As the series enters its second half, Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson’s “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #5 serves as a tension-filled turning point, where Batman and company come up with a clever plan to defeat the army of Kryptonians hovering ominously over Gotham. The issue is peppered with more well-constructed imagery from Kubert and Janson, who — along with the writers — elevate the suspense. Counterbalancing a strong main story, though, is this issue’s bound-in mini-comic featuring Lara, which is a sloppy effort inserted into an otherwise excellent product.
There are no celebrity talking heads on television nor banter between walk-on characters to establish the context here; the circumstances are plenty clear, so Miller and Azzarello spend the issue focusing on the action. Of course, it’s not all fisticuffs — at least, not yet. Some of the excitement is generated simply by the players moving into position for their next move. There’s a certain cockiness to Miller and Azzarello’s script; even though things look grim both in Gotham’s skies as well as on its streets, the heroes have picked up some swagger as they begin to execute their plan. Batman’s cocky attitude is especially fun as he makes his move against countless foes far more powerful than he is.
The script is also loaded with great character lines, although Robin makes a deliberate groaner. Batman’s internal monologue about using fear as a tool speaks a lot of his character as well as the logic of his plan and his confidence in it, and it’s a genuine fist-pumping moment when it reaches its crescendo. Kubert punctuates this line of thought with a small but effective shot of a slyly grinning Batman who appears as though he’s lived solely for this moment; Kubert uses the same trick again later on in a similar applause-worthy moment, but it’s executed so effectively that its reuse doesn’t seem the least bit derivative.
Kubert and Janson complement Miller and Azzarello’s engaging script with eye-catching images. The visual theme of this “master race” which floats above the city continues from last issue, but is especially effective in its repeated usage and even more so when their blitzkrieg formation is penetrated by the iconic Bat-signal. When Batman’s solution is deployed, its impact is also powerful and gratifying. For the cliffhanger, Kubert and Janson deliver an incredibly amazing fanboy moment, which makes the wait for issue #6 instantaneously agonizing.
The main story is all-but-perfect; readers will be best off if they put the comic down at this point, though, rather than moving on to the issue’s mini-comic about a sexually charged encounter between Lara and Baal. Miller’s poorly-constructed cover is a downright awkward image of Lara. His incredibly crude art inside appears rushed; it seems like an attempt to evoke a 1940s comic art style, but fails. The pages inside are mostly constructed of large, background-free panels, which give the lightweight story an excessively padded feel. The lines and figures are also minimally crafted. Alex Sinclair’s colors give it some substance, but this extra story is the comic equivalent of a pebble in one’s shoe.
The series has truly hit its stride with “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #5. However, I recommend getting the mini-comic out of the way first, so that the strong main story ends the complete reading experience on a far more satisfying note.