The second of three post’s looking at seminal takes on the Joker. Part 1 here.

I. Super Creep

scary-monsters-n-super-creeps1

“Do you want lipstick, sweet guy?”

I was five years old when Ashes to Ashes went to number one but I vividly remember how much the video disturbed me and continued to do so right up into my teens. There’s an intensity to it that few big name promos before or since have even attempted let alone matched, and why would they? Loosely centered around Bowie’s clown and a troupe of Blitz kids dressed in high fashion’s answer to mourning dress marching along a solarised beach, followed by a bulldozer, the video has the feel of a funeral set on some faraway peninsula of David Lynch’s imagination. The overall effect is alienated, surreal and ominous, reeking of drug addiction and mental illness, and while fans will detect an air of deep introspection this does nothing to create a more comfortable space.

Coming into his teenage years and young adulthood during the 70s and 80s respectively, Miller would have been steeped in Bowie’s career and protean flight through his various personae – aesthetically driven fiction suits which the mega star inhabited both on stage and to some extent in real life – so it comes as no surprise that a writer with his sensibilities would have produced a Joker that seems to borrow, intentionally or not, from Bowie’s iconographic legacy.

Particularly when you consider that on the evidence of X-Factor, Elektra Assassin, and Dark Knight, amongst other works, Miller, David Mazzucchelli and Bill Sienkiewicz did more to bring contemporary America to the world of superheroes than anyone else. DKR constantly gestures to the culture and concerns of the 80s, from a senile Ronald Reagan and Cold War terror, through Bernhard Goetz (take a look at the bespectacled vigilante in Chapter 4), inner city dystopia, androgynous women, shoulder pads, pleated trousers, big hair and David Letterman, to name but a few instances.

But in harnessing Bowie’s otherworldly energy (albeit perhaps only for readers familiar with Bowie’s career) Miller’s Joker does more than simply increase his ability to unsettle. Bowie’s recognition of the power of the image and its role in creating myth, be it Ziggy Stardust’s rock and roll apocalypse or the Thin White Duke’s blank cabaret, reflect’s Miller’s own reliance on visionary excess to underscore his mythic world. There’s a sense in which having a mash up of Bowie’s Pierrot and the Thin White Duke lurk just beneath the surface of his Joker is similar to having a monstrous bat underpin Batman in that both rely on a kind of externalisation, positioning the source of the character and ultimately the text’s power outside of the narrative, well beyond concerns such as interior and exterior.

Which is important because…

II. Batman isn’t mad. Frank Miller wants you to know this.

Most of the writers and editors who came after Miller sadly didn’t, or suspected something just as tedious spoke to the truth of the character, and so we were left with a skip-full of realist approaches to a man in pants that failed to channel any of The Dark Knight Return’s power. That said some people were clued into what Miller was up to. Alan Moore, in his original introduction to the DKR trade makes much of the passage of time and the passing of a hero as necessary components in legend, and draws our attention to Miller’s efforts to build Batman’s legendary status through careful use of imagery. I’ll be returning to that point shortly.

It’s all too easy to read Bruce Wayne’s reversion to his long renounced superheroic persona as a psychotic break. Miller paints him as a tormented man, possibly an alcoholic, dysfunctional, and demonstrably suicidal, but as in The Killing Joke there’s an ill-fit between the power of the superhuman, particularly his iconographic intensity, and explanatory factors like psychology. Unlike in TKJ however, Miller seems to be aware of this disparity and seeks to play it up.

To begin with DKR is awash with ambiguity, talking heads offer conflicting opinions about Batman, multiple points of view populate every page. Mostly Miller works with a broad brush: right wing libertarian Lana Lang faces off against lefty liberal Morrie, a white guy from the suburbs condemns Batman while a city dwelling black guy praises Bats for kicking “just the right butts”. While certain themes remain constant, the citizen’s right and duty to resist violence, Batman’s power as a symbol, amongst others, Miller regularly frames his pundits as in some way limited, and keeps their voices confined to tiny panels, or problematically contrasted while all around them the comic explodes with Bat-action. In fairness they provide context, exposition, and a deeper sense of mise-en-scene, and in doing so are invaluable, but the only real clarity offered in the book comes through the actions of Batman, and the only fundamental truths that are offered have mythological force.

