The Wait, What? Roundtable: The Dark Knight III, Part 2

November 25, 2015

PREVIOUSLY, ON THE WAIT, WHAT? ROUNDTABLE: We started talking about Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1, the return of the alternate future world that Frank Miller first sold the world back in 1986. While Jeff and Graeme found themselves surprised by how much they liked it — in large part because neither had really been expecting anything from it — Matt was more dismissive, claiming that there was no reason for it to feel like anything other than another alternate future Batman story. Something that Jeff wasn’t convinced by, as you’re about to learn…

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JEFF: Really?  I feel like there were three things that elevated DK2: yeah, the first was Miller playing with the rest of the toys in the DC Universe; but the second was that, by the time DK2 ends, Batman and Robin look more like Batboy and Rubin, and there’s a lot of Superduperman in there as well, which was pretty surprising to see in the official sequel to the definitive grim & gritty Batman classic. While I definitely feel part of it was to show that Miller—just like Janice in Accounting—did not give a  fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, it was also Miller swearing his fealty not to DC and Batman, but to EC and Mad and Harvey Kurtzman. At some point, Miller had moved on from being a comic book creator to being a cartoonist, which for Miller is something both less serious and more important.

And finally the third thing was 9/11, which pushed back publication of the last issue of The Dark Knight Strikes Again as Miller tried to process the events into the course of his story.  He had to process 9/11 into DK2 because the first few issues had been unsubtly positing Batman as a domestic terrorist. (“Striking terror,” Batman says in the second issue, while taking down the Secretary of State and the Chiefs of Staff.  “Best part of the job.”)  Because more than half of Dark Knight Strikes Again is Miller giddily setting straw men on fire, it took a recent re-read to remind me that while Miller’s satirical view of late ‘90s America was crude, it wasn’t entirely incorrect.  A lot of power during that time got consolidated, and a lot of people got exploited.

So the thing I ended up really liking about the start of Dark Knight III is that the Batman of the first issue is very explicitly aligned with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  Batman beats up a lot of cops in this first issue, and there’s a pretty harsh page of cops beating the crap out of the hero, too.   The number of scenes of Batman saving a woman from a gang of attacking thugs are countless, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him rescue a black teenager from a group of policemen.

Whether or not that was actually Miller’s idea—and sadly, because Miller has spent the last few decades reveling in his political incorrectness I find it hard to believe it was—those scenes feel electric in a book that is otherwise baggy and directionless.  They’re an excellent extension of Miller’s concerns across his other Batman books—with the exception of “Wanted: Santa Claus….Dead or Alive,” Miller’s Batman stories always feature Batman and the police battling one another—while feeling very of the moment. (They were certainly a better executed update than those text speak captions Graeme mentions, which are a clever attempt to echo the Mutant’s speak from DKR and upgrade the constant TV commentator presence of the previous Miller Dark Knight books…while still being a huge, crashing failure.)

So even if it wasn’t Miller, it was enough of what I wanted from a Miller Batman book—a weirdly tangible connection to the world around me.  Based on this issue, I’d check out next issue and I’d do so with a bit more hope than I picked up this one.   I’m sure that’s not really what anyone would define as “an event,” and maybe it just means my expectations were even lower than Graeme’s, but it was a helluva surprise to me.

MATT: God, those captions are so cringe-inducing.

GRAEME: Matt, it’s as if you didn’t like the issue or something.

That’s an interesting point about Miller bringing a greater social relevance to Batman than he traditionally has, Jeff — it’s odd, but for some reason, I always think about Superman being the DC hero with the most social relevance. Maybe it’s the Grant Morrison in me (We all have one!), with the whole “He started as a hero for the downtrodden, then he got cosmic and then Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder did that great TRUTH three-parter where he stood up to the cops and and and” thing; Batman has never seemed to interact with the real world as much, despite what Christopher Nolan has continually tried to convince people. I agree that DK2 is far more cartoonish than the first Dark Knight, and that’s something that struck me about DK3 — it feels, in many ways, like a follow-up to the first Dark Knight in tone than a continuation of the second.

