Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

It Was a Dark and Stormy Knight

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 27th, 2015

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 and Dark Knight Universe Presents: The Atom #1
Writers: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello
Pencils: Andy Kubert & Frank Miller
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colors: Brad Anderson & Alex Sinclair
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artists: Kubert & Janson (regular edition)/Too many to list (variant editions)
Editor: Mark Doyle
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $5.99 US

I’ll be honest — I really enjoyed the inaugural issue of DK2, the first wholly unnecessary sequel to Frank Miller’s landmark The Dark Knight Returns, but subsequent issues saw the storytelling fall apart. Not only did it pale in comparison to the creative achievement from which it flowed, but it just wasn’t a good comic book in any sense. Miller’s subsequent forays into the super-hero genre have disappointed as well (*cough* Holy Terror *cough*). So when Dark Knight III, with its unfortunate subtitle “The Master Race,” was announced, I had no interest in reading it, even with writer Brian Azzarello attached to it. And then I wrote an essay about Jessica Jones, and it got me wanting to write about comics again. The site’s been dormant for months, but I’ve got so many words building up in the tips of my fingers, I just had to let them out. Reading Dark Knight III seemed like something topical to keep things going.

The good news is that DKIII isn’t terrible. It’s fairly clear and it’s even somewhat accessible if one isn’t all that familiar with The Dark Knight Returns. Mind you, I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t read TDKR wanting to read DKIII, save for perhaps some random white supremacists who could happen upon the book and be drawn in by the subtitle. While DKIII #1 continues the trend of exploring DC heroes as myths in yet another climactic endgame, it’s a rather mediocre comic that fails to say anything new about the icons populating its pages.

It’s been years since the Batman had disappeared yet again, and almost predictably, the world began to fall apart in his absence. The first time around, it was the criminals who ran amok in Gotham without the Dark Knight. Now, it’s the police, drunk with power and awash in corruption. Reports start to surface that a familiar caped figure has shown up again, and the Batman’s rumored return sets climactic events into motion yet again.

Andy Kubert offers a passing version of Miller’s style from the original Dark Knight book here, but it doesn’t quite capture the same gritty quality. Kubert’s own style is absent, really, so the end result is that the reader gets a poor man’s Miller and a poor man’s Kubert. Ultimately, no one will be satisfied by the visuals offered here. If anything, it spotlights the strength of Miller’s seminal Batman work, and the complexities and maturity he brought to the imagery, layouts and so much more. Kubert’s efforts pale in comparison, but how could they possibly have competed?

I’m struck by the fact that all of the key characters in this opening chapter are women, but for the most part, they’re women who have been torn down, defined or driven by men in their lives. Commissioner Yindel, instead of the confident, capable cop we met in The Dark Knight Returns, has been transformed into a rather pathetic figure. Carrie, instead of becoming her own woman, instead allows her mentor’s identity to replace her own, to replace who she is. The new Supergirl yearns for a connection to a man who seemingly abandoned her and the world rather than one with the powerful, wise and nurturing mother who’s still in her life. The one exception is Wonder Woman, who stands out as the only hero in the story thus far, striking down monsters, protecting the innocent and finding time to show love and tenderness.

If the seemingly endless list of variant covers available for this comic book didn’t make it clear, DKIII is definitely a business venture and not an exercise in storytelling. Oh, there’s a plot awaiting us, certainly, but there’s little hint of that plot to be found in the first issue. Perhaps that’s why I felt there was a somewhat accessible tone to it, because there’s really not that much to access.

The inclusion of a related story in an included mini-comic struck me as rather unusual, and it piqued my interest somewhat. It’s also noteworthy because it actually features artwork by Frank Miller (accompanied by inker Klaus Janson). While the much-discussed cover, featuring Superman and the Atom, features a more exaggerated version of Miller’s distinctive style, the interior artwork is far less experimental in tone. Instead, Miller and Janson’s collaboration is surprisingly tame. Perhaps it was the Atom’s spotlighted that made it so, but I got a subtle Gil Kane vibe from the action sequences with the lizard. The backgrounds are painfully lacking, and overall, the artwork again felt flat and, at best, ordinary.

The story in the booklet, such as it is, feels rather padded. The narration in the Atom’s voice makes him seem like one of the most boring heroes there is, and despite the character’s accomplishments and abilities, his entire attitude here is focused on building others up and belittling (heh) himself. He has a role to play in the larger story of The Master Race, clearly, but I suspect he’s more of a plot device than an actual player in the drama.

DKIII is something of a buddy cop movie — not in terms of plot or genre, but from a creative standpoint. Azzarello is the young (OK, youngish), brash cop partnered with the weathered and cynical detective, and let’s be honest, Frank Miller is too old for this shit. He’s just two days away from retirement, fer Christ’s sake. Whether he’s reluctant to give up the badge and gun or DC keeps thrusting them back in his hands, either way, it’s time for the gold watch. 5/10

Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.

2 Responses to “It Was a Dark and Stormy Knight”

  1. Mike Says:

    I agree with your overall assesment of DKIII. I liked it well enough for a nostalgia hit, but so far, it seems like a marketing campaign.

    P.S. I’ve missed your reviews – hope you continue!

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Mike. My plan is to keep at it, circumstances permitting. I just need to give myself a kick in the proverbial ass from time to time.