A Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2 Review – The Death of Bruce Wayne…?

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
AUTHOR: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Eduardo Risso.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: December 23, 2015

***Miss issue #1? Boom.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

One of my favorite Batman stories of all time is Batman: Knight of Vengeance, a three-issue miniseries by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso that tied in with Flashpoint. I won’t spoil anything, but the third issue hits some heavy emotional notes that Azzarello isn’t necessarily known for. But it made for an amazing story that in terms of quality, surpassed Flashpoint itself. So you can imagine my pleasant surprise when a moment in that same vein occurred in Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2. It’s not nearly as good, but to see Azzarello go there again is really cool, and could be a vital ingredient to making DKIII the redeeming element in the Dark Knight saga.

This sophomore issue sees Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The Atom, make a catastrophic mistake that will likely cost millions of people their lives. Meanwhile, Carrie Kelley has been taken in by the Gotham Police. She insists that Bruce Wayne is dead. But is it true? And if so, how? Is this truly a world without Batman?

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2, Bruce Wayne death, Andy Kubert

We spend a lot of time with Carrie and Commissioner Yindel in this issue. Via their conversation, we get a flashback to when Bruce Wayne allegedly dies. And as far as Batman death scenes go, this is one of the most touching and impactful ones I’ve ever read. Bruce doesn’t go out in a blaze of glory saving the world. He dies in a hospital bed as Carrie sits next to him. It’s here that he confesses something heart-breaking. Bruce tells her he’s always taken some comfort in the fact that his parents were together when they died, and that he always thought he’d die alone. With her hand in his, Carrie tells him he’s not alone. Moments later, he slips away.

Setting aside this scenes place in the overall story, there’s a tragic beauty in the idea of Bruce taking solace in his parents having each other when tragedy struck. And his fear of dying alone makes all the sense in the world, not just because of what happened to his parents, but how he’s lived his life as Batman. Even at the very end, part of him is still that scared little boy in the alley. That’s a perfect character moment, and a great illustration of how much Carrie has come to care for Bruce.

DKIII #2, Carrie Kelley, Andy KubertAnother such illustration is the awful beating she takes when we open the issue. While the death scene feels like a Brian Azzarello moment, this feels more like a Frank Miller moment. It’s very much reflective of the tone he’s set in previous stories. It’s pretty intense, particularly with the blood. And I don’t think I’m out of line when I say Carrie being a young girl doesn’t help matters. But it fits within the context of the story they’re telling. I don’t exactly love it, and it definitely pushes the boundaries of good taste. But I can’t say I was offended. If they start making a habit of graphic scenes like this, that’ll be another story.

On the plus side, Carrie gets some retribution late in the issue with some help from the Batmobile. Of course, in this universe the Batmobile is more like the Bat-Tank. Given what happens to the Batmobile as she’s trying to escape, and how we eventually see her positioned in relation to it, it’s tough to suspend your disbelief. It doesn’t take you out of the issue, necessarily. But it’s a head scratcher.

Much like last issue, we have a mini comic-within-a-comic, this one starring Wonder Woman and Lara the Supergirl, as we explore their mother/daughter dynamic. Given what happens here, along with the events in the main story, it becomes pretty obvious where things are going with Lara. It definitely doesn’t bode well for mom.

Wonder Woman vs. Lara, DKIII #2, Eduardo RissoDuring what’s supposed to be a training exercise between Diana and Lara, we see Diana is still carrying her infant son in a papoose on her back. It was weird in the first issue, and it’s still weird here. But whatever.

Given his history with Azzarello, Risso has as much right to this book as anyone, His work here isn’t as commanding as Kubert’s, but he gives this confrontation the weight and emotion it needs to have.

This issue succeeds in upping the ante from its predecessor, both in terms of character development and setting the stage for the primary conflict. The journey hasn’t been entirely smooth thus far. But compared to what Miller gave us in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman & Robin, this book looks like friggin’ Watchmen. There’s still hope that the Dark Knight saga can be redeemed.

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from comicbooknews.com. Image 3 from popoptiq.com.

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A Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 Review – Miller Light

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1, Andy KubertTITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
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…

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1, Andy KubertThis 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…

Dark Knight III: Master Race, protests, Andy KubertIndeed, 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…

DKIIIMini900_560f23c5ded7d5.10162826This 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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A Flashpoint Review – The Start of Something New

Flashpoint (2011), cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Flashpoint
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
COLLECTS: Flashpoint #1-5
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASE DATE: October 26, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Flashpoint had the tall task of being the transition story between the old DC Universe and the new one. Ten years from now that will be what people remember this story for. But if you take that element away, Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert still manage to put together a fun, intriguing story.

Our tale begins when Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash, wakes up at his desk and realizes the world has changed, and not for the better. While his previously dead mother is alive and well, Barry’s powers are gone, and his wife Iris has no idea who he is. The world is caught in the middle of a war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s kingdom of Atlantis. Superman does not exist (at least as we know him), Thomas Wayne has become Batman to avenge his dead son, Hal Jordan is not Green Lantern, and the superhero community is at odds on how to handle the war. Clearly, someone has tampered with the timestream. Now, with help from Batman, Cyborg (who is viewed as America’s greatest hero) and a few other heroes very different from the ones he knows, The Flash must regain his powers and fix the time stream before the changes become permanent.

