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Making Gotham Great Again, Part 2: Law and Order

Considering Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a Mirror to Today’s Politics

In an interview with Comic Book Confidential in 1988, Frank Miller remarked that 1980s America was a “very frightening, silly place… it’s often silly and frightening at the same time and [he] hope[d] [The Dark Knight Returns] is silly and frightening at the same time.”

Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 1 of this ongoing series. Warning: spoilers in this and the previous installment.

You do not have to read very far in The Dark Knight Returns to realize that Miller can indeed illicit horror and laughs on the same page, if not in the same panel. Miller’s genius at combining these two seemingly contradictory responses lead to some intriguing commentary on criminality and society’s response to it. And like Miller’s satirical attacks on the media, his observations on modern America’s inability to seriously deal with crime make interesting parallels with the Trump era.

Making Gotham Great Again, Part 1: The Media

Considering Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a Mirror to Today’s Politics

To fans of comics, The Dark Knight Returns stands as one of the seminal works of the medium. Written and drawn by comics legend Frank Miller in 1986, the story revolves around an aging Batman coming out of retirement after an intolerable surge in Gotham’s crime. Known for its intense action, suspenseful plotting, and dark atmosphere, The Dark Knight Returns proved to mainstream audiences that comics could be more than cheap, disposable, kiddie fare, and could stand as its own as a serious form of entertainment and storytelling.

One distinctive aspect of the book is its sharp political satire. Miller takes aim at a bevy of institutions, from the police force, to politicians, to Ronald Reagan, to the media.

At first glance, Miller’s satirical remarks can be seen as the bloviations of an angry young man. Almost no one avoids his ire, and his statements can seem contradictory. On the one hand, he attacks the media as fake and soft on crime, so he sounds like a conservative. On the next page, however, he attacks Reagan as hollow and is critical of American actions in the Cold War, so he comes off as a liberal. Is there any real coherence to Miller’s attacks, or is he just flailing his arms around with no real positive political agenda?

The Conservatism of Nexus

Many superheroes have conservative beginnings. If men were benign there would be no need for superheroes. Life was simpler in 1939 when Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman. Batman’s motivation, like that of so many comic book good guys, was to right a wrong, in this case the murder of his parents. Batman’s mission expanded to serving the cause of justice, which has always been a conservative idea. We are a nation of laws. Creators may not have consciously realized their characters had a conservative agenda, and in many cases, subsequent writers have expanded that agenda to embrace more liberal concerns such as intolerance and inequality. That is not to say conservatives are not concerned about such things. As always, it’s a matter of degree.