SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #7, on sale now.
In 1986, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” grabbed the attention of comic book fans and mainstream media alike, in large part due to its portrayal of a middle-aged Batman, returning to duty hardened after a career filled with violence and loss. This take on an older Batman, one at the twilight of his vigilante career, continued in Miller’s 2001-2002’s “The Dark Knight Strikes Again” and current sequel “Dark Knight III: The Master Race.” The latest issue, #7, looks to have affected that aspect of the character in a major way.
DC Comics’ “Dark Knight III” #7, co-written by Miller and Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, picks up where October’s #6 left off, with Batman near death after an encounter with Kandorian extremist Quar. In #7, Superman revives Batman via the Lazarus Pit, with Bruce Wayne emerging as a young man restored to youth and vigor — though as DC fans know, the physical rejuvenation of the Lazarus Pit often comes with major psychological effects, and it remains to be seen how Batman may be affected.
CBR spoke in-depth with Miller and Azzarello about the issue, with Miller saying the move was to “play with Batman having the experience of a lifetime career and the vigor of a man in his prime.” The duo also commented on Donald Trump’s impending presidency — “Dark Knight III,” including issue #7, has featured an obvious Trump parody appearing as a talking head — with Miller saying he doubts he “could have dreamt of a story where the United States president was best friends with a member of the KGB,” referring to the Trump administration’s ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB intelligence officer for 16 years. Additionally, the two talked the “Strange Adventures” minicomic accompanying #7, illustrated by Miller, and Miller dropped the news that he’s working on a DC project between “Dark Knight” installments, one that will “take some seminal DC characters back to their origins.”
CBR: Frank, Brian, we’ll get to some of the bigger moments of the issue later, but can’t help but start here, given the reflection of the real world inherent in “Dark Knight” stories: Throughout “Dark Knight III,” including issue #7, there have been appearances of a let’s say, “Trump-like” figure in the narrative. Given what we’re seeing every day in the news, does it feel like reality is getting closer to the world of the Dark Knight?
Frank Miller: It’s never been far. When I did the first “Dark Knight,” it was called a “dystopia,” which means it wasn’t exactly the news. So I guess as long as the news is bad, there’s a place for Batman stories.
Brian Azzarello: We’re trying to entertain. [Laughs] What we’re doing is brighter than reality.
Have the past couple months in the real world affected your attitude towards the story? It’s stirring how much things have changed just in the last year since the story has been coming out.
Miller: Let me put it this way: I don’t think I could have dreamt of a story where the United States president was best friends with a member of the KGB.
Azzarello: And you know what? If he would have come up with that, I would have said, “Come on! Too far-fetched. Nobody would buy that!”
Miller: What’s next for us, Nazis?
Moving towards the fictional side and what happens in issue #7, there’s obviously a very big event in there with Superman reviving Bruce Wayne via the Lazarus Pit, and him coming out apparently much younger. It remains to be seen how this will be followed up, but how does this change the character and the direction of the series — since it’s all about an older Batman, and now he’s apparently young again?
Miller: Well, it makes you wonder between Superman and Batman, who’s the real myth?
Azzarello: I think what we’ve done to him definitely opens up the whole Dark Knight world a little bit more. A lot more stories that can be told. We added some time.
That’s what it seems like — there’s a lot of potential for future stories stemming from this, and there’s already talk of a fourth “Dark Knight.” Was that move part of that plan, to broaden out the “Dark Knight” world even further?
Miller: Yes, the plan would be to widen the scope even further. I want to play with Batman having the experience of a lifetime career and the vigor of a man in his prime, and the Lazarus Pit was a perfect way to get there.
As far as “DK4,” yes, I always plan to continue the DK story but there will be something else in between. It’ll take some seminal DC characters back to their origins.
One thing that’s striking from that scene, and you see it throughout DK3, is the narration of Superman being desperate to save his friend. The first Dark Knight had the most famous Superman/Batman fight, but this has highlighted their friendship — how important was it to both of you to focus on that element of their relationship?
Miller: Well, they’re friends like Brian and I are friends. If you leave us alone in a room together, we’ll beat each other up. [Laughs]
Azzarello: Yeah, they’re those kinds of friends. [Laughs]
I think what we saw established when we started this was there’s a mutual respect here. I think that’s something that readers might have missed, or they don’t see it. They respect each other. I don’t know if they’re friends.