Barry Allen, Batman, Flashpoint #1, Andy KubertObviously the scope of Flashpoint is huge, which is why it spawned 16 spinoff miniseries’, and a few one-shots. I opted out of many of them for money’s sake (Batman: Knight of Vengeance was the most notable exception), but it’s still fun to explore this altered world through The Flash’s eyes. Flashpoint has a Back to the Future, Part II vibe to it. This alternate Batman makes a great supporting character, sort of the cynical Han Solo to Barry’s ambitious Luke Skywalker.

Oddly enough, one of the elements that makes Flashpoint endearing is that at five issues, it’s shorter than your average DC event comic. Blackest Night was eight issues, Final Crisis was seven, Amazons Attack was six, Infinite Crisis was seven, etc. The main Flashpoint story doesn’t linger for too long, and that’s a good thing. It keeps the story moving at a decent pace, and keeps things fresh. It’s still an epic event, but it’s not as drawn out, and at times contrived as some event comics can be.

One of the keys to Flashpoint‘s success is the way it integrates the theme of lost loved ones. Barry Allen lost his mother as a child and now has her back, but in the meantime he’s lost everything else. In contrast, Thomas Wayne has lost his son, but is now desperately trying to help The Flash alter the timeline so that Bruce will live and he will die. The overall theme for Flashpoint seems to be that you just can’t have it all.

Flashpoint #4, 2011, Andy KubertThere’s also a big twist during the story’s climax that I loved. I won’t spoil it, but trust me, it’s a good one.

In the grand scheme of things, Flashpoint isn’t necessarily a fantastic story, but it’s definitely a very, very good one. The alternate timeline plot device is used effectively, the characters we meet (Batman in particular) are intriguing, and it manages to tug at your heartstrings. Johns and Kubert’s job was to get us from the old DCU to the new one, but they did so in a very entertaining fashion worthy of both their reputations.

RATING: 8.5/10

Image 1 from book hound.wordpress.com. Image 2 from comixology.com.

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A Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne Review – Get Me Back in Time

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, covertTITLE: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne

AUTHOR: Grant Morrison
PENCILLERS: Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Pere Perez, Lee Garbett. Cover by Andy Kubert.
COLLECTS: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $29.99
RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

My feelings on The Return of Bruce Wayne  are a mixed bag, because my feelings on Grant Morrison’s writing are often a mixed bag. In general, I think when he deals with stories that are smaller in scope, i.e. his Batman & Robin stories, he’s fantastic. But when his stuff explodes on to a more cosmic scale, things get needlessly convoluted.

In Return, we get a little of both. After the events of Final Crisis, as a result of Darkseid’s Omega Sanction, Bruce Wayne has been sent into the past with no memory of who he is. Throughout the story, Bruce experiences several time jumps, taking him to various periods in history. But per the Omega Sanction, if Bruce makes it back to his own time, he’ll bring about the end of the world.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1I’ve been split on the idea of sending Bruce back in time. Obviously they had to send him away for awhile so they could do the  story line with Dick Grayson and Damian becoming the new Batman & Robin. But having him be stuck in time seems a little corny to me. I don’t really want to see Bruce as a caveman, I want to see him as Batman. On the other hand, the idea of Batman functioning in different time periods isn’t a bad one, even if he doesn’t remember he’s Batman. So there were times when I found myself begrudgingly enjoying this story.

Each issue seems to examine a different aspect of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character. When he’s a cave man we see the raw, emotional animal in him. When he’s a puritan witch hunter, we see the detective. When he’s a pirate, we see the swashbuckling fighter, etc. Morrison also uses many of the traditional symbols and motifs from Batman’s world very well. For instance, the image of Martha Wayne’s falling pearls, to the small bell Bruce rang to summon Alfred in Batman: Year One. Those are done quite well.

The most enjoyable issue for yours truly was the second one, with art by Frazer Irving. Each artist is married to their issue/time period very well, but Irving’s work suits his setting wonderfully, and his colors are beautifully dreary.

The Return of Bruce Wayne #2I must admit, I’m a bit torn as to what my end verdict on this book should be. It’s received a great deal of acclaim, but I can’t muster up the enthusiasm for it that others seem to have. I understand what it was trying to do in terms of character study, and much of the art is done masterfully. The last few pages are also very well done. But in my book The Return of Bruce Wayne doesn’t measure up to the greatness of some of Morrison’s other work, like Arkham Asylum, Batman #663 with John Van Fleet, Batman R.I.P., and his Batman & Robin issues. It’s filled with some of the “Morrisonian” convolution that plagued Final Crisis, and it was a story I really just wanted to see end so we could get Bruce back where he belongs.

There’s also an inherent cheesiness to this story that I just can’t get past. At times it almost feels like Morrison got this story idea from playing with some Batman action figures from the ’90s. We’ve got Caveman Bruce, Pirate Bruce, Cowboy Bruce, etc.

Nevertheless, good work deserves it’s due, even if I personally don’t appreciate it as much as many other fans do. So I’ll be fair, if not a little generous in terms of my own opinions.

RATING: 6/10

Image 1 from amazon.com. Image 2 from doublearticulation.wordpress.com.

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