Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Rafael Grampá
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterers: John Workman and Deron Bennett
Publisher: DC Comics
In Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child #1, Superman/Wonder Woman’s daughter, Superman’s son, and Carrie Kelly (now Batwoman) team up to stop the reelection of Donald Trump.
Sometimes a comic leaves me thinking, “What the hell did I just read?”
I’m not even speaking metaphorically here. It’s not like they fight a super villain with Trumpian overtones. No, I mean they’re literally stopping the reelection of Donald Trump. Except in this universe, Trump is the governor of Gotham, and he turns out to be the stooge for some familiar super-villainous faces.
This might be a good time to apologize for the political nature of this review. The thing is, there’s no other way to review it. This book is nearly entirely politics.
In this Black Label series from DC, Frank Miller continues his Dark Knight Returns saga, this time with artist Rafael Grampá providing the art. The Black Label makes a perfect home for Miller’s Dark Knight Stories. After all, his original masterpiece Dark Knight Returns was DC’s first real prestige series.
Opening a new chapter of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns universe always feels like opening a mystery box of Jelly Beans. Will you get the delicious flavor of his original four-part series, or the gag-flavor blind political rage of Dark Knight Strikes Again?
It’s not strange to find politics mixed into superhero stories. Frank Miller’s original Dark Knight Returns was extremely political for a mainstream comic at the time. But there’s an important distinction between the politics of Dark Knight Returns and those of The Golden Child: The original series used the story to critique American politics; this story is a critique of American politics.
I kid you not, Greta Thunberg appears in this book.
As characters in-story bemoan the political rage devouring our world — because this is now undeniably our world and not the future dystopia of Dark Knight Returns — it’s hard not to sense a deep irony. Because political rage has overtaken the story itself.
The very characters who bemoan political rage revel in their own rage, albeit under the guise of justice. Miller’s Dark Knight stories have always featured a Batman (or Batwoman) who savors violence. But here, as Carrie Kelly breaks bones with glee, it’s hard not to feel Miller’s own cathartic anti-Trump fantasies. For me, this sours the entire issue.
Admittedly, I agree with many of Miller’s critiques of Trump. But the story’s singular political focus takes the mythic scope of Batman and Superman and makes it small. It’s plainly propaganda. I doubt even Miller would argue this point. Compared to the insightful character studies of Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, this story feels flat and empty.
Not to say that superhero stories shouldn’t deal with real issues. This year’s Joker film makes a useful counterpoint. Joker, too, takes on the political climate. It, too, embodies the anger of the times. But it probes its subject from multiple angles. It refuses to stay on the surface, either in terms of character or subject matter. And it uses setting to disassociate the viewer from real-world controversy, inviting us to see in a new light.
In contrast, The Golden Child keeps to the surface. We don’t delve deeper into today’s questions. We don’t view them in a new way. The book just puts those questions on the page as-is and lets loose a blind rage. Despite the art and writing of a premiere comicbook, it’s a Facebook rant in terms of substance. We’re here to relish the broken bones of fascists.
But it does have the art and writing of a premiere comicbook. In a mechanical sense, it’s probably one of the best new comics on the shelves. Frank Miller is still a great writer. His dialogue and narration fuel the story, evoking a sense of gravitas and energy. Some of his narration calls back to the Silver Age grandiosity of Jack Kirby, a welcome contrast to the bleak tone.
I’m also glad he’s decided to put more focus on Carrie Kelly as Batwoman. I truly love this character. I just hope that, as the story goes on, she finds some interiority, and perhaps a more righteous mission. At the moment, she feels as violent and misguided as any of the story’s villains—and I’m not sure whether Miller intends the reader to feel this way.
Rafael Grampá’s art also deserves a mention. His style evokes Miller’s own style in the best ways. It’s dirty and detailed and it carries the same skeptical, angry energy as Miller’s words. Visually, this is my favorite chapter of the Dark Knight Returns saga since the original.
That’s where I am with this book. It has the surface-level stylings of a great Dark Knight story: sharp writing, visceral art, high-level concepts. But beneath that surface, I can’t find anything but anger. Like so much discourse today, it’s just another Howard Beale from the film Network, raging from the rooftops: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
And from a writer like Miller — and on a subject as important as this — I expect more.
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child #1
- Great action
- Kirby-esque cosmic concepts
- Some truly stunning art and colors
- Carrie Kelly as Batwoman. I mean, come on, that's just awesome.
- Politics at expense of story
- Lack of plot coherence