Sunday, August 31, 2008

Meet Frank Miller

Hello again, this is Kris bringing out information about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns' creator, Frank Miller. Miller (In no way related to yours truly, thank you very much!) is associated best with The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Sin City and 300. He stands with Alan Moore by breaking the tradtional mold of the comic book by injecting gritty atmospheres, sophisticated storylines and literary mechanics into what we know about the graphic novel today. Miller is also known for blending an eastern style found in manga with a film noir atmosphere.

Miller's early work involved Gold Key Comics' Twilight Zone in 1978 and John Carter, Warlord of Mars #18. His first work at DC Comics was Weird War Tales #64. While working for Marvel Comics, Miller fleshed out the superhero Daredevil, a character whose own bi-monthly comic experienced poor sales. With Miller's film noir touch, Daredevil became well known among the Marvel Comics pantheon. He also created Daredevil's love interest/rival, Elektra. Miller worked on Daredevil until 1983, along with the storyline Daredevil: Born Again and Daredevil: Love and War.

Batman is another character which Miller gave reviving energy too. He successfully ripped away the 1960's camp image of the Adam West figure and replaced him as a multi-layered character ridden with trauma who experesses it with violent vigilantism. Miller left DC Comics over creators' rights dispute, for the company want to create an age rating system which Miller suspected was censorship.

After leaving DC, Miller worked for independent comics creator Dark Horse. His other famous project, Sin City, progressed throughout the 1990s. Sin City utilized the fluid style of manga with black and white imagery topped with a sharp film noirish edge. Miller has borrowed heavily from Eastern comic influences such as Goseki Kojima, who used cinematic influences for Lone Wolf and Cub.
On Miller's personal life, his political views border on the right winged. While speaking on National Public Radio, he walked about the second war in Iraq:
"Mostly I hear people say, 'Why did we attack Iraq?' for instance. Well, we're taking on an idea. Nobody questions why we, after Pearl Harbor, attacked Nazi Germany. It was because we were taking on a form of global fascism, we're doing the same thing now.
It seems to me quite obvious that our country and the entire Western World is up against an existential foe that knows exactly what it wants... and we're behaving like a collapsing empire. Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, they crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats.
For some reason, nobody seems to be talking about who we’re up against, and the sixth century barbarism that they actually represent. These people saw people’s heads off. They enslave women, they genitally mutilate their daughters, they do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us. I’m speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture, and I’m living in a city where three thousand of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built."
The Dark Knight currently read in class has almost a "right winged" mentality, even with Batman against Superman who sold out to a facist government. Ever get to the scene where Batman leads a bunch of skinheads to keep order when electricity goes out in Gotham City? It's an example of a strong figure leading the community to fix things up, where people afraid of great change are protected by a figure who despite his different methods upholds the same views as the people do.
Personally, I do not consider myself a right winged individual but that did not stop my enjoyment of The Dark Knight Returns to its fullest.
The reason I bring up Miller's political views is because they differ strongly from Alan Moore's views and views of other comics writers and artists we will be studying in class. All I have to conclude is that Miller is talented and that The Dark Knight along with the rest of his works should stand up to the test of time.
- Kristopher

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Discussion on a Scene from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Bruce Wayne Rediscovers His Inner Bat

It's Kris again, coming from the batcave to bring readers an analysis of a scene from Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Ever had an intense feeling inside, so intense that the feeling develops a life of its own? Try holding Bruce Wayne's alter ego, Batman, in your chest for ten years. This early scene from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a favorite of mine because of the symbology involved. Symbology stimulates literature and stimulates graphic novels highly and this scene is chock full of them!

Let's start with the voice that haunts Wayne while he stares out the window, his eyes glaring beyond the night:

"You try to drown me out...but your voice is weak..."

The voice is Wayne's, or specifically, Wayne's alter ego. In the early part of Book 1 in The Dark Knight Returns, the voice hammers at Wayne's consciousness. It goads him to find the old Batsuit, to break the self-imposed chains he shackled onto himself ten years ago.