It made me wonder if this is kind of Azzarello’s role in the whole shebang: to tone down Miller’s less mainstream quirks (Is “quirks” even the right word? It feels dismissive, somehow), and bring the whole thing closer to the grim, self-serious tone of the mainstream DC Universe. This isn’t even All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder; it’s an almost entirely humorless affair, and what humor is present feels accidental. I know that I wasn’t supposed to find Frozen Superman funny, or the text messages, for example, but I did.

MATT: I assume that Azzarello’s role is to actually will this thing into existence, because it feels an awful lot more like one of his books than one of Miller’s. The only way “Am I a piece of the part…[PAGE TURN] or the WHOLE?” could feel more Azzarello is if “whole” didn’t have a W and Superman-on-Ice was sitting in a hole.

And the multiple uses of “snap” in the text message convo? Figure I’m gonna stick the spud who called the tenth volume of his TPBs “Decayed”. Just eye-rollingly annoying, and balls cheesy.

(Interestingly, there’s a persistent rumor that Lynn Varley, conspicuously absent from this book, was responsible for the mutant slang in Dark Knight. So maybe Frank don’t shiv either way.)

I’m not sure if I would’ve been happier if Azzarello had been mimicking Miller (or Varley) better or not, but this … I guess there’s just nothing about it that convinces me it’s anything more than ANOTHER random Batman book.

I realize I’m just rehashing my original point here, and I’m trying to move from that to something else, but … I mean, it’s just a Batman comic. It’s words that feel like they’re mostly from the dude who wrote 100 Bullets with art straight out of the first year of Ultimate X-Men, despite Janson’s best efforts, in service of a story that could be any Batman Elseworlds from the last two decades. There’s literally nothing that separates this from Batman: Europa or Batman: Noel or Batman: Fourthmeal or whatever.

Is there some social relevance? Sure. Are there some decent setpieces and compelling moments? Yeah, definitely — this may not be a particularly exciting creative team but they’re very professional. Will I read the next issue? I dunno. Probably.

Here’s something I kept wondering: how did Brian Azzarello wind up being the consistent thread between two separate cover-version comic revivals? That’s kinda weird, right?

GRAEME: You mean three: DK3, Before Watchmen and the short-lived First Wave that had revivals of The Spirit and Doc Savage from… what, 2007 or so? (2010, according to the Internet.) Azz really has had a strange post-100 Bullets career when you consider all of those, and also his involvement in the I-Wish-It-Was-Better-And-Not-Just-Because-I-Bought-It-All New 52: Future’s End series. It’s given him the impression of being very agreeable to everything put in front of him, even though I’m sure that’s not actually the case; we haven’t seen him on something that seems so amazingly wrong for him, but a pet project of a DC exec just yet. (“Brian Azzarello’s Sugar and Spike: The Teen Years” is likely just around the corner, now that I’ve said that, though.)

I keep thinking about his Doctor Thirteen strip these days, when I think of Azzarello — and, specifically, his Waid/Morrison/Johns/Rucka-as-villains reveal therein. What seemed like a snarky appraisal of the homogenous nature of superhero comics and “shared universe” consistency and continuity at the time now feels to me far more like Azz feeling sad about not being invited into the club, and lashing out as a result. That’s possibly too cynical and uncharitable, and probably means I need to re-read the D13 strip again, but still…

Something I’m wondering, in light of Jeff’s and my response to Dark Knight III #1 as compared with Matt’s, is how much expectations play into this. Jeff and I went in with, let’s be blunt, little-to-no expectations beyond thinking we were probably going to hate the book, and were pleasantly surprised. Matt, I feel like your disappointment with the book is far more tied into what it’s not — namely, a Frank Miller comic — than what it is; you even say that it has some decent set pieces and compelling moments. So, to ask a question we tackled last time we did a roundtable, then: Is this a good first issue?

