Thursday, November 20, 2014

'Carrie. She's perfect' - A Tribute to Robin in the 'Dark Knight Returns'

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Since leaving university I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of being able to read as widely as I can – to read anything I want and form my own ideas on it. I’ve come to the graphic novel quite late compared to a lot of people – but then it is overlooked by so many others. Over the last four or five months I’ve read Maus, Persepolis, Watchmen, some Amazing Spiderman and now the Dark Knight Returns (1986, written by Frank Miller and illustrated by him and Klaus Janson) and they’ve really opened my eyes. You’re missing out on a lot if you write off/ignore graphic novels.

I was shocked by how dark, gritty and just important many are. I’ve become very interested in the hero figures, and anti-heroes. As I’ve mentioned before, my dissertation was on the potential for female hero figures in dystopian lit – and I’m kind of bringing that to my readings of superhero stories. I’ve just finished the Dark Knight Returns (DKR) where Frank Miller gave us a female Robin – Carrie Kelly. So this is a little tribute to her role in the story. 

Carrie is pretty awesome in DKR.

She becomes older Bruce Wayne/Batman’s inspiration. She is perhaps the single thing that drives him on. This thirteen year old girl gives him hope for the future. With DC and Marvel you might be more used to a 'kick-ass heroine' or anti-hero like Black Widow, Catwoman or Talia – a kind of classic femme fatale. 
Carrie is refreshing. She’s (thankfully – since she’s meant to be thirteen!) not sexualised – she’s comparatively androgynous – but she equally doesn’t fall into the extremes of the categories of nerd, plain or sexless. With her fiery red quiff, thick but stylish glasses and self-purchased Robin outfit, she parades her independence and not her gender. Interestingly, the media and police in the story simply assume that she is male – calling her the ‘Boy Wonder’ (former Robin’s were known as this) – Carrie doesn’t care, it is her actions that matter. All we know of her parents is that they are hopelessly distracted by drugs and virtually non-existent in Carrie’s life; she has to be self-reliant at a young age. 

Carrie is kind of special. Batman has often threatened to fire his Robins at the slightest sign of disobedience, He warns Carrie on multiple occasions but never, in this case, actually follows through. He respects her individuality and recognises her essential spirit and integrity.

She is an awesome Robin because her actions make a huge difference. She saves the Dark Knight on several occasions and plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of the city. Batman absolutely trusts and relies on her.  
Saving Batman
She learns quickly and intelligently but also uses her own initiative. There’s no need for romance (again, she’s thirteen) of any kind. If anything, Batman becomes a kind of surrogate father but without inhibiting her independence or establishing himself too forcefully as ‘dominant-male’. This aging man and thirteen year old girl see each other as equals.

Here is a woman - albeit a very young one - who is ever active, ambitious, not distracted by boys and proudly wears an outfit traditionally worn by a male character. She is no damsel – if anything, Batman is the one who often needs to be saved (I should mention I haven’t yet read Dark Knight Strikes Again. I know her role changes slightly there). 
'Boy Wonder'; while Batman calls her the gender-neutral 'soldier'
I loved the Dark Knight Returns. It is brilliantly dark - full of interesting societal issues and novel ways of portraying them. I would recommend it to anyone – even if you’ve never picked up a comic or graphic novel before and know nothing about them. There are some great characters – unique kinds of characters which aren’t necessarily getting coverage elsewhere. Miller and Janson delight in the ugly and warped, in outcasts and mutants; and fans of dystopian literature would certainly enjoy this work. There are strong dystopian elements – with an old, grey-haired/future Batman feeling the limits of his body as well as that distinct nightmarish reality of Gotham City itself. We see Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Catwoman/Selina Kyle as they haven’t been seen before – old, trapped, used, abused – with an overarching sense that something’s been lost, something’s gone wrong – what’s become of these heroes? What has society driven them to? What have they allowed themselves to become? There's no idealism here. While super men and women of old have withered and faltered, the future is in the hands of the young. 
She's young, she's smart, she's brave
In the darkest night, it’s a thirteen year old girl, stepping into the shoes of boys before her, who shines brightest. 

I’d love to hear from people who have read this work and have any others to recommend based on what I’ve taken from it! 

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