Two decades ago, a burst of adrenaline generated by The Dark Knight Returns was so intense, it scorched and irreversibly altered my cultural DNA forever.
The guilty sequence was the return of Batman to the streets, viewed only through half-glimpsed shadows, third-party reactions and increasingly anxious news bulletins. The trick – so beloved of Hitchcock and later Spielberg in Jaws – was to show less and rack up the tension. My synapses fizzed like a cola bomb in a Mentos factory.
Two decades later, I felt a similar sense of bubbling nervous energy as I pawed my copy of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. And I did indeed experience a familiar sensation, only one that surges through the bones when a shopping bag splits in a rain-lashed car park. The disappointment accompanying this return to Gotham is so total, it’s a dull, nagging throb.
By golly, it’s boring. Impossible, you’d assume, when Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, Superman, Brainiac – hang on, go and brew up and grab some biscuits, because we’re going to be here for a while – The Human Atom, Plasticman, The Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and, yes, even more besides are all invited to the party.
But that’s the problem – the relentless introduction of characters strangles any room for development, either in plot or character, especially when they’re all either continually scrapping or arguing. Even a fireworks display has its quieter moments to allow the louder sections more space to be spectacular.
Heightening the unbearable clamour of this cacophony is the illustrative style, which is very staccato and, at times, loose. Gone are the back alleys and high vantage points of Gotham, the filthy cesspits which featured throughout The Dark Knight Returns, and instead your eyeballs are bombarded with character close-ups, not expansive vistas or tiny details of squalid alleyways. It almost feels like the story is still somehow on the drawing board.
Simply, this reads as a thunderous artillery barrage, all smoke and noise, lacking in nuance. And even with such a cast list – which will require serious Googling for casual fans – it lacks the epic and effortless grandeur of The Dark Knight Returns.
Review written by and used with the permission of Toby Earle.
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