Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child by Frank Miller

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I don’t know, man. At one point in time, it was interesting to see a writer with skill take select super heroes, exploit their symbolic properties and hollow them out — emptying their forms of all the baggage inherent of an industry and the expectations placed on that industry by a readership with various wants — to solidify the idea of what a specific character can represent or tell us. You know, to get to the point of the whole exercise. To nail down why a certain idea even exists in the first place, and to cash in on the potential of it all. It read like righteous pay back to all those men who spent their heydays making this stuff up, who had to watch corporate guys in nice shirts get rich and tan and relaxed from things they put no effort into. It said, ‘Hey, we appreciate the sacrifice. We know you lost all that security, but we can at least give you back something. We can at least show ‘em you were chasing something stimulating or evocative.” 

Frank Miller did a lot of writing like that. That writing is so entwined with his career. It not only told us so much more about the fiction we thought we knew and conquered, it managed to raise the stakes. It took loose ends and half-thoughts, and it showed the actual potential in those things to create art worth time and concentration, that could stand on its own. If you look at those few infamous years in the ‘80s when Miller, Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, etc. were trying, really trying, and if it’s correct to assume what motivated them was a real concern and excitement for the medium, you’re looking at something very interesting. You’re looking at an attempted takeover and correction of history. It says so much that Moore signed the type of contract he did for Watchmen. As much as that book is, in some sense, about the end of super hero comics, that contract (if it had all gone to plan) really was the final thought. 

But whatever. Time’s moved on, and those years (as have been covered extensively) backfired on those participants. Sadly, though, I think a participant like Miller has grown nostalgic for that period, and it feels as if he’s acting against what it was all about. I don’t hate what he’s trying to do with Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child. The entire Dark Knight Returns series has flirted with elements of the real world, whether Ronald Reagan or 9/11, by way of extreme, flamboyant images and tone, so it makes sense to me that Miller would want to use the latest installment to do the same with Trump and all that’s come as result. I also don’t hate the sentiment imparted by this comic, though how it’s executed is definitely on the nose (especially on that last page) and lecture-like. What I find disappointing is how bland it feels. 

It reads like everything else created now. The motivations of the characters are obvious. Why they are present feels obvious. All the crazy, crazy wild of life is reduced to protest signs and clear indications of where everybody stands. It’s a story that doesn’t even really engage any of the other countless pieces it contains because it’s so caught up in being relevant to the thing none of us can escape. Whereas The Dark Knight Strikes Again felt and feels insane and is insane because it took reality and dyed it and threw electric current and weird noise and fire at it, all to distort the hue, The Golden Child comes across as a little desperate to shock or is hungry to make us go, “Ohhhh, wow, the world.” It’s a book that can’t keep up with reality or outdo reality in its fiction, so instead it simply reflects what we see all the time back to us, and it ends up displaying not Miller’s strengths but his weakness to do anything in this comic that can really stretch our imagination. You read it, look at it and say to yourself, “Yep.” And when you put it down, you feel like you could have said everything in that comic yourself because you have. You have been holding this conversation for years now, everyday, with yourself, your friends, your family, and strangers on the Internet. You have read every article. 

I don’t know what that says of Frank Miller right now. I know he’s lost a lot of favor for his questionable outlook on the world, but I still look at his classic work as some of the best of a certain type of comic. It means a lot to me. It’s weird to see him back at DC seemingly trying to bolster his legacy or brand by turning works like The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again into franchises. It’s literally the opposite of what Alan Moore has committed himself to. That said, Miller has every right. I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with it. The man has earned the opportunity to expand upon his body of work in any way he deems appropriate, and maybe he is legitimately interested in telling more super hero stories with characters he has experience with. 

I do wonder, though, if the Frank Miller who drew those pages back in ‘84 or ‘85 would do this. I wonder if the guy who thought to work hard and take all this stuff in a new direction, to make a point of its artistic merit, would appreciate a DKR line of books. Because, now, isn’t it just like anything else they sell in those comic book stores? Isn’t it now just another story to exploit and perpetuate? At least it’s Miller doing so. I guess that’s the difference. The man is in control. 

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