The first panel on the page shown here implies a "prison atmosphere" Wayne instated himself in from becoming Batman, from becoming the force born within him the day he fell into the bat cave as a child, the night his parents were me, it's akin to someone's long held goal that desperately needs to be reached or a sense of nostalgia that never lets go. You might have done something in the "glory days" and in old age you want to relive them again. This is Wayne's desire he was witholding for he wants to be every criminal's fear again, to continue his sacred mission of ridding Gotham City from evil, to protect the innocent where the law could not. Now in his fifties, Wayne does not want to go quietly...especially with evidence showing him surviving the car crash at the beginning of the book!

All right, back to the symbology. You see the prison bars, you see Wayne trying to break free. Then you see shadows on the bars covering Wayne's face. We know they are really the frames of the window but Miller loves to play the imagery both ways. An "X" forms on Wayne's face, like he's marked for the bat shape flying closer and closer to him. Looking deeper, the bat is the vigilante calling for him, to pounce on his psyche. Wayne stares ahead, waiting to embrace the bat, to embrace his alter ego.

As the bat comes closer, Wayne's face is viewed closer. That "X" appears to be a cross, doesn't it? Christian symbology would say Wayne is experiencing a "rebirth," a "revival" of his alter ego. The cross marks Wayne as the dark savior of Gotham City. The panel resembles Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament dying on a cross, only to rise back from the dead as the savior of humankind.

That aspect of symbology within the page was the most intriguing. Jesus was nailed onto a cross and left there to perish. His body was brought into a cave...

...if the story of Jesus can compare to Wayne's/Batman's story of rebirth, let's look at the fact that Wayne/Batman thrived in a cave yet the Wayne Manor is the bat cave for both Wayne and Batman as they are the same person with two conflicting personalites! The most impressive panel on the page is the large bat flying through, shattering the glass and breaking Bruce Wayne's metaphorical "prison cell." The bat can also shatter through Wayne's/Batman's enclosed "cave," creating an opening to escape. Going back to the comparison of Jesus, Jesus was sealed in the cave until the opening was mysteriously broken open! The comparisons match, do they not?

This took a great deal of thought on my part. I believe Miller intended for this effect to resemble parts of Christian literature to better illustrate Bruce Wayne's return to his role as The Dark Knight. The city is going downhill with rampant gangs raging, the conventional law is helpless against the onslaught...Gotham City is in need of a savior.

And Miller wants to point out that Batman, like always, is its savior.

I love doing analysis on various works. It gets stuff off my chest and does justice to the work that is being analyzed. Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a sophisticated piece of work that deserves much attention along with other graphic novels released. As the blog progresses with more comics, expect more analyses to come flying at you!

- Kristopher

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Too, Believe In Harvey Dent

Before I begin my blog, I would like to thank Kris for being a very generous host and to our teacher for having such a mega kick-a class. I'm going to touch base on a few things I liked in Understanding Comics before moving on to The Dark Knight Returns.

In Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, I found it awesome that the writer approaches his book about comics in a comic book or graphic novel style. That was awesome. It kept my attention, which is usually like that of a gold fish and kept me wanting to read more. Very good approach, in my opinion. I also like the humor in the book, like on page 2 when the author speaks about getting into Comics the first time and it shows a panel of him reading a comic that says, "Really Old X-Men." That was funny to me because I am a fan of classic X-Men as apposed to the newer wave where Gambit, my favorite X-Man is dead and Rogue is boffing Iceman. Not that Iceman isn't cool, because we all know he is, but still...Gambit trumps Popsicle Boy but I digress.

I also like how Scotty sees comics from a historical standpoint. All the way back to scrolls and Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I like this approach because it makes comics seem less "kiddish" and shows people that at one time or another, everyone in history has read a comic in one form or another. So yeah! Put that in your lunch box and take it to school, you comic haters!
Now, on to The Dark Knight. I must admit I am having trouble reading the comic because I am far from my family and my good friend Fitz who adores the comic and could talk for hours on the subject. I miss them terribly, but I'm doing my best to get through the book. I have noticed that a lot of things from The Dark Knight Returns have appeared in the newest movie, The Dark Knight. Such as Harvey Dent's campaign slogan for the movie, "I Believe In Harvey Dent" is featured in the comic. Bruce Wayne says that they "Must Believe In Harvey Dent," for a lot of the comic's grittiness can also be seen in the movie. The choppy, realistic dialogue and character development are also present from comic to movie. It's pretty awesome. ^.^


Getting a better feel on things...

