Sunday, June 29, 2014

Redeeming Miller's Superman

Superman fans might not feel that The Dark Knight Returns represents the best in our boy in blue. And they'd be right. At first glance, Frank Miller's Superman is the opposite of strong. He's weak, fearful - well, I think the word Frank might use is impotent. The question is, why?

It's not that Superman has gotten selfish. He continues to serve the American people, secretly, as an agent of the United States government. He is still as great a physical threat as ever. And he is willing to risk everything for a people who don't even know he exists, and are too foolish to preserve themselves.

Fans who consider TDKR's Superman to be a weak rendition are missing many of the nuances which make him such a great character in the book. After all, it is Batman who is the most flawed, even if his triumphs are Olympian. Clark, in many ways, is cooler than Bruce, more level headed. He first tries to reason with Batman, before trying to fight him - never suspecting that he might actually lose. And when they do battle, Superman pulls his punches. His goal is to take Batman in alive.

Superman's motivations in TDKR only become clear at the very end of the book, when he happens to overhear a heartbeat. At this point Superman has a choice. He can "out" Batman, or he can leave him alone to carry out his mission secretly. Here's what happens.

In the end, Superman is redeemed - albeit with a couple bruises. His mission is - and always has been - keeping the peace. He is neither tyrant, nor pawn, but simply doing what needs to be done to keep the planet safe. Upon discovering Batman is still alive, Superman's immediate feeling is relief. He is happy to leave Bruce alone, as long as it's kept quiet. Batman understands Superman, and was counting on Clark to do the right thing... and with a wink, Clark proves Batman right.


  1. Have you seen Frank Cho's recreation of said Superman/batman fight?

  2. I did see that. I think it's a little over the top... more like All Star Batman than TDKR. Here's a link for readers interested in checking it out.