In Darkest Knight

Vigilantism is ever vigilant! Steven S. Long leads in this one. For reference so far: Eat hot lead, comics reader, What was the question again?, The Big Bang, Wicked good, and Vigilantes R Us. We’re actually getting into hotter discussion territory now and your comments need to be a part of that – please typetty-type.

HIT IT, STEVE! (wait ow stop)

In theory this particular post is supposed to look at Batman in what I think most comic fans would agree are his best-known and most definitive Eighties appearances: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, both written by Frank Miller, and Batman: Year Two, written by Mike Barr (plus the follow-up graphic novel, Batman: Full Circle). In practice it’ll look just as much at the ugly stepchild of the bunch, Y2, as at the more popular stories. And I’ll leave things like the libertarian aspects of DKR, the fascist aspects of DKR, and DKR as sociopolitical commentary on the times for someone else — perhaps Ron.

I think the importance of DKR and Y1 for our ongoing topic of “vigilantism in Seventies/Eighties comics,” and certainly their importance in terms of how they affected me and my future work, was the hard-edged aspect Miller brought to the character. Even in the early Seventies, as writers like Steve Englehart labored mightily to make Batman more “serious” in the wake of the camp-filled Batman television series (1966-1968), no one had ever shown us a Batman as implacable, as driven, as ruthless, as efficient as Miller did:

There are seven working defenses from this position.
Three of them disarm with minimal contact.
Three of them kill.
The other one… hurts.

You’ve got rights. Lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel crazy. But right now you’ve got a piece of glass shoved into a major artery in your arm. Right now you’re bleeding to death. Right now I’m the only one in the world who can get you to a hospital in time.

It was tough work, carrying 220 pounds of sociopath to the top of Gotham Towers — the highest spot in the city.
The scream alone is worth it.

I’ll count the dead, one by one. I’ll add them to the list, Joker. The list of all the people I’ve murdered — by letting you live.

Can you feel it, Joker? Feels to me… like it’s written all over my face. I’ve lain awake nights… planning it… picturing it… …endless nights… considering every possible method… treasuring each imaginary moment…. From the beginning I knew… that there’s nothing wrong with you… that I can’t fix… with my hands….

This — THIS — is the Batman I always wanted but never knew it until I read it. Just like the Punisher being written so that he rarely lived up to his reputation as a merciless killer of criminals, until Miller no one had ever written Batman in such a way that he truly justified his vaunted reputation. It’s easy to say everyone in the underworld is terrified of Batman, but it never made much sense given that he only punched people and then let the GCPD clean up the mess. He was just another superhero, a member of the Justice League whose major defining characteristic was “he’s a detective who doesn’t have any actual superpowers.”

Miller’s Batman — who disarms people by sticking throwing blades in their hands, who grasps the fact that there are ways to incapacitate criminals permanently without killing them, and most importantly who understands that by letting the likes of the Joker live he’s indirectly responsible for all the murders and other crimes they commit — isn’t a superhero. He’s a vigilante with a capital V. It’s hard to imagine him belonging to the JLA or any other group of costumed heroes; he’s more than that. He transcends that in his quest to protect the innocent and see Justice done.

Year One, of course, lets Miller bookend Batman’s career with a look at the character’s beginning, but with the same hard edge. In many ways this is more fascinating than DKR because it presents Batman as a vigilante at his most elemental. He doesn’t have most of the gadgets or resources yet; in fact he’s still finding his way into his costumed identity. From my perspective as a gamer, this is a great “Batman as a beginning Player Character” story, with DKR showing Batman after several years’ worth of campaigning and a lot of Experience Points.

That brings us to Year Two. It gets short shrift in comparison to DKR and Y1, and deservedly so in most ways. I like Mike Barr’s writing generally, but this story is a hot mess. The whole idea of Batman using a gun and teaming up with Joe Chill to beat an adversary just because that adversary defeated him in a fight or two is absurd.

It doesn’t help that after letting Alan Davis apply his wonderful artistic touch to the first issue of the story, DC brought in Todd McFarlane and his wretched, ridiculous art for the remaining three-fourths of it. As a result everyone in the story looks like a dopey caricature.

But what makes this story stand out, and strongly, for purposes of this series of columns is its villain: the Reaper, a vigilante who fought crime in Gotham twenty years before Batman took up the crusade. He’s the exact opposite of Batman, who has vowed never to kill: the Reaper slaughters criminals with gruesome regularity using his trademark sickle weapons. From streetwalkers and minor thugs all the way up to major crime bosses, no one is safe from the Reaper’s deadly brand of Justice. He’s what Batman might have become had bitterness and anger at crime, rather than a desire to protect the innocent, become uppermost in young Bruce Wayne’s mind.

