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When the storytelling is focused, it’s amazing how even a faltering story can turn around to become a massive entertainment.  Such is the case with The Dark Knight III #5, which is light on dialogue but serves up some pretty exciting set-pieces in spades.

None too soon either, as the 8-part series has just now surpassed the halfway point and was starting to feel like it was spinning its wheels and limping along to its conclusion.  Now I’m personally invested in the affair once more, as there are some developments this month that are absolutely insane in what I hope is going to be the best possible way.  But we’ll get to that.

As you’ll recall, Barry Allen was left in pretty bad shape last issue when his legs were broken in an attack by one of the Kandorians.  Bruce and a few of his soldiers rescue him in the sewers of Gotham, and while Barry is still cheerful in spite of his circumstances, Bruce is less optimistic about his friend’s chances of recovery.

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That’s the first of several brilliant expressions and reactions by Kubert this month; no joke, the art here is some of the best of the series so far, and this is just the second page.

The action then cuts back and forth between the newly christened Batgirl with Aquaman, Quar and his acolytes, and brief appearances from Wonder Woman and Commissioner Yindel.  The biggest development comes from Batgirl and Aquaman’s sojourn under the sea, where they set out to find the fallen Superman, still encased in ice and black matter.

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Superman, to no one’s surprise I’m sure, is released, and he is mercifully full of the hope and optimism he should be, even when he’s facing these circumstances.

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Let me get real here: that panel made me smile so much.  I got so hyped I’m pretty sure I did a fist pump.  Welcome back, Clark.

Most of this issue is big pages of impressive scenes and visuals that need to be seen to be appreciated, so on the narrative front there isn’t much to discuss.  What is there is paced remarkably well, moving along at a clip that feels smooth without being rushed, and one can hope that it’s indicative of better things to come.

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The biggest development is Bruce’s plan to incapacitate the Kandorians: Kryptonite rain.  To achieve this, Barry uses his speed to manipulate countless drones to both affect weather patterns and lace the clouds with trace amounts of Kryptonite.  Bruce, of course, leads the ground troops against the fallen Kandorians, and fall they do in one of the most stunning, gorgeous sequences of the series so far.

Quar and his army may be weakened, but they’re still strong and able to put up a fight.  Now that they’re weakened, they’re angry too, and certainly outnumber Batman and his troops.  With Superman freed he can surely help, but… won’t the Kryptonite rain weaken him too?  How can Clark be of much help when even he has his powers dulled?

Boy, am I glad you asked, because the final page answers that.  Oh does it answer that.

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That…

I just…

Oh man, guys.  The spit-curl is part of the helmet.

Superman in armor is simultaneously ridiculous and amazing, bonkers and kind of practical.  He’ll need protection from the rain, no question about that, and there’s no telling how strong he is after being trapped for days without any exposure to the sun.  On the other hand… it has a spit-curl.

Make no mistake, I don’t hate this.  At all.  I’m just surprised that they went so far with the design, especially in a grim and gritty continuity that has become increasingly more dour and less humorous.  That’s something you’d see on the cover of an old issue of Action Comics or World’s Finest.

And really, that’s the poetry of it right there: this is the World’s Finest once more.  There have been cases made that The Dark Knight Returns is actually the ending to Pre-Crisis Batman, not the future of the Post-Crisis universe, and that Batman and Superman would have absolutely dressed up in armor to fight bad guys back in the Fifties.  Take into account Bruce’s wry smile and the fact that he’s wearing the same armor he once donned to bring his friend down, only to find him standing by him once more to face a greater threat, and it’s a pretty powerful image.

Spit-curl.

Even with evident improvements over previous installments, there are still a few notable flaws.  It’s hard to say with the endgame still several months out, but the almost nonexistent Diana and the completely absent Atom are reminders that the narrative isn’t as lean as it could be, with characters coming into play and then disappearing for long stretches only to abruptly be thrown back into the narrative.  Regardless, this is a vast improvement over the past two issue and, dare I say, the best installment so far.

The short, on the other hand…

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Lara and Baal have a world-spanning romantic tryst.

That’s… about it.

Lara's weird squatty flying is on point, though.
Lara’s weird squatty flying is on point, though.

There really isn’t much to say here.  The art is typical Miller, and the writing is standard “young romance” stuff.  I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I didn’t even like it, it’s just there.

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No, wait, I did love Lara kicking Baal in his stupid face after he got fresh with her.  Good job, Frank.

BONUS: My personal favorite variant of the month:

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Even with the goofy floppy ear that’s still a stunning piece of work from the inimitable Klaus Janson.

And while I don’t necessarily love it, I’m fascinated by the composition of this “broken glass” image from Miller:

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There’s also a small gallery of some uncolored panels and sketches, which was kind of nice.

Recommended if:

  • You loved The Dark Knight Returns.
  • You’ve been reading this story so far.
  • You like seeing Superman as a noble symbol of hope and heroism.
  • You’re a fan of Andy Kubert’s art.

Overall: Far and away the best installment so far, the fantastic artwork, gorgeous layouts, and embrace of the ridiculous have made this an enjoyable read once again.  The shorts are still hit or miss, but the main story has become a gripping war story that finds Batman and Superman fighting side by side once more.  As silly as the final page is, it’s still a nice reminder that Bruce and Clark are two-thirds of the DC Universe’s greatest heroes, and seeing them finally work together brings a smile to this fan’s face.  Now let’s just see how Diana factors in in the months to come…

SCORE: 8.5/10