Updated: Feb 3, 2020
"THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD"
Near the end of 2001, Frank Miller made his return to the Dark Knight for the sequel to his 1980's mini series The Dark Knight Returns. The original was a 4 part dark futuristic story of Bruce as an old man and was a sign of the current times in the mid 80's. With this return to his dark future story, Dark Knight Strikes Again was another sign of the times and was a little ahead of the curve on what he saw in our own futures. This series did sell very well everywhere, but did leave fans a little disappointed. After the 15 years of popularity the Dark Knight Returns had received (many magazines placed it in the top 2 best comic stories of all time), fans expected more from this. Miller's art style had drastically changed over the 15 years and many fans didn't like his newer style. His story didn't feel as epic as the first series to most fans, but I personally feel it tackled different content that most readers didn't see as being relatable to the times. Dark Knight Returns covered many things related to Ronald Reagan's presidency and the current state of mind people had at the time. It was a time where we were beginning to be afraid of trusting others. TV shows and movies were about wars and worries of nuclear or even Russian attacks. We eventually grew out of the concerns of that time, but Dark Knight Returns took many of these things and spun them into a superhero story that could stand the test of time. Superman was the enemy we knew, the next generation was completely different than the one before them, a nuke was sent that Superman had to deal with and many more things that were at the core of the 1980's concerns people were having.
Dark Knight Strikes Again itself was a sign of it's own times but with things that didn't work much with a superhero story as it could have worked on it's own without being put into Batman. It showed how people were starting down a road of technology being everywhere and kind of taking over our lives. News shows with people dressing up as superheroes to get people to watch (a parody in part to the early 2000's Naked News show) and texting with cell phones becoming normal as opposed to calling people. These are just to name a few things. At the time, it was harder to notice that Miller was sharing his own thoughts and opinions about our current state and where we were heading in the future. He just did it through Batman's eyes. This is all my own opinion on what the Dark Knight Strikes Again was about and not taken from any other resource. I feel the book is better than initially received when you can see what he was trying to tell. With America's post 9/11 state, I suspect people expected something VERY different from Miller (something more in the vein of DKR with war propaganda or something) and had he made DK2 a sign of the current state, he would have had to scrap the whole story and start over. This series was already being produced when the 9/11 attack happened so I applaud Miller in not starting over to work 9/11 into it. Give this book a shot and with the current context of what things are like now, it might change your mind. I believe it was ahead of the curve on seeing where we were headed as a society, but done in a superhero way. :)
In November of 2001, Marvel comics published a comic book that we didn't think we would ever see. They were gonna finally tell the official origin of Wolverine (prior to the Weapon X Program). They were gonna give us his real name for the first time. This book came out and was a hit right out of the gate! I sold out in the first day (also didn't help that some of them came damaged during shipping and couldn't get replaced due to the popularity of it). I had to ask my girlfriend (Kim) at the time to check the stores in Indianapolis just to try to get enough copies to fill preorders for my customers. Fortunately between the 2 of us we fulfilled all the preorders. Also at this time, the Original Xbox system was released. People would soon be introduced to the Halo franchise. This seemed to be the final nail in the coffin that was Sega's last home console: the Dreamcast.
So at this point in my personal life, things had been going fast since getting out of high school. I didn't have the opportunity to go to college as life grabbed me and didn't let go. At the age of 19 I owned my own business that I ALMOST failed at, but came back like a Phoenix. I had switched jobs from a manager position at McDonalds to an office job at the Papers and was working at both jobs, moved out of my parents house and rented my own with a friend (Greg) and on February 2, 2002 I got married to my lovely wife Kim. During the following week while we were on our Honeymoon, Pernell and Riggle manned the store for us so we could take an actual vacation.
In April of 2002, Dreamwave Productions started publishing Transformers comic books set in Generation 1. The art looked amazing for a Transformers book and the story was fun. This was another one of those instances where we felt like we were being listened to for ideas (LOL). This series was hugely popular. At this time, ANY comic series using nostalgia was a hit. It was unfortunate when years later it was revealed that the artist/owner of Dreamwave was using a studio of artists to draw for him and taking all of the credit. Now this was common back in the 30's and 40's but in 2002, this was NOT what people wanted. We wanted the pencil art to be from 1 person and not others whose art was claimed to be someone elses. When this news broke, Dreamwave folded and the Transformers comic was moved to IDW publishing years later.
Following the huge success of the new comic book, Botcon came to Fort Wayne, IN on July 26, 2002. Greg, Riggle and I decided to go to this con to check it out. Greg had made a computer generated image of Soundwave for the computer portion of art contest. I made the picture (seen here) for the black and white portion of the art contest. I later colored it quickly in Photoshop. On day 2 we returned to see how we did. Greg won 1st place in his category and I won 3rd place in mine. For me this felt great. I was up against a professional who drew for the box art of the toys (who came in lower on the list), another picture of the dinobots (2nd place) done with charcoal that was about 3 times the size of mine and a 4 foot by 6 foot rendition of George Perez and Alex Ross's cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths with Transformers instead (1st place). I felt pretty accomplished with this. If you have the old Rhino DVD box set from Season 1, there are extras from this Botcon. It shows both mine and Greg's art on the video and even shows the both of us at one point watching a CGI cartoon someone made for the contest. It's pretty cool to be on the extras for that box set.
It was now leading into December of 2002 and Batman was about to get the biggest story arc to happen in years. After DC Comics bought Wildstorm from Jim Lee, they signed him to an exclusive contract. They hired Jeph Loeb (writer) and Jim Lee (penciller) to start the Batman "Hush" story arc in issue #608. This was another mystery series from Loeb in the Long Halloween style (which he is very good at). The mystery was: Who was Hush? With each passing issue sales kept increasing. My Batman sales were at only 4 copies a month before 608 and by the end of Hush I was up to 30 subscribers on the series. The hype of this series was growing with each and every issue. Some customers were coming in the day after each issue to get my opinions on what was going on in the story (I won't post spoilers of that here). I will say that I predicted a good portion of the story before it happened (except for the twist at the end). One of my regulars (Karl Schultz) was there every Wednesday to purchase Hush and then every Thursday to discuss theories. It was a fun time to be reading this story each month and have time in between each issue to speculate (before the internet was running spoilers everywhere). It was a very different experience back then. This was the first time in a long time where we saw customers just flooding in to get caught up on a story after hearing about it from friends. Fortunately for me I was ordering heavier than I really needed to at the beginning because knowing Loeb's work and Lee's amazing pencils, I had a feeling this was gonna be huge and took the gamble of over ordering. I was lucky enough to have made this decision as this allowed me to accommodate almost every person who came in after it started. This is one of my all time favorite Batman stories and I highly recommend reading it, but make sure to mention to me that you are doing it from this article. I will start you somewhere else and work you to Hush. I've learned over the years that if you start Batman with Hush, it's nearly impossi