MATT: I think my disappointment is tied into the fact that it’s not an event, which it’s clearly intended to be. It’s just a book. But is it a good first issue? I’ll let Jeff take first crack at that one.

JEFF: Oboy.  Well, first off, let me say I apparently was one of the few who loved Batman: Fourthmeal, so I don’t know why you’re throwing so much shade on it, Matt.

As for DK3 being a good first issue by the standards of our roundtable?  That’s a tough call for me since after reading it, I went back and dug into DKSA and the first issue of DKR and, man, those first issues are thick.  The first issue of Dark Knight Returns is 51 pages with cover, credits, etc.  DKSA #1 is 83 pages.

So I wonder if maybe we’re getting a truncated first issue from what was originally plotted?  Because while there are three or four threads introduced here, and several unanswered questions about the status quo, it feels like it’s only just getting its story going…even by the standards of today’s paced-for-the-trade standard.  Miller likes to bring the big to his big moments, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that first issue clfifhanger, while serviceable on its own, was really meant to be the twist to really kick the entire first act into overdrive.

Again, my expectations arguably could not have been lower, but I read that first issue and went : Okay.  The street-level Batman of Dark Knight Returns, the Wonder Woman and Supergirl of Dark Knight Strikes Again, and the last page points to why those two don’t mesh up as neatly as the end of DKSA would make you think.  Fine. Despite not knowing who is responsible for what, or if we’re really getting the real deal or just the Brian Azzarello cover band kicking out an eight issue cover of “I Want To Be Sedated” while Frank “Joey Ramone” Miller leans exhaustedly against the drum kit, mic in hand, nodding with enthusiasm, I feel like I know at least that much about what the story is doing or wants to do.  And so, I dunno, maybe if that pack-in comic is cool enough and Batman ends up punching his way through the entire Tea Party, I’ll be back for more?

But to turn it back around on you, Matt–and I apologize if this is a roundtable for another time–but what do you consider an event?  I get that this first issue is an unresolved jumble of elements and riffs, but there is Superman frozen in a block of ice, Wonder Woman doing proud warrior woman things, and Batman kicking the shit out of 30 million police officers.  Would it have felt more like an event to you if these things were just done better?  Were you expecting higher stakes, like if the aged Justice League were stuck playing shuffleboard against the aging Legion of Doom on a massive dyson sphere around the red sun where our sun used to be?  Or were you expecting more thought into taking Miller’s “it’s Batman, but like he’s old” premise and doing something new with it?  For you, what would’ve made this top even the Joker and Batman’s dramatic churro-off in Batman: Fourrthmeal, such that you would be all, “okay! Event engine engaged!”?

It’s a good question, but one that Matt won’t get the chance to answer until tomorrow, when we wrap this roundtable up with one final installment. What makes an event? Where next for DC’s nostalgia? All this and a cameo from none other than Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”! Miss it never, true believers!


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2 comments on “The Wait, What? Roundtable: The Dark Knight III, Part 2

  1. I would love to see Azzarello pitch AfterMaus. It would mean he has a sense of humour about his career.

  2. Mike Loughlin Nov 26, 2015

    I haven’t read DK3 #1, and probably won’t unless I can do so for free. I’m not trade-waiting, I’m library waiting. I got burned by DK2. It’s been criticized every which way, so I have nothing new to say about it other than 1) I flat out didn’t enjoy it and thought the art was aesthetically displeasing, and 2) maybe Miller went for an EC/Mad/Kurtzman vibe but the stiffness of his art got in the way. The faces in DK2 looked vacant, and the exaggerated proportions reminded me less of Bigfoot cartooning and more of those “Superfriends” DC toys they made for 4 year-olds.

    Also, Batman saving black male in a Frank Miller comic would be truly shocking. From Turk on down, his record of depicting men of color is pretty deplorable.