The Dark Knight Returns has been called the prime example of how a Batman story should be. It changed the public view of Batman from the Adam West camp to the dark, brooding vigilante that became so popular among fans. Frank Miller was called a genius and became a pop culture icon for his ground breaking work on The Dark Knight.
Fifteen years later Frank Miller created a sequel called The Dark Knight Strikes Again. And it was a jumbled mess at best, and just a crappy uninteresting story at worst. And since then Frank Miller’s writing and artistic ability has only dipped in quality, and he has become a source of mockery for his more recent work. (Anyone who had the misfortune of reading Holy Terror can attest to this).
But, now, after some time Frank Miller is back at DC with another sequel to TDKR. The Dark Knight III The Master Race is billed as the end of “The Dark Knight” stories. (At least until Miller writes the fourth one.) However, Miller is not alone this time. Comics veteran writer, Brian Azzarello is co-writing the script, Andy Kubert is penciling, and Klaus Janson ink the “three-quel.” Despite Frank Miller not being completely in charge, the news of this book’s release met online criticism due to Frank Miller’s recent work.
However, not only does DK III issue 1 succeed in being a cohesive story, but in my opinion it is one of the better comics to have come out this past year.
The story takes place sometime after the events of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Batman is an outlaw from the authorities again, and heroes seem to have gone into hiding once more. The narrative has a lot of intrigue and follows multiple characters throughout this world. We get a glimpse of Commissioner Yindel responding to the return of Batman, a glimpse of Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter, Lara, discovering the shrunken city of Kandor, and a glimpse of Wonder Woman fighting a hybrid between a Minotaur and a Centaur. Each one has unique struggles, and interesting perspectives about the world they’re in. The book surprises by having really strong female characters that aren’t the stereotypical female action hero that is a parody of itself sometime. They’re certainly more complex and interesting than most of Miller’s female characters of recent years.
There are some questions raised about the world we’re introduced to and what has happened since we last saw these characters, but like any pilot episode the writers are smart enough not to give away all the details, and keep some things to raise intrigue levels up. So it feels all right that we’re in the dark about certain things. However, questions definitely need to be answered sooner than later.
The story definitely has the same classic Miller ideas and story beats, but it feels like Azzarello took charge on the dialogue and the pacing of the story. For example: there’s a two page spread that invokes the classic TDKR talking heads bit. It’s only contained to those two pages, but it works well because it invokes the constant stream of news through the internet and network news programs. There’s also a clever twist on the use of slang, which Miller made famous in the TDKR, with texting.
The art is some of the best on the market now. Andy Kubert’s pencils have dynamic images and show awesome action. The colors have a similar muted quality from Miller’s earlier Dark Knight work, they allow for darker shadows and backgrounds while highlighting the characters. Kubert’s artwork (along with Janson’s inking) certainly creates a wonderful homage to Miller’s classic artwork, but it also is its own unique design. One of the best parts about the artwork is that all the characters look unique and different. There’s no one body type they all conform to.
The art in the book isn’t clouded by a lot of text, which is great. It allows the artwork to show not tell and create the mood in the story. The minimal text of the story also doesn’t distract us from the action scenes. There are a few, but the book isn’t constant action, and a few quiet moments in the book. There’s a particularly great moment with Ellen Yindel contemplating her choices and The Batman at the bat signal.
This book is fantastic, it’s not perfect, but it’s very entertaining and has a lot of intrigue to the story. It just needs to fill in some of the gaps sooner than later. Now some might complain about the 5.99 price, but let’s think about it for a minute. The book is printed on wonderful smooth paper, has been fantastically bound and stapled, has no advertisements, is thirty-two pages long (which is longer than the average comic) and comes with a free twelve page mini booklet story. That’s a good deal, certainly better than what Marvel has been charging for comics lately.
Oh and speaking of the bonus story:
BONUS REVIEW Dark Knight Universe Presents The Atom #1
The first issue of DK III came with a free copy of a tie in story featuring Ray Palmer. (Which is a pretty novel idea actually. Shorten the tie in books and give them away with the issue. But I digress). Ray is contemplating the actions of the Justice League, and his own life as a superhero. There’s an action scene at the beginning involving lizard creatures that’s pretty entertaining, but for the most part it’s a slower paced comic that ends with Lara bringing the city of Kandor to Ray Palmer. This issue stands out by having a notoriously awful cover drawn by Frank Miller, but Miller drew the inside art and it’s actually pretty good. Nothing outstanding, but all the characters look dynamic, and the backgrounds shine very well. It’s definitely worth reading as well, as it gives us some more information about some of the other characters as well.