Students of the comics have often said, and with some accuracy, that Batman’s best villains are dark reflections of Batman himself: the Joker is his obsessiveness and discipline turned to psychotic madness; Two-Face his desire for orderliness and Justice twisted by a perverse randomness. What’s missing from this is that no villain embodies Batman’s vigilante mentality taken to a villainous extreme. I don’t know if that’s what Mike Barr had in mind when he created the Reaper, but the sickle-wielding vigilante fits the bill perfectly. Which makes it a damn shame that he only ever returned in one graphic novel, Full Circle, in which Joe Chill’s children use the Reaper’s gear to try to get revenge on the man who destroyed their father. The Reaper is a villain who ought to re-appear to grapple with Batman every few years, and thus raise intriguing questions about the vigilante mentality and the ethics of crimefighting.

RON’S LURKING IN THE SHADOWS

(just a moment for breathing heavily) I’ll take Batman seriously when I see him swoop down on a cop who shoots a little kid, then beat the cop half to death, then torture him for information on other cops who’re doing it, all the while “making it hurt” and snarling “punk” in in his full Miller mode. Full points for working his way “up the chain” to discover that this isn’t a bad-apple situation, and then to keep going. (OK all done)

There is something quite moving in the tension between stopping-the-pain vs. crime-fighting. They really aren’t the same things, and we have this guy who has it knotted up inside him that they are. The early-70s Batman really highlighted this contradiction, but Miller’s Batman doesn’t recover or consolidate it so much as turn up the volume into a nigh-raving mess.

Fascism is a precise term, and I dislike using it loosely, so to start, Miller’s Gotham isn’t fascist at all – it’s apocalyptic. There simply isn’t any society; it reads like something out of Heavy Metal or A Clockwork Orange rather than a take on America of any kind. Gordon is, well, a dinosaur, more-or-less pretending that there are police who do police work. I referenced A Clockwork Orange specifically because the ordinary people of that story – never mind the young hooligans – are almost all completely despicable and/or beaten-down into nothing. It’s the same here; the citizenry are either some combination of venal, stupid, and mean; or trembling victims hoping the countdown hits the guy next to them instead.

??

OK, that isn’t in itself a “mess” – what is, is the indigestible stew of conflicting content. There’s the utterly contemptuous portrayal of Reagan, the unmistakable message of “no nukes,” and the almost-as-contemptuous portrayal of Superman’s patriotism. There’s the general who sells weapons to the mutant gang, Iran-Contra style, presenting the most glaring hole in explanation/story-logic ever, which even the text openly admits. There’s the contempt for the hippies, which is weird because, uh, it was hippies who objected to all those things I just mentioned the text objects to. There’s the bizarre racism … I mean, are the “mutants” black or not? Never mind that every black character is an especially disgusting person. There’s the confusing gun-content – Batman mows down a kidnapper with a machine gun, granted, taken from the kidnappers, and then later turns his tank-turrets on the mutant gang, using what is heavily implied to be live ammo, either crossing on or walking the line between whether he is about preserving/restoring civic order, or he knows that it’s the apocalypse so all the old values/rules are simply gone.

I would say that Batman in Year One is the more sympathetic and interesting version, in a much more coherent story concerning one thing, police corruption, but … there’s this odd text bit describing the Wayne mansion as a citadel against an age of equals … Uh? Bruce is John Galt? Is this about a rich guy who runs around punching poor people because they deserve it? Oh wait, no, he goes directly after Gotham’s rich establishment community. So …?

Such stuff will occupy sociology and lit crit indefinitely. I prefer to go into the more gutsy material Steve focused on, with more straightforward, personal, experiential agreement. Let us not discount anger as a reality (spare me your pious shock), even reactive sadism and its attractions, especially in the context that fictional expression isn’t a sin. Nor is grounding it in nonfictional honesty – I may think little of Bernhard Goetz, but I don’t find Theodore Streleski’s position to be unreasonable. I did, after all, complete two graduate degrees.

