Comics questions -- Batman, Watchmen, Krazy Kat

So I’m taking a graphic-novel-as-literature course as part of my MA in English Lit. I’ve already read most of the works on my syllabus, and so I had a few questions about the works I’ve been reading:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: I stopped reading Batman after A Death in the Family, but reading this one reminded me why I stuck with him after I’d given up on all other superhero comics. It left me with quite a few questions, though:

How does this book fit in with the main series? I figure it must be a parallel future, because it seems to imply he quit shortly after the death of Robin #2. I’ve heard there was a third Robin in there somewhere, so I’m guessing there’s serious continuity problems if the book is allowed as part of the main series.

When is it set? Is this supposed to be the late 80s, with Batman having retired in the 70s? Or has Ron Reagan declared himself president for life, and we’re looking at 12 years after the publication date of the graphic novel? The second seems more plausible, since the politics of A Death in the Family were definitely 1980s.

Much smaller question – is it explained anywhere how Green Arrow lost his arm?

The Watchmen: Another well-done superhero work. Very good and very intelligent.

I’m guessing that the whole backstory is a conceit/parody of other stories – like what Galaxy Quest does to Star Trek – but I just thought I’d check anyway: Were there a series of comics called the Watchmen before the graphic novel came out?

Krazy Kat: We’re reading a book based on the old Krazy Kat comics. Yes, a novel. I get the impression that it’s something that really requires prior knowledge of the strip to get into – which I don’t have, really – so would anyone care to give me a quick Krazy Kat education?

Thanks in advance!

The 20-second Krazy Kat: Offisa Pupp loves Krazy Kat and wants to protect her. Krazy loves Ignatz (a mouse). Ignatz loves to throw bricks at Krazy, which she interprets as signs of affection.

Of course, the strip had many complexities beyond this (wordplay, a distinct artistic style, etc.), but most strips are variations on that love triangle.

I don’t know from Krazy Kat, but otherwise:

The Dark Knight Returns

DKR isn’t considered part of DC continuity, and only accounts for in-continutiy events up to it’s publication. Therefore, the 3rd (current)Robin isn’t mentioned, since he hadn’t come along yet.
As to the politics, in the future it is set in, the politial climate of the 80’s has been extended or recreated or some such, presumably to let Miller express his feelings about the political climate in his own time and place.
I seem to recall that it is at least implied that GA lost his arm after running afoul of Superman.


Watchmen originally appeared as a 12-issue miniseries in which Alan Moore used thinly-veiled version of (newly acquired by DC) Charlton Comics characters. The “inspirations” for his characters had long backstories and many had their own series at one time or another, but the versions used by Moore appeared only in the Watchmen series.

Watchmen was an original story by Alan Moore, but it was originally supposed to be about a small group of superheroes DC acquired from Charlton Comics in the mid-'80s. Since Moore’s stories would have essentially made the new Charlton characters off-limits for anyone else after that, he used thinly-veiled analogues to tell the story he wanted. They were:

Nite Owl - Blue Beetle
Rorschach - The Question
Dr. Manhattan - Captain Atom
Ozymandias - Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt
The Comedian - Peacemaker
Silk Spectre - Nightshade (with more than a little bit of Phantom Lady, a Golden Age heroine from Quality Comics, also purchased by DC)
Nite Owl I - Blue Beetle I (a Golden Age hero originally published by Fox Comics, and then by Charlton during the Silver Age, before the new Blue Beetle was introduced)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is considered one of many possible futures. DC has done several out-of-continuity stories over the years, but now they are conveniently grouped under an “Elseworlds” banner–things that could happen, but don’t affect continuity either way. In the real DC Universe, a third Robin was introduced around 1991, Tim Drake. He is still the current Robin in the DCU. And while DKR was an obvious product of the mid-'80s, it was supposed to be set in a future where things hadn’t changed too much.

Frank Miller came out with a sequel a few years back, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but it is AWFUL. Usually it’s impossible to get comic fans to agree on anything, but anyone will tell you to save your money and not waste your time on that series.

