The rumours were true, it's not a hoax and here it is: Dark Knight III: The Master Race. The sequel to The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (it's a grower, with time). It's a thing, it exists, and Frank Miller is involved. 'Involved' being the operative word.
Since All-Star Batman and Robin and the (let's be charitable and say) ill-advised Holy Terror, the name Frank Miller isn't the guarantee of quality it once was. Politics aside, is the man even capable of putting together a story like his Dark Knight Returns or Year One these days? So Brian Azzarello joins as co-writer, to reign in and ride on. We may never know exactly who wrote exactly what (although one suspects Miller has provided the bones of the story, leaving Azzarello to do the heavy lifting and flesh it all out) but make no mistake, The Master Race feels like the return to that universe we had all hoped it would be.
His moniker is in the title, but The Dark Knight is only glimpsed throughout the pages of this first book, silently dismantling a squad of heavily armed cops and tearing through the alleys of Gotham on the Bat-bike. It opens bigger than DKR, re-introducing us to Wonder Woman, Superman (albeit glimpsed – and hopefully less of a joke) and their daughter within pages of starting. There's a battle with a Minotaur (the baby on Wonder Woman's back throughout is a nice touch), trip to the Fortress of Solitude and a glimpse at the woes of Commissioner Yindel. It's a breathless opener, but one that maintains the status quo of the universe and surely sets us up for things to come.
With a title like The Master Race, you'd be right to fear a return of Frank's worst tendencies, but the story throws you off by opening with the Bat whaling into a group of armed cops, thereby saving the young black man they were about to shoot down on the spot – in the back, no less. It's the right kind of street level, but this change of antagonist – a far cry from the gangsters and supervillains of old – shows that this Batman still has much to say, if he cares to.
Azzarello nods at Miller's previous work without being overly faithful, thankfully saving us from the repetition the latter is usually so enamoured with – which works for Miller, but would sound awful in another author's voice – but retaining the TV talking heads and scattershot nature of the book's predecessors. The art is lovely, pencilled by Miller and Andy Kubert and inked by Klaus Janson, giving us a beautiful neon cross between The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. It feels a little odd seeing the pure fantasy of Wonder Woman in the jungle in the midst of it all, but the Bat action is executed and illustrated beautifully; at once homage and its own thing.
It's too soon to tell how exactly The Master Race will play out, but this is a well-pitched first issue (if a little too ambitious in bouncing between various characters) sets us up well for the story ahead. The Dark Knight is returned and, on the basis of this first instalment, it's been well worth the wait. Cheers Azzarello!
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #1 / WRITER: FRANK MILLER, BRIAN AZZARELLO / ARTIST: FRANK MILLER, ANDY KUBERT, KLAUS JANSON / PUBLISHER: DC COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW