Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child by Frank Miller Is Either a Profound Commentary On Our Times or a Complete Mess
For the seventh time, Frank Miller returned to his DC Universe with Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child. This new one-shot continues the story he started back in the 1980s when he altered the idea of who the Batman is with the original Dark Knight Returns. Yet, Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is not the typical story in this saga of dark, gritty superheroes. Rather, they focus on the children of Superman and Wonder Woman: Lara and Jonathan Kent.
As per usual, the strange society gone mad with the existence of superheroes reflects our own. There is an election underway in this comic, and the character known only as “The Governor” bears the visage of none other than President Donald Trump. However, the character himself never makes an appearance. Rather, he’s just the means to an end in a grand scheme by DC’s greatest villain: Darkseid. The children of the world’s greatest heroes, counting Carrie Kelly who was Robin, Catwoman, and now Batwoman, unite to save society one last time.
Along with the strange conflict between Lara, Jonathan (the titular Golden Child of the comic), and Darkseid, this story tries to make a commentary about how the powerful try to manipulate the masses. Whether or not it is successful in this, I can’t really say. I definitely respect the attempt, but whether or not they succeed is a matter left to individual readers.
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child Features Struggles Between Gods and Mortals
Image via DC
There are two main stories in this book. The first is the dynamic between Lara Kent, who hates humanity, and Jonathan Kent, who is somewhat in awe of them. This dynamic mirrors the relationship between Miller’s version of Wonder Woman and Superman. Yet, as all children should, both Lara and Jonathan seem to learn from the mistakes of their parents. Lara doesn’t abandon humanity as her mother did, anchored to the mortal world by her friendship with Carrie. Jonathan cares for humanity like his father does, but he doesn’t bow down to their corrupt leaders. In fact, all three of these children directly take on their various villainous counterparts. The story doesn’t necessarily end, at least not in a traditional way. Yet, the last images are one of hope and a suggestion that, with a little help from a Golden Child, the masses will make the right choice.
While the super-kids present an interesting dichotomy of super-philosophy, Carrie is all Bat. At one point in the story, she directly quotes Batman. “Striking terror,” she says, “the best part of the job.” She is violent, unforgiving, but she also strives to protect the innocent. She is the version of Miller’s bat-characters that most closely resemble what we think of the idealized Batman. She’s a dark reflection of humanity’s moral imperative, but she never crosses the line into villainy. Yet, like the Dark Knight of old, she also really has a lot of fun kicking the bad guys’ asses. If anything, she most closely resembles the version of Batman from the Superman: Year One comic also set in this universe. Only instead of being suspicious of her Kryptonian-Amazon allies, she realizes they are necessary. And, like the Bat before her, these veritable gods respect her as well.
New Powers and Nearly Metaphysical Battles
Image via DC
Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is Frank Miller at his most metaphysical, at times. As established in Superman: Year One, a new power set for Kryptonians involves psychic abilities. An evolution of these sorts of powers play a huge role in the climax of the book. I had to re-read this portion a number of times, so it can be a little difficult to understand. Yet, it does say something powerful that the battle between the ultimate good and ultimate evil in this story is not physical but mental. In most superhero stories the villain usually defeats the heroes at first, and then they get their comeuppance. Frank Miller doesn’t do that with Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child. Rather, he makes Darkseid an almost unstoppable and elemental force in this world.
Say what you will about Frank Miller’s recent work, Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child is ambitious. It tells a story that is epic in scale and also seems to take place in a few city blocks. It’s clearly trying to say something and what that is feels important. Yet, it’s also a challenging read and one that fans who enjoyed the previous Dark Knight books for their gritty realism might be disappointed by. Either way, it’s a comic book that will start a lot of conversations. And that’s really all a storyteller can ask for.
What did you think of Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child? Share your thoughts, reactions, and lingering questions in the comments below.
Featured image via DC
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.