So I have on physical copy the 30th Anniversary hardcover for DKR (which also includes the deluxe edition of the animated movie embedded in the hardcover which is kind of neat) and it starts with a really interesting interview with Miller by Brian Azzarello that I think can illuminate stuff we’re already talking about.
BRIAN: Let’s get in a time machine.
FRANK: Okay. No seatbelts, right?
BRIAN: Of course not. It’s 1986…
FRANK: Oh hell, can’t we go back further?
BRIAN: Not this time. DARK KNIGHT is about to be released. How do you feel? It’s done, it’s out of your hands, and now it’s gonna go to the stores.
FRANK: I am thrilled.
BRIAN: I want to know what came first for you, the world or Batman? DARK KNIGHT is so of its time, you know – the whole zeitgeist that was going on around the mid-'80s. Was it, “I want to tell a story with Batman in this world” or “I want to tell a Batman story,” and then the world seeped into it?
FRANK: No. My intention in the beginning was to tell a story of Batman at the age he would be at this time if he really aged from his origins. He was aged, he was seeing how the world had changed and how he would bring essentially a World War II mentality to the modern world. To him, it wasn’t just criminals he was fighting anymore; it was moral decay and political corruption.
BRIAN: With DARK KNIGHT in particular, I believe one of your most important contributions to comics was that you brought the real world into superhero comics, where you were using these characters as a way to comment on what was going on all around us at the time in a way no one had ever done before. Prior to DARK KNIGHT, those things were all escapism.
FRANK: And Batman was permanently 29, so I decided to make him 50. At 50 I figured he was closer to dead. I made him look like he was at least 60, because that’s what I figured 50 would look like. And instead of being lean and muscular, I had him massive. I wanted to bring back the Dick Sprang characterization, that rectangular guy.
(Note: The book actually has him written as “Dick Spring,” which makes me laugh in a twelve year-old sort of way. Anyway.)
BRIAN: Yea, he looked like a wrestler or football player when they get older and thick.
FRANK: And if you’ve taken one hit too many. His face is kind of punched in.
BRIAN: What was your impetus for doing that the first time?
FRANK: Oh, it was very simple: I was 29 years old, and I was dreading turning 30. To me that was entering middle age.
BRIAN: Were you excited when you started it? Were you trepidatious? I mean, what was your mind-set…this was 30 years ago.
FRANK: I remember exactly how I felt–I had been dying to do it for years! The only thing that I knew would be an obstacle was the real reverence for the old stuff. So there was initially fear from DC without realizing that I loved these characters. I had no intention of doing anything obscene.
BRIAN: Wasn’t necessary.
FRANK: I know, it wouldn’t serve any purpose.
BRIAN: What was Paul [Levitz’s] reaction when you brought this story to him, the first one?
FRANK: I first brought it to Jenette [Kahn].
BRIAN: Before Paul?
FRANK: Yeah, and she was thrilled about the idea of the story. We talked to Paul and everybody was completely positive about it. Later, when they actually saw it, they got pretty frightened with the material.
BRIAN: Did Jennette ever get frightened?
FRANK: No, she was completely supportive; and Paul very swiftly changed his mind when the first issue came out and it went back for a second and third printing.
BRIAN: But it caused quite a stir. It wasn’t instantly the revered tome it is now.
FRANK: When it came out, it made many fans very, very angry, but the sales when through the roof, so the dealers were very, very happy. At the same time, the dealers were mostly fans and old collectors who had their comics packed in Mylar snugs. So while I was making them money, I was being accused of violating a trust.
BRIAN: You were taking a piss on their childhood.
FRANK: To me, I was exulting it.
BRIAN: I agree with you, and now 30 years later it’s looked at by those very same people you offended as the pinnacle of Batman. I’m not one of those people that look at this work as being so grim and gritty. There’s so much political satire in this book.
FRANK: I was laughing while I was writing it.
BRIAN: I read laughter into a lot of it, too.
FRANK: The TV segment with the psychologist for instance–he would just explain everything, including murder, as being a perfectly healthy function of the human mind.
BRIAN: I mean, the book gets a bad wrap for the way htat it is dark and gritty, but it’s not. I mean, there are moments, certainly, but those moments only work because they’re played against some real broad satire. Even the first time we see Superman, he’s got birds around and the sky is all beautiful…
FRANK: And there’s Bruce Wayne all cranky. I figured that Clark would only age in terms of handsome wrinkles around his eyes. Otherwise, he’d be as iconic as ever, while Batman was just old.
BRIAN: While DK wasn’t my introduction to Batman, it definitely was my introduction to Batman as a figure in a comic book. I read it when it was originally coming out, and I was blown away by how you made superhero characters relevant. Really, it was revolutionary. And it was crazy–even the naysayers were on board for the thrill ride. Each issue, you topped yourself.
FRANK: I particularly liked doing the cover to the second one, where he was just beat to crap, just because of hte idea of him being someone who’s kind of like ROcky. He would take punches better than he could thro them. He could take any punishment you gave him and keep coming.
BRIAN: Which he did. The second one, that was the mutant issue.
FRANK: The guy with the sharp teeth.
BRIAN: That was Batman taking a lot of punishment in that one.
FRANK: Mr. T was a real popular figure at the time.
BRIAN: Clubber Lang.
FRANK: And I patterned his speech as close to Mr. T’s as I could.
FRANK: I know. I came up with mutant colloquialism with Lynn Varley, who colored DARK KNIGHT. There was a language she and her brothers had amongst themselves that fascinated me, so I had all the mutants speak that way.
BRIAN: Where were you living when you wrote that? Were you here? New York? It had a dangerous reputation at the time.
FRANK: Oh, it was a very bad time. Koch was mayor and he was doing his best to clean things up. Crime was rampant and I had been mugged a few times. I was very, very angry, just watching Clint Eastwood movies back to back, getting absolutely paranoid. I figured if Batman was a grown-up, he’d take car of things.
BRIAN: Was it post- or pre-Bernhard Goetz?
FRANK: Goetz did what he did while I was working on the first issue. It was all very coincidental.
BRIAN: As I said, it was something about the zeitgeist and you were definitely plugged into it at the time. You know, Batman’s 75th anniversary just passed, and it’s been 30 years since DARK KNIGHT was released. Your book and your take on Batman have informed the character for nearly half of his existence.
FRANK: Could you order me a wheelchair right now?
BRIAN: I’d be happy to. One for Bruce as well.
So now it’s 30 years later. Looking at the impact the book has had, how do you feel about it?
FRANK: Something Walter Simonson told me was really valuable, which is that when amateurs want to learn something from a professional, the thing they ten to learn most often is the professional’s mistakes. And so I saw a lot of my faults as an artist replicated by amateurs, and it taught me a lot about how to communicate better. With all my quirks replicated, I saw really how weak my drawing was, and in many ways, I learned to make it better. That’s been its impact on me, on comics in general. It did affect how creators have paced stories, and that’s good somewhat.
The main thing DARK KNIGHT has done it’s given both writers and artists much more freedom to maneuver, and we’ve taken these once-precious characters in new directions. DARK KNIGHT has been so successful, publishers have realized they have to publish this kind of stuff without putting a condom on it.