The hero we de­serve

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ARTS & LIFE - David Be­tan­court

It was “dev­as­tat­ing,” Frank Miller says. That is how the comics leg­end de­scribes, with in­ten­tional hy­per­bolic flair, the event that helped him script and draw one of the great­est Bat­man tales ever told.

So you’ve got our at­ten­tion, Mr. Miller. What was it that helped guide you to cre­ate The Dark Knight Re­turns?

Three decades ago, when he was 29, Miller says he was at­tempt­ing to tell a type of Bat­man story that hadn’t been seen be­fore. Sure, he was ner­vous about bring­ing The Dark Knight Re­turns to fruition, but what both­ered him more was his up­com­ing birth­day.

“To me, turn­ing 30 was be­com­ing an an­cient. Bat­man had to ab­so­lutely be older than I was,” Miller says. “Now, we all know Bat­man is eter­nally 29 in the comics. So I had to do some­thing about it.”

So Miller cre­ated his vi­sion of Bat­man: older, wiser, edgier, a Dark Knight with bat­tle scars and lit­tle pa­tience for those who stood in his way. That ver­sion, of course, re­mains just as pop­u­lar to­day as any cur­rent ver­sion of Bat­man.

“I made him as old as I could con­ceiv­ably imag­ine a man could be,” says Miller, ex­plain­ing why he chose age 50. “And by do­ing that, I made him older than me. I made him a lot crankier, and was able to move him through time into a world that much more re­sem­bled the world that I lived in, in 1986 in New York City.

“I was up­dat­ing the char­ac­ter and ag­ing him at the same time. And I thought I was mak­ing him old and cranky. But I didn’t learn what old and cranky was un­til I hit 50.”

Now, DC Comics is cel­e­brat­ing the 30th an­niver­sary of The Dark Knight Re­turns with a spe­cial com­mem­o­ra­tive edi­tion. As he marks the mile­stone him­self, Miller can still re­mem­ber the nerves he felt when cre­at­ing the story’s con­cept and pre­sent­ing it to peo­ple at DC, who at that time had a dif­fer­ent mind­set as to what Bat­man was and rep­re­sented.

The two most i mpor­tant au­thor­i­ties at DC in the mid-’ 80s, Miller says, were Paul Le­vitz and Jenette Kahn — both of whom sup­ported his Dark Knight Re­turns vi­sion, he notes. It was the “lower- ­t ier” peo­ple at DC that weren’t as sup­port­ive. says Miller, ex­plain­ing that many times his editor would tell him: “Jenette and Paul will never ap­prove this.” But those at the top con­tin­u­ally told Miller to keep go­ing.

“Jenette and Paul were the ones that did ap­prove it, and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, and en­cour­aged me to go fur­ther with the vi­o­lence in it,” Miller re­counts. “It was the other peo­ple on the staff that re­sisted it, be­cause I was play­ing with their child­hood.”

And Miller’s al­ter­ations to the Bat-mythos didn’t end with the Caped Cru­sader. Miller’s Robin is one of the more rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ters from his Dark Knight story, in part be­cause he took the “boy” out of Boy Won­der and made Robin more than a side­kick. Miller says that the idea to cre­ate Car­rie Kel­ley — whom the Mary­land-born Miller con­sid­ers Bat­man’s adop­tive daugh­ter in Dark Knight Re­turns — was sparked by a con­ver­sa­tion with comics vet­eran John Byrne, while the two were fly­ing to an Ohio comics con­ven­tion.

“I told him I had an idea for a Bat­man book where Bat­man was ol der and crankier … and he said make Robin a girl and he drew me a sketch,” Miller re­calls. “An idea of Robin as a girl, and how the cos­tume would look bet­ter on a girl. The idea was so good I couldn’t re­sist it. It just seemed nat­u­ral from then on.”

One of the mem­o­rable scenes in The Dark Knight Re­turns is the fight be­tween the older Bat­man and Su­per­man; the im­age of a Bat­man boot land­ing on Su­per­man’s jaw has stayed with fans for gen­er­a­tions.

Miller vividly re­mem­bers plot­ting that famed fight, which in­spired next month’s Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice.

“Oh, yeah — I so much wanted Bat­man to win, I can’t tell you,” Miller says. “I wanted the bad boy to win. I wanted the guy who got by just on his brains to take down the su­per­pow­ered school­boy. I was root­ing for Bat­man all the way as I was writ­ing and draw­ing the story. I got to have my guy win.”

And what does Miller think of Ben Af­fleck, who is bring­ing Miller’s older, an­grier Bat­man to the screen?

“I’ ll be there in the au­di­ence — I can’t wait to see it,” Miller says. “I hope it’s good. I wish Af­fleck well.”

Re­flect­ing on the past 30 years, Miller can ap­pre­ci­ate just what The Dark Knight Re­turns uni­verse has be­come at DC, in­spir­ing live- ac­tion films, an­i­ma­tion and more comic- book tales — in­clud­ing Miller’s cur­rent Dark Knight III: The Mas­ter Race. And he can bask in the fact he got to de­liver the Bat­man story he wanted to tell.

“I just mainly wanted to do my ver­sion of Bat­man and see if I could get it out, and see if any­body liked it,” Miller says. “I had no idea what was com­ing or where it was go­ing to go, and that there’d end up be­ing so many sto­ries. It’s been a real thrill ride.”

The Dark Knight.

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