the-truth-about-batman

The first chapter is perhaps the most thoroughgoing example of this approach. In forty or so pages the text explicitly belittles not only the explanatory power of psychology (Dr Wolper’s ineffectual treatment of Harvey Dent, his assessment of Batman and the Joker), but the crippling effects of age (Batman’s return), and the utility of the political lens when attempting to assess Batman* (Lana and Morrie, the street pundits versus the weight of Batman’s return on the page). More importantly, and to go back to Moore’s point, Miller offers up a set of symbols that dominate the text with their iconic power – the demon bat, the shattering pearl necklace. This imagery, through it’s scale and force and careful deployment suggests that although various factors might explain Batman on some causative or relational level, he isn’t reducible to them**. Miller even has his demon bat narrate the comic, explicitly stating that it cannot be stopped “…with wine or vows or the weight of age”, and reduces the status of Bruce’s mind with the line “you try to drown me out but your voice is weak”. Let’s not forget that this a character who rides the mother of all storms into Gotham, bathes the city in his light, and battles a god.

This, says Miller, is Batman’s ultimate reality.

batdemon

Just as this is Harvey Dent’s

harvey-dent

Just as this – and let’s be clear the Joker doesn’t arrive until precisely this point – is the Joker’s.

darling1

*I’m not suggesting for a moment that DKR is apolitical, there’s streaks of libertarianism and neo-conservatism running through it, but that’s a topic for another essay.

**More thoughts on the relationship between psychology and myth in the comments

III. Darling?

Unlike Moore, Miller isn’t very interested in what’s going on in his Joker’s mind. We catch fleeting glimpses of the character’s thoughts through Miller’s use of caption boxes, but these are very few and far between, and there’s no effort made to create a connection between the reader and the character. Cleverly Miller puts the only ostentsibly relatable instance to particularly chilling effect after the Joker has blown up a tower block, where we find him restless in bed unable to sleep thanks to the prospect of his forthcoming jailbreak, and, one presumes, the enormous body count that will follow it. The only other instances articulate an interest in smiles, uniformity, and an obsession, possibly sexual, with Batman, via green captions that both delinate him as a major player (Varley uses coloured captions with all the the major characters) and suggest strangeness and toxicity.

Where we can infer the Joker’s thoughts – in fact in all instances where we see him act in any capacity other than for a practical purpose such as escape – he’s either fixated on causing mayhem, killing people, or, once again, the Caped Crusader. Put simply in DKR the Joker’s interior world is there to disturb us, not to aid any understanding beyond the fact that he’s a scary monster.

But perhaps the most important point about this Joker’s life, inner or otherwise, is that he doesn’t have one until Batman shows up. He’s a pale zombie, “catatonic for ten years”, only reanimating when he catches a news report heralding the Dark Knight’s return. Miller probably didn’t intend this but there’s a nice echo here of the character’s relationship to his origin, or more accurately lack of one: there wasn’t a Joker and then there was Batman and then there was. This wonky mirroring reminds us that Miller wrote DKR in an era prior to The Killing Joke or Arkham Asylum, when no-one had put any serious effort into explaining the character, and in doing so we are encouraged to re-consider him as a phenomenon in and of himself. Not made but in some way apriori. A force of madness and evil rather than their product.

Ah, but Miller does offer an explanation for the Joker.

wolpers-patterns

An argument which despite Miller’s constant refrain of individual responsibility is reinforced by an abrupt cut to the Joker behind a wire mesh, which could conceivably be described as an intersticing pattern, or indeed a net, and the Joker’s persistent use of the term “darling” when describing his relationship with Batman.

It’s difficult to know how seriously to take the psychological angle here. As I’ve noted, psychology comes in for a real bashing in DKR, it’s even subtley ridiculed in the scene above. Wolper is opened up to distrust and suspicion thanks to his failure to take any responsibility for Harvey Dent’s escape, his patronising manner (his talk of the layman’s difficulty with complex issues), and his tendency to psychobabble. Most tellingly, the “psycho erotic” explanation comes in for a direct piss-taking in Book Three when the Joker shares the talkshow stage with Wolper and a Dr Ruth analogue. A farcical scene which quickly turns into a vision of hell when the Joker murders the entire studio audience. If anything is given primacy it’s the immensity of the Joker’s evil, and catagorically not humorous and increasingly hysterical references to sexual repression as the force underlying his actions.

something-rustles-as-it-leaves

“Whatever’s in him rustles as it leaves”

This point of view is further reinforced during the Joker’s final confrontation with Batman, which lest we forget is prefaced by the him killing a scout troop, and his efforts to massacre “thousands” more at the County Fair. While we are left more than uncertain about the value of psychology when it comes to the Joker (just as we are with Batman), Miller is unequivocal with the demonic imagery, dialogue and techical flourishes that constitute the character in the tunnel of love. If there is any uncertainty left about what makes the Joker tick, about what he is, then it’s blasted aside by the mythic power of his diabolical laughter, his inhuman suicide, and that rictus smile wreathed in flames, which can’t help but bring to mind Miller’s vision of Batman’s own demonic essence.

demon-grin

“There’s something supernatural about that one”

IV. STOP. STOP LAUGHING

twice-as-big

“Twice as big as you can possibly imagine”

I wanted to juxtapose this look at DKR with TKJ because I think they approach the question of character very differently, and I think something can be learnt through the contrast. Where TKJ is impressionistic and bound up with conceptions of character that start with psychology, TDK subordinates character to a mythic framework. Psychology is present, inner lives are in evidence, but they pale in comparison to four panels of the Joker laughing himself into extinction, or something shuffling in the dark of the Batcave, and this is why The Dark Knight Returns is better than The Killing Joke. Because, as Bowie and Miller understood, when dealing with something larger than life, something “twice as big as you can possibly imagine”, then the best way into it isn’t through narrative modes better suited to more grounded fiction, but to spotlight and work with its grandeur. That isn’t to say that I think TDK is an unequivocal success, or even that it’s Joker is better than other incarnations. As a friend over on Barbelith once pointed out, a Joker who isn’t constantly on the edge of hysterics can hardly be described as definitive, and it would be a poor reader who didn’t at least poke at what could be seen as the character’s homophobic subtext. I don’t even consider the book’s mythic dimensions to be perfectly executed or indeed unproblematic – myths are hazardous material after all, as Bowie found out. However I think it’s a shame that so few writers working within the genre have grasped the Miller was trying to do, particularly when tackling a character as far removed from reality as the Joker.

Is it simply a down to age that Bowie career is now coasting, albeit spectacularly successfully, rather than flourishing? Or does it have something to do with leaving the burnt remains of a rock-god far behind him?

Next time: Morrison and the Clown at Midnight

55 Responses to “Three Fools – Part 2: Miller and Varley’s Joker”

  1. Quadrivium Says:

    I love “Ashes to Ashes” and its video is my favorite music video of all time.

    But I don’t really see any evidence of Frank Miller or his Joker being particularly influenced by Bowie. Just because Miller grew up when he did doesn’t mean that he “would have been steeped in Bowie’s career”. I really hate that kind of logic, sorry to say. It reminds me of desperate would-be academians who scramble through a few historical sources, pick out a few things that randomly interest them, and then pose a causal relationship where there’s only a correlation at best.

    Nor do I think the Joker in DKR is particularly “protean”, certainly not when compared with other interpretations of the character.

    Someone could even argue, based on more logic, that DKR’s Joker is actually a repudiation of Bowie’s clown. Whereas Bowie in “Ashes” is a reverential lost soul who remembers his mom and piously only injures himself via drug abuse (but not to the point of suicide), the Joker is DKR undergoes a decidedly social and irreverent coming-out-party in which he kills many before killing himself. Bowie’s clown is depressed, but the Joker is never depressed, despite his suicide.

  2. Zom Says:

    I’m sure you’ve understood what I’ve written, which may or may not be my own fault. I’m not saying that Bowie’s personae, taken individually, are in any way identical to Miller’s Joker, just that a) there’s something of a visual similarity, something which many, many people have noted before me, b) that similarity will be meaningful to a lot of readers and brings something to their experience of the book, most notably something of Bowie’s strange energy*, whether or not Miller intended it, and c) that both Miller and Bowie were interested in constructing mythologies via the careful use of iconography.

    I never claimed that Miller’s Joker is protean.