The core of good fictional work on these matters – and here, I think Steve and I are way on the same page – is to engage the reader, to raise questions, rather than to wallow in justification. Not “Goetz was right!” but rather (i) to admit that one might be capable of such an act, and then (ii) to say, “Is Goetz right if he uses his fists instead? Or performs some due diligence about what his targets have done? Or ‘protects innocents’ in direct ways, often proactively? Or includes corrupt cops as targets?” Capped by, “Wait a minute, with all these caveats, did we lose Goetz-ness along the way?” If nothing else, Miller’s Batman doesn’t tap-dance his way past that latter thing, and when I give it a sympathetic reading, I find myself intrigued by the questions that come up.

Specifically, does Bruce Wayne give up being Batman in The Dark Knight Returns? Which raises the interesting possibility that given the events of the funeral at the end, that Superman may be understood as the hero of this story after all.

STEVE, BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED

I am definitely on board with your penultimate paragraph. I think that’s just the sort of thing a good vigilante comic story does, and in many ways it’s what we’re looking for as we read back through these things and consider them from our now (theoretically) more mature, over-educated perspectives.

I’m not sure I can entirely agree with your views on Miller’s Gotham. I agree that many parts of it aren’t great places to live. But speaking frankly (no pun intended!) as someone who doesn’t particularly care for big cities, I see Miller’s depiction of Gotham City as any modern metropolis — it’s just exaggerated for dramatic effect. But I don’t deny there are arguments to be made on your side. And the idea of analyzing the text in terms of “Batman trying to preserve the old order,” perhaps much like post-World War I Europe, is definitely intriguing.

As for the depiction of black characters, I’m not sure I can agree with you here, either. First, while I concede that few black characters are depicted in a positive light, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “disgusting.” More importantly, I don’t see the black characters being singled out in any way — with the exception of a few key protagonists, nearly all the characters are shown with their worst sides facing the camera. Byron Brassballs, for example, is a pretty stark depiction of “the selfish, ugly-minded rich white guy.”

Second, it had never even occurred to me that the Mutants are supposed to be black, and now that you’ve suggested it to me I can’t buy it. The Mutants are uniformly depicted as white to my eyes, even pale. I suppose you could make some argument that they wear full-body white skin dye or something, but (a) why in the world would they?, and (b) I’d expect Miller to explain such an important point somehow, even if only visually.

If anything, I think the really intriguing issue here, and perhaps the root cause of this discussion point, is the color palette chosen by Lynn Varley. The washed out, somber tones that dominate most panels make it difficult to distinguish who’s black and who’s white. And perhaps that was the point. This way each reader can decide for himself which interpretation makes more sense to him.

I take the bit in Year One about Wayne Manor being built as a citadel against an age of equals as a reference to what Bruce’s ancestors’ thoughts, not his own (and he’s certainly not a John Galt-ian figure, at least not the way I see it). In fact, the sardonic way he says it leads me to believe that he recognizes the ultimate futility/foolishness of such an idea. Though Miller’s certainly made some very right-wing statements in recent years, from looking at DKR and Y1 I think it’s tricky to try to suss out his politics. He seems to be all over the map — and again, maybe that’s the point.

Next: Getting it just right

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Posted on February 18, 2016, in Guest posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Posting simply to make sure I see comments on this. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why the vigilante is a problematic character, and any other “hero who kills” is much less so? I was raised on a steady diet of Western comic book (the italian ones, the rough stuff, the ones that ended up into movies as spaghetti western… no sugar-coated “two-gun kid” or “whatever kid” there, but a lot of characters that killed each other in a fantasy wasteland with no law that was only nominally the historic west), and the classic western hero kill a lot of bad guys with his gun on the main street and it doesn’;t “feel” like the punisher at all. But a lot of these comics had “vigilantes” as the villain (usually, organized by the rich banker to go against a poor guy unjustly accused) and here is the difference: the western hero is alone in a world where the law is not existent or even corrupt, and going against the law is what you have to do if you are honest.
    The same for the fantasy hero (Conan, for example), or even the three musketeers, or Robin Hood: they kill (apart from Disney movies…), and we are all right with it because the law is in the service of evil.

