The Alt Knight:
Zachary O. Ray
A Retrospect of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns for the Current Year
Sometime in the near future, in an America crippled by degeneracy and stifling bureaucracy, two men of stature fight in the streets. One, an aging billionaire fed up with his society’s imminent collapse, has become a polarizing threat to the governing establishment. The other, a compromised but well-meaning foreigner wrapped in an American flag, bringing a false and used-up patriotism to a disenfranchised population.
The men I speak of are not Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but the World’s Finest themselves—Batman and Superman.
In this future, your average American might look into the sky as an object flies overhead, but it’d just be a bird or a plane. The era of the superhero is over—their presence banned as a threat to democratic normalcy. The Cold War is hotter than history has recorded. Meanwhile, Gotham is slowly succumbing to the decay of street gangs and low-energy politicians too incompetent or comfortable to bother themselves. Homeless doomsayers trudge through the streets prophesying the end times. The superhero has been reduced to the realm of legend for young generations, who, with no heroes of their own, are drawn to the seductive promises of miscreant gang chieftains.
Published in 1986, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns breathed life into a comic-book industry suffocated by the creativity-killing censorship of the self-imposed Comics Code Authority (not so different from the “private” censorship of social media today).
DKR not only ushered in an era of creative vitality, bringing a dying medium back to its feet, but to this day it serves as a clever and relevant work of modern satire. The Cold War may be over, but just as in Miller’s dystopia, we’re living in a Kali Yuga—an age void of heroes, when eccentric mediocrities are fetishized by the 20-square-inch boxes in our living rooms, and all hope is almost lost . . . almost.
While every work of art is defined by the vision of its artist, there comes a point in the life cycle of all great works where art takes on a new life beyond its author’s intent—a point in which the piece no longer belongs to the author, but to the culture.
In this sense, The Dark Knight Returns serves as an Alt Right hero’s journey, in so far as it chronicles Western man’s spiritual struggle towards superhuman reawakening against modern egalitarian mediocrity—including a necessary break from American conservatism. It is a battle cry, not just for a creative revolution in the stuffy recesses of the comic book medium, but a call to arms against the existential lethargy of modern man.
The Bat Pill
“The time has come. You know it in your soul. For I am your soul . . . You cannot escape me . . . you are puny, you are small—you are nothing—a hollow shell, a rusty trap that cannot hold me . . . you cannot stop me—not with wine or vows or the weight of age—you cannot stop me but but still you try—still you run—you try to drown me out—but your voice is weak . . .”
Enter billionaire Bruce Wayne, age 55. Ten years ago, he hung up his cape and cowl—swearing an oath he would never don them again. A restrained titan among Last Men, his purposeless life draws on, as he drinks by himself during the day, dreaming of a perfect death—a perfect death to take away the pain—the pain of watching his beloved Gotham City slowly sink into the abyss of rot and chaos—as good men do nothing.
All that is left for the former crime fighter is nostalgia and baseless thrill-seeking. Behind what appears to be a life of futility broods a malevolent demon—the Batman persona incarnate, transcending masked vigilantism and biological decrepitude—urging, no, compelling the fruitless Bruce Wayne to become who he is. No longer can Bruce Wayne stand by as news station after news station regurgitates the same deterministic and sanitized murder stories. As we are learning today, Wayne can ignore reality no longer.
The threat is here and it is time to act. In a blaze of glory, Batman sweeps the streets of Gotham—revitalizing hope in Gotham’s citizenry.
There is little doubt that Miller, the man who called Occupy Wall Street “nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists” and author of the unabashedly identitarian 300 and “Islamophobic” Holy Terror, was channeling many of the same concerns back in 1986 that the Alternative Right is facing today. While the West is certainly sick, it is a sickness it has brought on itself. Unlike European colonialism in the 19th century, the Global South’s colonialism today is strictly the result of the self-imposed ethno-masochism of a civilization defeated by centuries of victory (to paraphrase Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) and internal warring.