Miller: We’re big on how different they are. One’s a city boy, one’s a country boy. One was raised by parents who died of old age after taking care of him all those years, the other saw his parents murdered in front of his eyes. One was rich, one was poor. Essentially, the world makes perfect sense to Clark. It makes no sense at all to Bruce.
Azzarello: You know, when you put it that way, they have nothing in common.
Miller: “World’s Finest” is the funniest title there is.
It’s interesting that a dynamic that’s decades-old still provides creative opportunities.
Azzarello: That’s what makes them work so well together. The inherent conflict. They don’t see eye to eye.
Miller: One thing that’s important to keep in mind, though, is that Superman obviously has got power and strength on his side. He’s the most powerful man around. There’s no question that Batman’s the smartest guy on the planet.
Azzarello: He was.
Miller: He has a protege, she’s smarter than he is.
A friend of mine once said, very well, that the relationship between Superman and Batman works by, Batman points in the distance, and says, “Superman, punch that until it falls down.” Good working relationship.
Let’s also talk about the “Strange Adventures” minicomic that accompanies the issue, starring Hawkboy from DK2 — who has a sister now, presumably Hawkgirl, presumably. Frank, were you eager to revisit Hawkboy and explore the character further?
Miller: Yes, there is a whole generational aspect to the DK series. The minicomic provided the perfect format for it. The two Hawks suffered the murder of their parents and the destruction of their homeland when they were very young. They lost everything. The boy became a creature of total rage and the girl suffered unspeakable trauma. He is rage and she is terror.
Also in the minicomic is the return of Hal Jordan, who by the end is back to looking like a classic version of Green Lantern. Clearly this is leading to something more, but what can you say about the decision to bring him back in the story, what kind of role he’s going to play in the remainder of the series?
Azzarello: He’s got a role.
Miller: He’s also become humbler. Where were you going to go? In “DK2,” he essentially declared his own godhood. So we took him down a peg.
Azzarello: But yeah, he’s got a role. They all do.
Miller: My favorite Green Lantern gag that I ever got chance to do was in “Batman and Robin” with Jim Lee, and we had Robin paint a room yellow.
That’s an incredible scene — Batman’s drinking lemonade as an extra F-U to Green Lantern.
Miller: Thanks to Brian, in fact, because he was the one who pointed out how stupid it was there was a guy whose weakness was a color.
Azzarello: I’ve had it in for Green Lantern for a long time. [Laughs]
You’ve both been living with the story for a long time — added an extra issue, and it’s been coming out for over a year — how much of it has evolved, if at all, over the past year and a half? It sounds like you had a pretty set plan, but has there been room to change things if you wanted to, or is this pretty much exactly what you set out to do from the start?
Azzarello: We’re doing it. We made up the rules — if we want to change the rules, we change the rules.
Miller: Also, there are so many characters. I found out all the way back in the first “Dark Knight,” but especially the second one — at first I was just going to do a story about Batman that didn’t feature any of the other characters. Then Superman crawled in. Once he was in, they all started showing up.
The second “Dark Knight,” there wasn’t anything that was left out. I even got the Hawk and the Dove in. That was my lesson with messing with the DC Universe, is that it’s silly, in a way, to think you can do it completely isolated. Why not play with all of them? They’re there, and once you’ve got Batman and Superman in something, you might as well just play with all of the characters that fit your story.
This series in particular is of course a big Batman story, but, like the “Dark Knight” series as a whole, it’s also a big Carrie Kelley story. Was part of adding an extra issue to do justice to her story, along with Bruce?
Miller: My feeling was, especially in the case of “DK2,” Carrie Kelley did take over. She’s a pivotal character.
Azzarello: We split issue #8 and issue #9, mostly because of Andy. Andy said, “Give me some room, I really want to draw this war, I want some space.” So yeah, sure, OK! We had two climactic scenes, #8 is one part of the story, #9 is anther one. We’re just doing that each issue, too. You think it’s over, then there’s another cliffhanger, then another one.
Anything readers should look out for in the last two issues?
Miller: Metal Men.
Azzarello: Dan loves the Metal Men!
Miller: Brother Power the Geek. None of that’s true.
Azzarello: But there’s always room for a 10th issue. [Laughs]
“Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #7 is on sale now. “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #8 is scheduled for release on March 29, 2017.
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