Batman: The Dark Knight – Master Race

When I heard Frank Miller was doing another round of The Dark Knight series, I was ecstatic. For better or worse, nobody does Batman like Frank Miller. Nobody. From the entertainment-plagued big-government future Gotham, to the gritty, hard-hitting superhuman punch outs, the world of TDK is a unique one. I say for better or worse, though, because DK2 was kind of a train wreck. Miller’s art went sharply downhill as style was turned to 11 and substance all but disappeared. Still, The Dark Knight Strikes Again helped separate Miller’s world from anything written for the Justice League before, and I did enjoy his portrayal of some of the characters.

A Whole New World

If there’s one word I could use to describe this third chapter it would be explosive. From the very start, we’re pulled back into this world and it looks incredible. Andy Kubert’s art on this title is a welcome improvement as he, Klaus Janson and Brad Anderson do their best to emulate Miller’s style but manage to make everything beautiful, balancing style and substance. The Wonder Woman scene in issue #1 really stands out with this incredible style being put to use (and there are dozens more examples throughout). Brian Azzarello’s contribution is less apparent, but the script certainly seems a lot more dense than in the previous chapter, and I’m glad he’s on board. The critics of Batman on the news are doing what they always do, seeming to mirror Miller’s own critics when this book was announced. And when the bad guys show up, it’s both terrifying and exciting. For the first half, this book seems to unify the spirit of DK1 and DK2, though it does favor the latter.

There’s only one problem I have with the world-building: everything seems too modern. This is my biggest problem with the book actually. There’s some great slang and text-talk in the first issue, and Carrie Kelly and the Bat-Boys still talk like kids from the mutant gang, but then we see Donald Trump and Al Sharpton on TV. Sure, the presidential cameo isn’t against the spirit of the original, he did the same thing with Ronald Reagan, but it makes the reader question what time it is. There is no Mutant gang, no computer-generated president, no Superchix (though that’s probably for the better). It’s starting to feel less like a retro-futuristic dystopia and more like an old comic creator’s view of the present after a day on twitter. Everyone’s on their phones. The police are brutal enforcers of law. This is fine if you want a critique of modern society, but in terms of continuity we’re meant to believe that this modern and oddly-familiar America developed only 3 years after the fall of a Brianiac-and-Lex-Luthor-controlled authoritarian superstate that had radically changed all of society.

Leagues Ahead

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The Dark Knight universe has finally done it. They’ve given Superman the spotlight he deserves. Miller (possibly prompted by Azarello) atones for his sins against the Man of Steel in this chapter, giving him three dimensions! Superman returns, re-ups the Justice League, and makes amends with Bruce. Diana gets a big portion of the spotlight too, making this the first book I have read by Frank Miller that actually has a well-rounded Trinity. The fact that these three are all consistently present and made relatable is a huge asset to this story. The Trinity makes the Justice League that much stronger, bringing out the good qualities of Green Lantern, The Atom, Aquaman, Flash, Lara, Carrie, and the Hawks, all of whom get their time to shine. The big three take the center stage though, and are given lots of room to draw blood and be ferocious, exactly what I wanted from this book to begin with: I love those fistfights. The battle scenes in books six and eight were amazing, and they really highlight this shift into a more trinity-centric timeline that isn’t afraid to hit hard.

And the good guys definitely hit hard. The bad guys do too, at least for the first few chapters. The reveal of the “master race” is as exciting as it is terrifying. Ray Palmer’s first encounter with our main antagonist actually made me gasp audibly, it was very potent and menacing. After that, things go downhill. The main baddie doesn’t hardly get any characterization during these nine chapters. He seems one-dimensional in his evil, there’s no exploration or explanation of his motives other than that he is a racist cult-leader. One of the main protagonists even sides with him later on, but we’re left to wonder what makes him appealing at all, regardless of any moral disposition. His lack of depth makes the social commentary that Miller was known for impossible. Is this evil force a metaphor for something in current society? If so it’s certainly not a reliable one. We do, however, get to enjoy the action-packed smash-fest that ensues after his intentions become clear to the League. The story hits a few other snags that aren’t fit for this spoiler-free review, but I was certainly left scratching my head after a couple key developments.

The collection is great, worth the buy for the hardcover, and this new format of nine issues instead of three or four really allows the reader to be immersed in the story, which lands somewhere in between the other two Dark Knight chapters both in quality and feel.

The Pros:

The Cons:

  • Superman is cool again!
  • Wonder Woman is no longer an object!
  • The Art
  • The Action
  • Style
  • Memorability
  • World seems inconsistent with DK2
  • Bad guy is one-dimensional
  • Trades lasting social commentary for hackneyed and vague observations on 2016
  • A handful of plot holes

Final Score: 6.5/10

What this book lacks in Orwellian social commentary it makes up for in spectacle. So many memorable pages and moments from this blockbuster bring the League further into Miller’s court and make badasses out of most everyone. The world of TDK is considered it’s own timeline/universe (since DC couldn’t possibly settle on one continuity) and Miller has confirmed that we will be seeing more Dark Knight soon. If you’re an avid batfan like me, this book won’t change your life or blow all the other titles out of the water, but it certainly is not to be missed.

Aside: I don’t think there’s a single kissing scene in this book in which blood does not noticeably get on both participants. Alas, symbolism is not as subtle as it used to be.

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