Despite sharing the name of the grimy gunslinger hot to punch Gary Cooper’s clock in High Noon, Frank Miller is one of the good guys. Heck, in the world of comic books, he’s a bona fide hero, albeit one without a cape, utility belt, or gee-whiz subterranean lair.
Miller was the writer-artist behind DC Comics’ 1986 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the four-issue miniseries credited with, among other things, dramatically redefining a character who had become laughably irrelevant, setting the somber, tortured tone that would serve as inspiration for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman flick, and Miller’s helping change the perception of comics as a juvenile medium.
Now, 15 years later, Miller—working once again with his longtime collaborator, colorist Lynn Varley—returns to the scene of the crime with The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a three-issue tale (the first installment goes on sale Dec. 5, with the second and third to follow at six-week intervals) that finds him back in the superhero saddle again, playing with figures who can only be referred to as American legends. ”In a way, you can compare these superheroes to characters out of Greek mythology,” says Miller. ”Most of them are heroes in the classic sense. But three of these characters, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, are gods. And they play by different rules. So I can play Batman somewhat in defiance of time. He clearly is older, but there is just something about him that keeps him going stronger.”.
That’s strange, considering the hell billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne endured in The Dark Knight Returns. After all, fighting a pair of old nemeses like Two-Face and the Joker, taming a disaffected army of post-mod punks, and getting pummeled by the Man of Steel would be enough to leave even the most stalwart hero grasping his chest, let alone a 55-year-old retiree with a weak ticker.
Even though DC Comics (owned, like ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, by AOL Time Warner) is playing very close to the vest with its hotly anticipated hit-in-the-making—”We’re treating this like a movie screening,” says publicity manager Peggy Burns of DC’s you’ve- gotta-come-and-sit-in-our-offices-if-you-wanna-read-it policy—a look at the first issue hints at why the company is being so secretive. As with The Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s new series takes place outside of continuity, meaning it doesn’t affect any of the other four Caped Crusader titles that DC regularly publishes. Three years have passed (in comics time) since Returns, but Robin (who’s female, by the way, and now goes by the nom de guerre Catgirl) continues to fight at the Dark Knight’s side, leading Bruce Wayne’s private platoon of Batboys. The media is even more of a snarling, invasive beast this time around. The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Green Arrow, and the Atom are all major players. The ”Big Blue Schoolboy”—Superman—is still the puppet of a powerful political figure, even though poor Clark Kent doesn’t know that his puppetmaster is a certain bald tycoon otherwise known as the Notorious L.E.X.
And Batman is still as driven, single-minded, and violent as ever. In fact, through the prism of Sept. 11, the Caped Crusader’s modus operandi can come off as a bit extreme. ”Obviously, he’s not willing to slaughter innocent people to achieve his ends,” offers the 44-year-old Miller, who just moved back to New York City after a stint in L.A., ”but I have referred to Batman as a terrorist on our side. His motto is to strike terror into the hearts of villains. It’s very strange to be referring to Batman and Osama bin Laden in the same sentence, by the way.”