The Dark Knight III: The Master Race
Story by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello
Pencils by Andy Kubert
Inks by Klaus Janson
Colors by Brad Anderson
Letters by Clem Robins
Review by Matt Wood
The Dark Knight III #1 is a hard issue to review because it carries so much weight. If I’m not careful, I could blind myself with the hype that DC has justifiably cultivated with its release. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is one of those legendary series that spoke to the Reagan-era audiences of its time and reinvented the Batman character in a way that hasn’t been replicated since the book came out. But this isn’t the eighties and even though this is just the first issue, the book’s views towards Batman, seem to be the same as they were in 1986. I’m not sure if it needs to be as revolutionary as its predecessor, and so far, it isn’t.
This doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. Actually, it’s very good. Frank Miller has been absent from mainstream comics for the better side of a decade, and even though he is collaborating in both the writing and the art department, the frame of the story feels like a genuine Miller comic. Andy Kubert does a fine job catching Miller’s style, and Azzarello, who likely scripted the book, did a great job at doing the same when it came to Miller’s dialogue. I think my major complaint with the book is that it feels like Dark Knight Returns without having the same impact or doing anything overly different. Once again, not a bad thing, but the hype hinders what would have been an otherwise interesting Elseworlds book.
If anything this is a testament to the comic book industry that DKR’s success helped create. One of the factors that made the first series so successful was that it came out of nowhere. It was definitely marketed different than any of its contemporaries, but compared to the various special edition formats, variants, and convention panels surrounding DKIII’s release, it was subtle.
Moving away from the environment surrounding its release and obligatory expectations, the series partially focuses on the Batman’s mysterious and violent return to Gotham. This aspect feels so much like a rushed replication of the first series that it would almost be unforgivable if it wasn’t for its last page reveal. If you haven’t had this part told to you yet, it might be worth the six-dollar price tag. It’s certainly enough for me to pick up issue number two.
The second part of the narrative focuses on Wonder Woman and her children, an infant named Jonathan and Lara, Diana and Superman’s daughter. Wonder Woman participates in a really well –illustrated fight with Jonathan on her back. During this action Lara flies to what appears to be the Fortress of Solitude’s menagerie where we discover where Superman is and why he doesn’t have an active role at this point in the story. Sadly though, that’s it. There isn’t a lot to this issue, which is definitely not something replicated from DKR. I know that comics aren’t made the same these days as they were in the mid-eighties, but where the first series sat up twice as much exposition in its first of four issues, this one barely gets the ball rolling in its first of eight. I would call shenanigans on DC’s editorial staff if it wasn’t for the inclusion of a separate mini-comic, illustrated by Miller that focuses on The Atom. I don’t want to get into that issue too much; it’s great and since it’s not a back-up, deserves its own review.
There are a few weak decisions made in the first few pages. The text conversation about spotting Batman feels forced, like an older person failing to replicate how teenagers talk. Miller’s mutants from DKR used a pretty believable fictional lingo, and this doesn’t even come close to it. There is also a double-page spread that pays homage to DKR’s use of celebrity newscasters that feels outdated. If this is supposed to be the Dark Knight story of this decade, I feel that using a more viral medium would have felt more appropriate. With Jon Stewart being retired and Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan not being newscasters in the first place, it feels like a rushed choice that is more distracting than relevant.
I have to admit, I began reading DKIII with a fair amount of cynicism. Miller hasn’t written anything in the past decade that has grabbed me and I’ve never been a fan of his Alan Moore-ish disapproval of mainstream comics. After the disappointment of Dark Knight Strikes Again and his continual failure to finish All Star Batman and Robin, I had dismissed him as someone who was once great. I was proven wrong by DKIII #1. Miller seems to have changed his opinions on the publisher and, if his presence at conventions and on social media is to be believed, is genuinely excited about the book and future projects. This is one of those instances where I’m very happy to be wrong.
VERDICT: Yes. Of course, buy it. It doesn’t live up to the hype, and I would be hesitant about purchasing the next seven isuues at $6 a piece, but this is an intriguing beginning to what might be an exciting chapter in the life of a comic book legend. As much as Miller seems interested in this project, DK2 started strong and failed to stick its landing – and his All Star Batman comic remains unfinished. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and your expectations will likely land somewhere in the middle before this is all wrapped up.