With "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race" scheduled to debut in late November, DC Comics celebrated Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and beyond with "The Dark Knight 30th Anniversary" panel Friday at New York Comic Con. In attendance: "Dark Knight III" co-writer Brian Azzarello, "Dark Knight III" penciler Andy Kubert, "Dark Knight Returns" and "Dark Knight III" inker Klaus Janson and DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee. DC's John Cunningham served as moderator.
The panel starts with Cunningham discussing the legacy of the original "Dark Knight Returns." Praising the influence the book had on the medium, Cunningham then read from a negative review of the book written at the time, dubbing it "entirely incorrect."
Next up, naturally: "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," the sequel released in 2001 and 2002, with Cunningham showing art from the book.
Before the "Dark Knight III" talk started, a surprise -- but fitting -- guest joined the panel: Frank Miller.
Lee said that "Dark Knight III" was birthed by Miller wanting to return to his primary passion: comic books. Lee added that at first he wanted to draw "Dark Knight III" himself, but his fellow Co-Publisher Dan DiDio remind him "the book has to come out." Thus, Kubert entered the series, with Lee praising his work and professionalism.
"I dialed my art down a lot," Kubert said. "This gentleman right here really helps me out a lot," Kubert added, patting Janson on the shoulder.
"Frank was interested in revisiting this stuff, and he was interested in me visiting with him," Azzarello said. "I went over to Frank's studio, we talked about this story, and it sounded like a pretty fun project to be working on together."
Miller shared his insight on the series: "I set up a realm in which Batman would operate, and tried to stay true to the character, and Brian is now expanding on the storyline that I introduced," Miller said. "But these are DC characters, and remain so -- this is their world. All I can say is, they picked the perfect team. I couldn't be more thrilled."
Janson said he "always had a secret hope" that he and Miller would do another "Dark Knight" story. "It's a wonderful opportunity to work with Frank again," Janson said. "There's one reason why 'Dark Knight Returns' was such a success, and that's Frank Miller."
Cunningham showed some of Kubert's black-and-white interior pages on the screen, and said that fans will be genuinely surprised by the ending of "Dark Knight III;" calling it the true completion of the arc.
"It's identifiably 'Dark Knight,' it looks like no other comic than 'Dark Knight,' Janson said of Kubert's pages. "It's a continuation of what Frank had established in the first 'Dark Knight.'" "And it's even more so when Klaus inks it," Kubert added.
Lee explained how the "Dark Knight Universe Presents" minicomics will work within the main series. "The periodical comic book will have a minicomic bound inside," Lee said. "The first one's drawn by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus. It's a story featuring the Atom. You open it up, you get something you never expected to get, and you're drawn into this magical world."
The second minicomic, as revealed by Lee, will be illustrated by Eduardo Risso, Azzarello's "100 Bullets" collaborator.
Janson said he was "sweating bullets" inking The Atom story, since it had been 30 years since he inked Miller's pencils. "That's scary," Miller comment on the length of time.
Azzarello said he wasn't intimidated working with Miller on "Dark Knight III." "You got to understand -- DC let me play with their toys, and then Brian asked me if he could play with DC's toys the way I treated them," Miller said. "No egos were bruised."
Lee added that a Batman/Green Lantern fight in the script proved to him the two were "deadly serious" about the story.
"We're constantly trying to make each other laugh," Azzarello said, saying that's how they come up with "crazy ideas" for the characters. "There are a couple Superman bits in this book... you're going to like Superman again."
Lee mentioned the amount of in-person collaboration Miller and Azzarello have done on the series. "I'm not being modest; I'm consulting, this is Brian's show," Miller said. "Well, you're being modest," Azzarello added. "Shut up," Miller responded, playfully.
"Just for me to be a part of it, and to do all this stuff, is incredible," Kubert said of his experience so far. Lee talked of the "progression" in Kubert's art: "You're really creating a narrative just using the shapes and sizes of the panels. It got really lyrical, and very cool."
Lee showed off a mock-up of the hardcover slipcase for "The Dark Knight III," and added that the only way to get the minicomics in that format will be in the single issues.
First question from the audience: Which characters would the panel want to see in the Dark Knight Universe? Miller and Azzarello had the same answer: "Brother Power the Geek."
Miller told a fan that DC was originally "quite embarrassed" by "Dark Knight Returns," and "they created Elseworlds to explain it. It then became an Elseworlds book. You'll notice the word 'Elseworlds' appears nowhere on 'Dark Knight.'"
An audience member asked for the "craziest" experience the panelists had in comics. Miller had the most popular answer: "The craziest thing that happened to me was, I walked into Jenette Kahn's office, and said I wanted to do a Batman that was older and meaner, coming out of retirement -- and she said, 'Sounds good.'"
Asked what was going through his head when he read the first "All-Star Batman and Robin" script, Lee answered, "Probably the same stuff that was going through Andy's head" -- seeing how Miller would draw the story, but knowing that he had to do it in his own way.
A fan asked if Miller believed that "the pendulum could swing" back to a campier version of Batman, like Adam West. "I believe that the Adam West version has as much merit as 'Dark Knight,' or anything else," Miller said, calling the Adam West version "delightful." "I like Batman. The wonderful thing about a character that is as rich as Batman is that he's like a diamond -- you can do anything to him, and he can't break. He always works."
Asked if his "Dark Knight III" experience will influence his future work, Kubert said it depends on what his next projects are, but "I can't see it not influencing me to a certain extent."
Will Miller be directing a movie again anytime soon? "Anytime, anywhere I'm asked," Miller said.
A fan asked what Miller would like to see from "The Dark Knight Returns" in 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" film. "The most important one I want to have is the duel between the two, with the clear finish that Batman wins," Miller replied.
Next fan asked about the much-discussed visible bulge in Superman's trunks on Miller's "Dark Knight Universe Presents: The Atom" cover. "You're going to like Superman's junk," Azzarello said. "I sir, have no idea what you're talking about," Miller added.
Next question: "Is 'Sin City 3' a possibility?" "Oh yeah," Miller said.
Lee told the crowd that "The Dark Knight Returns" was the comic that inspired him to put his plans for medical school on hold and pursue comics as a career.
Is there a possibility that "Dark Knight III" will lead to more stories told in that world? Azzarello mentioned the title of the minicomics -- "Dark Knight Universe" -- and said, "Is it implying that there could be more? Duh. Yeah, of course." "That means yes," Lee said.