SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Dark Knight III: The Master Race" #9, on sale now
Dark Knight III: The Master Race was originally believed to be the final entry in Frank Miller's trilogy chronicling the final days of Batman, but the possibility of subsequent storylines arose even as the series had just gotten under way. Batman had seemingly met his demise, in fact, back in issue #6, but as readers soon learned, he was not only brought back to life, his very youth was restored by way of a dip in a Lazarus pit. The restoration of Batman back to his younger prime not only establishes the likelihood of another Dark Knight story (not to mention a smattering of hints from Miller himself), but also sets up the potential for a whole new future for Batman, as well as other significant players in the future DC Universe.
Batman Stands To Be The World's Predominant Hero
Both Superman and Batman have been historically acknowledged as flagship characters for DC Comics, and both heroes have become modern cultural icons. Superman, though, by virtue his extraordinary powers, as well as being the first costumed superhero to claim space on comic racks, has always implicitly been viewed as the dominant half of the World's Finest duo. Both heroes can stop bank robbers, sure, but whenever there was an extraterrestrial army ready to invade the planet, most would have put their money on the Last Son of Krypton over the Dark Knight Detective as the one to stand between them and the forces of an otherworldly invasion.
Dark Knight III: The Master Race, of course, had such an extraterrestrial army; the so-called master race is none other than a large force of Kandorian revolutionaries, ready to claim this world as their own. But as the Kandorians mount their final offensive against Earth, it's Batman who is the most instrumental in their fall. Creating chaos among the invading army's remnants, Batman calls forth a swarm of bats who cause the Kryptonian soldiers to inadvertently take down one another in their panic to ward off the flying rodents. With most of the Kandorians fed up with the planet's repeated resistance, they flee, only for Quar and his most loyal soldiers to destroy them for their perceived betrayal.
Superman Steps Away To Become Superdad
While Superman takes down Baal and Quar's other loyalists, and The Atom returns to comically shrink the last remaining Kandorians out of existence, it's the Dark Knight who is largely responsible for the Kryptonians' defeat. Superman even acknowledges that "the world needs a Batman" as he heads off to mop up Quar's inner circle, playing cleanup to Batman's game-changing actions and seemingly handing off the role of Earth's number one hero to The Bat. Superman's subsequent disappearance – albeit one that gives way to resuming his role as Clark Kent, and father to Lara and his young son – clears the way for Batman to assume the role of the World's Finest.
In his presumed final battle, though, Superman demonstrates a grim, almost out-of-character kind of ferocity and fighting prowess as he takes out Baal and the other acolytes. Calling out every crippling blow, Batman and Carrie stand aghast as Superman shows off a presumed and long-hidden set of fighting skills that Batman admits to himself rival his own. The reasons for the Man of Steel's sudden, darker attitude aren't made clear – perhaps he had enough of his own people's assault on his adopted homeworld, or he might simply have decided to give it his all in his final fistfight – but his unexpected tactics serve to change Batman's attitude towards his own skills. Impressed by Superman's brutal but decisive actions, the Dark Knight now shows a degree of humility, recognizing that despite his long crimefighting career, he still needs to learn a thing or two.
Not Robin, Not Batgirl – Carrie Officially Becomes Batwoman
Superman's not the only hero to humble The Bat – an innocent comment by Carrie regarding Batman's restored youth makes him realize that he not only has a second chance at life, but also possibly at a new career. More importantly, this realization leads him to understand that there's a lot her youthful attitude can teach him – an acknowledgement Batman has rarely made in relation to any of his past sidekicks or allies. Whatever the future holds for the newly revitalized Batman, it's clear that it's one where he's willing to listen as much as he is to lead.
RELATED INTERVIEW: Miller & Azzarello on Dark Knight III #7’s Major Development
The story's epilog is a key turning point for Carrie – appearance-wise, she has abandoned the garish colors of her former costume in favor of the more traditional black and greys associated with apparel historically worn by the Bat-family. More significant, though, is that she asks – or more accurately, demands – that Batman not refer to her as Batgirl going forward, but to instead call her Batwoman.
Her new moniker, coupled with Batman's adjusted attitude, points toward a potential dynamic that has never been seen in the Bat-family: that of a partner who is a true equal to Batman rather than a sidekick, or even an ally who is a close second in stature, but second nonetheless. The final panel of the main story symbolizes this new relationship by superimposing Batwoman's silhouette alongside Batman's own in an image replicating Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's iconic cover from the original Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Lara's A Chip Off The Ol' Steel Block
One character throughout the series who has also undergone significant growth is Lara, daughter of Kal-El and Diana. An important aspect of The Master Race has been the two halves of Lara's Kryptonian / Amazonian heritage being at odds with each other, and which side of the conflict she would ultimately end up on. Her allegiance is made clearer than ever, however, when she deals the final blow to Quar's conquest by pushing him into Earth's sun.
The mini-comic by Miller and Brian Azzarello accompanying this issue, curiously entitled Dark Knight Universe Presents: Action Comics #1, provides a focus on Lara and Clark, bridging the gap from her lack of understanding humanity to wanting to learn to be human. Clark's explanation of his own humanity to his daughter gives her that desire to understand, potentially adding learning how to be human to a personality that will enhance – or possibly conflict with – her existing dual heritage.
Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9 is far from a mere conclusion to a storyline, or even a trilogy – it's more of a beginning that establishes a potential ongoing future for the DCU – or perhaps a "DKU."