is life, there's hope", and I totally disagree with you that to be alive in a decaying society is worse than being killed by bombs and released from the nightmare -- for that is exactly what you're implying. "Thanks for nothing"? I think you're wrong. Furthermore, Batman is not the only ordinary person who makes a difference in the world. Now, Bruce (arguably) has trouble understanding that, but someone like Superman would never doubt it.

Superman was involved in DKR? Could've fooled me. All I saw was a shell of a loser who decided to quit being a source of inspiration to become a stooge for the government.

The loss of that inspiration (and hope to go along with it) may have played a large part in the decay of society portrayed in the story.
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« Reply #15 on: December 22, 2006, 04:43:43 PM »

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Quote
He has the power to change the world, but he doesn't have the right to. 

You seem to be agreeing with me, which is a disturbing state of affairs, but there we are. That is exactly what I am trying to say. Superman has imposed limits upon himself because he has always worked with the authorities  (I am not even considering the Golden Age Superman because he is not my favourite version, and I doubt he's yours either), and now he is in the very uncomfortable position of realising he is at odds with those authorities, ie. the American government, and now he is right on the edge of what they can get him to do and what he can stand to live with. You understand this, yet you are still critical of what I said in my post. He KNOWS he hasn't the right (as you put it), but he SO wants to do it (ie. change the system) he can hardly stand it. Can you see that? I think so.... and that is why I say, he is still our Superman in that comic.

I don't know why it's disturbing, I think I usually agree with you.  Just not on this subject.

I know why Clark fails to act, but unlike you I don't see any reason to laud him for it.  My point is that Miller bends over backwards to present a world that's in really bad shape, and the clear implication is that when things get this bad, it's up to the stand-out people of this world to step up and make a difference.  Bruce meets the challenge; Clark does not.

You won't like me referencing a Miller quote again, but he once said about DKR that superheroes in general, and Batman in particular, work best in a world that's gone rotten.  Otherwise, why do you need a guy in a mask who operates outside the law?  If the cops and judges were doing their jobs, Bruce could relax and play polo all day. 

Here's where we get to a big difference between Batman and Superman, at least in my view.  Batman is most effective in situations where he can make a difference; specifically, where his extra-legal tactics bring about the resolution to problems bureaucracy and "the establishment" cannot fix.  Slinking around at night conking baddies whom the law can't touch is the kind of thing that gets us cheering.  But the minute the world becomes safe, as soon as the police get control of the city and it's safe to go out at night, Batman becomes just a fool in a silly costume.  Thus, Batman works best for me in the era of organized crime...I think his Golden Age was the best.

Superman, on the other hand, works best as a defender of the status quo, in stories where the happiness and well-being of society are temporarily (if gravely) challenged by some evildoer or natural disaster, and Superman through his great powers defeats the villain or stops the disaster and happiness and tranquility are restored at story's end.  Thus, Superman works best for me in the 50s and 60s, leading parades and opening museums between missions, whereas Batman in the same period doing the same things becomes a pathetic clown.

Miller's goal here was to tell the ultimate Batman story, and so he created the bleakest, most out-of-control world he could imagine.  This allows Batman to shine, but it points up the utter uselessness of Superman in his Silver Age permutation.  He is not able, by his own ethics, to fix anything that matters.  He can stop a bomb from falling on a city.  He can save a few GIs from being blown up.  But he cannot improve the quality of life for anyone.  He cannot make the world one worth living in.

When I say Superman hasn't the right to fix the world, what I mean is that Miller makes us hate him for it.  The world needs help and he is useless.  For the sake of the character, I'd rather see him leave Earth and go somewhere he might matter.

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As to what the artist intended, well, I have a view on that and I've expressed it. But there's more. You will not like my opinion on this, but I have always felt that if an artist NEEDS to explain his work at length in order for it to be understood, it's poor art. I don't need any explanation from Frank about his comic because I read it, and it's a VERY good comic. The catch is, my interpretation is mine alone and no one else's, not even the author's. That's strange, but that's what you get with good art. I could read a few interviews with Frank and find out exactly what he intended, but I do not believe that would be as true an interpretation of the comic as my own when I read it for myself.

