I’d like to, if I may, defend a beloved work of Graphic Novel Literature that was sadly given far less than its due credit by our fearless leader, Professor Beaty, when considered in class: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The basic story goes like this: after retiring as the Batman, Bruce Wayne feels the call to take up, again, the mantle as Gotham’s protector. The now aged Batman must challenge cyberpunk gangs along with the familiar rogues gallery of classic villains like the Joker, Two-face, and even an old ally who will test the Dark Knight to his limits. Whoa, sounds awesome right?
This is the panel that we were shown in class from the comic:
The basic assessment of this great work was that the writing was cheesy/bad, and that Batman was way too buff for a sixty-year-old… talk about taking the wind out of my Bat-sails. I will admit that the feasibility of a man of sixty coming out of many years of retirement and looking like that, and being able to do some sort of jumping (from the looks of the panel) is very slim (not without some Tylenol 3’s anyway). But this is a comic, and I think we’ve all accepted the fact that unrealistic things can happen in comic books.
But I do take some issue with the supposed “cheesiness” of the writing. It is a dramatic style of writing with lots of flair and metaphor and symbolism, qualities that are prevalent in many other works of written fiction that take themselves seriously. My first argument is that whether or not the writing is perceived to be cheesy, these are the thoughts and feelings and words of Bruce Wayne, not Frank Miller per se (even though they are technically his words). So in a way, you could say that Frank Miller is not being cheesy, but rather Bruce Wayne is the cheesy, sentimental one. I believe there are two important keys in understanding this matter. First: While uninterested people would call certain ideas cheesy, the people who take those ideas seriously would call them sacred. Second: the important thing to remember here is that Bruce Wayne takes himself very, very seriously, and in order to truly enjoy the story, you must buy in, invest, and take the ride with him, cheese and all.
But I can see the flip side as well. There is something inherently cheesy and self-indulging about the Dark Knight’s musings that could make it difficult for some to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the show. Perhaps it is the idea of a comic book hero taking himself so seriously in the first place that may come off as cheesy, or out of place, or inappropriate, the way that Action Camus seems to be out of place with his reactions to circumstances. He seems to be missing the whole point of being a super hero. And maybe that’s where the cheese comes from: pretending to be something it just isn’t. Can you imagine a gritty realistic take on the Loony Tunes? I rest my case.
Ultimately I believe that any work can be enjoyed in two ways, its originally intended meaning, and also from a first or second derivative perspective of the original meaning. But as for The Dark Knight Returns, if you’re willing to swallow the red pill and go the distance, Bruce Wayne’s cheese might turn into something sacred for you as well.