Dark Knight III #1 Reviewed (Week of November 25th)
The Dark Knight returns. Again. I was surprised when DC announced Frank Miller’s return to his classic medium/genre-changing interpretation of Batman. Given the critical (albeit commercially successful) backlash to DK2 and the general sentiment that Miller’s best creative years are behind him (not to mentions his reportedly poor health), the last thing I expected was a third chapter. So, having read the opening chapter in what we are told will be an eight-issue limited series, is it any good?
In a word, yes. It is. Miller himself only contributes his pencils to “The Atom” mini-comic contained in the middle of this issue. The main story and body of the issue itself is pencilled by Adam Kubert, whose style is close enough to Miller’s in style and form that Klaus Janson’s inking (whose skills combine with both artists) mold the two stories together such that the visual experience for the reader does not feel out-of-sync or disjointed. Make no mistake, fans of the classic Miller Dark Knight will immediately feel back at home in the universe that shaped the modern day mythology of Batman and inspired a trilogy of movies that spawned a billion dollar super-hero movie genre.
In terms of the story, writer Brian Azzarello (who Miller claims did most of the heavy lifting in establishing the premise for this third chapter), immediately drops the reader into a scene of police brutality being interrupted by Batman, followed by a collage of newscasts which express reaction to the re-emergence of Batman on the streets of Gotham. Replicating the same style that made DK1 so iconic, Kubert illustrates an eclectic variety of fictionalized real-life celebrities and broadcasters as they comment on the political and social ramifications of the return of the Dark Knight. The original Dark Knight focused on society’s distrust of big government and political corruption (with Superman embodying the symbol of government fear of rogue elements like Batman). In this third chapter, the title alone suggests an issue that not only reminds some of early 20th century Nazi rhetoric of Aryan superiority, but alludes to more divisive present day controversies pertaining to islamophobia and purported links between race, religion, belief and terrorism which are presently coming to the social forefront due to the Syrian refugee crisis and the Paris Massacre. Miller has been harshly criticised in the past for fostering islamophobia, but that has never stopped him from telling the story he wants to tell; nor does it seem to bother Azzarello, who not only follows Miller’s narrative patterns, but deliberately plants the seeds that will force readers (and especially the characters in the story proper) to confront the issues head on. The seeds are carefully and strategically being planted for a clash of races, religions, beliefs and nations. Wonder Woman battles a Minotaur whilst pampering an infant son on her back. Her daughter Lara responds to a cry for Help from the inhabitants from the bottle City of Kandor. The new Batman, who is the former Robin, Carrie Kelly is hunted and shot by police in response to her actions in protecting an African American from police corruption. What do all these seemingly disparate events have in common? Obviously, readers will have to read all eight chapters to find out; but it is already apparent that it’s not just the fate of Gotham that will hang in the balance in this epic tale. The Human race, Amazon race, and Kryptonian race will inevitably have to confront each other and focus on their common values and seek to respect their differences. But is such collaboration possible in a Frank Miller universe? The analogies that one can draw between Miller’s fictional world and our own are obvious (and indeed always have been). Many of us old school Miller fans may presume to guess as to how Azzarello/Miller will answer the many questions raised. Miller’s Dark Knight Universe has always been intense, dark and brutal in its honesty and unforgiving in its illusions. The current state of crisis in our own world is not altogether different. At the end of the day, Miller’s resolutions often involve revenge and violence with fist-o-cuffs winning the day. I’m not sure that such tactics are particularly helpful in a world where its peoples place ‘race’ on a hierarchy and govern accordingly. Arguably, our own world appears to evolving into planet that does precisely that. And it’s scary. Batman, in most all of his many incarnations, strikes fear into a cowardly lot. But fear is no longer an effective weapon against our enemies, because our enemies thrive on it. Indeed, everyone seems to thrive on it. It’s everywhere. And our own world is going to shit because of it.
But admittedly I digress somewhat. This is just a comic book. It’s not real life. I know that. Nonetheless, I will ultimately judge this series on how the ‘new’ Batman chooses to confront a very different world than the one that existed 30 years ago. The final words uttered from the mouth of a beaten Carrie Kelly speak volumes “Bruce Wayne is DEAD”. Of course, it is unlikely that Bruce Wayne is actually dead within the context of the narrative. Regardless, the revelation still has impact and is gut-wrenching. It’s a metaphoric tombstone to a fear-based approach to living in an unstable world that is no longer tenable. It signals a necessary ‘death’ before an even more necessary rebirth. Will the inevitable return of a ‘new’ Batman set a new example and fight fear with hope, or continue to be an embodiment of darkness, grimness and terror in the minds of people of all races with crime in their hearts? I look forward to see what answers Azzarello and Miller present us with. My guess is that they involve a lot of fear, blood, guts and violence. On the other hand, maybe I’ll actually be surprised and we’ll end up with a ‘new’ Batman that will redefine the comics medium (again) for another 30 years. If not, I’ll still sit back and enjoy the ride; I just won’t be surprised by the destination.
I recommend this comic and in the spirit of the mini-comic that is contained within it I award it a thought-provoking 8.3/10.