    So, the prometic thing with the punisher is not that he kills (or, at least, he is said to kill, outside of the spider-man books), is what he says about society: because a character that act like a western hero today, is saying that we live in a world where the law is totally corrupt and in the hands of rich gangsters.
    And it’s this point that Batman and the punisher usually drop the ball. In the common comics about them, following probably corporate guidelines.. they go against bank robbers, or sociopaths. They don’t act like the western hero, they act like the corrupt sheriff, the lackey of the the robber baron. I can’t take them seriously as heroes, they are actually cowards afraid to attract the attention of anybody even remotely powerful (Millar’s Authority were much more on point about this)

    Millet, I don’t know how much consciously, recognized this. If you look at DKR and BY1, you see that he puts Batman in that classic position: the lone hero against a corrupt world where the law actually help the evil and the rich.
    These two stories talk to us like no other batman stories, because for the first time, they DON’T depict Batman as a vigilante, but as a hero.

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    • There’s a weird legacy from the 1930s, in which the popular presentation of crime was purely paranoiac: sons of immigrants were making your town an unsafe jungle, running drugs (i.e. liquor), turning girls into prostitutes (probably your daughter!!), and generally bringing down property values. The young Hoover’s FBI was one of the first government services to make use of new media, to promulgate the image of the few, proud, and fervent defenders of “order” and “common folk” against this scourge, first in movies and radio, and almost as soon as television was invented.

      This set of images and ideas merged … strangely … with the broader American public and especially in the relatively uncontrolled medium of the pulps, in many ways creating an incoherent gestalt among (i) the hooligan-punching crimefighter, (ii) dissenting and nonconformist groups, especially vs. bankers and industrialists, and (iii) creating a super-patriotic virtuous figure, especially once the U.S. entered World War 2. Superheroes have always presented a mix-and-match of political meanings, especially in the U.S., and I submit, much more so than other action/pulp characters by, for example, Burroughs or Howard. Somehow they are both alienated/dissenting and crimefighters.

      All this is to say I agree with you, that Batman seems curiously cross-eyed about what he’s there to do, and that he makes more sense in an apocalyptic and paranoid environment than in regular urban life. I’ve been looking up the original lately, and was impressed by how much of it Miller had recaptured, more than I thought, up to and including specific confusions. Finger and Kane’s Batman existed in an impressionistic, chaotic landscape, full of strange evils and coincidences. Even the gun issue is surprisingly similar to the weird contradictory editorial policy about the character before 1940.

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    • You know … in DKR at least, we have Batman as a former Justice League guy, once at least quasi-authorized. I’m not sure about which nuances of ‘hero’ to apply, but vigilante might be a bit off for Batman himself. “Rogue cop” might fit better (in line with the Sudden Impact influence). The line is certainly blurry, but it does seem important to think about the ways Batman is NOT a vigilante, too.

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  3. DKR I read, like Watchmen, in the late 80s, persuaded by comic-loving friends. I should re-read it. But from memory, and what’s discussed here … definitely hate/love for this particular characterization of Batman. I’m disgusted by the pleasure at the scream in the passage Steve quotes, but also impressed by the honesty – an honesty that (usually) stays just a hair shy of pure gratuitous bad-assery. Nowadays, I might label some of what I thought of as COOL bad-assery (“wow, he’s got a plan for SUPERMAN!”) as more like competence-porn. Not that there’s anything wrong with that …

    I’m a bit shocked to discover a pretty direct tie (to me, at least) between what Oliver said to Bruce and the “use their violence against their privilege” quote I used in commenting on the last vigilante post. Oliver’s “You got to learn how to make those sons of bitches work for you” has always stuck with me, both as revealing his approach/personality, and a key insight for Bruce to learn if he wanted to keep his Batman-mission alive in the current environment. The one-armed hippie archer gets credit for how his arrow contributes to the resolution, but his insight may be the real key.

    And actually … maybe a reread will reveal more signs of changes in Bruce/Batman, tilting the hate/love a little closer to love. Because if he can just get a little more unstuck (without losing his determination, of course), he’d be a more relate-able vigilante for me. It’s also great how he brings up questions even when UNrelate-able, but I would like to feel a little less dirty when rooting for him.

    Speaking of dirty …. I recall reading that Miller included Sudden Impact (the Clint Eastwood-directed Dirty Harry movie) in his inspirations. I don’t remember the movie well, but as support for a more vigilante than superhero Batman, it fits.

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  4. Oliver is a key, largely missing, element in this discussion.

    In the early 70s “relevance” era he was pretty much the epitome of a kind of social vigilante, with a greater awareness of the big picture than most. Of course this was bowdlerized, but that was inevitable. Other characters did it too (including Batman), but he was the poster boy.

    The 80s Question went into similar territory in some ways, but with more emphasis on the philosophy stuff. (And the “philosophy” was a bit rubbish, but at least O’Neil tried).

