Two issues into “Dark Knight III: The Master Race,” and it’s fair to say this comic is one of DC Comics’ surprise successes of 2015 — and not just in terms of sales, though orders have been incredibly high on this series so far. Rather, considering the critical response to Frank Millers’ last few comics, “Dark Knight III” defies expectations. Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson and Eduardo Risso’s “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #2 builds on the strengths of the first issue and keeps it moving in an intriguing and entertaining fashion.
Miller and Azzarello pick up right where the previous issue left off. Carrie is in custody, shouting to the world as loud as she can that Bruce Wayne is dead. The Atom is trying to restore the shrunken, bottled residents of Kandor. Wonder Woman is having problems getting her daughter Lara to embrace the Amazonian way. For two of these three threads, there are devious traps waiting to be sprung.
The basic plotting is satisfying because it feels thought through, with every twist having a purpose. Betrayals, double-crosses and surprises are tailored towards those getting caught unaware by them. It’s a careful level of detail that makes the comic feel more rewarding; this isn’t just a random surprise, but careful decisions made by characters outsmarting their opponents. The story plays on everything from hubris to the news media’s need to blast headlines out to the world, and it’s fun.
Miller and Azzarello also keep the comic moving at a brisk pace, be it a chase scene or Carrie delivering some exposition about the fate of Bruce Wayne. Every page, every beat has a specific purpose. Of special note is that exposition; the narration from Carrie is deliberately melodramatic, one that sets up the perfect response from the disbelieving commissioner. Of course, as Carrie plants the story into the world, it becomes increasingly clear she has purposely prepared this piece of news for maximum impact.
Kubert channels his inner Miller here, and the end result is stunning. Carrie’s interrogation scenes — filled with the shadows of the cell bars spreading around her — bring to mind Miller’s art on titles like “Sin City” and “Elektra Lives Again.” It feels like an homage, though, not a copy. From the little bandages and plasters on Carrie’s face (very Marv from “Sin City”) to the massive, hulking, tank-like Batmobile, this is Kubert taking all of Miller’s trademark ideas and reinterpreting them in his style.
Kubert and Janson’s pages include two choices that set their technique apart from Miller’s, though. The first is a softer edge than you get in Miller’s art; Miller’s pages are a little more angular and sharp, and Kubert and Janson give us rounded figures so it’s not quite as harsh. Additionally, there’s a sense of joy in the art. When everything goes down in the chase scene, for example, the smile that creeps onto Carrie’s face just radiates off the page. You’re supposed to cheer on the good guys here and boo the villains, but — more importantly — have fun while you’re doing it.
Risso’s art in the backup/mini-comic feature is up to its usual standards. Risso uses his usual style here, with graceful inks and well-placed shadows under Wonder Woman’s tiara. The jungle ziggurats (which bring to mind the South American Fortress of Solitude that Azzarello and Jim Lee created in their “Superman” run back in the day) look wonderfully imposing under Risso, who crafts a mythic setting for the scene between mother and daughter. While Risso depends on Trish Mulvihill’s colors a little too much for backgrounds, Mulvihill’s work here is reminiscent of Lynn Varley’s work on Miller’s “300,” which is especially apt and eye-catching.
“Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #2 makes it official: everyone may have been preparing for a proverbial train wreck, but the series is a critical success. This is a comic that plays to all of its creators’ strengths and will leave readers wishing all sequels were as good as “Dark Knight III: The Master Race.”