Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9
By Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson
The final chapter in the third installment (or fourth if you count All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder) of Frank Miller’s dystopian Dark Knight world finally arrives and it will no doubt leave readers divided or at least with mixed emotions. It’s a book that takes one step forward, but two steps back in some ways. Considering the elite team behind the title, it’s a little disconcerting this how the finished comic and, ultimately, the series concludes…
There are two deus ex machina moments that absolutely break the logic and suspension of disbelief of the story. The primary antagonist, Quar, and his Kryptonian acolytes prepare to unleash their final wrath on the world, but Batman has an ace up his sleeves: bats. Yes, he uses bats, not unlike what is seen in Batman Begins. You might be willing to give a comic latitude, but it feels as if they had such a massive and major adversary that they wrote themselves into a corner. In earlier issues, they dispatched several Kandorians in a powerful and worthy fashion, which in retrospect would have been a better payoff if saved for the climactic final showdown. Instead, readers are given the sonar solution…
The other machina moment is perhaps the most egregious of the two, in terms of impact on the overall Dark Knight storyline. Superman swoops in to handle a situation as Batman narrates the showdown, realizing that the Man of Steel had been holding back all these years. Incorporating this into the series makes the emotionally-charged, iconic fight between Batman and Superman in TDKR lose all its impact and significance…it’s canon now folks. This is a Batman book, but the writers seem to elevate Superman at the expense of Bruce. He even says, “Turns out I’m still the student.” This is a clear callback and rebuke of the Dark Knight’s narration during the mud fight with the mutant leader. This may be Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s way of humbling their egotistical, angry interpretation – humanizing him, but it was executed poorly in these moments.
What is strong, refreshing and, quite frankly, the highlight(s) of this issue is how the creative team have made the development of Carrie Kelley and Superman’s daughter, Lara, into the next generation of heroes the backbone of this series. They really come into their own in this particular issue, as they should. The two have the potential to be great characters and an equally iconic duo in that universe. That’s probably why themini insert comic (Action Comics #1) is far more enjoyable than the core book. It had rhythmic, poetic writing, but it showed the dawn of where this world could go and it has so much potential. Having Bruce regain his youth, seemed like a cheap conceit and probably would have been more impactful if he had passed away, but if he resigns to being the mentor figure as Batman Beyond brilliantly depicted (they also handled Bruce/Lazarus pit conundrum far better than in this storyline), then the narrative could be cooking with real fire!
The art throughout these nine issues has been consistently top-notch. Andy Kubert emulates Miller’s style beautifully, but still makes it his own. Frank Miller had a unrefined grit to his Dark Knight books, but Kubert is much cleaner, while implementing the familiar sharp shapes/outlines and unfinished background characters. Klaus Janson’s inks further highlight that extremely well and cements the transition from Miller to Kubert. These two along with the unsurprisingly genius color work of Brad Anderson deliver art that makes readers take their time, absorbing all that is depicted in the panels on every page. The use of silhouettes and shadows throughout the issues could be a masterclass unto itself. The colors were so crisp and brilliant, especially the red and orange hues used in this book. This art team is able to take the aforementioned poor narrative beats and fully realize the scope and gravitas intended by the writers. The oversized panels and full-page make full use of the real estate to convey these moments masterfully. They are actually the saving grace of the poor writing.
The book ends with a setup to continue the story that screams money-grabbing scheme, but to be honest, I’d be interested in it. Though, only if it focuses on Lara and Carrie. They’re the future literally and figuratively. This is the last issue, so the audience is pretty much pot-committed at this point. Pick it up and finish the story; just know that it may not live up to expectations one would hope for a tale/property of this magnitude and notoriety.