***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for DKIII: The Master Race.***
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
In Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3, the table is set for a battle of epic proportions. Heroes against Villains. Kryptonian against Kryptonian. Even father against daughter. The fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance.
But, um…can I just ask a few questions before the fighting starts?
Now released from the Bottle City of Kandor, the bizarre and sinister cult leader Quar and his seven children are wreaking havoc on Earth as only Kryptonians can. They give the world three days to surrender. With no other choice, Bruce Wayne and Carrie Kelley seek out Superman, who is in exile at his Fortress of Solitude. And when he finds out what his fellow Kryptonians have done, the Man of Steel will not be happy?
At the end of issue #2, we finally see Bruce Wayne. He’s mostly as we remember him, only he now walks with a crutch attached to his right hand. On the very first page, Bruce talks about how his body has worn down, and “I can barely walk.” This development is very believable, as we know how much punishment Bruce put his body through over the years.
But here’s my question: Just how able-bodied is Bruce Wayne these days? There’s a frustrating inconsistency in Bruce’s presentation thus far that I’m hoping is rectified in future issues. Obviously he’ll always have a certain physical strength. But near near the middle of the issue, we see him trudging through deep snow toward Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, using a sledgehammer in place of his crutch. A short time later we see him swing the hammer at full force. Then at the end of the issue, he’s back on the crutch. So what’s the deal? What’s the balance between Old Man Bruce and Batman? He talks like he’d be a liability to Carrie in a fight. But he’s bound to get physical at some point, right? He is Batman, after all.
Also, what’s the deal with Superman? When the story started he was simply frozen over. Is he in some kind of prolonged meditative state? How is it he’s just been sitting there for years on end?
Still, after two issues of build-up, Azzarello and Kubert succeed in making Superman’s return feel like a big deal. Practical or not, that shot with the sledgehammer (shown right) is pretty cool. As is the moment when Big Blue finally rises from that chair. The character doesn’t have his usual iconic, American feel here. Rather, we have a sleeping giant that has awakened to find something very angering, very offensive, and very personal. To Kubert’s credit, that first shot of an awake Superman feels very much like a Frank Miller Superman, even down to his proportions being a little bit blockier.
On the other hand, the Bruce Wayne we see here isn’t necessarily consistent with Miller’s recent work in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman & Robin. Miller’s Batman work has always been noted for its grim tone. But as the years went by, his Dark Knight became much angrier. All Star in particular featured a much more vengeful, rage-filled Batman. At times he was practically heartless. But in our opening scene, we see a softer side of Bruce. We’re reminded that he cares for Carrie, and that he actually believes she’ll one day be better than he ever was. He worries about being a liability to her in a fight. This is how we know DKIII is an Azzarello story, and not a Miller one. Modern-day Frank Miller stories were sadly devoid of scenes like this. It’s very refreshing.
That’s not to say Miller’s fingerprints aren’t on this book. At one point, one of Quar’s children swallows a seed of some kind and then commits a fiery suicide, destroying Moscow in the process. This, combined with Quar having multiple wives and being part of a religious movement, seem to hint that there’s a little Holy Terror in DKIII. That’s rather uncomfortable to think about.
The media satire continues in this issue. It’s distracting at times, but least its placement in the issue makes sense. We see the likes of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Wolf Blitzer, Bill O’Reilly, and even the hosts of Fox & Friends commenting on the destruction of Moscow, and pondering Quar’s demand for surrender. Analyzing the role media plays in our culture is a trademark of these Dark Knight books. But we’ve reached the point where, unless something new is brought to the table, it’s become more grating than insightful.
Our mini-comic this time around features Green Lantern returning to Earth to assess the threat. But when he runs into Quar’s wives, things don’t go well. It’s actually kind of brutal what happens to him. And unlike our previous forays with The Atom and Wonder Woman, I’m not sure how this plays into the larger story. One can argue it helps establish Quar’s wives. But we already knew they were Kryptonian, and thus capable of mutilating human beings. So what’s the point? John Romita Jr. helps Miller with the breakdowns, but it doesn’t help with the overall quality of the art. Miller is still Miller, for better or worse.
DKIII continues to have a coherent narrative. You’d think that would be a given for most stories, but considering what we’ve seen in Miller’s recent Batman works, it’s worth noting. Andy Kubert’s art is also in sync with the tone of The Dark Knight Returns, while still maintaining its own identity. That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Thus far DKIII is by no means a masterpiece. But even at $5.99, it’s worth a purchase. Perhaps for its significance to the fanboy subculture if nothing else.
Image 1 from batman-news.com. Image 2 from dccomics.com. Image 3 from comicvine.com.
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