    Anyway, the presentation of Oliver in DKR was a bit of a jibe at the ‘hippies’ but at least he ended up as one of the heroes.

    But of course his main presentation in the 80s was in and influenced by ‘The Longbow Hunters’, which was pretty sharp vigilante stuff itself. (And with beautiful art).

    If I was going to write or play a vigilante character, I would be inclined to explore the social vigilante side of things. Having a Green Lantern or Superman style character to serve as a foil is a good thing too, although that points to a world beyond “pure” vigilante-ism.

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  5. A Captain Obvious moment: Oliver is a natural fit for a social vigilante. The guy is based on Robin Hood!

    Even his millionaire Batman knockoff origins fit right in with the idea of Robin Hood as dispossessed/outlawed nobleman.

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    • The interesting question is why his very own dark-and-gritty vigilante series of the mid-late 80s did nothing of the sort. Or at least as I recall … The Longbow Hunters struck me very much as Golan-Globus comics, and I’m speaking as someone who knew and liked Mike Grell.

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      • The Longbow Hunters distanced him from pretty much all of his previous characterization, so it’s probably not surprising his attitude changed as well. On the other hand, there were plenty of Robin Hood references: “Sherwood Florist” was one of the less subtle ones. There was an early-post Longbow Hunters story where he got involved with a covert CIA cocaine smuggling operation, which kind of harks back to his earlier days, though in a darker way.

        I just made the mistake of reading about some of the other horrible things they did to him subsequently. He really suffered from grim and gritty decay. And that was the tragedy of all these wonderful vigilante stories – they became the standard template for superhero stories, regardless of the characters involved.

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  6. Couple quick things:

    Everyone’s called attention to the Green Arrow as a leftist bad-ass. So when Miller’s making fun of hippies, I think he’s deliberately targeting that sub-section of the left, the do-nothing, let’s-get-stoned sub-section.

    More broadly, Miller’s attacks aren’t meant as political IMO. Hippies, porn stars, doddering presidents, pop psychologists, plastic surgeons, Dr. Ruth, David Letterman: if it existed in the 1980’s and people made fun of it, DKR joins in the mockery. As a reader I find this juvenile tendency detracts from the story, but whoooooo boy that’s 1980’s pop culture for you. I’d say it was Punk except it’s too toothless.

    As to the Mutants as black people: Varley definitely includes black people as (very minor) characters. The Mutants dress as punks and skinheads, and then their splinter groups dress up like the various gangs in “The Warriors.” Textually they’re white as can be. If you want to see a really insulting stereotype, check out the pimp in the taxi cab in Chapter One.

    But I think one could make the argument that the Mutants are coded as black. They’re the mid-80’s “black super predator” with a paint job, and in between acts of senseless violence against mostly white women, they talk in incomprehensible yet vaguely threatening Future-Jive. The news panic stories about the crack epidemic causing increased gang violence began to surface at the time DKR came out.

    Also, Batman did have a very minor vigilante enemy, the Electrocutioner. But Steve is basically right, there’s no true foil for Batman’s “crime fighter” aspect. DKR’s insight is that Superman works as a foil in that respect, and it’s become a terrible cliche for the last 30 years but seemed fresh at the time.

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    • You’ve absolutely nailed and clarified my meaning regarding color-coding for the Mutants. The physical coloring in the comic book has nothing to do with it. I also stressed that I raised as a question, not a conclusion, and that it’s the sort of question practically designed to send analysts of this sort of thing into confused and endless spirals.

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    • However … “not meant as political” just leaves me gaping in astonishment. Maybe you and I have different definitions for “political.” The Dark Knight Returns is the most political document in 1980s letters, and you’ve even pointed up several specific reasons why.

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      • I guess maybe the better term would have been that the contempt is “non-ideological.”

        While I DKR does attempt to tackle questions of how people should live together, and that’s part of its strength, I think that theme can be pretty easily lifted out of the cheap, crass jokes like Byron Brassballs, the David Endocrine segment, the caricature of Reagan, etc. etc. I don’t think the “jokes” really express much of a political viewpoint other than the gratuitous meanness of spirit that characterized the latter half of the decade.

        (It’s a little bit like asking, “Could they have done ‘Mashal Law’ without Kevin O’Neill’s graffiti in every damn panel and still have it work as a political document.” The graffiti doesn’t really add much the the critique of masculinity, religion, and Viet Nam that forms most of that work.)