While DKR is not, by any means, a commentary on modern immigration, it challenges the same wounded spirit of the modern world. Like his fellow supermen in tights, Batman quit because he chose to quit. There was no one to stop him. He gave up by his own volition, but something deep inside him urges that the war goes on.
“I close my eyes and listen. Not fooled by sight, I see him . . . as he is. I see him. I see . . . a reflection.”
Due to Batman’s successful return to crime fighting and subsequent public approval, a coalition consisting of the media, politicians, and “public intellectuals” arises devoted to stamping out the new public champion threatening their authority. Sound familiar?
Arkham Asylum Home for the Emotionally Troubled releases two of Batman’s greatest foes, Two-Face and the Joker, upon psychological evaluation by Dr. Bartholmew Wolper—a curly black-haired, whiny, and narcissistic psychoanalyst, who occupies the airwaves crying out against the “reactionary” crime fighting of the Dark Knight, while he sits cozily in a television recording studio in his pali sandals, ironic (or not so ironic) toothbrush mustache, and Superman t-shirt.
Wolper, accompanied by the narrative of the mainstream media, inspires the release of the two by demanding that they are not murderous villains, but misunderstood outsiders victimized by Batman’s “fascist obsessions.” As is customary, soon after their releases, both go on the greatest terroristic murder sprees of their careers. (It’s worth noting that Dent’s plan involves blowing up Gotham’s “Twin Towers”—mind you, this was written in
Even Wolper, the primary advocate behind the anti-Batman controversy and release of Gotham’s most dangerous, is murdered by the Joker on a live late-night talk show, as a public relations attempt to clear the Joker’s name goes awry.
Like the refugees in Europe and the Black Lives Matter crowd, the Joker knows how to game the progressive establishment. He has been crystal clear in his unwillingness to live peacefully in society, yet the metropolitan liberals refuse to see this. A great irony of Islam’s disdain toward the West is that it is derived from the very “weak horses” (to borrow from the Lion Sheik himself) who defend Muslims at every turn.
Like Leftists today, Wolper defends civilization’s enemies, despite the fact that it is the likes of him who they hate most of all.
To move on to the central point, the irony of Batman and the Joker lies in their stark contradictions. One, a hero, looks like a brooding monster; the other, who looks like a childhood circus performer, is a mass-murdering maniac. As Nolan’s The Dark Knight captures perfectly, the Joker is chaos incarnate. He is the Dionysus to Batman’s Apollo. Batman’s recurring conflict with the Joker represents his attempt to bring order to the randomness of existence that took the lives of his parents. Batman is the virility that is birthed in the midst of chaos. Just as the Joker only awoke from a coma upon hearing of Batman’s return—a coma that was induced by Batman’s disappearance from the public eye—Batman cannot exist in a world without chaos (embodied in the Joker).
Western man is no different. Western man reaches his potential only when his back is against the wall. The refugee crisis, and the innumerable attacks and rapes that have followed, though an immediate threat to our long-term existence, could be just the thing to spawn a new flowering era in Western history.
It’s worth recognizing that Miller initially frames Batman’s moral crusade, quite true to character, as one of ressentiment. The very Batman persona, itself, grew out of Bruce Wayne’s deep-seated frustration with the seemingly unintelligible disarray of life’s suffering. It is for this very reason that Batman’s existence has been thematically bound to the Joker over the decades. Batman exists so that he can create a world where he will not have to exist. For many identitarians, it’s easy to fall into this same temptation—hating one’s enemy more than loving one’s own.
But by the climax of the penultimate issue, Batman paralyzes the Joker, who subsequently commits suicide to frame him. Batman has now overcome his greatest existential threshold. His journey must now be self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating, or he must die. The manhunt for the Batman that ensues only confirms the inevitable—that Batman’s crusade must take on the establishment sooner or later.
