When doing pieces like these, it’s really easy for everything to become one giant Rorschach Test. You see some faint parallels between a book or movie you love and the current political situation, and you immediately start making these ridiculous connections between things that really have no relation at all. “Batman is Trump, so the Joker is Hillary Clinton, because they’re both the archenemies! And The Joker and Clinton both wear lipstick and… stuff…”

Thankfully, I think I’ve mainly avoided that throughout this series, but I have to admit, I started getting suspicious of myself when I got to the subject of this final article: Superman. He’s an integral part of The Dark Knight Returns, and a central part of Miller’s satire, so I couldn’t just ignore him. At the same time, any parallel I drew between Superman and a current political figure seemed to be an exercise in the “Rorschaching” that I was worried about. Is he Hillary Clinton? Robert Mueller? Pepe the frog?

See the previous installments in the “Making Gotham Great Again” series analyzing the themes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and today’s political culture: Part 1: The MediaPart 2: Law and OrderPart 3: Ronald Reagan and the Republican Establishment

After wracking my brain, Tucker Carlson’s provocative monologue gave me the perfect answer.

Superman is none other than Mitt Romney.

It all just fits so well doesn’t it? The square jaw? The square personality? The dedication to truth, justice, and American way?

What’s important to understand is that, much like his characterization of Batman, Miller has a very unique take on Superman that has proven to be influential through the years.

Decades before it was popular opinion to think that Superman was a dorky, overpowered, bland as a C-SPAN binge-a-thon superhero, Miller was making these points in The Dark Knight Returns, as well as writing the first Batman vs. Superman confrontation in the comics (well, unless you count that silly 1960s story where Batman from the Future zaps Superman with a kooky sci-fi ray and turns him into a caveman, but that doesn’t really count…)

In TheDark Knight Returns, Superman is nothing more than a government shill, Reagan’s pet bulldog that he commands at will when he needs Soviet forces to be defeated at a moment’s notice. (It’s very similar to Dr. Manhattan’s role in Watchmen, who is enlisted by Nixon to give America an easy win in Vietnam).

Because of this, Superman becomes a symbol for American power abroad, a cynical twist on the character’s traditional role as an emblem for “truth, justice, and the American Way.” In fact, our first introduction to Superman is a rather brilliant sequence of panels where Miller slowly has a rippling flag outside of the White House transform into the “S” on Superman’s chest.

So, how exactly does Superman act as a parallel to Mitt Romney? A meeting between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent gives us the first clue. Clark meets with Bruce to give him a stern warning about coming out of retirement as Batman (we learn that most superheroes were forced into retirement by the government). The first panel shows Clark Kent heroically standing on a rock much like Leutze’s famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. Later on, a bald eagle will descend from the sky and perch on his arm. This depicts Superman as the pinnacle of American greatness. Batman’s internal monologue, however, reveals a much more jaded take. “There’s just the sun and the sky and him, like he’s the only reason it’s all here,” Batman caustically remarks. “Then he ruins everything by talking” (118).

Isn’t this exactly how Trump fans view Mitt Romney? As some annoying pretty boy who acts as if he’s this all-American hero, but is really just enthralled to the Republican donor class, the political elites, and the “deep state?” Tucker Carlson’s monologue channels some of this attitude, when he opines that Romney supports distant wars in countries that don’t affect ordinary Americans, as well as corporate tax cuts that only help millionaires and billionaires. And, much like the way Clark Kent condescendingly tells Bruce to reign things in, Carlson and others saw Romney’s critical Washington Postcolumn of Trump to be patronizing and just an aggressive push for the failing status quo.

During their meeting, Superman keeps dancing around the fact that Batman needs to step down, as the federal authorities are against his return. When Bruce won’t take the hint, Clark says, “You’re going to make me come right out and say it, aren’t you?” to which Bruce caustically replies, “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to Clark,” a subtle jab at Superman’s obedience to federal authority (118-119). This is very similar to the way many strong Trump fans see Romney and other Trump-critical conservatives: people too willing to kowtow to the liberal media, the FBI, and other institutions corrupted by a liberal agenda. Superman wants to live in a world where people can all play nice. While he still does superheroics, it’s only at the beck and call of his government masters, so he absorbs society’s fundamental premises that the old way of fighting crime is outdated and probably oppressive. Again, think of moderate Republicans like Romney or John McCain. Many Trump supporters called them fake Republicans because they were moderates on issues like immigration. These politicians may still saythey’re Republicans, but have ultimately given into the liberal narrative that realconservatism is an anachronistic stand-in for racist patriarchy.

Superman admits as much to himself in an internal monologue while he’s attacking Soviet airplanes. “The rest of us learned to cope,” he laments. “The rest of us recognized the danger — of the endless envy of those not blessed” (120). Much like moderate Republicans believe that Trump’s character is toxic and that he has no idea what he’s doing, Superman thinks Batman’s crazed vigilantism will only bring chaos and disaster to America. Like Superman, they have made peace with the existing order, doing what they can, but never coloring outside the lines.

Batman and Trump, however, have a different response. When Batman successfully restores order to Gotham after the nuclear winter while the rest of America descends into anarchy, Reagan sends Superman after Batman, because he can’t afford this swipe to his credibility. Much like the way Trump fans see the Mueller investigation, the political elites sic their obedient servants on the populist hero, because he exposes their fatal flaws. During the fighting, Batman informs the reader of his own philosophy through internal monologue. “You sold us out Clark,” he proclaims. “You gave them–the power–that should have been ours. Just like your parents taught you to. My parents…taught me a different lesson…–lying on the street—shaking in deep shock–dying for no reason at all–they showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to” (192).

Batman thinks Superman’s view of the world and of power is too idealistic and nice. This idea that we have to give those in power respect, that we need to follow their rules, is absurd, especially when those rules don’t protect the vulnerable from crime and violence. The world is dirty, so you have to play dirty.

And this is the essential middle finger that Trumpism gives to the Republican establishment. It’s: You guys played nice. You guys thought that the libs would respect us if we followed the rules and learned to compromise. Well look at where that’s gotten us. Conservatives have become simultaneously the national punchline and the biggest threat since the Nazis. So screw it. Let’s play dirty. Who cares about “character” anymore? Let them think we’re racist. Let them think we hate women and Muslims. The heck with even trying to give the media the benefit of the doubt. The Left has been playing dirty since those darn Alinskyites took over the Universities. We won, and now America is going to go our way for us.

And if you think that’s a scary vision, let me ask you, who saved Gotham city from anarchy: The Man of Steel and the Great Communicator, or the Dark Knight?



Photo by DonkeyHotey