Nietzsche contra Superman: An Examination of the work of Frank Miller

  • P Dace School of Philosophy and Ethics University of KwaZulu-Natal Durban, 4041, South Africa


This paper investigates the work of Frank Miller, particularly his Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, in light of Nietzschean aesthetics and social commentary. A graphic novelist, and thus nominally an entertainer of the masses, Miller uses the comic medium to challenge, aesthetically and intellectually. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns explores the struggles of an ageing Batman to redefine the relationship between the dictates of the government and his own will and capacity to control his environment. Through text and image, Miller emphasises the personal impotence of those agents of order who are working to restrain Batman, and the essential similarities between Batman and the criminals he fights, both of whom exist outside of that social order. Quintessentially Nietzschean themes – sickness and health, self-created and imposed identities, and irresolvable conflict between the true individual and society – recur throughout the work. Miller's work is triply subversive. First, it subverts generic expectations that the superhero will uphold the social order; second, it both challenges and supports Nietzsche's contention that art was the province of the noble singular artist and a product of ‘high culture', rather than of the masses; thirdly, it repositions Nietzsche within popular culture, subverting his expectations of his reception. This phenomenon of at one appropriating and challenging Nietzsche makes Miller an instructive example of an alternative way in which we can confront Nietzschean ideas about art and life.

South African Journal of Philosophy Vol. 26 (1) 2007: pp. 96-108

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eISSN: 0258-0136