Nick Setch­field says it’s time Bat­man got over The Dark Knight Re­turns

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Letters -

It’s in dan­ger of be­com­ing the de­fin­i­tive Bat­man

Bruce Wayne saw his par­ents gunned down in a Gotham al­ley. Psy­chi­a­trists call that a defin­ing event ( the rest of us would call it a ma­jor downer). It’s his es­sen­tial tragedy, the trauma he can never es­cape. He’s cursed to re­visit it, end­lessly, in mer­ci­less slo- mo, ev­ery time Bat­man’s brought to the screen. But there’s an­other defin­ing event in his his­tory, an­other shadow on his psy­che, an­other scar that’s never al­lowed to heal. It’s called The Dark Knight Re­turns.

Yes, I get it: Frank Miller’s graphic novel was ground­break­ing, rev­o­lu­tion­ary, im­por­tant. It was the kick in the cape the su­per­hero genre needed in the dol­drums of the mid-’ 80s. Along­side Watch­men it re­de­fined and deep­ened the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the medium. And its suc­cess forced Hol­ly­wood to fi­nally take no­tice of Bat­man. 1989’ s Tim Bur­ton movie would never have hap­pened with­out Miller’s com­pelling, provoca­tive vi­sion, a take that fi­nally laid the camp, day- glo ghost of the 1960s TV show to rest.

But that’s all it was. A take. An in­ter­pre­ta­tion. A riff on the Bat­man myth, no more and no less valid than Adam West in tights. The Dark Knight Re­turns was a thought ex­per­i­ment, an Else­worlds tale, a What If ? What if you nudged this char­ac­ter to an ex­treme? What if you am­pli­fied the dark­ness in his DNA? What if you took all those quasi- fas­cist cur­rents and gave them their head? The re­sult was a hell of a story, part- po­lit­i­cal satire, partDirty Harry power fan­tasy, partRag­narok. But it’s only one story in seven decades of sto­ries.

Miller’s take is so pow­er­ful, so per­sua­sive, that it’s in dan­ger of be­com­ing the de­fin­i­tive Bat­man, eclips­ing all oth­ers. It’s said to be the key in­flu­ence on the up­com­ing DC su­per­hero movies, shap­ing ev­ery­thing from the cen­tral con­flict in Bat­man V Su­per­man: Dawn Of Jus­tice to Jared Leto’s Joker in Sui­cide Squad.

But Bat­man is too rich a myth to be bound by one nar­row in­ter­pre­ta­tion. He’s the world­hop­ping science fic­tion hero of the ’ 50s, the gothic avenger of the ’ 70s, the psy­che­delic time­trav­eller of Grant Mor­ri­son’s run. Th­ese Bat­men have as much right to ex­ist as Miller’s. The Bat­cave’s big enough for all of them.

Time for the Knight to be a bit less dark?

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