The Dark Knight rises again

Frank Miller re­turns to the Dark Knight uni­verse with a lit­tle help from his friends.

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Dark Knight III: The Mas­ter Race Writ­ers: Frank Miller and Brian Az­zarello

Artists: Frank Miller, Andy Ku­bert and Klaus Jan­son

Pub­lisher: DC Comics

THE Dark Knight Re­turns (DK1) is such a leg­endary Bat­man story that Frank Miller him­self could not repli­cate its suc­cess when he re­vis­ited it 15 years later with the abysmal The Dark Knight Strikes Again (DK2) in 2001.

So per­haps it is a good thing that Miller de­cided to get some help from some of comics’ best creators for the re­cently-con­cluded Dark Knight III: The Mas­ter Race (DK3). Help­ing him out with the script is Brian Az­zarello (100 Bul­lets, Hell­blazer, Won­der Woman), and with the art­work, Andy Ku­bert and Klaus Jan­son, both of whom have pre­vi­ously worked on the Caped Cru­sader.

The re­sult is a much more stream­lined take on the Dark Knight uni­verse, a far cry from the messy chaos of DK2, and a nine-is­sue story that ac­tu­ally ex­pands the scale and world of Earth-31 (the Earth within the DC Mul­ti­verse that The Dark Knight Re­turns is set in).

The writ­ing is tighter, the script is more co­her­ent (com­pared to DK2, at least), and while the art­work still bears Miller’s sig­na­ture style, it has been given a much more pol­ished look by Ku­bert and Jan­son. The gor­geous splash pages are there but are bet­ter in­te­grated into the story, giv­ing a sense that they serve a more in­te­gral purpose than merely pro­vid­ing di­rec­tor Zack Snyder with pretty visual images to put into his DC live-ac­tion films.

Three years after Bat­man de­feated Lex Luthor and Bri­a­niac with a lit­tle help from his (su­per) friends, the Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne have seem­ingly van­ished. Then, he sur­pris­ingly shows up out of nowhere and is cap­tured by the po­lice, led by com­mis­sioner Ellen Yin­del. Upon un­mask­ing the hero, how­ever, she is shocked to dis­cover that it is not Bruce, but his for­mer side­kick, Car­rie Kelly, un­der the cowl.

All this hap­pens in the first is­sue of this com­pelling tale, in which the story of Bat­man seems but a sub­plot within a much big­ger cri­sis. The “Mas­ter Race” in the ti­tle refers to the Kryp­to­ni­ans from the minia­turised city of Kan­dor. After an un­sus­pect­ing Ray Palmer (the Atom) un-minia­turises them, an army of the su­per-pow­ered Kryp­to­ni­ans, led by the fa­nat­i­cal Quar, emerges, hell­bent on con­quer­ing Earth.

Of course, Bat­man isn’t about to let this bunch of Su­per­man wannabes take over the Earth, so he dons the cowl again and leads the charge against them.

As men­tioned, Bat­man may be cen­tral to the plot, but he cer­tainly doesn’t hog the spot­light. The fact that Car­rie is the one who first dons the Bat­suit in this story should give you a pretty good hint of what is to come.

In DK3, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bat­man and his for­mer Robin is fleshed out even more, and you re­ally get a sense of the deep bond and un­der­stand­ing both men­tor and ap­pren­tice share.

Equally com­pelling is the fam­ily dy­namic of Su­per­man, Won­der Woman, and their daugh­ter, Lara. DK2 merely in­tro­duced them and gave them spe­cific roles to play in the story.

DK3 adds a whole lot more to their back­story and ups the emo­tional stakes by hav­ing Lara ques­tion her al­le­giances. Should she side with her equals, the Kryp­to­ni­ans, or help her fa­ther de­fend the puny hu­mans, who don’t seem to de­serve her help?

Given that the main pro­tag­o­nists are Kryp­to­ni­ans, it’s in­evitable that Su­per­man will fea­ture pretty promi­nently. From the beat­ing he gets at the hands of Bat­man in DK1 to his gut­less pan­der­ing to Lex Luthor’s whims in DK2, Su­per­man has never been par­tic­u­larly su­per in the Dark Knight books. So it is re­fresh­ing to see him fi­nally get a chance to let loose and be the hero for once.

Oh, and if you think Won­der Woman was badass in her movie, you should see her here – al­most the en­tire is­sue #8 is ded­i­cated to her lead­ing the Ama­zons against the Kryp­to­nian army with a baby strapped to her back. And to make it even bet­ter, there are also wor­thy, well, much wor­thier cameos by the likes of Aqua­man, Green Lan­tern, Flash, and The Atom in this one.

By the time the dust set­tles, you do get a sense that Miller has fi­nally re­deemed him­self after the DK2 de­ba­cle, and also pushes his uni­verse for­ward.

The way the se­ries ends cer­tainly lends it­self to fu­ture sto­ries set on Earth-31, and after this, I’m in­ter­ested in read­ing more. They may or may not turn out to be as iconic as DK1, but hey, all we ask is that they don’t turn out to be as bad as DK2.

Now THAT’S how you make an en­trance! — Images: Dark Knight III: The Mas­ter Race

It is re­fresh­ing to see Su­per­man fi­nally get a chance to let loose and be the hero in a Dark Knight book.

Now THAT is a Bat­mo­bile de­signed to strike REAL fear into the vil­lains’ hearts.

Think Won­der Woman was badass in her movie? Wait till you see her in DK3.

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