Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello
Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Brad Anderson, Eduardo Risso and Trish Mulvihill
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Maybe it's true what they say - maybe you can't go back to your glory days.
While the first issue of Dark Knight III: The Master Race was a punchy, kinetic return to Frank Miller's dystopic Gotham City, there are still plenty of kinks to work out with his sophomore effort. Teaming up with Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert, DK III is hobbled with the loss of Miller's defining characteristics - namely, his intensity and sense of purpose in his scripts, as well as his innovation and deliberateness with his artwork. The result is a book that feels decompressed and lightweight - two adjectives I'd never use to describe Miller even on his worst day.
Two issues in, and part of DK III's biggest problem is that its lead character is still nowhere to be seen. While having Carrie Kelley wearing Batman's cape and cowl was a fun twist for last issue, her subsequent incarceration feels like an excuse to provide exposition for The Dark Knight Strikes Again - clearly Miller has had plans for Bruce Wayne following his brutal head-to-head against Lex Luthor in the last series, but beyond a saccharine fake-out, there's little followthrough here. It just feels slow, and that's because we've now taken two issues to tell a story that Miller once would have told in the span of 10 pages.
Instead, the majority of this issue is devoted to Carrie's inevitable escape from incarceration - and unfortunately, this sequence is what makes me miss Miller's artwork even more. Andy Kubert's human figures look decent enough, but a high-speed chase featuring Batman's gargantuan Batmobile is a big swing and a miss. You can easily imagine Frank Miller's blocky shapework and dingy Gotham making Carrie's jailbreak look desperate and violent - unfortunately, Miller and Azzarello aren't writing for Miller. Kubert's artwork is thin and clean compared to Miller's rough lines, and his lack of detail for vehicles and architecture makes this six-page sequence fall flat.
Where Miller and Azzarello seem to be more enthusiastic is with the rest of the DC Universe as a whole, as the threat of the Master Race finally rears its ugly head. If you've read the first issue (or read many of the interviews with the creators online), you can probably put two and two together as to what this threat might entail, but it doesn't make them seem any less malevolent. Miller and Azzarello are most sympatico when they're writing dark, despicable characters, and watching a onetime Justice Leaguer make the mistake of his life is particularly sickening.
While last issue's minicomic gave some major hints towards DK III's overall plot, the second minicomic, featuring Wonder Woman and Supergirl, feels a little less substantial, as well. Eduardo Risso channels Miller's artwork beautifully, particularly in the way he draws Wonder Woman, with loads of callbacks to Miller's Spartan warriors in 300. (Indeed, it's only when you really look closely at Supergirl do you realize that it's a different artist drawing this book at all.) Yet beyond the simple mother-daughter rivalry going on, there's not a ton going on in this minicomic - indeed, Miller and Azzarello lay it out totally with a handful of captions, making this Supergirl-Wonder Woman sparring match feel, well, bloodless.
Maybe it's the nostalgia talking. Or maybe it's the composition of the creative team, that adding in too many compounds can turn gold into lead. Either way, this second issue of DKIII: The Master Race feels unfocused and distended, rather than the purposeful, iconic work that we've always associated with Miller, even at his most reactionary. This isn't a bad book, but when you're looking at creators with this level of skill and expertise, it's definitely disappointing to see this work, which at best can be described as unambitious. Now that all the pieces are on the board, hopefully Miller, Azzarello and Kubert can finally push forward on this larger-than-life narrative, because right now, this effort doesn't do justice to these creators' storied careers.