Batman coverI’m a little late to the party, but over the past weekend I read Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knights Returns, first published in 1986. As I’ve written about previously, the first (and until now only) graphic novel I’ve finished was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is an amazing book. I then started to read about graphic novels in general, picked up a few particular novels, and briefly thought about teaching one of my summer classes on graphic novels by women (I’m teaching a course on Women & Writing and one on Women & Literature).

PJ has been into graphic literature much longer than I have. He read comics as a kid and started reading recent classics — such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Maus — a few years ago. He therefore wanted to encourage my new interest and so he purchased Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life. I had read about the latter one online, so I was really excited when he bought it.

Gravett quotes Stephen King, who asserts, that Miller’s Batman is “probably the finest piece of comic art ever to be published in a popular edition” (78). It is an amazing text.

Not having been much of a comics reader when I was a kid, it took me a little while to decipher the codes on how to read this text. It’s very sophisticated and postmodern. Miller tends to pack as much information in as few frames as possible, which can disorient the reader, forcing him or her to make connections and fill in blanks. The images in the novel are also sophisticated, and Miller uses a variety of colors, styles, and techniques to relate different moods in different parts of the story. (I was so excited when I finally noticed — well into the book — that he color codes character’s thought boxes: Batman’s are grey, Superman’s are blue, and the Joker’s are green, for example.) He also plays with perspective, which he often uses to build suspense and excitement. Everything works together to tell a great story.