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Perhaps the most disturbing scene in Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (also known as DK2; Miller and Varley 2001-2002) is where Batman attacks the corporate leaders of the United States government, giving the word “terrorism” a new meaning. The Anarcho-terrorist superhero’s assault is directed against “the real monsters” (page 53, panel 1),  the corrupt powers-that-be that rule behind a virtual president:

Miller, Frank and Varley, Lynn (2002) The Dark Knight Strikes Again, #2 (New York: DC Comics, 53)

Miller, Frank and Varley, Lynn (2002) The Dark Knight Strikes Again, #2 (New York: DC Comics, 53)

The transgression of the conventional superhero structure is significant here: DK2 introduces an inversion of roles that develops the one Miller outlined in the denouement of The Dark Knight Returns (1986) when Batman fights Superman, who works as a government agent. In most comics of this genre, the superhero would defend the status quo while the supervillain would make criminal plans to provoke the hero’s attempts to reestablish the disturbed social order.

Ken Parille stated insightfully:

superhero comics should really be called supervillain comics: evil orchestrates the chaos and excitement that dominates eighty percent of every issue. The supervillain is the hero’s raison d’être. Without him, the hero’s just a jerk in a silly costume (Parille 2002).

In DK2, those roles are interchanged. It is the protagonist superhero, Batman, who openly attacks the establishment, a puppet government in hands of corporate powers, inciting the masses to rebel against this simulacrum of democracy. The rupture of the conventional plot structure of the superhero genre is echoed by a number of formal disruptions reflecting the transformations produced by electronic media and the Internet (Emmons 2005).

When the panels assume the function of a screen, they do not only have the shape of a television screen as in the case of the first Dark Knight, they sometimes assume the shape of mobile phone screens, laptop screens or chat-room windows:

Left: Miller, Frank and Varley, Lynn (2001) The Dark Knight Strikes Again, #1 (New York: DC Comics, 58) Right: Miller, Frank and Varley, Lynn (2002) The Dark Knight Strikes Again, #2 (New York: DC Comics, 3)

Left: Miller, Frank and Varley, Lynn (2001) The Dark Knight Strikes Again, #1 (New York: DC Comics, 58) Right: Miller, Frank and Varley, Lynn (2002) The Dark Knight Strikes Again, #2 (New York: DC Comics, 3)

The characters in DK2 eventually become digital functions, as if the authors were responding to media simulacra with their own “supersimulacra” in the form of panels crowded with superheroes. Although they are referring to our world, DK2’s images shape a closed world that only “exists” inside the panels, a world inhabited by characters that are simulacra themselves, “inhuman pixelated shadows” (García 2007: 39) without psychology. Psychology is also absent from the old DC Silver-Age superheroes of the sixties that Miller admired and drew his inspiration from. Miller’s characters are mere artifacts, functions and signs at the service of that satirical supersimulacrum called DK2. As Marshall McLuhan stated,

the effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception (1964: 33).

Technology is so present in DK2 that this work could be read as an “epic about the digitalization of the hero” (García, 2007: 38) that is an epic about the digitalization of the common man. It’s not so much DK2’s content, but its disruptive formal features that capture the changes the technological advances of the late 20th century have produced in our perception of the world. This formal features take the idea of surface as meaning to its final consequences.

The impression produced by the formal disruptions in DK2 (fragmentation of images, heavy pixelization of the computerized color, excessive caricaturization of the characters, etc.) is that we are living in a digital hyper-reality that engulfs all human relations, including the economy. As we know Jameson exposed the connections between culture and financial capitalism in a moment when the spectres of capital, wandering out of their production geography and circulating more freely than ever, compete in a “vast world-wide disembodied phantasmagoria” (1998: 142).

In this world-wide network, electronic transferences of capital entail the abolition of time and space, and money achieves its definitive dematerialization in a globalized cyberspace “as messages which pass instantaneously from one nodal point to another across the former globe, the former material world” (Jameson 1998: 154). Our economic reality is proof that aggressions against other countries are not military anymore –at least not in the “developed” world– but channeled through speculative “attacks” to the sovereign debt, as they are specifically called in the economic jargon of the media.

In “late capitalism”, the virtual transactions of financial speculators determine the entire economy of countries, the “democratic” political system of their governments and, of course, the real life of their citizens. We should ask ourselves if the world we inhabit now is so different from the virtual United States ruled by the computer-generated president Miller imagined. As Baudrillard showed us, the “map”, or the simulacrum, precedes the “territory”, and shapes it (1994: 1).

 —

English translation by Roberto Bartual.

 

REFERENCES

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press).

Emmons Jr., R. A. (2005) .”Did the Dark Knight Strike Again? Frank Miller’s New Digital Reality”, Sequart.org, 29 November 2005, <http://www.sequart.org/magazine/2451/did-the-dark-knight-strike-again-frank-millers-new-digital-reality>. Accessed 09 December 2011.

García, S. (2007).  300: Del cómic al cine. T.A.D. directed by Valeria Camporesi, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, in Mandorla, <http://santiagogarciablog.blogspot.com/2011/02/300-heroes.html>. Accessed 06 December 2011.

Jameson, F. (1998 [2009]). The Cultural Turn. Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998 (New York and London: Verso).

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw Hill).

Miller, F. and Varley, L. (2001-2002). Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (New York: DC Comics).

Parille, K. (2011). “Bedlam and Baby: Parables of Creation in Jack Kirby and Chris Ware”, in The Comics Journal.com, 23 May 2011, <http://www.tcj.com/bedlam-and-baby-parables-of-creation-in-jack-kirby-and-chris-ware>. Accessed 06 December 2011.

 

About the author

Pepo Pérez has contributed one article.

Artist, cartoonist. He teaches at the University of Málaga, Spain. He has just finished a PhD thesis on comics, and is the co-author of the graphic novel series "El Vecino" (written by Santiago García). He also writes about comics since 1997 in publications such as Rockdelux, El Periódico de Catalunya or U magazine. And his blog: Es muy de cómic.