Well, here you're assuming that I went to the interviews with the attitude of "Tell me what to think, Frank."  The fact is I was totally fascinated with the story at the time and I wanted to know all about it.  I came away with the impression that Miller was going for something, and his comments reinforced those beliefs...turns out what he intended is pretty much what I took from it.

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.

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Nightwing, you seem to have become cynical lately. That's an observation, not a criticism. There is great misery in our real world also, and societies worse than what is presented in the comic. Yet there is always a flipside, and that is where you will find the "triumph" of the human spirit, even if you gag on such ideas. Superman is the one character that would believe "where there is life, there's hope", and I totally disagree with you that to be alive in a decaying society is worse than being killed by bombs and released from the nightmare -- for that is exactly what you're implying. "Thanks for nothing"? I think you're wrong. Furthermore, Batman is not the only ordinary person who makes a difference in the world. Now, Bruce (arguably) has trouble understanding that, but someone like Superman would never doubt it.

What do you mean, lately?   Cheesy

No, I wasn't implying that it's better to die than to live miserably.  What I'm implying is that it's better to give your best effort than to give half measures.  Bruce tries to do more than he's capable of; Clark refuses to live up to his potential.  If a man has the power to make the world a better place, then what is he if he doesn't do it?

I know, I know...he has a code against interfering...he wants us to find our own way.  Those are traits I've lauded in other threads, but here, again, Miller has created a world where those virtues become vices.  As the old saying goes, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  And that's pretty much what we can count on Clark for in this story.

As I said before, I think Miller manages to make both characters likable yet unlikeable, good and bad.  In the Silver Age, a guy who did the things Bruce did in this story would be a villain, period.   But in this story, a paragon of Silver Age ethics...as Clark is...becomes a useless clod.

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My interpretation of the comic, coming from what I know and like about Superman, is that Superman is not happy about the culture anymore, yet it is HIS culture, and of course it will take time for him to reject it. Who knows when that point will be.....

But that's my point...how bad does it have to get before he does something?  Miller creates a situation where we as readers are desperate for someone to take action.  We want some kind of vicarious release...we want to see someone kick butts and take names.  Ultimately Batman provides all this and Superman does not.  You are satisfied with seeing Superman wrestle with his inner demons and resist the temptation to break his code.  But most readers just see a guy who failed to give them what they wanted.  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.


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.....and if that point is reached in the sequel, then I would like to read it.

If you read that one and like it, then I give up.


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But historically superheroes are about more than that.  At their genesis, anyway, they were about empowering the powerless, about cutting through the red tape and doing what's right regardless of the "justice system."

Don't come the raw prawn with me, Nightwing. Please use the Superman we grew up with to back your argument, not some "historical" version that is far removed from the characters I'm talking about.

See above.  Miller has created a world to rival the one Batman was created in.  In 1939, we had Hitler's armies on the March, rampant poverty and social injustices at home, organized crime running amuck.  It was a world that needed a Batman.  Or a Joe/Jerry Superman.  No I'm not a big fan of that kind of Superman; I think it's just too pat for him to knock down straw men every issue and solve problems in 10 pages that we can't really solve in decades.  I prefer the Silver Age Superman, defender of an idyllic world where even Luthor is more misguided than outright evil.  But in Miller's world, like 1939, we NEED the guy who takes charge and gets things done.  We don't need a god who sits on his hands.

Do I think Miller hates Superman?  Honestly I have no idea.  Do I think he sees no merit in the character?  DKR isn't enough to judge that by.  But I do think he understands that in a story where Batman is truly being what he was designed to be, Superman can't come off well.  And vice versa.  It just so happens this is a Batman story.
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