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In my last review, I held off tackling The Master Race on a thematic level, simply because it was a bit too early to tell where exactly Millerello were heading. But with the second issue wrapping up our story’s first act, now seems a good time to start breaking down what exactly this story appears to be about. Two issues in, I also feel more confident assessing the series’ strengths and shortcomings. DKIII is at its best when it’s building on the groundwork set by its predecessors and at its worst when it’s stuck trying to mimic instead of expand on them.

First, the good news.

This is a smart book.

As I’ve said before, there’s no doubt the creators of DKIII scrutinized and labored over just about every detail of this series. Actually, this can be kind of distracting when coming across passages trying just a little too hard to be clever. “How did she become obsessed with a man driven by obsession?” wonders Commissioner Yindel to herself early in the issue. And then there’s this whopper just two pages later: “Three years ago, a toad of a man croaked that he knew what was best for humanity, and nearly bested humanity’s best.” Seriously, guys…take it down a notch.

But I digress. Where this intelligence really pays off is in its thorough understanding of the two volumes that came before, how they relate to one another, and what the next logical step is in their thematic progression. It’s been there from the beginning really, but it was easy to miss. For all of Batman’s arrogance and audacity, his inner thoughts would at times betray doubt, regret, and even despair. In the climax of Dark Knight Returns, even in his moment of triumph, with Supes down for the count after a brutal brawl between the two former allies, Bruce Wayne’s inner monologue is filled with disappointment.

“We could have changed the world…now…look at us….”

It’s there again in its sequel DK2, during a heated exchange between Bruce and Barry Allen, the Flash.

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This time there is a desperation in his words, even panic. The Dark Knight books all celebrate Batman as an uncompromising force of nature, distinct from his peers for his lack of super abilities, armed instead only with a brilliant mind and unrelenting dedication. But just below the surface they ask a question, one that seems to gnaw at Wayne himself in his darkest moments…

What if Batman is a failure?

We all remember Bats taking down the Mutant Leader, or with his boot on Superman’s neck, but the often overlooked resolution of DKR is Bruce learning to change his tactics when he finds his showy dramatic signature to be lacking in long term results. Likewise, DK2 is all about the triumph of youth over their elders, from Carrie Kelley stepping out of the sidekick role to lead a new generation of vigilantes, to the offspring of the Justice League emerging to do what their parents never could – defeat the likes of Lex Luthor and Braniac…permanently.

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Issue two brings all of this to the forefront in an understated and effective scene as a dying and disorientated Bruce Wayne weakly turns to Carrie and asks, “Did I matter?” She answers in the affirmative, but the reader is left to wonder. Indeed, if even Batman and all his super friends couldn’t put an end to the never ending battle, what hope is there? What’s the alternative?

More on that later. Unfortunately, the issue takes a break from these meaty questions to give us…

A Boring Action Sequence.

“Boring” is one of the two worst things anyone can say about a piece of art, so I invoke it now with a heavy heart. But for many reasons, Carrie Kelley’s escape from the GCPD does not work. Here are three of them:

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1. We’ve seen this all before. The imprisoned character who nevertheless seems to be in complete control has been a genre staple since at least The Silence of the Lambs, and just a few years ago it seemed like every big action flick had to have one. There was The Avengers, Star Trek into Darkness, Skyfall, and most notably The Dark Knight. This sequence in Book Two is more of the same and brings nothing new to the trope. There’s not anything particularly clever about Carrie’s escape method, no uncertainty of whether or not she’ll succeed, and, since we’re rooting for her, it lacks any sense of danger or edge that might be present if she were an antagonist, as is typically the case in such scenes.

2. It’s clinging to the past. The big showstopper of Carrie’s escape is meant to be the return of the Batmobile. It looks…just like it did in Dark Knight Returns. Actually, it looks a little worse. A bit more streamlined, simplified, and generic. It wouldn’t have much impact on someone who didn’t already have fond memories of its previous appearance in DKR. It’s a lot like the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens in that way. Personally, these nostalgia trips tend not to do much for me. Your mileage may vary, but this is a larger problem for the series as a whole. After all, a big part of what made the Bat-Tank so cool in the first place was what a departure it was from any iteration we’d seen before. Even as the narrative begins to enter into interesting and thoughtful territory, the visuals are stuck firmly in the past. This favoring of nostalgia over novelty in not just a disappointment, but antithetical to what makes the Dark Knight books so special.

