Diminishing Return To The World Of Miller’s Dark Knight
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at DC’s Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child now out in hardcover…
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child (Deluxe Edition)
Published by DC Black Label
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Rafael Grampá
The Dark Knight III: The Master Race was something of a mixed bag when it was released a few years ago. While definitely a step up from The Dark Knight Strikes Again – the often garish and messy first sequel to Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel – it’s ambitious scope and story was somewhat hampered by over-indulgence and an ending that removed much of the bite of the original. The Golden Child, a one-shot spin off of DKIII, also suffers from an uneven tone where satire, traditional comic book tropes and a re-interpretation of popular comic book mythology all meet.
After the events of DKIII, Lara Kent is still a cynical and angry person but learning to live amongst humans. Carrie Kelley is proving a worthy successor to Bruce Wayne, picking up the Bat mantle and fighting crime in her own unique style. When an election of a governor – looking suspiciously like an orange coloured and soon to be former US President – sparks riots, Batwoman and her acolytes are there to quell the disorder with extreme prejudice. But it seems that a certain grinning and white faced criminal is behind the scenes and trying to ensure that the society becomes even more out of control. And pulling his strings is the awesome Darkseid who is on Earth for a very different reason. He is there not only for Lara but also for Jonathan Kent – her brother and the son of Superman. With ‘The Golden Child’ possessing a power the universe has not seen the like of before, the elder god wants the Kents to join him and rule all of creation.
As with much of Miller’s work, Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is about as subtle as a brick to the face. The political satire – with Trump satirised in much the same way as Reagan was in TDKR – is done in broad strokes as is the attacks on society (though the more overt right wing elements of much of Miller’s work are toned down here). The violent set pieces are bombastic, world shattering and over the top (especially the final showdown with Darkseid) and have a visceral impact. But there is little room for subtlety here. The Joker – brought back to life with no explanation, which rather blunts his elegantly devious demise in TDKR – is little more than a goon with a gun, lacking the style, lascivious sexuality and terrifying panache of his previous Miller interpretation. Darkseid is more interesting though the finer points of his plan – including why he need to team up with The Joker – are unclear to say the least.
More fruitful are the explorations of a new generation of superheroes. With only a cameo from Clark Kent and only mentions of Bruce Wayne it is Lara, Carrie and Jonathan who are brought to the fore. Both Lara and Cara are interesting extensions of their characters from the DK mythos. Lara is brooding and angry yet tentatively poised on the side of good. Carrie had evolved from the teenager of TDKR into a confident and powerful inheritor of the ‘Bat’ identity who both follows and expands upon the teachings of her mentor. The wild card is Jonathan Kent, a being of almost unimaginable power whose massive power is tempered by the values taught to him by his father. Indeed, if there’s anything to take away from The Golden Child, it is a paean to the ultimate morality of humanity despite our tendency to get dragged down by our baser instincts.
Grampá’s art mirrors that of Miller and past entries in the DK series, with a slightly rough and scratchy feel that gives everything a sense of sharp grittiness as well as an undeniable and kinetic energy. The art straddles the line between realism and absurdity, with Jonathan Kent in particular looking more like a Manga character, all wide eyes and big head (though, in the ancillary material, Grampá says he looks more like Liam Gallagher.)
This deluxe edition comes with the usual sketches and notes from Grampá which provides some interesting insight into the creative process. There are also the usual covers and – while it doesn’t go into great details – the controversial ‘Molotov Cocktail Throwing’ cover (in which some Chinese thought signified support for Hong Kong protestors) is also on offer here.
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is a rather slight addition to Miller’s Dark Knight universe but has enough moments of interest for it to be a worthwhile read.
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is published by DC Black Label and is priced at £14.99