Wednesday (11/25/15) the first issue of Dark Knight III: The Master Race was released in comic book stores and digitally so you’ve probably seen a flood of articles and podcasts talking about Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series. This has left me at an impasse, on one hand The Dark Knight Returns is something that has been covered hundreds of times by others more eloquently than myself. However, the Dark Knight Returns is not only my favorite comic, but also my favorite book of all time so I don’t really want to let the release of it’s newest installment pass without saying something.
I don’t want to recap the story and plot of The Dark Knight Returns. It is extremely accessible to get the trade paperback, digital, and even as an animated film. It’s been around since 1986 so if you haven’t read the story already, it’s on you at this point. So what I would like to do is to break down three of my favorite scenes and themes from the story and try to explain why I like it so much.
That the tragedy of Bruce’s parents dying being the driving force for him to become the Batman is not a new concept. However, its generally seen as an active driving force in that Batman is actively fighting crime. Since the threat is current and active we can still assume if things cleaned up in Gotham that Batman could quit. The Dark Knight Returns shows just how much Bruce needs to be Batman by showing how empty his life is without it. Bruce has been retired for 10 years and could not be more miserable. The opening pages has Bruce thrill-seeking at a Formula 1 race contemplating ending it all right then and there. Bruce hasn’t found anyone to settle down with or tried to start a new life in retirement, he’s isolated himself and allowed himself to stew in his anger at not being Batman. The biggest reoccurring themes in this story is Bruce looking for a good death. You get the feeling that he had always intended to die in the line of duty and that retirement was never in his plans. He is the ultimate career soldier. He has lived every day of his life since his parents died preparing and being the Batman so when he was forced to give that up there was nothing left for him to go back to.
The inner dialogue in the Dark Knight Returns is one of my favorite aspects of the book. When Batman fights the Mutant leader (the second time) it looks like a normal brawl brawl on the outside. But hearing Batman’s thoughts you see just how much planning and thought is put into every action he performs. Every punch is strategic and executed with surgical precision. Having the fight in the mud pit, luring the leader out in front of his followers, cutting his forehead right above the eyes. Every action has a purpose and every contingency is accounted for. This is Batman at his most Batman. We love the character because he has plan for everything and back up plans for his back up plans. The Dark Knight Returns showcases his skills in a way that is smart, entertaining, and practical which set the standard for the character.
I can’t think of another character that has had a rougher treatment than Jason Todd. A lot of backlash came when Kyle Rainer found his girlfriend’s dead body chopped up and left in a refrigerator, but it pales in comparison to DC Comics setting up a 1-900 call in number to decided the life/death of Jason Todd. The Dark Knight Returns turned a publicity stunt from DC Comics into one of the defining events of Batman’s life. My single favorite moment in the story is when Batman is alone in the Batcave looking at Jason’s costume and says never again. It doesn’t explicitly say what happened but it is able to convoy all the emotion and meaning with a minimal words and a few panels. It’s hard to say that for certain that the impact of Jason’s death in The Dark Knight Returns was the reason that Jason Todd stayed dead in the comics for as long as he did, but I like to think they are connected.
If you still haven’t read The Dark Knight Returns Comixology is having a sale and you can get it now for as little as $3.96 (each of the individual issues for $0.99) or collected for $6.99 right now so there are no excuses. I also highly recommend the DC Comics Original Animated Film. It is as faithful to the source as humanly possible and more or less uses the comic pages as story boards. You don’t get the inner dialogue as you would with the comic but it is still a fantastic film.
I love me some weird promotional tie in items. I am always fascinated and amazed when TV shows or movies have weird promotional tie-in’s or product placements that they force feed into scenes. Most of the time these are just subtle scenes of people drinking a Coke at a restaurant. But sometimes we get a gift when subtlety is thrown to the wind and we get an insane commercial / propaganda piece detached from all reality. One of my favorite examples of late is the music video for the song Pretty Girls by the Legendary Ms. Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea.
Obviously Samsung is paying for this video by the amount of camera time is spent on the Galaxy S6 phones but at the 2:17 mark the music pauses and it literally becomes a commercial for the phone. Even for a video where the two leads are playing as aliens this is the most jarring and unrealistic thing that happens in the video.
This brings us to KFC Presents: The Colonel of Two Worlds Starring the Flash and Colonel Sanders, which I will refer to as KFCP: TCOTW (STFACS) for short. KFCP: TCOTW (STFACS) is the perfect storm of every thing I love about weird promotional tie ins. Does it have a fourth wall breaking moment where it simply becomes a commercial? Check. Does it misunderstand how people fundamentally view their product? Check. Is it unashamed at how ridiculous it is? Check. True believers this comic is fantastic and available for free at Comixology right here.
Let’s start by breaking down the plot of this bad boy. It starts with the Mirror Master and Captain Cold teaming up with the evil Earth 3 version of Colonel Sanders, Colonel Sunders. They then become fast food employees at Colonel Sunders “Easy Fried Chicken”, which is suppose to be the opposite of KFC. The next step It is unclear but I assume Colonel Sunders used his Easy Fried Chicken money to hire henchmen in order to start committing bank robberies and other larger money making crimes. The Flash and Green Lantern discover a spike in crime occurs whenever an Easy Fried Chicken opens. The real Colonel Sanders is super pissed off that this imposter is using his likeness to sell below par chicken and steps in. A fight ensues and a victorious Colonel Sanders sends the imposter Colonel Sunder back to Earth 3. The comic ends with the Cononel convincing the Flash to allow him hire Captain Cold and Mirror Master at KFC rather than throwing them back in jail.
Let’s start with one of my favorite parts of these weird product tie-ins and that is when it jarringly switches to commercial mode. The whole thing is a commercial in and of it self and does it’s job simply through brand recognition alone. But KFC just can’t trust us the reader to simply pick that up and has to break the 4th wall to talk about the 11 secret herbs and spices. Dear KFC, we get it. You are a major brand, every one knows who you are and generally what you serve. Breaking the fourth wall doesn’t convey that, all it does it show how insecure you are about your product.
Another favorite of mine is when companies fundamentally don’t understand how consumers see their products. A great example of this is the Bank of America “One Bank” song it created when it merged with MBNA (here is a cover of that by David Cross). While this was probably a huge deal for Bank of America it’s customers could really give two shits. Their accounts stayed the same, their cards stayed the same, it was just a shuffling around of management. But because it so big internally Bank of America couldn’t see outside the bubble that the outside world really didn’t care. This occurred in KFCP: TCOTW (STFACS) with the concept of “Easy Fried Chicken”. I’m sure the marketing department thought, “Hey what do people love about our chicken? Oh I know, it’s how we make it the hard way”. This is in fact is not what people think about KFC. We are buying your food because its easy, pretty good, and cheap. If anything the bizarro KFC of “Easy Fried Chicken” is actually what we think of when we think of KFC.
I’m not here to shit talk KFCP: TCOTW (STFACS) though. I actually quite enjoyed KFCP: TCOTW (STFACS) and found my self laughing out loud when Colonel Sunder used a pink slime gun to fight Colonel Sanders.
The art throughout the comic was actually top quality which not the norm for projects like this. The shot of the Flash coming into frame could have easily been mistaken from a shot from the ongoing Justice League or Flash solo comic. In general KFCP: TCOTW (STFACS) was fun, actually funny, and free. Hopefully we get some more weird stuff like this in the future (I’m looking at you Old Spice).