The Watchmen was a 12-issue mini-series. Originally the creators were going to use old Charleton heroes (Blue Beetle, The Question) but DC had plans for some of them so instead pastiches were created (Nite-Owl, Rorshach).

Krazy Kat is in love with Ignatz Mouse. Ignatz expresses his feelings for Krezy by hitting her in the head with bricks, which Krazy takes as missives of love. Offissa Pup is in love with Krazy and constantly locks up Ignatz for his brick attacks. Either one loves Krazy Kat or doesn’t get it; there seems to be very little middle ground.

A couple of pertinent Krazy Kat details not touched on above:

  1. Krazy’s gender is ambiguous. It seems to me that he/she is more often than not referred to in the strip as “he.”

  2. The strip’s setting is the desert community of Kokonino Kounty. Coconino is a real county in Arizona, and the beautiful landscapes there, dominated by huge red rock formations, are reflected in the strip.

Hit the library Hamish and see if they have 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics. Checking my copy, there’s a page and a half on Krazy Kat, listing everything posted above, and way more.

You either get Krazy Kat (and realize it’s the greatest newspaper comic strip ever) or you don’t (and don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s funny). There is no middle ground.

Despite the repetitious-sounding theme, George Herriman managed to keep fresh and funny variations on it over the years. Ignatz’s schemes to hit Krazy got more and more elaborate, and went in all different directions. There were also many strips that got away from the original theme.

The key to understanding Krazy Kat is to read each comic at least twice before you make a determination. It’s one strip that always funnier the more you read it.

Also, don’t pay attention to the changing background: Herriman loved changing them from panel to panel, even if the strip took place in one location.

I’m afraid I’m one of those in the second category.

I once came across an anthology of Krazy Kat color Sunday strips in a bookstore (was it only a Sunday strip?), and could not for the life of me see the humor in it. I’m completely baffled why it’s considered a classic. And I say this as a Zippy the Pinhead fan — someone who can certainly appreciate absurdity and surrealism.

Nevertheless I’m trying to keep my mind open. Could you (or anyone) point to a particular example of the strip, or describe one from memory in detail, and “deconstruct” it for me? Show me where the humor is? Are there double-entendres? Is the dialect itself meant to be funny (like in Pogo)?

Thanks for the answers, everyone.

Thank you. But unfortunately none of the libraries to which I have access has that book.

Biffy the Elephant Shrew, I did read about Krazy Kat’s alternating sex. My first thought was, “That’s risqué for the period,” considering he/she is always in love with Ignatz Mouse. Then I remembered Bugs Bunny marrying Elmer Fudd in the dress :smiley:

Charlton Comics – I hadn’t heard about them until just now. Did they produce anything I’m likely to have heard of?

Almost definitely not. They published what seemed like a wide variety of comics in the '60s: war, Westerns, horror, even romance. They had scant few superheroes: the original Blue Beetle (a revamp of the '40s character who was once popular enough to have his own radio serial), Captain Atom, Sarge Steel, Peacemaker, Judomaster, Son of Vulcan, Nightshade. The artist Steve Ditko, best known as the co-creator of Spider-Man over at Marvel (even though Stan Lee took most of the credit and downplayed Ditko’s contributions for years), went to Charlton and created the current Blue Beetle, sort of a cross between Batman and Spider-Man, and the Question, a faceless vigilante with a penchant for spouting objectivist philosophy during fights.

In the '70s, a company called Modern Comics (even more obscure than Charlton) began reprinting the Charlton books, original ads and all. These reprints were sometimes available in department stores, and were often multiple comics bagged together. I know at least one other publisher, either AC or Americomics, I forget which, published some Blue Beetle comics in the early '80s. Nobody knows much about any of these, but I consider myself lucky to own Modern Comics reprints of Captain Atom #83 (the first appearance of Ditko’s Blue Beetle) and Blue Beetle #1, two comics that would normally be way out of my price range.

DC got the rights to use the Charlton characters in the mid-'80s, but didn’t end up owning them for sure until the early '90s. The rights to the Charlton characters and the legal histories are mysterious to this day: though the Question and Captain Atom have appeared in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series, they are not allowed to be licensed out for action figures or other merchandising, and the cartoon producers weren’t allowed to include Blue Beetle whatsoever, perhaps due to an obscure clause of the radio show contract. I’m a pretty huge fan of Blue Beetle and the Question, so I have a real fondness for the Charlton characters and their tumultuous publishing history.

