Why on Earth-One would anyone consider DKIII: The Master Race an event book?
Wait, let me rephrase that question: why would anyone, aside from DC Comics’ accounting department, consider DKIII: The Master Race an event book? Even if we overlook the mixed-at-best reception of writer Frank Miller’s last two Batman comics, The Dark Knight Strikes Again and the never completed All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, as well Miller’s embarrassing ventures into filmmaking with The Spirit and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, what is so exciting about a second sequel to Miller’s beloved 1986 mini-series The Dark Knight Returns? In the twenty-nine years since its publication, The Dark Knight Returns has never ceased to haunt the character, influencing not only the main line Batman books wherein Miller’s interpretation of the character as a militaristic psychopath has tended to be the default presentation of Bruce Wayne, but also Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy and Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Miller’s Batman is simply everywhere, so what makes a new Batman comic “by” Frank Miller worthy of being considered an event?
The short answer to that question is “nothing,” and issue one — wait, I’m sorry, “book one” — of DKIII does nothing to convince me otherwise. Written by Miller and Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) with art by Andy Kubert (Damien: Son of Batman) and Klaus Janson (The Dark Knight Returns), thus farThe Master Race is nothing more than a standard comic book, gussied up in a prettier package to justify a higher price point which will likely leave most readers to want to wait for the trade collection.
Picking up three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again, DKIII: The Master Race opens with Batman seemingly returning to the streets of Gotham after a long absence, attacking GCPD officers who are chasing down (and preparing to shoot) a young black man in what is a clear reference to the shooting of Michael Brown. When photos of the incident hit the internet, it triggers a public outcry and debate, which pushes Commissioner Yindel to resume her pursuit of Batman. Elsewhere, Wonder Woman and Superman’s daughter Lara try to cope with how Superman has seemingly let himself be imprisoned in ice in the Fortress of Solitude, where a visiting Lara comes across the bottled city of Kandor with a message burned into the glass bottle containing the city: “Help us.”
On a level of pure craftsmanship, there is no question that this first issue is impressive. With Azzarello co-writing the book, many of the more problematic and slapdash elements of Miller’s latter day comic book work are kept under control, something we can all be thankful for when the book ends up tackling politically charged subjects such as the treatment of black Americans at the hands of the police. The teaming of Kubert with Miller’s long time inker Janson allows the art to evoke Miller’s art without being mere imitation, though Kubert clearly tries to capture the panel structure and pacing of Miller’s storytelling from the original Dark Knight Returns. In particular, the opening six pages perfectly capture the essence of the original mini-series while clearly addressing the ways in which the culture has changed over the last twenty-nine years.
Yet as solid as the craftsmanship is, the actual story of the comic is slight, despite the extra pages provided by the lack of ads. Plenty of questions are raised by the events of the book, but it is hard to care about any of them, particularly the final page reveal which I doubt a single reader will actually buy into. Even the Atom mini-comic included midway through the book does little more than foreshadow a future plot point that I am pretty sure any fan will be able to predict based on the conclusion of Kandor in the story and the subtitle of The Master Race. This is particularly frustrating given the brilliant pacing of The Dark Knight Returns, in which every issue was packed with story and functioned as a engaging self-contained unit while also servicing the larger story. DKIII is clearly being written for the trade, and I can imagine that the bulk of readers are likely going to want to wait until the trade collection is released next year to read.
None of this is to say that DKIII: The Master Race will be awful by the time it is done. Perhaps the creative team behind the book will surprise us and deliver a story which is urgent, engaging, and worthwhile by the end of its eight issue run. At this point, though, The Master Race reads like glossy cash-in for a company in desperate need of a hit, and it sure as hell doesn’t seem like an event book worth the time and resources that DC Comics has put into it.
DKIII: The Master Race Book One (November 25th, 2015). Published by DC Comics. Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello. Art by Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson. Colours by Brad Anderson.