It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with the Dark Knight universe, so a bit of a recap may be in order: in the surprisingly decent* debut, we were reintroduced to the world that was established in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and kind of reminded of a few things from but mostly glossed over the events of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Since the previous books, Superman has gone into a self-imposed exile in the Fortress of Solitude, Wonder Woman has given birth to a son, Clark and Diana’s daughter Lara is conflicted in embracing her Amazonian and Kryptonian heritage, Ray Palmer is working on reversing the shrinking process used on Kandor, and Carrie Kelley has taken up the mantle of the Batman after Bruce Wayne’s death.
December’s installment had quite a few twists in its own right: Commissioner Yindel actually brought up some great points about vigilantism; Palmer succeeded in “saving” Kandor, only to release a cult of murderous Kandorians led by the equally merciless Quar (and possibly got squished under a boot); and most shockingly of all, it’s revealed that Bruce Wayne is alive, though crippled and frail.
Now, with the title character finally back in the picture, we can see what Bruce’s mindset is in his twilight years. His inner monologue is actually rather touching, full of the grace and humility that comes with the realization that your body just can’t take any more, and he outright admits that his body is “kindling.”
That’s a far cry from the borderline sociopath who battled Luthor and ridiculed “Dick Grayson,” and that’s more than welcome.
Bruce also meditates on Carrie’s skills and how great she is in the role, and it comes off a little disingenuous. I don’t really have anything against the character, but his thoughts carry an air of Miller and Azzarello trying a bit too hard to show how great of a character she is. I get that she’s carrying the torch in Bruce’s stead, but they should show us why she deserves it instead of just telling us.
Things quickly take a turn, though, as the Kandorian threat arises and Quar makes a simple request: total subjugation of humanity and the worship of the “master race” as gods.
Honestly, even though the seeds were sown earlier, I was kind of hoping for a different spin on the “evil Kryptonian” trope, but it’s pretty standard order here. I was talking with another writer about the series, and he said that it’s kind of anticlimactic that this new villain shows up when the previous books have used established threats as the antagonists. Granted, there is the angle that Kandor is Superman’s first great failure looming over the affair and the bitterness Quar and his followers have towards him that will drive the conflict, but as massive as the threat is it still feels like the stakes are low. There isn’t any attachment to these villains, so even when they level entire cities or seemingly kill beloved characters they don’t feel like anything more than generic bad guys.
As evidenced by the cover, Bruce and Carrie head to the Fortress of Solitude to enlist the help of the only man who can: Superman. I may be alone in thinking this, but this was the best sequence in the book. In fact, there’s a line of Bruce’s that may be my favorite interaction between him and Clark in any of Miller’s books.
The line itself could be taken several different ways, but Kubert’s pencils tell the real story here: the squint in his eyes, that slight grin on Bruce’s lips. This is one man approaching another, not as a rival, an enemy, or even an acquaintance, but as a friend. As much of a rivalry as Batman and Superman have been depicted as having over the years, and with Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns serving as no small catalyst and inspiring countless homages to its depiction of their relationship, Bruce and Clark are friends. They’re the World’s Finest team. Bruce may hold some resentment, maybe even some regret, but ultimately he’s calling on his friend.
And his friend responds.
Clark’s daughter Lara may be the most interesting character here, in large part because of her inner conflict and trying to reconcile her heritage. She’s shown allied with Quar and his band, though I doubt she’d be willing to go to the extremes they will to flex superiority.
The satirical talking heads and silly slang make a return as well and… I don’t know. I know what Azzarello and Miller are going for and the purpose they serve, but I think the fact that we’re living through this type of media saturation makes it harder to enjoy. The broad strokes used to paint the thinly-veiled media makes it come off as annoying rather than cutting, which may be part of the point, but I already know Glenn Beck, reality television, and Donald Trump are obnoxious. The satire lacks the teeth that it sorely needs, so it just drags the whole affair down.
What the issue ultimately suffers from is “middle installment syndrome”: this is more a bridge between the opening chapters and those forthcoming. It’s the rising action before the climax. As such, it drags a bit even with the return of two massive figures like Bruce and Clark.
In short, it’s kind of boring.
That may change, of course. The opening issues were surprisingly solid, and how Diana and Yindel will figure into this is pretty intriguing, but on its own this issue was fairly weak. Hopefully it reads better as a whole.
If anyone needed redemption after their treatment in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it was…
Let me start over.
Remember Hal Jordan? How he was part of some weird green alien family, served as a deus ex machina, and then disappeared? Let’s see what’s going on with him.
Of the Dark Knight Universe Presents shorts, this one is the most interesting, along with being the weirdest. Hal comes back to Earth to confront some of the wives of Quar, who mistake him for a deity.
I wont spoil what happens next, but it is pretty brutal and made me want to find out what happens next. Romita and Miller’s pencils mesh to give a distinct look that never quite feels like one over the other, save the opening “weird green alien” page, and Alex Sinclair makes some great use of light sources to make the lantern effects genuinely glow. It’s the part of the issue I can’t wait to see more of, and sometimes that’s all you can ask.
BONUS: As usual, there’s a slew of variant covers. Here’s my personal favorite:
What can I say? I liked him on Nightwing.
- You’ve been reading this book already.
- You wanted to follow up on that cliffhanger.
- You want a weird Green Lantern story.
- You really like Carrie Kelley and don’t mind Batman telling you how awesome she is.
Overall: I’ve been genuinely surprised at how low-key this book has been, and while that means it isn’t a disaster it also feels a lot smaller than it should. Kubert’s pencils and Janson’s inks continue to look great, and other than the political commentary misstep nothing in the script was particularly bad, but it committed an even more grievous sin: it was dull. And really, a Batman story where Superman breaks free from a glacier to take on kamikaze atomic Kandorians? That shouldn’t be boring.
*I really hope DC uses that as a pull-quote on the graphic novel.