Frank Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight 4 (June 1986)

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Miller probably could have spread this issue out over two. There’s the follow-up to the Joker’s death, there’s a bit with Superman fighting the Russians, there’s Gotham as a disaster zone. Miller gets confused.

His comic’s working at cross purposes. Clark sees a connection with Bruce and Bruce doesn’t, so there’s the epic fight scene only Clark comes off more sympathetic. Bruce is working towards an end without any self-awareness. Clark has nothing but self-awareness.

There’s also the series’s first third person narration. Miller uses it for Alfred at the end; it’s a mistake. It treats Alfred as disposable, which is no good.

Gordon’s back for a bit too, with Miller using him to show the human side of a disaster contrasted with Batman’s perception of it.

The issue’s not ambitious enough for everything Miller wants to do. He never finds a rhythm, just forces a finish.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight Falls; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.

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Batman: The Dark Knight 3 (May 1986)

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I guess Miller liked having interior monologues so much, he gave them to everyone. Batman, Superman, Robin, the Joker, the new police commissioner. I don’t think anyone else. But there’s a lot of interior monologue. More than the media coverage.

Superman’s is actually the most revelatory. Miller writes him as scared, which is sort of funny considering he’s Superman. The best monologue, in terms of writing, is probably Robin’s. She only has it for a few pages, during an action scene, and Miller is terse. Terse works for it.

As for the Joker and Batman? Their monologues are about the other. Miller doesn’t actually have any great observations about the two of them. Their final battle isn’t even particularly iconic. Miller juxtaposes it against news commentators talking about Batman and killing. It works, but it’s obvious.

Miller opens with Superman; Bruce never really gets his comic back. Clark’s too big.

CREDITS

Hunt the Dark Knight; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inkers, Klaus Janson and Miller; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: The Dark Knight 2 (April 1986)

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This issue, Batman becomes less of a lead character in his own comic. Miller writes his some good interior monologues–occasionally really good. The standouts usually reveal something–like how Batman uses environment to beat the Mutant Leader or how, when delirious, he has one-sided conversations with the absent Dick Grayson.

But, for the most part, it’s not Batman’s comic. Some of it is the reaction to Batman returning; there’s a lot of media talking heads going on about him. To justify Batman’s vigilante behavior, Miller then shows a lot of innocent people in peril scenes and the public’s response. Their response being shallow, liberal affections, of course.

Miller introduces Robin this issue, which works well. He allows her to enjoy the derring do; Batman only gets to when it’s making him feel young.

Some great Jim Gordon stuff too.

It’s a busy, packed issue and almost entirely successful.

CREDITS

Dark Knight Triumphant; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: The Dark Knight 1 (March 1986)

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Miller establishes he’s telling The Dark Knight [Returns] in twelve panels a page, four columns, four rows. He quickly breaks this layout, but always for emphasis. I’d never realized how beautifully he designs the comic. It’s very cinematic, even if the actual content often isn’t visual.

He implies most of the action. Batman’s return is mostly implied, the issue’s fight scene finale is all implied. Miller even implies big plot developments instead of just showing them.

The result is being either inside Batman’s head–and Miller goes out of his way to show how psychologically disturbed he is from the first page–watching a newscast or, very briefly, being with the supporting cast. The supporting cast scenes Miller uses to setup a good Batman scene.

The issue’s about aging, forgetting, recovering and failing. It’s rather touching at times.

It’s fairly impressive, but Miller’s too dependent on his “future story” gimmick.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight Returns; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.

Daredevil 170 (May 1981)

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Miller brings back the Kingpin and, wow, is it bad.

The Kingpin stuff isn’t terrible–Wilson’s off in Japan, “reformed” thanks to his wife–but the Daredevil stuff is the worst Miller’s written so far.

Whether it’s Matt’s lame thought balloon explanations of how his powers work, which Miller doesn’t stick with when he should, or just the goofy dialogue, this issue has terrible writing.

Even worse, the art’s weak.

It looks like Miller really just sketched it out and let Janson fill in the blanks. Except Janson didn’t work really hard on the inks either. The result is an ugly, blocky issue with a shockingly lack of simple detail.

The “best” part in the story might be when Matt tries to reason with Bullseye. It’s an unfathomable scene.