Unfortunately, deconstructionism is pretty much antithetical to Krazy Kat (and I speak as a confirmed deconstructionist, per the Verhoeven debate, which I won’t re-open here). Krazy Kat is a gestalt strip all the way.

I introduced myself to Herriman’s creation a few years ago with this Fantagraphics collection, which contains the Sunday strips from 1929 and 1930. I knew it was considered a classic, I knew my grandfather occasionally referenced it, and I knew Bill Watterson named it his primary artistic influence, so I figured it was something I ought to know about. And, to my frustration and chagrin, I spent probably the first quarter of the book utterly mystified about why it was so highly regarded by the literati.

And then it began to accumulate. The little details, the repeated motifs, and the overall sense of a highly limited variation on a single theme that, paradoxically, is nevertheless free to range all over the invented landscape: they began to add up. By the middle of the book, I was smiling on every page. By the three-quarters mark, I was chuckling. And at the end, I knew I was looking at something special, and I turned back to the first page and read it again immediately. Then I went out and bought the other Fantagraphics collections, a Herriman biography, and other stuff.

I don’t know if I can explain it any better than that. I do know it isn’t something where you can point to a particular strip and expect someone to “get it.” Any given installment relies on the total absurdity of the whole enterprise to work, which means it requires an investment of time and mental energy to really get into it. If you don’t feel like making that investment, well, hey, that’s fine, it’s your choice. And there’s no guarantee that even if you do make the investment that you’ll enjoy it, because even after all that it may simply not be to your taste.

For me, though? Pure, unadulterated genius.

(And in searching Amazon for the above, I see that they released a new collection of Sundays in December, which I don’t have yet, and the next is due in September. Cool!)

Herriman’s use of language is just slightly better than Kelly in Pogo (I go Pogo, but will admit it’s in second place to Krazy Kat), but it’s not as funny as what Kelly was going for. Krazy has a odd accent (“There is a heppy lend, fur fur away”), but that was just charm, not humor.

The best way to get into Krazy Kat is to get a collection of strips. Read each strip at least three times. Then move on and continue to read each one multiple times. The more you read it, the more likely you’ll get it.

Yes, although not directly. It’s been 10 years, but I’ll toss it up in a spoiler box anyway.

In issues 100 and 101 of the first Green Arrow series, published in 1995, Green Arrow is tricked into holding onto the dead man’s switch for a bomb that, if it explodes upon reaching its destination, will wipe out Metropolis. Superman arrives and tells Green Arrow that the only way to save his life without setting off the bomb is to amputate his arm. Before Superman can do anything, Green Arrow releases the switch, choosing to kill himself rather than become crippled. The implication is that the DKR Green Arrow had his arm removed by Superman before he could do anything about it.

One nitpick – while I have’nt read it, I know lots and lots of people who think Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is brilliant.


On the off-off chance anyone wants even more detail about this tiny branch of comic publishing history, click here.

Cliffy, did you mean you know many people who think Dark Knight Returns is brilliant, or Dark Knight Strikes Again?

Charlton Comics also did series based on the movie monsters Konga (sort of a low-rent King Kong) and Reptilicus (although they changed the name to Reptisaurus after the third issue). I used to have a lot of these before (as always happens) my parents chucked them out. No great loss, although Steve Ditko did some of these while he was still at Marvel.

They also did an adaptation of the SF novel The Green Planet and a lot of other extremely random things.

“Charlton comics give you more!”

although I never understood what they gave you more of.

Charlton is also one of 7 different companies to have done Flash Gordon comics.

Of course, this was published long after the Dark Knight Returns, and was referencing that work, rather than the other way around. The same goes for the death of the second Robin. DKR featured the costume on memorial display (now a feature of the Batcave) and an initially solo Batman, both of which eventually helped inspire DC to kill off Jason Todd.

Both Jason and Green Arrow got better.

Hamish, I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s the name of this novel based on KK?