30 years ago Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns came out from DC Comics and didn’t just redefine Batman, or show a creator at the very peak of his creative powers but it gave DC Comics (along with Watchmen) their first huge success of the modern era. It also did the thing of completely rewriting how people did superhero comics which in many cases, ended up with 4th rate Frank Miller clones trying hard to emulate him and generally being total shite, and the less said about Miller’s 2001 sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the better.
I still remember being a lad working in AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow opening up the boxes from that weeks delivery seeing that brilliant cover of that first issue and thinking even then that this was something special so it’s with a cautious sense of optimistic nostalgia that I approach Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
The first thing that’s obvious is that the lighter tone of The Dark Knight Strikes Again is pretty much gone as is Frank Miller’s art replaced here by Andy Kubert and Klaus Jansen’s passable Miller pastiche.
There’s been some debate online as to how much input co-writer Brian Azzarello has in this series, and it has to be said, it certainly reads like Miller but that internal monologue style he made popular is pretty easy to replicate, and frankly in this it feels tired. From the off, it all feels, well, like a 80’s or 90’s band getting back together for a tour but the only remaining member is the lead singer and he’s sort of lost his voice.
The actual story is fairly academic as it’s about getting Batman into fights, and this achieves that, plus there’s a bit about Superman and Wonder Woman which pads things out but the main story is over and done with quickly. Nothing new or exciting happens. It is quite literally going over old ground and each page reminds me of just how groundbreaking and exciting this isn’t.
Then there’s the back up strip set in the ‘Dark Knight Universe’ starring the Atom.
This is better, but it’s still not doing anything exciting or new. It’s just another grim superhero story. We’ve seen it, and like old bands cranking out gigs on the nostalgia circuit this manages to remind you sort of what it used to be like but it’s not the same. This isn’t fresh, and in fact it drips with being a tedious marketing ply with every page.
I can’t honestly think of one thing in this that hasn’t been done better by other writers over the last 30 years and in that sense this is a shame as it’s like watching a much loved band come out singing flat every other note. It still creaks through as a read but I just wish that these talented people involved tried something new and that Frank Miller thought better of his legacy than to leave it like this all battered and torn like a used copy of Razzle rather than add something glorious to it.