Dark Knight III: The Master Race #7
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: 3 out of 10
There are plenty of words I’d use to describe a work associated with comic book legend Frank Miller: Powerful. Provocative. Ingenious. Infuriating. Revolutionary. Reactionary.
But “decompressed” isn’t a word that comes easily. Neither does “boring.” Neither does “wasteful.”
Yet seven issues into the third Dark Knight series, the writing is suddenly on the wall. With Bruce Wayne sidelined thanks to a bolt of Kryptonian heat vision, Miller and scripter Brian Azzarello spend much of this issue spinning their wheels with the various side characters of this series, barely moving the plot forward while ultimately short-changing readers of any of the gripping characterization that made The Dark Knight Returns such a seminal work.
It’s strange that even though Dark Knight III: The Master Race is similar in page count to the original, oversized Dark Knight Returns, the pacing is so much slower than its 30-year-old predecessor. From the slow first issue twist to this seventh issue, which feels almost like a time-out, DKIII has taken the wrong cues from today’s comic book marketplace rather than setting new trends of its own.
So much of this issue just feels like checking in with a fairly bloated, unearned ensemble cast - we have Carrie Kelley having yet another moment with Commissioner Yindel, while Supergirl continues to wrestle with her loyalty to the Kryptonian zealot Quar, all while Superman races with a near-comatose Batman to places unknown, all while we’re sprinkled with cameos from the Justice League. While artist Andy Kubert tries to sprinkle in some Miller-style panache with pages like Batgirl’s shadow looming as she kneels to the ground in horror, or serpentine statues wriggling over Superman’s head as he brings Batman to an unlikely place to recover, Azzarello’s pacing is so scattered that by the time we’ve settled in with one group of characters, we’re off to another scene - but none of these scenes actually feel stand on their own.
Some of this might be because we’re dealing with 20-page chunks rather than the double-sized issues of the original Dark Knight series - we’re not able to have flights of fancy like the page-long man-on-the-street newscasts Miller used to make, showing the horrors of Gotham City on the ground - but it’s also because DKIII isn’t a story about the same world as its predecessors.
The Dark Knight Returns was about a man dealing with a malignant city; The Dark Knight Strikes Again, while flawed, was about a man upending an entire country’s malignant political-business class. Miller’s story flirts for DKIII flirts somewhat with his hard-line conservative streak - with Kryptonians serving as a paper-thin strawman to religious extremists from abroad - but even this book gets bored with that premise quickly. The more we lean into superheroes, the less real this world becomes, and make no mistake, DKIII has leaned heavy into branding-friendly superheroes. The Kryptonians are just window-dressing for a dark, Frank Miller-fied Justice League, but even if the premise was weak, we’d be in for the ride… if the story actually produced such an iconic take on this superteam.
And worst of all, it’s clear from DKIII’s mini comic, drawn by Miller and Klaus, that Miller still has the goods. Featuring Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Hawkwoman, there’s that spark of deep ingenuity to Miller’s writing that feels unmistakably him - whereas Miller’s Batman has been about the thorny questions of age and morality, Miller’s Hal Jordan winds up being almost a superhero seminarian, a philosopher musing about the thin line between power and divinity. “I lost my way. I became something bigger than the universe, and, as such, strayed from my charge,” Hal tells us. “I’m sorry. I let the universe down.” While Hawkman and Hawkwoman are more of a misdirect for the real story, there’s more excitement and heat to these dozen pages than we’ve seen in several full issues of DKIII’s main story.
But maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. Whatever you might think of his politics, Frank Miller has forgotten more about making comics than most of us will ever know - and while he might not quite have the explosive inventiveness of his ‘80s and ‘90s oeuvre, it feels like a misstep to dilute his voice with extraneous intermediaries, co-writers and co-artists. Because even in today’s marketplace with today’s market forces, it feels antithetical to the spirit of Frank Miller to have a book like Dark Knight III: The Master Race #7, a issue that not only delivers a bloated storyline, but that ultimately delivers a chapter that feels almost completely unnecessary. With only two issues left to go, it feels like the third time was not a charm for revisiting this iconic DC series.