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  7. “Also, Batman did have a very minor vigilante enemy, the Electrocutioner.”

    True! He actually factors more into the VIGILANTE comic book, though, and I intend to talk about the Electrocutioner more in that column.

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  8. In a comment above, Ron talks about DKR being extremely political, and it certainly is in the classic sense of, “How shall we live?” DKR contains both a descriptive component and a prescriptive one.

    (As noted above, I don’t think DKR’s “humor” helps either component and is merely ugliness for the sake of ugliness, rather than serving any particular ideology.)

    The descriptive component of DKR’s message is that the liberal urban planning / policing / War on Poverty policies of the 1960’s and 70’s had failed pretty much completely in mid-80’s New York City, and thus in its fictional counterpart Gotham.

    What’s kind of surprising is that this surprised anyone. Whether it’s true or not, from a mass media perspective it’s a terribly banal observation. New York had been portrayed in film, novels, and news stories as a wretched, broken mess of a city since at least the mid-70’s. In fact, it wasn’t all that nice in the 10’s and 20’s and 30’s; the post-war years may have been an anomaly. Furthermore, by 1986 all of the social institutions (the presidency, the media, the police, etc.) had been losing credibility for decades.

    The prescriptive component of DKR is harder to suss out. Gordon was a good and capable public servant, but as his successor Yindel learns, GCPD as an institution is no match for the Mutants, who are sort of miniature super villains. The mayor is such a putz that he gets his throat ripped out, and the president is a buffoon whose brinkmanship sends America back into the 19th Century. The Power of the Press is pretty much doomed if the news casters are any indication.

    The only thing that can save Gotham City is Batman. It’s even said explicitly in Chapter 4 that the entire rest of the nation is a damn mess except for Gotham, because Batman and his posse are there. Of course, we never actually see them “ruling” the city, making policy choices, etc. What we know about Batman as First Citizen is that

    (a) he really wants people to use throwing knives instead of shotguns;

    (b) after running over dozens of Mutants with a tank in Chapter 2, by Chapter 4 he’s happy to enlist them to declare martial law under his name. These would be the Mutants who just shot at least 2 police officers dead because the TV didn’t work. This does not seem wise to me, but, hey, I am not the World’s Greatest Detective.

    (c) He’s mainly limiting his activity to stopping looters and mob violence, and the Police Chief and the press and everyone else are apparently still doing their jobs.

    (d) None of this is especially surprising given Batman’s conduct earlier in the book.

    Miller seems to be saying is that a properly trained militia of vigilantes (ahem, concerned citizens) is needed to overcome the social decay confronting Gotham. Taken literally, that’s a pretty creepy message: Batman rules his gang absolutely, and they’re totally unaccountable to anyone else.

    Taken as metaphor, which is my preference, Miller is saying something a little less repulsive: if you think society is going off the rails, it’s YOUR society, so get off your ass and get involved with trying to fix it. As much as this story features a muscular dude in a bat costume, I think the people most worthy of emulation are Gordon, Carrie, and even that shop owner in Chapter 2 who stands up for himself. And the real enemy of Gotham as a polity isn’t so much lunatics like the Joker, but Byron, the “Fuck You I Got Mine” guy, whose selfishness and cynicism is eating the community away from the inside. I don’t think it’s a creative coincidence that Batman “singled [Byron] out” on the night of the riots.

    Still: the idea that society has become decadent and broken (in part due to racial fears), only a force of unaccountable brown-shirts (some of them ex-criminals) can maintain civic order, and you should re-dedicate yourself to the betterment of the State, has its share of fascist elements, though I’d agree it may not be fascism exactly.

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    • Talking about a “trained” militia of former criminals/concerned citizens makes me think about the Guardian Angels again.

      The piece of the history of NYC I’d want to stress is that by 1986 it was clear NYC was on a new and different path (Koch was definitely a fiscal conservative). I think the ways Gotham is wretched and broken in DKR, while perhaps connected to/caused by the response to 60’s and 70’s failures, really are an 80’s statement.

      The crass meanness/jokes vs. authentically pointed political commentary is an interesting question. To sort it out, I think I’d try and tease out that question of authenticity – when in the story is the political stuff fully connected with and consequential to events and characters, and when is it merely cynicism solidified in words and images? I mean, ‘mere’ cynicism CAN be connected/consequential, but I do see a difference between that and a more fleshed and nuanced political statement. I suspect both are present in DKR, and I’m not sure in what proportions.

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