Two-Face also reflects Batman’s persona. After finally being apprehended, Dent tragically reveals that despite his recent plastic surgery to correct his disfigured face—a procedure funded by Wayne himself in a naïve humanitarian attempt to rehabilitate his old foe—Dent’s shadow-self has overcome him entirely. This symbolic gesture foreshadows Wayne’s own transformation: in a conflict of wills (Wayne vs. Batman), it is inevitable for one to win out in the end. This is true not just within the soul, but in the world.
Conservatism fails for this reason. Deep inside, every conservative recognizes nature’s iron law of inequality, masked by the current year’s egalitarian paradigm. Conservatism making the way for the much purer and harder Alt Right was only a matter of time.
The Way of the Gang is the Way of the Demon
“They can’t be arrested. You could never hold them all. They have to be defeated. Humiliated.”
In between his conflict with his old foes, Batman confronts the Mutant Gang (who are not actual mutants by the way). He recognizes that to beat them he must crush their head. After Batman beats the Mutant leader to a bloody pulp, the disillusioned Mutant Gang, with their proverbial god now proverbially dead, soon dissolves (reminiscent of the decapitation of Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian). Unlike in Conan, however—and in a way much more accurate to human nature—many of the former gang members find in their enemy a new god worthy of their reverence. Donning woad and jackboots, the Sons of Batman cult is born—devoted to mercilessly crushing crime and those too cowardly to fight it themselves. More on them later . . .
Superhuman, All Too Superhuman
“‘Yes’—you always say yes—to anyone with a badge—or a flag.”
As his name suggests, Superman was in fact named after the Übermensch from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Writing in a time when Nietzsche was more closely associated with the fascistic tenets of National Socialism, Jewish cartoonists Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sought to reshape the “Superman” in their image. No longer the hierarchical freethinker of insurmountable willpower, their Superman™ was an egalitarian strongman, an alien, whose might lay not in his will but raw materialistic faculties. Like the neoconservative establishment, Superman is a foreign entity wrapped in our flag.
Originally depicted as a hard-boiled “champion of the oppressed” in 1938, at the dawn of America’s entrance into the Second World War, Superman, with Old Glory and bald eagle in hand, became a distinctly American icon alongside Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. The Man of Steel became a symbol of “American exceptionalism”—his red and blue uniform inspired young boys to scrounge up scraps of metal in the streets for democracy’s war effort.
Copies of the monthly Superman comic book featured the Big Blue Cheese whopping Hitler to a pulp with his fists. When Superman punched Hitler in the jaw, it was as if we were punching Hitler in the jaw. And that was good enough for us.
What happens when you run out of bad guys? Such a dilemma is explored in DKR. Superman is still the same walking propaganda poster he has always been. Here Miller treats him subversively. In DKR, America is, much as it is today, a flabby managerial state, flimsily held together by the flag and the people’s bourgeois unwillingness to resist force, micromanaging the status quo and stamping out anything opposing it. Unlike the rest of his fellow superhumans, Superman is still at large—but only because he is on the US government’s payroll.
For decades, virginal nerds have been arguing over who would win in a showdown between Batman and Superman. Recently it has been fascinating to watch fewer and fewer relate to Superman and more to Batman. This says something about our culture. Like the conservative establishment of today, fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way” isn’t enough anymore.
Modern culture, or anti-culture, as it should more appropriately be called, shuns truth. “Justice,” as it is defined today, has been reduced to “virtue signaling” and guilt tripping. And what exactly is “the American way” anymore?
Superman™ versus Superman
“You sold us out, Clark. You gave them the power—that should have been ours. Just like your parents taught you to. My parents taught me a different lesson—lying on this street—shaking in deep shock—dying for no reason at all—they showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.”
In Angus, George C. Scott says “Superman isn’t brave. Superman is indestructible, and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.” Perhaps Superman is, in fact, a perfect description of modern America. For the past century, Americans have had the privilege of being the big kid on the block. Geographically we have the protection of the world’s two largest oceans. However, for the first time since perhaps the War of 1812, America is beginning to taste nonexistence. Victory, and the spoils of war, have defeated America. For so long Superman had the comfort of knowing no one posed an immediate threat to his existence.
