Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Dark Knight III: The Master Race" #1

It's been a while since we last saw this gritty, rather odd version of the Dark Knight. It's one that films have been trying to capture, and possibly will. It's one that most comic fans are familiar with, and one they me happy to see returning...sort of. 

Technically, we last saw this version of the Batman in Frank Miller and Jim Lee's All-Star Batman and Robin, but, since that won't ever get a definitive ending, we last fully saw him in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, written by, of course, Frank Miller. Frank Miller, if you aren't aware, has been more miss than hit with his recent work, but was absolutely legendary in the comic industry prior to this century. 

He brought back Batman in The Dark Knight Returns and re-imagined his origins in Batman: Year One, one that would affect the all-important Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan. He was essential in bringing a darker tone to the "Daredevil" staple of books, too. Needless to say, his overall career has been more hits than misses. Still, this is 2015, and one of his more recent works was the universally-hated Holy Terror, which is anything but holy and is certainly terrifying. 

So you can imagine that when it was announced that we would get a third installment to his "Dark Knight' saga, I was a little less than excited. Sure, Brain Azarello was on the project, and his latest outing with Batman, "Batman" #44, was one of the best comics of this year, but I was just afraid that we would have Miller's odd art and fingerprints all over it. I only got slightly excited when Miller almost outright said he had little to do with this project. 

Outside of a production standpoint, though, I wasn't sure what direction this book could take. Superman and Lara were planning to take over the world, Batman was nowhere to be found, and the heroes were pretty distrusting of each other. So, like, how was Batman supposed to stand against Superman and Lara, both super beings and both resolved to take down the Earth? 

But, I decided "what the heck" and got the first issue anyway just to see what it was all about. May as well read one issue, what's the harm in it? 

And before anyone asks, no, I'm not reviewing the other half of the book dealing with the Atom. In the printed versions, it's merely an insert, but in the digital version (what I have) it's placed as the second part of the book, yet it's also treated technically as a second comic. So, while it does have some implications on the events of the main book, I'll treat each issue individually. 

And without further ado, let's take a peak into the third--though apparently not final like promised--installment of the "Dark Knight" saga! 


The cover is, well, boring. When you consider how this is supposed to be the triumphant return of Batman, his big third-coming, this cover is sort of underwhelming. It's him being all brooding--with humongous arm muscles I might add, sheesh that looks unhealthy--and there's no color except for the name of the book. It's just bland is all. Imagine not knowing the legacy of this book and seeing this. There's no hook to it. 

Our story begins, presumably, in the Batcave, staring at the Batsuit before someone swipes it away. 

As you can see by the narration caption, our clever writers are trying to be hip and cool with their texting, but I just have to wonder if people really do text like that? Like, has anyone really ever said "seen" as "cn"? I'm not judging if you are, I'm just wondering if this is real or if Brian Azarello is just trying to be cool and, as usual for people trying to date something, fail? Because, seriously, this is dating it. 

Also, I'm left to wonder where in time we are now. Obviously The Dark Knight Returns was set in a future following the death of Jason Todd. Okay, so, what, ten or so years ahead? Given that Jason Todd died in the late 80s, we'll put it that the 1980s TDKR is set in future 90s, maybe 2000s, land. But then, it jumps ahead a mere three years for DKSA, and now another three for TDKIII. So, really, are we just back in the late 2000s? 

You know what, I don't know, and I don't think I want to care. The concept of time in comics is something I should know is something you just...avoid...

Anyway, we follow our texter, a young male, as he is pursued by the police before Batman arrives and pummels the cops. Oh, and might I mention the painfully obvious commentary on police brutality toward young Black males? Look I'm not really one to speak on it, obviously it's bad and something needs to be done about it, but what the hell is that doing in a story about an old fart running around in tights pretending to be a bat? Yeah, we need to address these things, but as we see--albeit as part of more of the blatant social satire--the only punchline at the end of this scene is how people react. It has something to do with Batman, sure, but, ah, I'll just get right to it. 

Wait, so, Michael and Kelly relocated to Gotham? Wait, so, this IS current? AAAHH TIME?!?!
People are freaking out on TV that Batman is beating up police, and bringing up the recent, as I said, police attackings against youth. It isn't like these "Dark Knight" stories haven't gone into this before. In TDKR there was commentary on the Cold war and in DKSA there was commentary on the state of the media. But all this really does is date the story. How relevant is TDKR nowadays because of its partial focus on the Cold War? In ten years, when these problems are (hopefully) resolved, we'll look back on this and merely think, "What do Michael and Kelly have to do with Batman?!"

Heck, I'm thinking that now! 

Also, what? Are these people acting like there is zero police corruption in Gotham? That's basically the reason Batman came back in the first place, to get things back to (somewhat) the way they were! Agh. I just hope that this actually ends up being relevant to the story. Probably not. 

It mostly gets carried out by Commissioner Yiddel, who has to deal with various media outlets how she'll respond to Gotham's vigilante problems. But, really, what problems are there?

Is the scene we saw at the beginning, where the kid is being chased and Batman saves him, taking place days before? If it doesn't, then, this appears to be the first time someone has been in the Batsuit for three, the kid says that, which is why his friend doesn't believe him. So, when they speak about vigilantism, they're really talking about one event, the one last night. I get that there has to be a press conference, but that's not what was said, that's not the big issue being addressed. 

