Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Expanding A Universe or Ruining It?: DKIII The Master Race

Sometimes a sequel is blah. Worse is when it destroys the world that spawned it, so that the only way you can enjoy its predecessors as much as you previously did is to pretend that the sequel never happened. ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ was like that for me. So was ‘Go Set A Watchman’. ‘The Godfather Part III’ veered towards it, but stayed just on the side of only leaving itself diminished.
For the first ten pages of DKIII The Master Race #3 I was worried this was going to happen to Frank Miller’s laudable ‘Dark Knight’ series. (For some people this already happened when Miller released ‘DK2’.) At the start of this issue we see Miller’s world in ruins as the Kryptonians of Superman’s shrunken, bottled city of Kandor, having been restored to normal size, wreak havoc on several of Earth’s major cities. It is a fair escalation from the threat level of the original series, in which we had a future Gotham plagued by street gangs and lone madmen.
Now in Miller’s original ‘Dark Knight’ series we had the havoc – including a disabled plane crashing into a crowded street – caused by an electromagnetic pulse, but that series worked up to that level of disaster, and within the logic of that series it was regarded as a ‘big thing’. DK2, whatever its faults, also had that sense of perspective. But in DKIII whole cities and populations are decimated within the space of a few panels. For the Dark Knight version of Batman this feels wrong, as if the danger that was masterfully built up in the first series has been diminished.
Hence I was leaning towards disregarding this story altogether and pretending it just was not a part of ‘Dark Knight’ canon. The change in creators also adds to this sense of it not really being in line with its predecessors. Frank Miller has co-written DKIII with Brian Azzarello, and unlike the first two series he handles none of the art, which is done here by Andy Kubert, though Klaus Janson from the original series returns on inks.
There are some nods to the storytelling techniques used in the first series, but they are somewhat tokenistic, and the effect is quite different. The clustered TV panels which were a hallmark of the first series are around, but they do not add a lot to the story, whereas they had a vital part in the first series in showing how the Batman was viewed. Similarly there are splash pages, but they are used in a fairly standard way – i.e. to try and generate shock and awe. In contrast, Miller interspersed them in unusual, often unexpected ways in the first series; for example when he suddenly interrupted Batman and Robin mid-dialogue just to have a whole page of them leaping across the rooftops.
But just when I was about to dismiss DKIII#3 it kind of comes together. Batman awakens Superman to help him deal with the Kryptonians, which is a nice reversal from their famous rivalry in the first Dark Knight series. Then an important character from the second series returns and turns on our heroes, which sets up what looks like an interesting confrontation for what I assume is the final issue, and also a relatively natural one given the Dark Knight series to date.
So there is hope yet. But I am not exactly hanging out for a DKIV or DK4 or whatever it would be. The first was untouchable, the second was imaginative, and the third all in all is fine enough. However each subsequent instalment takes us a further little away from that moving final image of Bruce Wayne and his crew making a new life in the caves.

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