SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #1, on sale November 25.
When CBR News spoke with Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert about working on “Dark Knight III: The Master Race,” the seasoned veterans sounded like a couple of newbies breaking into the industry when describing the influence Frank Miller and his seminal series, “The Dark Knight Returns,” has played on their own remarkable careers. Now, the former is co-writing with Miller and the latter is illustrating the classic tale’s sequel with Miller’s long-time inker Klaus Janson.
With the launch of the series nearly a month away, Azzarello and Kubert were light on details and plot threads, though they did discuss the big surprise of the first issue: Bruce Wayne is dead (maybe), and Carrie Kelley is the new Batman.
In addition to hinting what DC Comics heroes, aside from Batman/Carrie Kelley, plays a role in the sequel Kubert promises that the subtitle (“The Master Race”) is a plot thread that is deeply explored during the eight-issue series.
Azzarello and Kubert also shared their memories about reading “The Dark Knight Returns” monthly as a limited series back in 1986 – long before it became a best-selling graphic novel – and spoke openly about their appreciation of Miller, not only as a collaborator but as a teacher, mentor and friend.
CBR News: The final page of the first issue delivers the first major surprise of “DKIII.” Bruce Wayne is dead, and it’s Carrie Kelley rocking the cape and cowl. What strengths does Carrie have that make her the rightful Bat-heir?
Brian Azzarello: That’s what we are going to explore in the series, so I’m not going to give that away. [Laughs]
Andy Kubert: I can tell you that I did a whole bunch of sketches, going back and forth on it with Frank [Miller] and Brian [Azzarello], of Carrie in the suit. It’s pretty much Frank’s vision as to her having the gloves as big as they are, and to have the suit pretty much skin tight but still a little bit loose-ish on her. We wanted to make it so it didn’t look like she had these big, giant gloves on her because she got them out of the case at the beginning. That whole thing, as to what she’s looks like, are all Frank’s ideas.
Now, the obvious follow-up question is, is Bruce Wayne really dead in “DKIII”?
Azzarello: Aw, come on. What are you asking that question for?
[Laughs] I have to ask, don’t I? It’s a pretty significant plot point.
Azzarello: [Laughs] It’s a comic book. When is anybody really dead?
Okay, okay. Next question. The subtitle for “DKIII” is “The Master Race,” which obviously conjures up notions of Nazi ideology. What can you share about the “Master Race” as it pertains to this story?
Azzarello: It’s meant to provoke, and it looks like it’s working.
Kubert: Again, you will definitely see how the title fits into the story when you read the series.
The offspring of Wonder Woman and Superman would certainly qualify as a master race, and we see both of them in this first issue. “The Dark Knight Returns” and “DK2” both heavily featured Batman’s super friends. Green Arrow, specifically, has played a major role in these series. Can you give us a tease of which other Justice League members, beyond Wonder Woman and Superman, will be featured in “DKIII”?
Azzarello: It won’t be Martian Manhunter. He is dead.
But I thought you said in comic books, nobody is ever really dead.
Azzarello: Well, he got burned. [Laughs] And you know what? In “DKIII,” it does matter. But we’re going to hit the remaining, living members of the Justice League. The Atom is in it. We’ll be continuing the story of the characters you’ve seen before.
You both have a long history telling stories with Batman. In terms of a reference point, what impact did “The Dark Knight Returns” have on your understanding of Batman and how to utilize him in a story?
Kubert: For me, when “The Dark Knight Returns” first came out, the artistic approach, the storytelling, the writing — it had a whole refreshing, different take than comics in general. And it was great. When I first read it, I thought it was cool. It was very cinematic. Honestly, even way back when, that type of storytelling definitely influenced me. I wanted to draw Batman ever since I was reading Neal Adams’ stuff, but this made me want to get into even more. When it came out, I was just breaking into comics, and my dream project was drawing Batman. For me, to be working on the “Dark Knight” series now — it’s like I hit the lottery.
Azzarello: My experience with Batman really began with “The Dark Knight Returns.” I wasn’t really reading Batman comics at the time. That caused me to go back and read the Neal Adams’ stuff. I read Neal Adams’ stuff after reading “The Dark Knight Returns.” I bought it when it was coming out; I read it serialized, not as a graphic novel. To be working on the third one is surreal.
Kubert: I read it serialized, too. When Brian and I talk about it, we’re like, “Can you believe that we’re working on this?” It’s pretty amazing.
Azzarello: Andy and I have been talking about working together for years. We knew the right project would come along and we would just know it. And it ended up being this. That’s something to start out on, huh?
Kubert: I know. [Laughs] Let’s cut our teeth here.
I was going to ask you about comparing the experience to working on “Before Watchmen,” and whether or not there was any hesitation about revisiting a seminal series like “The Dark Knight Returns.” I think I already know your answer, but was there any hesitation?
Azzarello: Hell, no. Frank asked, and I said, “Yeah.” I had other things planned, and I put them aside. No hesitation. At all.
Kubert: And there was no hesitation for me either. Absolutely not.
Finally, Frank Miller has delivered game-changing comic books and graphic novels over his 35-plus year career. He’s also a polarizing figure, not only because of his storytelling style, but his political views. What’s Frank Miller like, as a person and a collaborator?
Azzarello: He’s awful. He’s a taskmaster. It’s his way or the highway. He just shreds our pages. [Laughs]
No, it’s been really great and a total learning experience. It really has. This past year has been incredible for me. I will use the word “surreal” again. I go to his studio, we sit around, we talk about this story and then we talk about old comics. It’s been a really gratifying experience.
Kubert: For me, Brian used a great word. It’s been surreal. As an artist, you always want to grow, and I can tell you, from the beginning, when I was sending him the layouts, he has helped me out so much in terms of storytelling and figuring things out. It’s been a great experience for me. It’s been phenomenal.
“DKIII: The Master Race” #1, by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello and featuring art by Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, arrives on November 25.