Wanna know how relevant it is anyway? 

Next page:

Yeah! Couple of dudes out in the wild fighting a minotaur! Because when you think Batman, you think of social satire and minotaurs. 

Anyone wanna tell me what's changed so far? 

If you haven't guessed already, this is all taking place in the Amazon, where Wonder Woman currently resides. Her dialogue is being vague about a "him" and how he would never be afraid of anything, how awesome he is. While the dialogue captions don't change color, we can now assume that this is Wonder Woman, and we can now assume that whatever commentary that was in this book, can now be thrown the heck out of here. 

Well, first, let's just get a first glimpse of our pal, Wonder Woman. 

Oh heck yeah! Princess of the Amazons gonna kick some minotaur behind! Wait, what's that on her back? 

Oh you have got to be kidding me! A baby? Seriously, Diana? You would carry a baby strapped to your back, by, what, yarn? Sure that kid is tightly wrapped in there but what about all that shaking and leaping and potential brain damage is being done to this kid? Yeah, you're a real badass in the rain staring all cool and crap, but what about your kid? What about being a freaking mother?! 

If she doesn't have the baby on her back, this scene is actually pretty cool. It's Wonder Woman defending Themyscira from a threat, doing her duties as a princess. But when you consider she's putting her infant in direct danger? Lame. 

Oh, but let's not forget the crowning achievement of all this. That person she's speaking about, the one who taught them? Yeah, it's Superman. And yeah, it's still stupid. 

Wonder Woman is idolizing Superman. If she weren't already hooking up with him, it'd be obvious how bad she wants to. And it's stupid. Wonder Woman can have love interests, obvious, but this is really bad. Apparently, without Superman, she would be nothing. She would lose her way. Sure, why not just outright spit in the face of empowered women? Urgh. 

Anyway, Wonder Woman returns to Themyscira with her child, preparing to go train with Lara, her other child with Superman last seen in DKSA, before she discovers that she has actually retreated back to where Superman has last been spotted. And, in fact, he isn't really in too great of shape. 

I'll give the book credit for one thing: continuity. Yeah, last time we saw Lara she was ready to take over the world with Superman. Here, she refers to humanity as 'ants.' Does that make up for how stupid her character's subplot with Superman is? Oh, not in any conceivable way. In fact, it sort of makes it worse. 

While this is her father and obviously a daughter should care for her father, let's all remember that there was some sort of odd, weirder affection she had toward him. He isn't just a father, he was something a little more for her. Again, she idolized him. Why can't Lara do her goals on her own? Why can't Wonder Woman focus on her own goals to protect her paradise? 

Because they're women, and they need a super man to guide them! Neither character has had any progression from when we last saw them. And you thought that would be impossible. Ha! In fact, you could even argue that Wonder Woman has managed to go backwards as shown in the treatment of her son. She treats him like a warrior, when we all know Wonder Woman is an incredibly caring figure. But, still this is the new Frank Miller Batman universe, so crazy is the new normal. 

Like I said before, Brian Azarello might be writing this, but Miller's fingerprints are clearly all over this, almost like he were the pre-editor. Then again, this is only the first issue, so things have time to change. 

One final little interesting bit shows the miniaturized city of Kandor...which I thought was set free last time so what the heck, dish out that comment on continuity. 

And we're not even done yet! Actually, things do get better from here...mostly because the characters stop talking. 

Back in Gotham, the police pursue a fleeing Batman. He almost gets away from them but he decides to turn back and try and beat them to a pulp. However, there are simply too many and he undergoes a serious beat-down until Yiddel shows up, where we see Batman isn't so...well...

So, yeah. Guess it's not Batman anymore guys. Good thing that's not the title of the book! 

And we're luckily not kept waiting too long to find out who exactly is beneath the mask, as our comic ends with Carrie Kelley being unmasked and revealing that Bruce Wayne is sort of kind dead. 

Well, uh, that's a surprise. I'm actually quite satisfied with this turn of events. Old man Bruce was getting slightly grating and while I'm sure Bruce will return by book's end I can't imagine that this won't have serious implications for the remaining superhuman community. You know, like the totally-relevant subplot of the Amazons or Lara. 

I think it's the art that salvaged this book for me. Andy Kubert was our artist for the issue--there'll be interchanging artists for the series--and he did a pretty good job of doing various characters and their designs. Most of them are kind of awkward looking in the first place and so he has little to work with there, so kudos. His art is refreshing compared to some of others own art, as well as some of the previous artists he's worked with. It's a good mix of the newer art styles as well as melding Miller's older stuff. 

But it really isn't enough to keep this book just barely above average, if not just average. In my first read-through, I thought it wasn't too bad. But getting to go through again and analyze it shows that this isn't really the brand-new, exciting adventure we were looking for. Carrie Kelley being Batman--somehow bulking up insanely over three years--is indeed an interesting development and there is a decent mystery as to how Superman was put on ice, but the random commentary in the beginning, annoying degradation of Wonder Woman, and remaining silliness of the plot regarding Lara's quest to subdue humanity still bogs the book down. 

Hopefully it'll get better with time, or we can just look to Batman and Robin: Eternal as the new, good Bat-book worth reading. 

Next week: more Doomsday! :D

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