I found this comic to be enlightening but even after reading it I still had a feeling I wasn’t getting the full picture. This was when I went to the web for help and I found a summary which I posted in one of my earlier blog entries.

This summary really gave me a feel for what I was reading. I didn’t read many comics as a child, and now I feel that you get more details from a book. Although I do find comics amusing, Batman is a story I enjoy reading. This story begins with Batman retired for several years and Robin is already dead.

- Nicole

The Dark Knight Returns Plot Summary Link

While I was seaching some information to help me better understand this story, I found a summary which may also help you. This site is named The Dark Knight: The Dark Knight Returns.

- Nicole

Batman - The Dark Knight Revealed

This is Kristopher speaking. I'm happy to see Nicole and Ashley joining in on the scheme of things, offering links and insights on the comics explored in class. We are currently reading Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It is an excellent comic, not just Batman (one of my favorite comic heroes of all time) is featured but that Miller took a classic character, "fixed him" and created a new mythos within the Batman mythos!

Miller's take the Caped Crusader helped Batman return to his ruthless roots battling crime and exploring the psychological trauma that inspired him to become the dreaded "Dark Knight." The Dark Knight miniseries inspired more dark, brooding heroes that emerged in the late 1980's and later into the 1990's. Miller can be credited saving Batman from the cheesy Adam West influence and inspiring more mature comics such as Alan Moore's Watchmen and Art Spiegelman's Maus (Both which is also be covered in the future) to emerge.

Batman (A.K.A. playboy businessman Bruce Wayne) just did not emerge out of Gotham City, did he? The Dark Knight was inspired by a number of pulp fiction heroes, including Doc Savage, The Shadow and literary legend Sherlock Holmes. Batman is not considered a "super hero" because he does not possess any special powers. The Caped Crusader uses wits, knowledge, special tactics and the cover of darkness to inspire fear on his foes as opposed to simply lifting cars and tossing them at random. His "mortal" status continues to endure along with an arsenal of gadgetry, stealth/martial arts techniques and ruthlessness the Dark Knight employs on his one-man war against crime.

Batman was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, though Kane is the "official" creator. After the success of the Superman comics, another super hero was inevitable. Kane made sketches of who would be Batman and asked Finger to take a look. Finger suggested the domino mask be replaced with a cowl and the cape resembling bat wings (Thank you very much, Mr. Finger!). He also named Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, Gotham City's police Commissioner Jim Gordon and the Catwoman.

Bill Finger was significant in Batman's creation, why is he not given credit with Kane? Kane was asked by the editor to create a new super hero, with Finger serving as an unofficial aid. Studios that produced comic strips gave credit to the original creator, so Kane had the original idea and Finger made drastic improvements!

These days, Finger is more recognized (He died in 1974) and the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Writing is featured at Comic-Con, the largest comic book convention in the world.

Batman, naturally, is not stuck in the comics. He's an American cultural icon with the bat logo and mask recognizable even to those who don't read comics. BusinessWeek once wrote that Batman was one of the top most intelligent superheroes. The Guardian once wrote:

"Batman is a figure blurred by the endless reinvention that is modern mass culture. He is at once an icon and a commodity: the perfect cultural artifact for the 21st century."

With that comment in mind, it appears Batman will not cease continuing delivering justice (and influence) to fans and comic readers overall. He will always be here, same Bat time, same Bat channel!

Okay, I couldn't resist typing that...

- Kristopher

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome to the Maelstrom!

Hello everyone, this is Kristopher Miller speaking on behalf of The Graphic Maelstrom, a blog specially created for Graphic Novel class taught on Peru State College Campus. The blog will cover the graphic novel medium which is heavily studied yet still misunderstood and focus on the books that will be read in class.

So why did I name the blog The Graphic Maelstrom? To define maelstrom, a maelstrom is a powerful water vortex that swirls and draws in anything in its path downward. The blog hopes to "suck in" participants of the Graphic Novel class (and many more) with a wide ocean of writers, artists and many elements that compose the graphic novel medium.

Also hosting this blog is Ashley Redmon and Nicole Rist, both who will give information and insights on material we are covering throughout the semester.
Till then, sit back, relax and get pulled into the large vortex known as the graphic novel!

- Kristopher