Miller even tries a sitcom-style joke involving Matt’s blindness. Either Miller lacked confidence or his editor approved the script unread.

CREDITS

The Kingpin Must Die; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, Joe Rosen; editor, Denny O’Neil; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Daredevil 169 (March 1981)

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Frank Miller sure does write a great Batman comic. Oh, wait, this is Daredevil?

Regardless of Matt acting rather batty, it’s an excellent comic. Bullseye has escaped Arkham, where they discovered he’s actually got a tumor and he’s causing him to misbehave more than usual. He’s on the streets, assaulting people he mistakes for Daredevil–once again, Miller’s got a nice, unexplored inference. Bullseye can’t tell the hallucinated Daredevils from the real one.

There’s a bunch of good action scenes, including a great fight in a movie theater with some nicely layered supporting dialogue and fine use of film stills. Miller and Janson create a style for the urban superhero with Daredevil.

The finish has Batman explaining why he doesn’t kill the Joker… wait, wrong characters. You know who I mean.

There’s also an awesome visualization of how Matt uses his powers to track down Bullseye.

The issue’s quite exceptional.

CREDITS

Devils; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, Joe Rosen; editor, Denny O’Neil; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Daredevil 168 (January 1981)

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Miller’s first issue as a writer, not to mention the first appearance of Elektra, is nearly an abject misfire. Miller’s handle on Matt Murdock’s history is shaky. He’s retroactively introducing this all important new character, but his backstory for Matt’s awful.

Matt and Foggy are in college. Matt’s never used his powers, except to help the clumsy Foggy, but he’s had them for four years. He’s also a nitwit. When college Matt meets college Elektra, he thinks she rejects him because he’s blind… not because she’s got a bodyguard who makes it impossible for her to have a social life (something Miller never resolves). It’s bad writing.

Matt spends the issue reminiscing, then there’s a big fight scene at the end (against some exceptionally lame villains) and Miller redeems himself. Maybe unintentionally.

Elektra’s bewildered to discover Matt’s new identity. The moment’s devastating; it makes up for all the previous nonsense.

CREDITS

Elektra; writer, Frank Miller; pencillers, Miller and Klaus Janson; inker, Janson; colorist, Dr. Martin; letterer, Joe Rosen; editor, Denny O’Neil; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Daredevil 167 (November 1980)

This issue opens at a Long Island estate, but there’s no geographic reference so for a minute or two I thought it’d be Daredevil in Beverly Hills. It could be quite easily, since the estate is the center of the issue. When David Michelinie does take the action back to Manhattan, it’s just for a panel or two of a determined Matt Murdock.

Michelinie’s script, and his focus on keeping the action in one general setting, feels “low budget” but it works. He has a compelling enough mystery, a lot of good action opportunities for Frank Miller and Klaus Janson and a creative twist at the end.

The third person narration occasionally goes overboard, but the art–never spectacular, always solid–grounds the issue.

There’s a filler backup showcases Daredevil’s extremely expensive pad and his gizmos. If Matt and Foggy are always broke, how’d he afford the pad? Robbing banks?

CREDITS

…The Mauler!; writer, David Michelinie; penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, Joe Rosen. Dark Secrets; writer, Michelinie; penciller, Miller; inker, Janson; colorist, Wein; letterer, Michael Higgins. Editor, Denny O’Neil; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Daredevil 166 (September 1980)

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Matt has to run out on Foggy’s wedding because the Gladiator (I guess DC’s not the only company with idiotic villains) is holding a bunch of kids hostage–underprivileged kids, no less.

There’s enough going on McKenzie’s weaker writing habits don’t glare like usual and the issue’s pretty good until it’s obvious the kids aren’t in any actual danger. And setting the big fight in a museum of supervillains is a little goofy. Sure, there’s supposed to be other stuff at the museum, but it’s just bad guys.

Miller and Janson do phenomenal on the action art and pretty well on the rest. McKenzie’s writing of Foggy’s family and Matt and his latest girlfriend is all so trite, it’s hard to think any art could stand out in those scenes.

McKenzie’s biggest problem is his inability to make Matt (or anyone else) into an actual person instead of a caricature.

Daredevil 165 (July 1980)

Daredevil versus Dr. Octopus should be entertaining, right? McKenzie and (now co-plotter) Miller fail to make it entertaining.

