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The Dark Knight Dialogues 002: The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2

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The Dark Knight Dialogues 002: The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2

The Dark Knight Dialogues 002: The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
written by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello
pencils by Andy Kubert inks by Klaus Janson
coloring by Brad Anderson lettering by Clem Robins

Joey: Well this is the second issue and so far my feeling on this series has not changed (for the better anyway). There are so many moments in this second installment which you could see Frank Miller selling the shit out of but are just flaccid in Azzarello/Kubert’s hands. The white space with ink splatter for example is such a Miller trademark (here they sub in digital blood for ink) and I guess they picked up on the fact that the few images that really worked in issue one utilized this technique but they go a bit overboard with that here. How the team mishandles that effect is just another reminder of how many steps removed this series is from what it should be. Moments like the “I always thought I’d die alone” sequence and Carrie’s breakout from the cops would of sang if Miller was behind the wheel but they just sit there lifeless in this iteration. One of the opening scenes is obviously meant to evoke the Rorschach interrogation scene in Watchmen (just to dig the knife in a little deeper) except it’s framed and lit like Miller’s classic homage to Fritz Lang’s film You Only Live Once which is fine enough but it is completely ineffective since it’s colored wrong and kills the lighting effect entirely. I know I am a broken record at this point but this is really dire stuff, any of this sit better with you Chad?

Chad: My big take away was how, as many of us suspected, this really did feel like the second half of a larger first issue. Will the entire series read like a four-issue prestige deluxe series with every issue split in two? That’s what I’m afraid of at this point. Given how much this series is looking back to The Dark Knight Returns, it wouldn’t surprise me if the original intention was following the same format as that. That it’s coming out in this way is disappointing, I guess. It lacks a little punch when split up in two. But, here we are with the plot somewhat taking shape…

And what do we think of this plot? Carrie gets arrested, says Bruce is dead, and seemingly breaks out of custody with (I assume) a pre-arranged plan that Bruce helped set in place should this situation arise…? Ray Palmer tries to free the inhabitants of Kandor, never once wondering if maybe an entire city of Superman-level beings would be a bad thing for the planet, and gets stepped on after it turns out to be a mad Kryptonian death cult…? Actually, what bugged me most is that Palmer does it without Lara there. You’d think he would wait given she was the one who asked him to do it…

I don’t know… I feel apathetic almost. The art was less engaging here. There were some nice sequences, but ones that reminded me more of Andy Kubert drawing Batman than Frank Miller. That page where he flashes back to Luthor pounding on Bruce is probably the only one that hit me. He does a good ugly, pummeled Batman. Not as ugly as Miller, but…

My big question is: does the sequence where Carrie escapes from the police feel fun to you? Because, goddamn, Miller would have made it feel thrilling and so much fun. But, this is lacking somehow. It’s a nice sequence; it comes off as very flat, almost by the numbers in its execution. Where’s the whoopin’ it up, Joey? I want to whoop it up and have some laughs.

Joey: Apathetic is the right word to describe the feeling of reading this book if there ever was one, and we will come back to that Ray Palmer sequence in a bit because seriously, what the hell? I’m glad you felt that Miller would have killed it on that breakout sequence too, as it has all the potential to be great but it is just so damn dull. Keep in mind, in terms of great Batman chase sequences it doesn’t just have Miller’s original to reckon with, it also has to live up to the frenetic ballet that is the chase in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film (which this book is clearly trying to conjure your memory of with their use of overhead shots and police transport vans) and I feel very confident in saying they failed that challenge on both counts. On page 17 where the Bat-tank is in full view over the tossed over GCPD van, Miller would have made that feel so oppressive yet triumphant with those headlights literally beaming through the page. In Azzarello/Kubert’s hands, it is just empty and no one involved is selling me on this moment being important in any way. Also, not to pick on poor Brad Anderson again but who uses this palette for this world? It is like he doesn’t want to possibly offend the eye in any way so it just skates down the middle, nothing dynamic like we would see from Varley but nothing muddy and sloppy like a Frank D’Armata would do or classy and refined like a Richmond Lewis or Dave Stewart would bring to the table. Instead the colors are not quite bright enough or dark enough or defined enough to really have an effect. I am not a D’Armata fan but you know something is wrong when the thought of “what Frank D’Armata might bring to this” sounds more exciting than what is on the page.

Were you surprised at all that Bruce is still alive apparently? One thing I found intriguing about the first issue was the idea that maybe we were going to finally start to see a world where the Batman idea had finally taken root without Bruce being around to oversee it and view how that evolution worked but I should have known better. Of course Bruce is still alive and looking younger and more put together than in DKSA somehow! Honestly it seems like this series at this point is just taking what Miller did in this world and moving it back to a place where they can just repeat The Dark Knight Returns again with a far less talented creative team. I’d love to be wrong but it is not the impression I am getting here. Thoughts?

