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As much as I attempt to avoid it, there’s really not much to discuss this month without going into spoiler territory, so I’ll be speaking freely about the various events of this issue.  If you want to go in completely fresh, go ahead and stop reading…

…now.


I was discussing odds and ends with one of the other writers and, when this book was brought up, I said that both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness has been how boring it is.  That was stated tongue-in-cheek, of course, and just for the sake of being pithy, but considering how anticipated the series was and how truly crazy it could have been, it’s been fairly dull.

That isn’t a testament to the writing at all, as the dialogue this month especially is particularly strong, but even with the threat of hundreds of zealous Kryptonians the central conflict has taken a back seat to smaller character beats.

No pun intended, as we open to the fate the smallest character of all: the Atom.

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This and a companion scene actually bookend the main narrative, and frankly, I’m excited for what they promise.  I’ve said before that the Atom is far and away the best part of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and while it was kind of obvious he didn’t actually die it’s nice to get confirmation.

That excitement quickly fades, however, as the focus shifts to Superman, Lara and the Kandorians.  To his credit, Clark has probably the Supermaniest moment he’s had under Miller’s pen when he tries to reason with Lara and refuses to turn on humanity.

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He is then encased in “black matter” at the North Pole, melted along with the Fortress of Solitude, and encased in ice once again.

At least you tried, Frank.

Having deposed the last Kryptonian threat, Quar issues an ultimatum: turn over Batman within 36 hours or Gotham will be destroyed.  This leads to civil disorder and chaos, which we’ve seen in this world before so it’s a bit old-hat, but Commissioner Yindel proves that she may very well be the best written and most sympathetic character in this series.

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To prep for what will no doubt be a war, Bruce presents Carrie with two gifts: one he says is “hope,” the other “a graduation present.”  This pays off in the Dark Knight Universe mini-comic included with the issue which is kind of refreshing, but I’ll cover that in a bit.

This is the halfway point of the series, which is a surprise because I could have sworn that it was six issues and not eight, but that’s neither here nor there.  There is certainly some rising action, with different pieces being put into play, but this story is already overstaying its welcome.  It isn’t involving enough to sustain interest over increasingly longer delays, and even if it shipped on schedule there isn’t enough narrative meat to justify so many installments.

I think my main problem is the lack of characterization for the primary protagonist and antagonist.  For Quar, that’s fine: he’s a homicidal despot, and we don’t really need to understand or identify with him.  He isn’t a particularly interesting despot, though, as all he does is posture and make threats on television.  Sure, his lot took out Superman, but Clark’s return and “destruction” (ha) both happened so quickly that it just felt like an anticlimax.

Bruce is a blank slate as well, given to thoughts of how great Carrie is and little else.  I mentioned last review how aggravating it was that this sudden push for Carrie to be a prominent figure is a disservice to her and Bruce as well, with her having an unnatural progression and Bruce having a regression.  I’m fine with Carrie being developed more, of course, but not to the detriment of other characters.

That’s not even mentioning the appearances by other Leaguers, each thrown in as little more than fan service.  Diana has had a bit of characterization, brooding here over Bruce’s stubbornness, but it’s little more than a pafe’s worth of the narrative.   As for the Flash… poor Barry is treated almost as poorly as Superman, if you can believe that.

From an artistic standpoint, things at least look fine.  When he isn’t trying to mimic Miller’s style, Kubert’s work here is pretty outstanding, and thanks to a special gallery at the end of the issue you can see how great his layouts are.  Add in Janson’s inks and Anderson’s colors and you at least get a serviceable product.  When things shine, though, they’re absolutely great, from the use of lighting in the scenes atop GCPD headquarters to the full-page splash of the Flash sprawled out on the concrete.

With a more consistent shipping schedule and an actual plot at work now, hopefully this book will turn around and make the journey worth it.  If not, at least the Atom’s back.

Let's hope so, Ray.
Let’s hope so, Ray.

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These are becoming increasingly more cumbersome.  Last issue’s Green Lantern story was at least interesting, in an incredibly morbid way, but the sloppiness of the artwork combined with almost nonexistent plots make these shorts perfect examples of great promise with diminishing returns.

To its credit, this story ties in directly to the events of the larger issue, following Carrie on the mission Bruce gave her.  There are a few bits of internal monologue that are kind of nice, with the word “if” and its potentially menacing implications reflected upon, but it does not look good.  At all.

Gyugh!
Gyugh!

Everything is Miller to the extreme, with the ugly faces and grotesque proportions that made the immediate predecessor that will not be named such a visual chore to get through.

As for Carrie’s “graduation present”?  Well…

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I mean, I guess the colors are nice inverted throwback to one of Catwoman’s old costumes, but yeah, not a fan.

True to form, the story ends with an outrageous cameo and then just… ends.

I’ve no doubt these shorts will factor in the endgame, so they don’t feel superfluous, they’re just disjointed in their telling and sloppily illustrated.  Because of that, what was one of the series’ most promising additions have become a chore to get through and feel like an afterthought.

BONUS: Another month, another batch of variants.  Here’s my personal favorite, a lovely piece from Rafael Albuquerque.

Spoiler
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Recommended if:

  • You’ve been reading thus far.
  • You loved The Dark Knight Returns.
  • You like Carrie Kelley.
  • You can appreciate an old-school Simpsons reference.
  • You like variant covers.

Overall: Not awful, just dull, which might even be worse.  Azzarello, Miller, Kubert, and Janson offer up something that’s fine on a technical level, but it never gets bad enough that it’s worth caring about or good enough that it’s worth raving over.  Will it read better as a whole?  Time will tell, but we have a long time to wait before finding that out.

SCORE: 5.5/10