    *Worth noting that Morrison’s Clown at Midnight was inspired by Bowie’s Thin White Duke incarnation, although when it came down to it he had nothing to do with anything in the following quote from Wikipedia

    The Duke was a hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity while feeling nothing, “ice masquerading as fire”.[2] The persona has been described as “a mad aristocrat”,[2] “an amoral zombie”,[3] and “an emotionless Aryan superman”.[4] For Bowie himself, The Duke was “a nasty character indeed”,[5] and later, “an ogre for me”.[6]

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  4. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    Zom:

    This was really insightful. Thanks.

    It was this bit that did it for me:

    “An argument which despite Miller’s constant refrain of individual responsibility is reinforced by an abrupt cut to the Joker behind a wire mesh, which could conceivably be described as an intersticing pattern, or indeed a net, and the Joker’s persistent use of the term “darling” when describing his relationship with Batman.”

    If the Joker is in fact a weak-egoed psychotic, caught in the net of psycho-erotic patterns, as he appears to be*, and if he is also a being operating within the realm of the supernatural and mythological, then what is the relationship between mythology and psychology within DKR?

    ZZZ

    *Gets me thinking of how Bruce accuses himself of allowing all of the Joker’s murders while entering into the Tunnel of Love. Does he understand that the Joker is his own creation on some level?

  5. Zom Says:

    I wouldn’t use the term supernatural as it has connotations which don’t fit with the book

    The relationship between psychology and myth is acausal, in the sense that nothing happens in DKR that can’t be explained by normal processes, including Batman’s visions. Hmmm… seems to me that the mythological aspect is more metatextual – a lens through which the text should be read rather than embedded within the narrative itself – and maybe structural and aesthetic, in that it informs both, if that makes any sense.

  6. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    Okay, yeah, supernatural was my own insertion. My fault. You were very clear in your terminology.

    Perhaps I was thinking something similar after reading your piece. Miller’s take on Batman et al. works to the extent that it does (and I gather it isn’t a perfect work in your eyes) because he posits ‘real world’ explanations for the behaviour of his characters, while at the same time overlaying that behaviour with mythological elements that allow it to transcend the Real. Psychology is transformed into the language of myth, or, if you like, sublimated into the realm of myth.

    One day we may not use strange terms like ‘pyscho-sexual’ in order to describe behaviour thinks Miller, and that’s fine; we won’t need to worry about this story becoming dated so long as it is fundamentally a story about the insertion of mythological forces within the real world.*

    Does jive with what you are trying to say?

    ZZZ

    *which brings us back to the strong influence of Miller’s work upon Morrison’s Batman run, doesn’t it? (assuming I’m making sense)

  7. Zom Says:

    Something like it, yeah. Morrison does a similar thing, although he stretches realistic explanations about as far as they can go

  8. Zom Says:

    Which you noted…

  9. RetroWarbird Says:

    I always like to see Joker/Bowie comparisons and contrasts. Like Batman versus James Bond, the fact that Joker predates Bowie by seven years … gives me a good laugh.

    Who begot who? Oroboro.

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    [...] Part 2 here [...]

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    [...] -Zom of the Mindless Ones takes a swing at Frank Miller, Lynn Varley, and Klaus Janson’s Joker, with an eye toward David Bowie. I liked this read. It’s a pretty interesting examination. [...]

  13. Jake W Says:

    There was an interview (around 2005 or thereabouts) where Miller said that back when he was working on DKR, in his mind he imagined Clint Eastwood as Batman and David Bowie as Joker.

    I can’t remember where the interview was though.

  14. Zom Says:

    Yeah, I seem to remember something like that. That Miller wanted Eastwood as Batman has been floating around the back of my brain for years now, but I don’t know precisely where I got the idea from.

  15. Zom Says:

    I’ve been trying to dig that interview up, Jake, but to no avail. Any ideas about where you might’ve seen it? No-one seems to have compiled a Miller interview list ala Barbelith’s Gmoz one

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  17. Richard Says:

    Following up on a tangent: I seem to recall a bit in a Denny O’Neil-scripted Batman story from 1978 (“I Now Pronounce you Batman and Wife” from the Batman Spectacular dollar comic, if you must know) where someone spots an incognito Bruce Wayne walking thru downtown Gotham one evening and says something like “Hey, isn’t that Clint Eastwood?” So it’s a comparison O’Neil had previously used, and he was a big influence on Dark Knight, and I’d bet Miller read that issue.

