TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
RELEASED: November 25, 2015
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
The Dark Knight Returns really shouldn’t have had a sequel, much less two sequels.
I know that’s too much to ask in the modern era. We simply have to go back to the well with everything. Watchmen had to have a bunch of prequel stories, we had to do another Sandman, and now we’re putting Frank Miller and Batman back together. Because, you know, that worked so well last time…
Actually, Miller doesn’t have a lot of say on Dark Knight III: The Master Race. Given what Miller has said on the record, he’s firmly in the backseat for this one. Apparently Azzarello is in the driver’s seat, and Miller is more an adviser than an author. If we must drag Dark Knight out of retirement, that’s a good decision. His classic works notwithstanding, Miller’s descent into incoherence and mediocrity has been well documented.
DKIII is set three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as Batman has re-appeared in Gotham City. As such, both the criminal element and the news media are up in arms. Under pressure to take action is Police Commissioner Ellen Yindel, who initiates an aggressive police response. But things regarding the Batman are not what they seem…
This issue, as expected from a first chapter, mostly serves as a table-setter for things to come. We establish Batman’s return, re-establish Gotham City and Miller’s trademark depiction of the news media, and also set up where Wonder Woman, Superman, and their daughter Lara are. We get a cliffhanger in the end involving Carrie Kelley, which opens the floodgates for speculation about what’s really going on with Batman/Bruce Wayne, and whether there’s a larger plan being enacted.
The most intriguing element in this issue is the art, pencilled by Andy Kubert, with DKR inker Klaus Janson and colorist Alex Sinclair. Miller himself drew DKR, and DK2 with far less success. But now we have Kubert and his colleagues trying to maintain a certain consistency with Miller’s style, but also display their own strengths. Kubert’s line work is cleaner, and less busy than Miller’s ever was. But at the same time, there’s a certain grim and moody tone to things that’s very Miller-esque. This is especially true when we see the battle scene with Wonder Woman. We see a lot of deep black, and there’s a great shot of Wonder Woman’s eyes in under the shadow of her headgear in the rain. The team also does great justice to Miller’s rendering of Lara.
Miller has taken a lot of heat over the years for the oversexualization of his female characters. So the fact that most of the characters in this issue are strong, proactive women likely serves as proof of Miller’s reduced involvement. He’d likely have jumped at the chance to draw Wonder Woman or Lara provocatively. But this departure is definitely a positive. Now isn’t the time for cheesecake. Evidently, it’s time for fighting cops…
Indeed, this issue delivers on the classic Frank Miller theme of Batman vs. the Police. Near the end of the issue, we get a bloody fight between Batman (sort of) and the cops. But there’s a stark contrast between the cops we see here, and the ones we saw in Miller’s last Bat-book, All Star Batman & Robin. In that book, the Gotham City Police are depicted as sadistic rapists and pedophiles with badges. In this book, they occupy a gray area that reflects how they’re often portrayed in a post-Ferguson world. The issue makes a veiled reference to modern-day police backlash via another Miller trope: Parody of television news media. A stand-in for Bill O’Reilly references the police having “enough on their plates with all the latest protests.” Still, seeing cops who aren’t Jim Gordon portrayed in a sympathetic light is another considerable departure from Miller’s usual narrative. Again, this is a positive.
Interestingly, contained within the issue is a miniature issue starring Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The Atom. That’s kind of a cool little gimmick, considering the title character. Ironically, one can argue we learn more about the story to come in Dark Knight Universe Presents The Atom #1 than we do in the main issue. We actually find out who “The Master Race” is. Miller does have the pencil here, and while his figure-rendering is highly questionable, his work on Palmer and Lara’s faces is fairly solid. Also, Alex Sinclair’s colors pop really well.
The cover on the other hand…
This is the Frank Miller we’ve come to expect in recent years. Look at Superman. He’s blocky, his proportions are weird, the line work is overdone, his legs are stretched out but the bottom of his left boot is somehow facing the camera. And that face is…what is that face? At the risk of going low brow, this looks more like an elderly man struggling on the toilet than the Man of Steel.
DKIII is worth a look, at the very least because of Frank Miller’s status as an innovator for Batman and his world. It might be worth sticking around for, given the involvement of Azzarello and Kubert. A Batman story that’s written and drawn by Miller in the 21st century is scarier than it is intriguing. But a story that takes some of Miller’s ideas and shapes them into something that’s coherent and not offensive? That might be interesting. At this point, it’s too soon to tell. But this issue is a solid first chapter.
Images from comicbook.com.
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