This is the first graphic novel to be reviewed on Flying Houses, but (pseudo-oeuvre rule.....I mean, genre rule!) I have read Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, and Horror Hospital Unplugged by Dennis Cooper. "Horror Hospital Unplugged" was included in short story form in the collection Wrong, and though I did not review that book, I read it shortly before this book http://flyinghouses.blogspot.com/2008/04/userlands-new-fiction-writers-from.html, which inspired me to start Flying Houses. So, it is not unreasonable to assume that Flying Houses will start to offer more reviews of graphic novels, because wow, they can be a lot more fun than straight up fiction.
I couldn't get into Jimmy Corrigan as much as I could Horror Hospital Unplugged. Both were depressing. But JC was just kind of boring to me, whereas HHU contained all the insanity of Dennis Cooper's other books. However, I recognize that JC is a work of art, and that Ware is clearly going for something different than your typical graphic novel (though I cannot really say I am an expert on the genre, by any stretch!): it's not really plot-driven, a lot of it is just extraordinarily elaborate art, content is sort of minimal though there are interesting forays into the history of Chicago--I can't really remember what it's about? He has a sister, and their father is dying or something? I can't remember. Of course, I remember HHU is about a punk band with a singer who is gay and seems largely modeled off of Nirvana--or at least a parody of Nirvana-imitation-bands.
The Dark Knight Returns is my favorite of the three. I believe I have mentioned on Flying Houses that I am planning on making a shot-by-shot remake of the original Batman, the 1989 version directed by Tim Burton, and I have been studying the film, and the special features on the DVD in order to understand how best to make a low-budget version. The Dark Knight Returns and Killing Joke are both mentioned as major influences on the "darkness" of the film, which dissociated themselves from "Batman the Comedian," played by Adam West, but not from the original spirit of the comics created by Bob Kane.
Bob Kane said he loved these two books, and Killing Joke will be reviewed shortly (as soon as I buy it). I devoured The Dark Knight Returns-started it on Monday and finished it on Tuesday. It's about 200 pages long, but densely packed with action. Maybe I didn't study the illustrations closely enough to understand what was going on towards the end, which is my chief complaint with the book.
The richness and complexity of the work, however, is what makes it classic. It was actually assigned to me as required reading for a course I took at NYU called "Writing New York," which, obviously, studied the concept of New York as represented in literature. And Gotham City is, basically, New York in this. There are references to the Twin Towers of Gotham, there is a reference to Bay Ridge, and there are a few other obvious signs that Gotham City is New York City.
This book takes place in present-day Gotham City, which was 1986, and Ronald Reagan (or at least a character very similar to him) is President, and plays a somewhat prominent role in the story. And this book is deeply political, and complex. It's sort of funny--I asked my older brother last weekend why Superman and Batman hated each other. He responded that Superman was a Republican and Batman was a Liberal.and a lot of this book suggests that.
I am going to avoid the temptation of spoiling the story for you, except to say that Batman is 55 years old, and 10 years retired, Commissioner Gordon is 70 years old and weeks away from retirement, Harvey Dent/Two Face is about to be released from Arkham Asylum, a gang called The Mutants have overrun Gotham City with crime, and there's a female Robin.
I won't reveal anymore, because I had such a good time anticipating what might happen in this story. Let me just say it is action-packed and beautifully written. It doesn't lend itself easily to excerpting, so I will not attempt any. Sometimes it is hilarious. It is also pretty vulgar and gruesome. It's definitely not for little kids.
I love Batman more than ever and want to read all the best comics about him. I loved it, and highly recommend it, except for those that are easily confused or don't have the patience to figure out what order to follow the panels in. I would only say Book Four is the one that really started to lose me. It was awesome, but I sort of had no idea what was going on.