Once this changes, he doesn’t know what to do. How was it possible for mighty Rome to fall into oblivion while the tiny Jews, persecuted and bounced around through history, are as old as history itself? Why is Europe, at its height of scientific discovery, succumbing to the barbarism of a bunch of brown goblins who haven’t moved past the Middle Ages?
When you don’t know suffering you won’t be ready for it when it arrives.
Miller’s reinvented Batman, however, is a superman in the Nietzschean sense—beginning as a disaffected Gothamite, by the end he transforms into more than just a man. Unconcerned over the well-being of the status quo and democracy, as societal order breaks down due to nuclear detonation by the Soviets, it is Batman, with the “Sons of Batman” (former disaffected youths to whom he has given purpose) at his command, who takes the reigns of authority and declares “Tonight, I am the law!” as Gotham is consumed in fire and chaos.
Earlier, despite his highly weaponized, and expensive, equipment, Wayne couldn’t even defeat a brute gang lord. Now, a spiritually awakened Batman is taking on the most physically powerful threat on Earth, and wins in the showdown that made the “Superman vs. Batman” debate exist in the first place. When Superman fan boys bellyache that “the only reason Batman could beat Superman is because Batman is willing to do what Superman isn’t,” they are conceding that Batman is more powerful. Power is the ability to change, to force, to will. It doesn’t matter how much intelligence or capital you have, if you aren’t willing to use it what good are you?
Batman, having proven the establishment’s illegitimacy by cleaning up their country better than they ever could, forces the ventriloquists to bring out their mightiest puppet, the Man of Steel, in a last-ditch effort to stomp him out once and for all.
Gone are the days of punching Hitler in the jaw.
In that climactic street fight, Superman rips Batman’s helmet off, stripping away his masked identity and exposing his human identity to the world. No longer does Batman need a mask. Bruce Wayne is of no more value—there is no longer anything to hide. This consummates his becoming.
The Dark Knight as the Third Way
“I couldn’t judge it. It was too big. He was too big . . .”
What we’re witnessing today in the United States is an establishment whose elites, caught up in a political paradigm limited by a bipartite party system, are finding themselves with their pants down when faced with alternative, non-centrist, third-way politics. You can choose rootless multiculturalism on the Left or rootless globalism on the Right but nothing else. Until recently, this has been the paradigm of the age.
The Dark Knight Returns is sprinkled with panels of television broadcasters arguing over the exploits of the recently resurfaced Caped Crusader. For some, talking heads and citizenry alike, he is a menace to the established order—an “outdated fascist reactionary.” To others he is a patriotic Minute Man of sorts, restoring Gotham to its status quo. But like the Alt Right of today, he is so much more than this. He is a revolt against the modern world altogether and all its bourgeois insecurities. And as he learns by the end of the novel, he must “bring sense to a world plagued by worse than thieves and murderers.” Batman is in a spiritual war—first within himself, now the world, and in order to change the world, just as his spirit was reborn in the cave, his flesh must be “reborn” to take on the world. Batman was good while it lasted, but like all life, it must either die or evolve.
By the end, Batman realizes that there is more wrong with the world than street crime. The problem with it is the world itself, and in order to reestablish a sense to its madness, the only solution is to let go of this life and, as Jack Donovan might say, start the world. Batman won the streets by defeating its leader. He must win the world by defeating its leaders as well.
When it comes down to it, that’s what makes the Alt Right so vital. Conserving the status quo is no longer sufficient—for the status quo does not belong to us anymore. It belongs to the Last Men and spiritual rejects. If we are to win, we must refuse to accept death, no matter how glorious it may be, as our end game. We must instead reaffirm life and order, toward a rebirth.
By the end, no longer is Bruce Wayne awaiting a good death. No. There is no future in death. He, as a superman, is in search of a good life—a life void of mediocre leaders, a life where heroes will once again roam the skies.