Dark Knight III: The Master Race #6
Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello
Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
There are seven working defenses from this position. Three of them disarm with minimal contact. Three of them kill. And the other one… well, I can’t exactly say it hurts, but it certainly does underwhelm.
Dark Knight III: The Master Race has ostensibly been an escalation of Frank Miller’s legendary Dark Knight Returns story, bringing his gritty, larger-than-life Batman up against an impossible legion of super-powered Kryptonians. But six issues in, this first contact still feels largely bloodless, lacking the intensity and scale of DC’s previous Dark Knight exploits. This comic isn’t a bad one - it’s serviceable action above all else - but it lacks the sureness and conviction that you might expect from its impeccable pedigree.
In certain ways, DKIII #6 feels almost like the aftermath of a battle that’s barely happened - while last issue had an operatic tone, as synthetic Kryptonite rain caused these alien invaders to fall from the sky - Azzarello and Miller’s script bounces around a little too much to make a strong impact. Batman, who has felt undeniably distant through this series, gets one solid hit in that reminds you of the intensity and ruthlessness the character had 30 years ago. But as far as the Batman/Superman team-up that last issue’s cliffhanger promised, it’s largely nonexistent - sure, the Man of Steel is in the same location as Batman, as they wear fittingly Miller-esque suits of giant armor, but much of the action doesn’t pack a visceral, necessary punch.
Instead, Azzarello and Miller jump across Gotham City, checking in on Commissioner Yindel, the vigilante Bat-Boys, even random citizens who get in on the alien-busting action. While this yields DKIII #6’s coolest bits - such as a callback to the original Dark Knight Returns featuring a Kryptonian versus a Batmobile, or a unique twist on a deadly sniper rifle - the actual politics of it all might make you a little queasy upon closer examination. Given Superman’s status as the original comic book undocumented immigrant, having a legion of cartoonishly-bloodthirsty Kryptonian religious zealots might evoke Miller’s cringeworthy politics from Holy Terror, particularly when the police themselves “bring justice” in the form of riot shields and nightsticks.
Interestingly, though, Andy Kubert definitely seems to be stretching himself artistically, working valiantly with inker Klaus Janson to adopt some of Miller’s stylistic traits. Seeing Superman in his armor might be the closest Kubert has gotten to emulating Miller, down to the character’s off-center shield and geometric, neckless anatomy. (Even small details, like the way that Carrie Kelly stands with her hips out in the background of a panel, or the way that Superman’s daughter Lara floats ominously overhead, screams classic Miller.) That all said, there’s a certain impact that’s missing from Kubert’s copious action sequences - unlike the Dark Knight stories of yesteryear, there’s little danger or fear or stakes to the mix, and beyond one last-minute blow, there isn’t the sort of tension that would get readers’ blood pumping.
One of the biggest challenges of Dark Knight III: The Master Race is, unfortunately, justifying its own existence in the face of a superlative first installment and a flawed but at least auteur sequel. Simply multiplying the threat isn’t enough - you have to also magnify, twist and subvert the kinds of traits that made the original work such a classic to begin with. And that might be The Master Race’s biggest downfall at the moment - if it was part of the standard superhero churn, it’d be some semi-average work, a beat-‘em-up script elevated by Andy Kubert’s A-list artwork. But average isn’t good enough for The Dark Knight Returns, it’s not good enough for Frank Miller, who’s forgotten more about comic books than I’ll ever know. With three more issues to go, there’s a chance The Master Race might acquit itself, but right now, it’s only guilty of a lack of vision and ambition.