  18. Gokitalo Says:

    “Miller probably didn’t intend this but there’s a nice echo here of the character’s relationship to his origin, or more accurately lack of one: there wasn’t a Joker and then there was Batman and then there was.”

    I don’t know… I get the feeling that’s exactly what Miller was going for. It seems, at least to me, that Miller was consciously tackling the now-familiar “Batman’s presence creates the villains he fights” argument. The Joker was quite literally, on a metatextual level, created as an antagonist for Batman. Without a Batman, the Joker’s purpose as a character is lost, so he figuratively ceases to exist. When DKR begins, there isn’t a Joker anymore; he’s reverted to a green-haired Joe Everyman. Yet when Batman, ahem, returns, the Joker is reborn.

  19. Chris T Says:

    I think you’re on the right track with the Mythic aspects of the Batman and Joker in Gotham.

    Contrast with the earlier Miller/Janson Daredevil run which I’ve started reading for the first time via the recent TPB reissue (only read the 1st vol). There it’s obvious that Miller wants to create a tragedy a la those of the ancient Greeks (hello, Elektra). I know how it all ends as I read “Elektra Assassin” long before and I couldn’t help thinking “Oh, Daredevil, why did you so nobly save the life of Bullseye? No good will come of this, mark my words…” etc.

    In the Dark Knight, it feels as though Miller is not so much rehearsing old tragic tropes and narrative devices (it’s a different format from the Daredevil monthly) but rather giving full rein to the Jungian archetypes of the superheroic mythology. Hence the Batman, Two-Face and especially the Joker are described in such broad strokes, or as you say “through narrative modes better suited to more grounded fiction” [as per Daredevil, “but to spotlight and work with its grandeur”

    In that case what do these contrasted conflicts have to say? I.e. Batman vs the gangs, vs the Joker and vs Superman. But I’m guessing that may have something to do with the “streaks of libertarianism and neo-conservatism running through it.”

  20. Chris T Says:

    That should be *not* “through narrative modes better suited” etc

  21. Zom Says:

    Neoconservatism as a social rather than international project is built on the back of mythology, particularly religious myths, but also myths pertaining to heroism and country, stuff like that. It runs with the idea that there are little people, who need to be lied to for their own good, and big people who really understand how the world works.

  22. Chris T Says:

    Is that actually neoconservatism or libertarianism?

    From what I gather neoconservatism is more about foreign policy – i.e. the pursuit of US supremacy at any cost – as opposed to any particular social programme. I’m not terribly well up on what right wingers think (it’s usually incomprehensible).

    I had another quick read of the Dark Knight Returns just now. The theme of “myth” is right there emphasized for you on the very second page but as to politics, I’m not sure how right wing it is, apart from the obvious trappings of the costumed vigilante genre where a billionaire dilettante (Batman) or a middle class professional (Daredevil) goes around beating up lower class thugs. But then again, with certain exceptions such as Robin Hood, myth has always had an aristocratic bias, esp. the Greek ones.

    It looks like Miller is paying lip service to the problems of crime in DKR, such as thuggery, poverty and vigilantism , but it doesn’t *seem* as though he’s got any particular axe to grind beyond the usual comic book antics.

    Looking at the showdown between Supes and Batman, it seems Batman’s problem is that the superheroes should have been running things (this does sound rather neo-con) but instead they were branded criminals or co-opted like Superman.

    But then again, Batman does berate himself for not taking care of/killing the Joker when he had a chance (exercising his supremacy to the fullest whatever the moral implications) but he doesn’t actually go ahead with it and the Joker does himself in.

    Is Miller really that right wing? I don’t read many interviews. I haven’t read 300 which may be the most right-wing thing I’ve heard of, judging only from the trailers and reviews etc of the movie. Nor have I read All-Star Batman & Robin (I will eventually) but that one sounds to me a lot like an exercise in winding up Batman fans, which is totally cool by me. His stated intention to write a story where Batman takes on Osama bin Laden sounds like a similar exercise; and that he’s failed to follow through with it could imply that he is sensitive to how complex a topic it really is.

  23. Zom Says:

    It’s neoconservatism. You’ll note that I deliberately stuck to social rather than foreign policy.

    Your description of neocon foreign policy is kinda how it looked in practice under the Bush administration – the actual theory is a bit more nuanced.