Chad: No, I wasn’t surprised. It would have been a little weird to do this book and not have Bruce alive. I would have loved it, but, come on, it wasn’t going to happen. Just like a frozen-in-a-block-of-ice Superman is going to thaw and come roaring back, so too must Bruce Wayne be alive and kicking. I’m a little curious if the DK4 idea that Miller’s been talking about is one that really puts the emphasis on Carrie and Lara, foregoing their fathers (whether biological or not) given that it seems more his speed.

Moving onto the Atom and Kandor, do you find it a little strange that this thread was picked up so strongly in this issue after only being introduced in the first mini-comic? It’s a strange way to tell the story, don’t you think? Kind of like using a back-up strip, but one that’s physically separate with a different art team and no consistency other than picking up subplot or introducing them before they get the bright lights on them from the main book. I’m not entirely sure if I like or dislike that approach, but it has me thinking, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting trick that we’ll get to see if they pull off entirely over the course of the series.

Joey: I wonder if that moment was something Miller just had to draw, and they engineered a way around that by providing him a whole mini-comic to tell that part of the story. It would explain why that mini-comic felt more important than the whole issue that preceded it. I could be wrong but I doubt we are going to see huge reveals in the main story revealed in the supplemental book in future issues, that was just a special case. That also would explain why Lara was there in the mini-comic but not in the actual main story as she seems like a character Miller wants to focus on in the future.

The consistency of Ray’s character from the mini-comic to the main series is pretty jarring too considering that he seemed smart and reflective in the mini and a total idiot in the main book. Maybe there is another mini-comic on the way that explains how Ray came to the decision with such certainty to grow the Kandorians and why he has such trust in them because in the story as it stands right now, it’s a bit of a leap to take for him to come to that conclusion. “No…You can’t” and the foot stomp is a pretty cool moment though, it probably should have been the closing page of the issue actually.

Chad: He was overcome with the spirit, Joey! It moooooooooooooved through him and acted as God’s hand! Amen!

I don’t mind that the final reveal was that Bruce is alive, if only because it makes for a nice callback to the first issue ending with Carrie saying he’s dead. But, I do agree that the Atom getting stepped on is a ‘bigger’ moment.

I wish that I had more to say, but I’m struggling to find things. There just isn’t a lot here, is there?

Joey: This issue succeeded in actually being more scant than the first as if you thought that could be possible. That has to count for something though, right?

Thankfully this issue did have some things I liked but most were located in the mini-comic, so let’s move on, shall we…

On the next page, we review the mini-comic…

Chad: This time, we welcome the man behind Comics Should be Good, Brian Cronin…

Dark Knight Universe Presents: Wonder Woman #1
written by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello
art by Eduardo Risso
coloring by Trisha Mulvihill lettering by Clem Robins

Chad: When the idea of another Dark Knight comic was even rumored, I exchanged some emails and other messages with both of you where we debated who the right artist would be for a project like this. One of the names that kept coming up was Eduardo Risso and here we have him drawing this month’s mini comic. So, with Miller contributing whatever he added to the story, we basically have the 100 Bullets team here. Is this what we would have preferred the main series to be like? Not just Risso’s line work, but Trish Mulvihill’s coloring as well?

Brian: Yep, we discussed how concerned we were over the initial statement when the project was announced about how there would be “multiple star artists” involved and how it could go very, very poorly and how one of the few ways it could have worked was for Risso to draw the whole thing. This mini-comic shows that yeah, Risso would have kicked ass as the main artist on this series. The Risso/Mulvihill team is one of the most iconic art teams in comics and they did a wonderful job with this mini, even as the subject (Wonder Woman and her daughter, Lara) was not what you would typically expect from their more noir sensibilities (as an aside, let me note how much I love the oddity of “Dark Knight Universe Presents – Wonder Woman #1” – why does the mini-comic inside of Dark Knight III #2 get its own title?). While the art was outstanding, I think we actually managed to go backwards from last issue’s mini-comic in terms of the story mattering. Last issue’s mini-comic introduced a major plot point regarding the Atom’s role in growing the populace of Kandor. This time around, it’s multiple pages to reinforce things that were blatantly obvious from the first issue and the main story in this issue. Still, the art was so good that the comic as a whole still seemed worth it to me – the climactic scene with the sword breaking? Rarely do you have a scene so dynamic while, at the same time, so filled with pathos.

