Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime and The Dark Knight Returns

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Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 1808
"My parents... taught me a different lesson... lying on this street--shaking in deep shock--dying for no reason at all--they showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to..."
-Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

The alien dark corners of a road. Little light to see by. Is it coming from the streetlamp? Or the moon? Or is it the ghostly glow of a victim that used to be a person? A trickle of blood runs down the chest, marking the killing shot. The body is naked, stripped of everything, whether those be the pearls around the neck, the wallet in the pocket, or even the clothes on the back. Despite the ongoing motion of the world, crimes such as these call for justice. Somewhere a TV is going. The reporter's words are just loud enough to be heard. "Ironically, today also marks the tenth anniversary of the last recorded sighting of the Batman"

A common street thug shot down and killed the mother and father of Bruce Wayne, inspiring the boy to become an agent of justice, like the angle in Prud'hon's Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime. When Batman retires in Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Gotham City becomes the hellhole it had previously been before the beginning of Wayne's crusade. But the Dark Knight can only watch his city be consumed by evil for so long. After ten years, Wayne takes up the cape and cowl once more to save his city and prove to a dying world that unbiased justice and order are more than just an illustration in a comic book. Meanwhile, Superman has prostituted himself out to the U.S. government in order to uphold his own fight against crime. While having good intentions, Superman becomes the government's vengeful sword, completing the scale in Justice and Divine Vengeance. 

Prud'hon paints two angles, the left one being Justice and the other divine vengeance. In between the two stands a dark triangle that creates a scale. These two forces are fighting for dominance in a flawed legal system. Before the French Revolution, the nobles ruled the courts and government, which thus were discriminated against the bourgeoisie. Now, in 1808, Napoleon rules France and the new order must decide how to treat the old nobility. Meanwhile in The Dark Knight Returns, Batman comes back into an age where the government obsesses over fighting communism in foreign lands. U.S. leaders go so far as to start a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. endangering the lives of its own citizens. Divine vengeance, the heavenly angle with the sword and the man of steel who could move worlds, blinds the people and tips the scale by the sheer belief in its own divinity. But if one could see, he would notice the killer in Prud'hon's painting wears the same shade of red as the vengeful angel does. Their mutual violence is linked. Justice gazes upon vengeance with a look of horror at what the angle has become.

The Dark Knight Falls, Frank Miller, 1986
Vengeance must be stopped at all costs or the law becomes the very thing it once tried to prevent. As Superman massacres Soviet Armies because of the U.S.'s personal vendetta, Batman reclaims a city thought to be lost. Eventually, these forces must collide. Justice takes on the supposedly "divine" vengeance, the god like man from the stars. The war with the soviets does not go well. They cannot fight off an army led by Superman so instead they drop a nuclear bomb on American Soil. Superman manages to redirect this bomb elsewhere, but the fallout still creates chaos in the streets of Gotham. Batman restores order in record time, but the U.S. government cannot have a masked vigilante showing up the federal government. Therefore they send Superman to take care of him. The two fight and Wayne recalls how the two "could have changed the world... now...look... at us... I've become... a political liability... and you... you're a joke."

The dead victim in Justice and Divine Vengeance does not smile. This is not a joke to him. This is his life and it is over. So are Wayne's parents' lives. No matter how far justice can go and horrible crime can look, one must keep justice alive in their actions.

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