Along with the news that Frank Miller is writing a fourth installment for this Dark Knight series comes the question — just how much is Frank Miller involved with Dark Knight III: The Master Race?
The answer might not matter to some fans, who might just be pleased that Miller at the very least supports the DC follow-up to his legendary work (particularly after the lack of Alan Moore's support when DC published Before Watchmen in 2012). With Miller's name officially gracing the cover with a "co-writing" credit — and the famed writer/artist actively promoting the series and showing up at a high-profile convention panel — his exact level of creative involvement may be less important than the fact he's clearly excited to see it published.
Yet Miller's announcement that he's planning a fourth installment — a solo finale for a series that was formerly said to be ending after the third volume — has brought attention to the seemingly different accounts about the level of his creative participation in Dark Knight III.
Although co-writer Brian Azzarello has stated that he sat down with Miller and discussed the story before he ever wrote anything — and even honored Miller's idea for the provocative title of the series — Miller himself has called Dark Knight III "Brian's version."
There's even some question about how much Miller knows what Azzarello's writing. Earlier this week, Miller told Newsarama, "I'll read what Brian's doing, and I will respond to that [in a fourth volume]" — a statement could be interpreted as sounding somewhat detached from the new series. Miller also told Vulture that Dark Knight III "was not my call! That was generated by them. But my call is the fourth one. It's got me all excited again, so I wanna get back to it."
What could be perceived as Miller distancing himself from the creative process (while still clearly endorsing the project) doesn't seem to totally jive with previous accounts of Dark Knight III's creation. DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee told people attending the Dark Knight III panel at New York Comic Con that the idea behind the story was something Miller introduced to DC.
"About three years ago, Dan DiDio and myself [met with] Frank off and on," Lee said. "He wanted to get back to his primary passion, which was comic books. And he had an idea for this story, which was really building off of what he set up in Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again, and really was an expansion of that universe."
Lee said Miller wanted the story to be about the "passing of the baton" to Carrie and Lara, and that after Miller described the story, DC was "sold."
Azzarello said he was called by Lee several years ago and told that Miller was interested in visiting with the writer about the project. DiDio followed up in 2014 and helped clear Azzarello's plate so he could work with Miller.
"I went over to Frank's studio. We talked about this story. And it sounded like this was going to be a pretty fun project," Azzarello said.
That statement about visiting Miller's studio to work on the story is supported Scott Snyder's interview with Newsarama about his early involvement with Dark Knight III.
"I was invited to be a part of Dark Knight III pretty early on," Snyder said. "Me, Brian, Frank and a couple of artists. Now, Brian and Frank had a real rapport from their history together. Also, the work was extremely intense, and that required going to Frank’s studio and talking to him daily about it. Having two young kids and having the workload that I have… well, I realized that while I was invited to help them do it, I wasn’t going to be doing them any favors being a part of it. … I couldn’t make the commitment needed to be a really helpful part of the project where Brian could. He had the relationship with Frank that was far deeper than in the way I knew them, and I really felt like bowing and letting them do it would make it a better book."
Yet Miller said — in the same New York Comic Con panel cited above — "This is not my conception. This is Brian's."
Miller told the panel audience, "Brian is now expanding on the storyline that I introduced, but these are DC's characters and remain so and it's their world. So all I can say is they picked the perfect team.
"I couldn't be more thrilled and I'm just dying to read it."
The seemingly differing accounts might be just a matter of perception by Miller and DC - perhaps an attempt by Miller to promote a colleague above himself - but the mixed messaging is out there to be analyzed by fans.
Of course, a major publisher listing a big-name co-writer that isn't really doing much writing is not a new phenomenon. Marvel famously did it on Secret Warriors with Brian Bendis and Jonathan Hickman (with Bendis telling Newsarama "I'd actually rather read his version of this book than mine") to Nick Spencer later taking the "driver's seat" in his collaboration with Hickman on Avengers World.
So how important is Miller's level of involvement in Dark Knight III? Maybe not that important at all, with readers as excited as Miller to read it. Of course, the real answer may come when Dark Knight IV gives readers a view of how Miller intends to finish the story on his own.
Newsarama was unable to reach DC Comics for comment on this story before publication.