“Listen. Since I’ve met you I’ve nearly been incinerated, drowned, shot at, and chopped into fish bait. We’re caught in the middle of something sinister here, my guess is dad found out more than he was looking for and until I’m sure, I’m going to continue to do things the way I think they should be done.”
-Indy, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
The Last Crusade is actually my favorite Indiana Jones movie. I find it to be a lot more fun than the other three but no less intense. Also, Sean Connery is in it! So I wanted to like this Batman book (Dark Knight Returns – The Last Crusade) from the get-go. The Last Crusade is much shorter than DK3, but I figured that since I bought them both together I’d give some brief thoughts on this one as well. It also helps that the writing team and universe are the same!
You Can Always have More!
So, in Miller’s continuity, known as Earth-31, Batman quits being Batman after the death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker (instead of, y’know, just brooding for a really long time afterwards and then finding Tim Drake). Jason Todd’s short time as The Boy Wonder is a keystone moment in comic book mythology; a grim and gruesome event even by today’s standards. This experience breaks Batman like nothing before, and that is reflected in The Dark Knight Returns. One would then expect Miller’s re-visiting to be equally intense and meaningful.
The first thing I notice about the deluxe edition I bought is it’s size. It can’t be more than 60 pages long. It’s given a good treatment with thick, large pages but there doesn’t seem to be any need. The art by John Romita Jr. And Peter Steigerwald is rather good, but besides the Joker having a bit of DKR flare, it’s not terribly memorable. The layouts try to be dense at first with the “tiny square panels” thing from DKR used at the beginning but it’s quickly given up as larger panels and uninspired layouts decompress the storytelling significantly after the first 10 pages.
Who’s in Charge Here?
The characters are the biggest upside to the story, Jason in particular. The second boy wonder is shown to be troublingly brutal throughout the book, and this plays out much as expected. We’re given plenty of moments to look back on Jason’s increasing bravado-sadism and to watch Bruce interact with him. Another memorable interaction occurs between Bruce and Selina as the two explore their relationship with each other, Jason, and their masks.
Then things fall flat in basically every other department. Batman’s inner monologue is re-treading familiar ground from the original, and doesn’t really add anything of substance. He broods and does nothing while Jason gets crazy, and then he regrets it afterwards. “Ok” you say, “but weren’t we here for the Clown Prince of Crime? He’s on the cover, isn’t he?” Well, instead of letting the Joker interact with other important characters or plot points, Miller and Azzarello sit him inside Arkham around a whole bunch of degenerates and let him, uh, command them I guess? Make some of them eat themselves? Tell strange stories that sound like their trying to be philosophical but are actually just blithering nonsense and completely detached from the plot? Yes to all three. The Joker subplot adds nothing to the story except levels of tryhard that could make Jared Leto’s Clown-Prince seem authentic. Instead of focusing on Joker, the main story is a TV-episode length pulp-piece that revolves around Poison Ivy and Killer Croc. I still don’t exactly know why. Actually, most of the storytelling and plot decisions in this book make no sense to me. Are we focusing on Jason? Batman? Joker? I guess. The book loses focus far too often to really tell us anything about these characters that we didn’t already know from TDK or Death in the Family.
Final Score: 3.1
See what I did there? In all seriousness, I mentioned my favorite things about Miller’s Batman work earlier: World-building and spectacle. This small footnote to the series brings none of that to the table. DC pulls another fast one like they did with Rebirth and The Killing Joke, putting a full price tag on a single issue that is in a nicer edition. However, where the aforementioned HCs are must-reads, this is a book you should definitely skip (unless, of course, you want the bad memories of All-Star Batman and Robin to resurface).