    Libertarianism is a whole ‘nother bag.

    As an aside, I’d say that it would help to know something about right wing ideologies like neoconservatism and libertarianism before trying assess whether a given text owes anything to them.

  24. amypoodle Says:

    also, miller is very definitely on record as someone who frames things like 911 as an attack on civilization and a quick google will cure you of the idea that he thinks pummeling al-qaeda – or anyone or anything related to al-qaeda, and that could well mean countries – is a complex issue. what he’s said recently, though, is that he’ll substitute batman for a creator owned guy – marv, maybe – if he ever gets around to writing *that* comic.

    anyway, the reason why dkr is explicitly right wing is because, as you say, it features a self appointed sheriff who just won’t take it anymore and embarks on a personal crusade to set the world straight, without recourse to things like due process or recognising the social ills and injustices that perpetuate the crime he hates. this is a common or garden right wing fantasy and regardless of whether or not its in a comic book about superheroes – in fact because it’s in comic book with superheroes – its something we should probably frown on. especially when, as zom points out, batman’s mission is something sold to us as being BEYOND the petty quibblings of politics, sociology, psychology and law.

  25. RetroWarbird Says:

    “The Joker was quite literally, on a metatextual level, created as an antagonist for Batman. Without a Batman, the Joker’s purpose as a character is lost, so he figuratively ceases to exist.”

    True enough. Except that he must’ve existed before he saw the Bat costume for the first time … one might even assume Joker’s life before the day he saw that cape and tights was exactly without purpose, lost and meaningless.

    I wasn’t exactly fond of the Batman Confidential “Lovers & Madmen” attempt at retelling Joker’s origin, but the bored, jaded young man who suddenly felt like a kid again (but who probably never had much of a real childhood) when some crazy bastard threw a cape and pointed ears on and fought crime with theater? That wasn’t lost on me as completely appropriate.

  26. Chris T Says:

    Zom, I actually do know something about right-wing views, hence I offered my definition which, looking now, wikipedia supports: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservatism I just wasn’t sure where you were coming from. I appreciate your concern and look forward to your post and definitions on the topic.

    Amy, thanks for disabusing me of any hopes that Miller may have just been winding us up. You’re right there is nil consideration of the social dimensions of crime in DKR. I guess that attack on Western civilization idea fed straight in to 300. It’s a pity because his art is pretty great.

  27. amypoodle Says:

    chris, it was when you confused neo-con theory – big myth/little people – with libertarianism that zom identified a problem. and i’m afraid you did.

    here’s a quote from that same wikipedia article.

    ‘For the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a noble lie. It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order… In being a kind of secretive elitist approach, Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert vision which they want to use to effect change in history, while concealing parts of it from people incapable of understanding it.’

    and here’s a doc you might like.

    http://www.archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares

    zom wasn’t describing libertarianism. but, equally, you were right about the foreign policy part.

    and, yeah, miller is a good artist, he’s good comics generally, but he’s dodgy.

  28. Zom Says:

    Chris, I wasn’t patronising you, just in case you thought I was.

    When you said this

    “Is that actually neoconservatism or libertarianism?

    From what I gather neoconservatism is more about foreign policy – i.e. the pursuit of US supremacy at any cost – as opposed to any particular social programme. I’m not terribly well up on what right wingers think (it’s usually incomprehensible).”

    You were admitting to a lack of knowledge hence. You then went on to say this

    “…but as to politics, I’m not sure how right wing it is, apart from the obvious trappings of the costumed vigilante genre where a billionaire dilettante (Batman) or a middle class professional (Daredevil) goes around beating up lower class thugs.”

    The “not sure how right wing it is” was the bit that I was responding too. On the one hand you were saying that you didn’t know too much about right wing ideologies, on the other you were questioning my analysis, which seemed a bit wrongheaded.

  29. Zom Says:

    By the way, I won’t be writing that political essay!

  30. Mercy Says:

    Interesting you should bring up 300 Chris as the right-wing politics in that movie is probably meant to be satirical: it’s like a stupider Starship Troopers that never really gets around to the joke. Consider the director’s other two films are remakes of famous left-wing satires, done in a similar style.

