Is he? Isn’t he? What’s a Superhero Narrative, anyway?
In his essay, Klock proposes that comics published in the mid-80’s (primarily Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Watchmen) were the introduction to what he calls, “the revisionary superhero narrative.” Klock defines the “revisionary superhero narrative” as “a superhero text that, in Harold Bloom’s words, is a ‘strong misreading’ of its poetic tradition, a comic book whose ‘meaning’ is found in its relationship with another comic book” (25).
Klock uses Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a critical lens to examine the function of “the revisionary superhero narrative” and explain the significance of reimagining superhero characters and superheroic function in comic books. Klock argues that in texts such as Miller’s TDKR, we see an inventive transition, in comic book history from comic books being exclusively fantasy to now involving a “reality principle” (such as a comic book’s historical time period or biographical information that has been previously introduced in the character’s prior publication history).
In his analysis of TDKR as a revisionary superhero narrative, Klock suggests that TKDR is one of the most important pieces of comic book history because it is a strong misreading of a comic book character. While Miller does remain faithful to the Batman mythology, Klock proposes that Miller performs his “misreading” when he integrates realistic elements into his plot. Miller accomplishes this by aging the character (which as we’ve already discussed in Alaniz’s chapter, “Unmasked At Last” is a controversial move for a comic book character) and by setting Gotham as an urban city in the ’80s, fully affected by the nation’s Cold War.
Klock’s argument regarding the “uncomfortable” but “satisfying” experience that readers encounter while reading TDKR resounds in the quote that Klock includes from Alan Moore’s introduction to TDKR. While reading TDKR, “everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it’s totally different” (Klock 27).
Some of the other variables, that Klock argues, are involved in Miller’s extraordinary “misreading” of the Batman mythology are as follows:
- Miller provides explanation for some of the details about the character and ultimately tries to “make sense” of Batman’s mythology.
- Miller creates a Batman comic which is more graphic than violent
- Miller addresses the homoerotic/homosocial anxiety surrounding the relationship between Batman and Robin by changing Robin’s gender; by doing this, Miller not only refutes the notion that Batman and Robin are lovers, but he also highlights, instead, the homoerotic dependency that Joker feels towards Batman.
- Miller addresses the political aspects of the Superhero realm (Superman as President Reagan’s “Super-soldier,” Oliver Queen’s incarceration and escape to Europe, Bruce’s identity as a fascist vigilante)
Klock asserts that by doing this, Miller creates a comic that parallels the eponymous character’s reputation; it’s controversial, a little rebellious, and to quote Oliver Queen, it’s “mysterious, but it’s a loud kind of mysterious” (Miller).
- What are your thoughts about Klock’s definition of “the revisionary superhero narrative” and the concept of the genre involving a “strong misreading?” Can you think of any other examples of superheroic revisionary narratives (other than the texts mentioned in Klock’s chapter), where a “strong misreading” is performed?
- What are your thoughts about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as a revisionary superhero narrative? Does it feel like a Batman comic to you, or are there aspects of the comic that feel foreign with regard to the Batman mythos? Provide your own assessment of Miller’s faithfulness to the Batman biography that precedes TDKR‘s publication.
- How did you feel about the “realistic” elements that are intertwined into the plot of The Dark Knight Returns? For this topic, feel free to blog about the brilliant, albeit controversial, decision to age Batman, the politics involved in superheroism, or the presence of the Cold War and the Reagan administration. (Also, if you’d like to blog about all three options or another “realistic” aspect to the comic, please feel free to do so)
- What is your opinion of Klock’s hypothesis regarding the “re-gendering” of Robin and the homoerotic tensions between Batman and Joker? Do you think that Miller was intentionally trying to invert the romantic/sexual associations of the two relationships, or is this an interesting close-reading performed by Klock?
I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!