The big problem, besides McKenzie’s now routinely silly dialogue and narration, is the Black Widow. She’s in Matt’s apartment, helping him do investigative work, but she’s not important to the issue whatsoever. She’s around to be jealous and to run off when he hurts her feelings.

McKenzie’s incapable of writing these troubled romance scenes. At best, they’re awkward. At worst, they’re laughable.

As for Doc Ock and Daredevil? It feels like Spidey and Doc Ock. Daredevil’s banter immediately drifts into Parker territory and McKenzie fixates on Spider-Man in Otto’s thought balloons. The issue’s another great cover without any story inside it.

Miller’s pencils also make a change this issue. With the exception of action scenes, everything is more static. He doesn’t have the compositional sense to make that approach worthwhile.

Daredevil 164 (May 1980)

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I have two big problems with this issue. First, Ben Urich–as a character–was never going to out Matt as Daredevil. Wait, three problems. Okay, continuing. Urich was never going to out Matt, so why use him instead of another reporter who might actually do it.

Second problem, why do another Daredevil origin? Sure, Miller and Janson draw a great comic and even make the yellow costume look good, but it’s kind of pointless. The retelling gives no new information.

The third problem, which is related to the second, is all the “devil” stuff. Apparently the Marvel Universe is a place where people are afraid of devils a lot because everyone calls Daredevil one. Because of the horns? It’s just stupid. Along with Matt’s childhood nickname being Daredevil because he ran away from fights.

The utterly fantastic art makes up for a lot of McKeznie’s stupid script details though.

C 

CREDITS

Expose; writer, Roger McKenzie; penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Denny O’Neil; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Daredevil 163 (March 1980)

The cover, with Daredevil looking at an out-of-frame Hulk, is probably the best thing about this comic. Bruce Banner’s in New York and Matt’s the only one who can help him. Sadly, there’s no help for the creative team. Between McKenzie’s lame script, which gives the Hulk origin in expository thought balloons at least twice, and the tepid art, this issue’s a drag.

Miller’s got Joe Rubinstein assisting Janson on the inks, but one can’t blame the inkers here. Miller doesn’t know how to draw the Hulk. The body and musculature is all off. Worse is the city. After all his careful New York art, Miller turns in a generic cityscape for the big fight with Daredevil.

The best thing in the issue is Banner hulking out in the subway, but only because of the potential. McKenzie and company fail to realize it.

The issue is depressingly lame.

Daredevil 161 (November 1979)

McKenzie opens the issue writing a black guy like Stepin Fetchit. I guess Marvel didn’t worry about appealing to black readers.

The art from Miller and Janson make up for a lot of McKenzie’s bad writing. There’s some great action stuff at Coney Island, which all looks amazing. One double page spread in particular is wonderful.

The finale, though, disappoints. There’s a lot of Black Widow and McKenzie writes her poorly. Maybe if he didn’t entirely rely on her thought balloons it would be better.

He also writes Bullseye bad, which closes the issue off on a bad footing. Miller and Janson’s final fight scene is okay, but the setting’s boring and Bullseye’s whining is so dumb, it doesn’t matter if the art’s good.

McKenzie avoids giving Daredevil any significant time. Almost everything is from someone else’s perspective, like McKenzie lacks confidence… except when writing the issue’s rather lame dialogue.

Daredevil 160 (September 1979)

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I think I’m unappreciative of a narrative cuteness from McKenzie. The issue opens “Epilogue” and closes with “Prologue.” I think McKenzie means it to be “prologue” to the next issue while the opening is “epilogue” to the previous issue.

If the above is right, it’s dumb. If it’s wrong and no one caught the mixup, it’s worse. I can’t decide between the two. I mean, McKenzie forgets Matt Murdock’s blind here for a bit.

Miller and Janson still turn in strong art, but there’s nothing spectacular about it. McKenzie has a lot going on in the issue–Bullseye and Black Widow, Matt and friends, Daredevil at the Daily Bugle, then the big finish. Plus Daredevil discovering Bullseye has kidnapped Black Widow.

All of the scenes are perfunctory, especially when Matt and his girlfriend break up. The flashback to Bullseye’s last few days might be the best written stuff. McKeznie’s boring.