    And Miller wrote for the Robocop sequels… Possibly because they are characterized by a self-awareness and cynicism about their own mythmaking, it’s very difficult to write a satire of neoconservatives they won’t be happy with.

  31. amypoodle Says:

    i think you’re really giving zack snyder too much credit if you think 300 was supposed to be satirical. what kind of weird logic led you to that conclusion?

  32. Chris T Says:

    Cool guys. Yeah, I wasn’t very exact with my terms. Just thinking aloud and trying to tease out the implications.

    I totally see now what you mean about myth and the neocons and Miller. BTW I love how because their politics are radical they get lumped in with Marxists and Leninists… One promotes a “revolutionary” project for the already powerful within the establishment etc, whereas the other does for the powerless.

    I’ve seen the Power of Nightmares. Adam Curtis is great.

    Mercy, I’m not sure you’ve convinced me about 300. Zack Snyder is definitely no Paul Verhoeven. I might check out Robocop 2 though : )

  33. Zom Says:

    Robocop 2 not so much, but Predator 2… well, that’s Bobsy’s favourite film.

    Seemed to me that Snyder wasn’t doing much more with 300 than lifting what was there on the page. If it’s satire it’s well buried.

    “It’s very difficult to write a satire of neoconservatives they won’t be happy with.”

    Good point!

  34. amypoodle Says:

    yeah, i think, mercy, you’re confusing the kind of films zack snyder likes to make with him taking the piss. just because its overblown and stoopid, doesn’t mean it’s not overblown and stoopid.

    is michael bay satire? crank high voltage?

    but the point about the neo cons mythmaking made me lol.

  35. Carnival of souls: MoCCA, Paying For It, L’Association, Game of Thrones of course, more « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins Says:

    [...] Zom of the Mindless Ones takes a look at Frank Miller’s rewardingly off-model, possibly Bowie-… It’s really tough to have the DKR Joker as your first in-comics exposure to the character, [...]

  36. plok Says:

    Zom, I’m on hour three of trying to leave a comment here that isn’t two thousand words too long even by my standards…and I just can’t seem to do it! This “Three Fools” thing is getting bloody fascinating. I remember the feeling of reading DKR when it came out, and how well Miller used a Batman story to produce a very timely social commentary…I won’t say I ever agreed with it, but man it was timely!…through just this use of “mythology”, though I didn’t really think of it that way, as mythology, until I read this post. Here is a weird quote from a film director, and not one you’d think: Nicholas Meyer, on satirizing television in movies. All you have to do (he said) is just have one of the characters in your movie watch some TV. No more is necessary. The audience gets it.

    But what you’ve made me recall most, is something Frank did amazingly well here…this is a Batman comic that you can engage with fully, even if you do not know very much about Batman. Even if your direct exposure to Batman is only through the TV series, you still know in watching the TV series that this is a self-aware, metatextual Batman…it is not the real Batman, and that’s the joke. It’s a joke.

    Miller makes the very same joke, but in the other direction. Imagine a stand-up comic saying “what does Batman do when he has to take a piss, does he just pull into a gas station, or…?” Well, you can do that joke the Adam West way or the ASBAR way, right? But in DKR all jokes about this stuff start and end with the Joker.

    Oh shit, in trying to keep this short I completely missed out talking about the Bowie/Joker thing, which is pretty deep stuff I think.

    Must try again later!

    Bravo for this; I thought the Killing Joke stuff was great, but I don’t even think we’ve begun to unpack this TDK shit. And you know I wouldn’t use the word “unpack” unless I meant it.

  37. Zom Says:

    I quite agree, on the Joker alone I originally intended to write a fair bit about how his look tied into the New Romantic scene that lurked in the shiny gutters of British fashion during the early 80s, but didn’t bother because it felt too tangential. Must’ve played heavily into the book’s vibe for 80s readers, though.

    New post on its way, Plok. It should be up next Mondayish

  38. plok Says:

    But I want more on this one, he whined!

  39. plok Says:

    No, seriously, one of the things that was making my comment so long was that I’m seeing some shape here — this is a fruitful comparison. And Morrison for me is now a bigger “Batman expert” (to use Geoff Klock’s term for Frank) than Miller ever was…for Batman expertise you’ve got to rank Morrison with the newsprint crowd, don’t you? Also “Time And The Batman” is a damn playful title.

    Damn, I’ve missed my chance to get more beer, guess that means I gotta stop working.