Joey: I think this is more in line with what we should expect out of these mini-comics going forward, a nice self-contained story drawn by an above average artist that illuminates on a moment in one of the earlier issues, ideally the issue you just read. In terms of this story itself, it was probably my favorite piece of the event so far. I may not be as much of a fan of the Azzarello/Risso team as I used to be due to certain projects they have participated in but I can’t deny Risso knows how to draw a dynamic page and he really shows up here. That page Brian mentioned with the sword breaking is probably the first page in this whole thing actually worthy of a proper splash page and really helped deliver that moment and give it the weight that has been sorely missing from this series so far. The coloring here as opposed to the rest of this series really accents the mood of the piece and the fact that it’s a step outside of the usual palette this team works in just shows how in tune they are as collaborators.

As for the writing, this actually felt like a classic Miller inner monologue and it is from a character who we rarely get to see reflect in Miller’s Bat oeuvre so far, and seems consistent with his vision of Wonder Woman too. Here Diana comes off as an older, wiser version of the woman we see in All*Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5. There is just as much hubris and strength conveyed but she seems better adjusted, less like she has something to prove. She is more confident, less arrogant. Seeing her interaction with Lara who has that same attitude towards her mother that Diana had towards everyone is actually very endearing. I sense Miller might of had more to do with writing this mini than most would suspect, this actually feels like his world.

Brian: I could see Miller having a good deal of influence on Wonder Woman’s characterization as yes, it is very much on point with Miller’s past take on the character. Azzarello, though, is a strong enough writer that I could also buy him just being that in tune with Miller’s take on the character (and Miller’s trademark writing style). Either way, I do think that the Wonder Woman/Lara interaction is a highlight of the series so far, as honestly, it’s a conflict that feels very natural and is particularly compelling in just how grounded it is as a dynamic. Wonder Woman thinks a certain approach is the right one to use with Lara because it’s the one that worked with her, but she is blinded to how her daughter is rebelling against said approach. It’s good stuff. It’s good stuff that I think was already present in the series, making this feel a bit superfluous, but it’s still good stuff.

Chad: Any time this story, thus far, has focused on Lara is when I’ve perked up the most; the way that The Dark Knight Strikes Again ended, that was clearly the most ‘interesting’ idea that could be built upon. Carrie as Batman is cool and all, but there isn’t necessarily a lot there yet. The daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman coming to grips with the idea that she’s the most powerful being on the planet is something with some meat. And you can already see where it’s heading with the psycho-cult Kandorians… Lara has been foregoing her warrior training because she’s more powerful than everyone else, but she’ll soon run up against beings just as powerful as she is where her natural ‘superiority’ won’t factor in. It’s an obvious place to go, but one that has a lot of room for exploration, especially if she’s backed up by the new Batman who has extensive training in combat and tactics. Basically, the new Superman and Batman reliving the same roles as their fathers… So, I have a feeling this mini-comic will be an important plot piece going forward, albeit in an understated way.

Joey: While Brian is right that a lot of this stuff in this mini is present in the main series, it’s just executed so much better here. These ideas may be in the plot and they may be in the script but you sure don’t feel them like you do here. The idea Chad lays out above for the future of the story is also the reason I think the main series isn’t really clicking for us, how do you go from such celestial concerns told in the most eccentric way at the end of DK2 to these very benign street level problems in DK3 without feeling like it’s just a diversion from the story you would rather be reading? Not saying that you can’t bounce between the ethereal and the mundane and get great results because that is what most of my favorite stories do but I don’t think that is the case here. This mini at least felt like it was at one with the story that will be told if that makes sense.

Chad: I think that points to the tension that we hinted at a bit last time: this book follows The Dark Knight Strikes Again (and uses some characters/ideas), but seems more intent on being a ‘proper’ follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns. “The Dark Knight Returns sequel for those who hated The Dark Knight Strikes Again!” Except, I loved that book. And so did you guys. So… what do we have here really?

Brian: The variant covers, by the way, are depressingly weird in that regard. DC is selling hardcover collected editions of each issue of Dark Knight III, but the hardcovers all feature sketch versions (which is odd enough) of Jim Lee’s variant covers for each issue, but Lee’s variant covers are all homages to the original Dark Knight Returns! What does that say about a comic book series when, outside of the actual “main” covers, all the other covers are telling us, “Man, remember that other series? The one from thirty years ago? Wasn’t that other series really cool?” So I guess I do appreciate that the mini-comics, so far, have at least been spotlighting Miller’s take on characters we only know from DK2 (Wonder Woman, Lara and the Atom) that tie into the current series and not just reverent flashbacks to Dark Knight Returns. I half-expected, “Dark Knight Presents – The Untold Story of the Mom Who Bought Her Kids The Paint Set and Then Got Blown Up.”

Joey: That is a really good point, I am having visions of like J.T. Krul’s very socially relevant “The Untold Story of Arnold Crimp” and thinking we may have dodged a bullet (no pun intended). Maybe we have been too hard on this thing after all.

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