Dark Knight III: The Master Race #4

Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson's "Dark Knight III: The Master Race" #4 brings the series to its halfway point as the Kandorians make their move against the planet and Batgirl makes a motion of her own. This issue includes more straightforward superheroics than the moody pseudo-homage of issues past, although -- like the previous installments -- much of it takes place while Batman remains in the shadows. The mood is a little different, but it remains just as worthwhile a chapter as its predecessors. Kubert and Janson strengthen the issue with stark and almost haunting visuals, while the writers elevate the tension to evolve the story into a genuine thriller.

Kubert's iconic cover for the standard edition is a stylish, yet simple image of the Kryptonian army punching through clouds illuminated by the Bat-signal on their way towards the planet's surface; colorist Brad Anderson's deep red tones dominate, shrouding the cover and making it stand out on the shelves. Their opening page features Ray Palmer's apparent fate after the events of last issue, cleverly laid out by Kubert and Janson in a way that gives the scene Miller-esque texture. Palmer's predicament bookends the events of this chapter, and Kubert's pencil-only art for this page and several others appear at the end of the issue as an attractive bonus feature.

Miller and Azzarello start off the issue in earnest with Superman facing not only the restored Kandorians, but also someone far closer to him, and the nation's capital bears the bruises of the battle. Readers can infer the intended political allegory here, especially when the creators lightheartedly insert an unnamed but clearly recognizable Donald Trump talking head. A more obvious religious parallel is made later on when Superman's own people turn against him and all but crucify him, complete with his beaten and bloodied form at their feet. This sequence also cleverly reverses of the classic trial sequence from Richard Donner's "Superman" film.

Kubert and Janson starkly render another disturbing image when they smear Superman's blood across an otherwise pristine arctic landscape, punctuated by the looming formation of a blitzkrieg-like array of Kryptonians floating above the scene, in another symbolic image that evokes Nazism and its own self-professed master race. Images like these are what allow Kubert to shape the story, not just convey it; Kurbert helps advance Miller and Azzarello's tale here, and the issue is all the better for it.

Despite the focus on Superman, the creators never forget that the Dark Knight is the focal point of the comic, and so the scene eventually shifts to Batman readying himself for an inevitable, impossible conflict. The scene effectively transitions from the bright, open outdoors to the darker confines of the Batcave, beneath a palpably tense Gotham, whose threatened populace is all-too-willing to turn on their protector. Near the midway point of the arc, readers finally get a peek of the Batman they've been waiting for, as well as the unexpected but all-too-brief return of a familiar hero.

Bruce gives Batgirl, aka Carrie, her own mission in this issue, and that mission is revealed in the inserted mini-comic, which is once again drawn by Miller himself. Miller seems to go well out of his way to incorporate a sense of ugliness into many of his story's characters, in perhaps another symbolic representation of their turning on their city's champion. This story also features the return of another missing hero, but this one immediately promises to play a larger role in future issues.

Miller, Azzarello, Kubert and Janson all step it up this issue, and both the story and the readers benefit from it. "Dark Knight III: The Master Race" #4 will put to rest any doubts fans had about this series' merits.

Award-Winning Comic Book Journalist, Tom Spurgeon, Passes Away

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