  40. Zom Says:

    I only ever work under the influence of beer!

  41. Mercy Says:

    Feel slightly bad defending this derail because I don’t think 300 is a very good parody, and I think it’s bad because it’s trying to do that Snow Crash thing where it’s also an exemplary example of the form and Snyder cares more about that, he wants to have his cake and eat it.

    But, it’s a film about a group of gay fascists that uses every trick in the nominally heteronormative, pro-democracy America Fuck Yeah! Transformers/Independance Day book and it works perfectly as both things, as well as quite explicitely portraying most of the events in the movie as propaganda.

    Gotta admit though, the only reason I don’t assume that it’s a hilarious coincidence is that his Dawn of the Dead took a similar approach to the original’s satire of consumerism, superficially presenting the mall as a safety and a place of videogamey adventure, but in a stupid, self-defeating way. It’s possible though, that he really likes camp fascist bullshit and remade Watchmen as that because that’s what he thought Watchmen was about. Neither option is particularly flattering

  42. amypoodle Says:

    i really truly believe that’s what he thinks watchmen is about.

    he’s a baby man. quite frankly it’s embarrassing.

    the sort of guy who still thinks it’s edgy to choreograph his action scenes to horrible, generic matrix duster-techno. the stuff none of us listened to even way back when it might of made the remotest stab at being relevant.

    fluke were always fucking shit basically. oh god how i hate fluke.

    how did we get here? from bowie to fluke…..

  43. amypoodle Says:

    let me share my hate.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11Nq6PzY0xA

    urrgh. naff.

  44. Zom Says:

    I worry that he thinks making action scenes to matrix techno is in fact commentary

  45. Thrills Says:

    I also hate Fluke. Mid-90s ‘Hey lads, buy the Playstation, it’s not just for nerds!’ borecore music. My flatmate loves that stuff. GNNNGH.

  46. Zom Says:

    Sack that fucker off, Thrills. Sack. Him. Off.

    It’s not borecore that gets me, though. It’s the total naffness. It’s music for people who like to combine leather trench coats WITH goatees*.

    *These people are of course my people too, but they are far flung cousins who need to be approached with caution.

  47. Thrills Says:

    He does wear a leather trenchcoat and have a goatee, actually…

    It begun as a sort of “cool! Living with another geek!” sort of relationship, but now it’s more of an “oh no, he’s a different sort of geek, it’s all MMORPG’s and ‘book 5 of 7′ fantasy novels” sort of thing (not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my ‘bag’).

    As you say, it’s ‘my people’ in theory, but just a bit OFF.

  48. amypoodle Says:

    just because someone’s down with geekdom doesn’t mean i have anything in common with them.

    i don’t just like batman, i also like taste. a lot. contrary to popular and more cosy opinion it very often does denote good things.

  49. Zom Says:

    I’m kinda excited about a certain book 5 of 7 right now… and so is Amy.

  50. amypoodle Says:

    i am.

    but i don’t care about the exchange rate in westeros.

  51. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Aggregator aggravator Says:

    [...] So it turned out that this guy hadn’t actually ripped off Zom’s excellent essay on David Bowie and the Joker, but maybe he should have? Just [...]

  52. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Three Fools - Part 3: Morrison’s Joker Says:

    [...] 2 here (The Dark Knight [...]

  53. Enquiry Concerning Superhuman Understanding « A Trout In The Milk Says:

    [...] yes DD was getting a little pointless before Frank injected that stuff, but in typical Frank style reinvigoration for the Batman of Hell’s Kitchen came at the cost of the existing mythological programme’s [...]

  54. A. Pennyworth Says:

    Interesting I particularly liked your break down of Miller’s Batman. I think what excites me about The Dark Knight is how it focuses on the part of the Batman mythos that states: Batman is driven by a force that is not his own. Be it justice and humanity or be it a violent warrior spirit. There is something inside him that cannot be psychologically explained, a mythical force that you can’t argue, reason with or deny.

  55. A. Pennyworth Says:

    And thank you for pointing out the pannel of the joker’s burning corpse and the old bastard bat see the two pannels side by side really brought the point home for me!

    http://zorro-in-arkham.tumblr.com/post/33066746397/the-truth-of-millers-batman-is-that-he-is-driven

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