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3. It’s not drawn very well. A good writer will adapt his narrative to play to his artist’s strengths. The Dark Knight series is filled with things Frank Miller loves to draw. Unfortunately, Andy Kubert doesn’t appear to share the same passions. Miller’s vehicles have a strength and authenticity to them, even when they’re soaring five feet in the air over the streets of Basin City. In contrast, Kubert’s Batmobile moves with the weight and believability of a Hot Wheel. To make matters worse, in the thirty years since its debut, we’ve seen this vehicle in motion three times – once in the Bat-Tank inspired Tumbler from the Nolan movies, and twice animated. We know how this vehicle is supposed to look and feel and move, and Kubert’s rendition just doesn’t cut the mustard.

But let’s not end on a sour note.

Instead, let’s take a look at a scene that does work and manages to hit all the right thematic and storytelling beats – the long awaited emergence of the Kandorians from their bottle prison courtesy of Ray Palmer, the Atom.

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Kubert’s Batmobile might have left something to be desired, but his double page spread of the newly embiggened Kandorians absolutely nails it. It’s a busy composition that takes a moment to digest as the eye scans the page and details gradually coming into focus. Here is a transcript of my thoughts:

Wait. Did Palmer’s machine mess up? Did he just  kill a bunch of Kandorians by accident? No wait, the living ones have blood on their hands. Oh, and that one’s holding a dead guy by the collar! So are all the living ones bad guys? Yeah, looks like it. Whoa. So did these guys ambush the good Kandorians about to be embiggened or was this a setup all along? God, I hate computer coloring effects.

Okay, besides the computer coloring thought, this gradual realization of what exactly occurred, from confusion to dread, no doubt mirrors the thoughts of Ray Palmer himself. That a single image could get you in the good Doctor’s head more effectively than any line of dialogue is pretty damn cool and an example of visual storytelling at its finest.

We’re also introduced to who will presumably be the Big Bad of the series, looking like Ganon from Wind Waker and introduced in a classic over-the-shoulder villain pose. His quirky behavior and nonchalant mass murder make him suitably menacing, and though we don’t know much about his cult’s beliefs, the subtitle of the series gives us a big clue.

So here’s where things get interesting.

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As before, the groundwork for the concept of a Kryptonian Master Race has already been established. It’s Lara who brings it up in DK2, and as Superman attempts to dissuade her, he’s interrupted by Batman who basically tells him Lara is right. “You’re using circular logic,” says Bats, “… working backward from a dumbass conclusion. Repeating whatever Ma and Pa told you without giving it a damn thought.” Indeed, despite Miller’s apparent influence on the upcoming film Dawn of Justice, the Batman we see on the page seems less concerned about unchecked power and more upset that it’s being wielded by folks he doesn’t deem worthy i.e. not him.

Take, for example, his thoughts on Green Lantern in Miller’s prequel, All-Star Batman: “Put that ring on my finger and just as a warm-up I’d send a few tidal waves in just the right directions. Knock out a few enemy fleets. Then get started on bringing some real firepower to a nasty ground war or two.” And just as Carrie Kelley succeeds her mentor, leaving Bruce off the frontlines in a more strategic role, Lara ultimately convinces Superman that he needs to take a far more direct approach in the oversight of his mortal flock.

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It’s important to note that DK2 presents this resolution as triumphant, if not a little unsettling. This is Superman asserting his Godhood and taking his rightful place as Earth’s Champion, instead of groveling at the feet of unworthy human leaders (Bats being the one exception, of course).

So where does this leave us? Well, if Millerello continue down this disturbing train of thought (and there’s no reason to think they won’t), we’ll have a monstrous, all-powerful, and downright despicable villain who also happens to be absolutely correct in his logic and methodology. And in Batman, we’ll have a hero who  knows deep down in his guts that he would be doing the exact same thing as his hated foe, if only he had the means. Personally, that sounds pretty damn cool! And speaking of similarities between our two adversaries, remember that villainous over-the-shoulder pose I mentioned before?

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See? I told ya this book was smart!

 

 

 

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Mini-Review of Mini-Comic #2
Yeah, it was okay.

 

 

More DKIII:

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