So what’s today’s secret word, readers?  Today’s secret word is… APATHY.

Now, you all remember what to do whenever anyone says the secret word, right?  You…

Wish you were doing something else.

And scream, I guess.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race debuted in November 2015.  That was sixteen months ago.  Since then, it has been plagued by numerous delays and erratic scheduling.  Just when it seems like it will settle into a bi-monthly schedule (the “once every two months” one, not the Rebirth one), there will be a three or four month wait.  This has happened more than once, and it’s never been worth it.  Why would it start now?

Forgive me for being overly snide, but I just cannot get into this series anymore.  It started out surprisingly subdued and relatively inoffensive, containing a few decent character beats along the way.  With each new delay and the threat promise of an extended issue order, though, this story doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere.

And that’s the problem, right there: it isn’t that there have been numerous delays.  Yeah, that’s annoying, but if the end product is quality then it shouldn’t matter as much.  But it isn’t, so it does.

There is very little here that’s easy to recommend.  Sure, there are a few bright spots in an otherwise dull, pointless issue, but they are very, very few.  You would think with an additional few months of lead time you’d get something that was more than an extended battle sequence, but that’s pretty much all that happens here.  This issue, save for a few small scenes, is essentially a big, long, messy fight scene.  After another three month wait, that’s disappointing.

There’s some plot development, but it’s minimal.  If you remember last issue, Superman took Batman to a Lazarus Pit after Bruce was lasered in the chest by Quar.  Sure enough, my guess was correct: Bruce is now a young man again.

This should hit harder than it does.  I mean, it’s Bruce Wayne!  He’s young again!  He can go on being the Batman for decades again!

Instead, it almost feels like a narrative cheat, a trick ploy to keep the status quo.  I’m not saying that I feel like there should be more stories set in this universe by any means.  Once this is over, I don’t think I’m alone in saying the Dark Knight Returns universe should end.  As it is, this seems like setup for continuing adventures in this continuity.

Actually, I take that back.  Due to some less than subtle foreshadowing, there’s a possibility that Bruce may die/go crazy in the end.  So really, that leaves this back two places to go: have Bruce live to fight another day (again), or have Bruce die (again) and leave behind his legacy (again).  If the former, that’s just an easy way out, and not one that this story has particularly earned.  If it’s the latter, then any and all impact has been lost.  Bruce has been assumed dead multiple times in these stories, let alone this series, so having him truly once and for all leave this mortal coil would feel anticlimactic.  We were already led to believe he was dead for the better part of two issues, then he actually sort of almost died before being brought back to life.  Any tension, any impact that his death would have at this point is practically gone.

These delays are made even more frustrating with the loose plotting and structure of issues like this.  There’s so much from the past three issues at least that could have been trimmed out and condensed down to one issue and I don’t think it would have lost anything.  Sure, it’s kind of fun seeing Amazons just brutally massacre a bunch of Kryptonians, but there’s no tension or flow to the battle.  It’s static and boring, and it feels like it goes on for far longer than it actually does.

I will admit that, though Diana should be full of as much grace as she is the desire for battle, seeing her take no prisoners is kind of cool.

Still, that battle and the return of Bruce are effectively the only things that happen this issue.  Lara is tempted by her Kryptonian heritage (again), but that’s about the only other development, and even that is recycling a theme and plot point that has already been explored enough at this point.  Like Bruce dying, it doesn’t matter who Lara chooses to side with as nothing would be satisfying.  What was once conflict has turned into obnoxious flip-flopping.  I hate to be flippant about it, but I really just do not care at this point.

Or, you could say I’m… apathetic.

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There’s so much filler, yet half of the subplots are all but ignored.  That’s been a problem the entirety of the series’ run, even when it’s at its best, but chapters like this make it far more egregious.  There’s nary a mention of the Atom or Green Lantern, even though they’re both being positioned to have a pretty big part to play in the end (one would assume, anyway), and Commissioner Yindel is sidelined to the backup, which… we’ll get to that.  There’s enough material and there are enough running threads to possibly warrant the nine issue order, but the loose, sloppy storytelling structure doesn’t justify it.  Instead of an actual plot we just get big scenes that ultimately amount to nothing, battles that look flashy in the moment without advancing the narrative.

Even Andy Kubert’s pencils, which I’ve been incredibly supportive of to this point, are relatively lackluster.  While nothing looks truly bad, there are large swaths of the book that look rushed and a little sloppy.  Like the padded narrative, a delay should have worked in the artist’s favor, but I’m just not seeing truly stellar work here.  By and large it’s fine and average, though there are a few scenes and panels that look pretty great.  Sloppy and confusing as it is, some of the Amazonian tactics and battle formations are pretty inventive, particularly a defensive maneuver against the Kandorian’s heat vision.

There are a few little visual surprises too, including a look at some old-school Batmobiles.

It’s brief and doesn’t add much, but it’s still a nice visual.

At this point I hope this is the penultimate issue, as this series has run its course.  I’ll try to remain optimistic as I have thus far, but it’s getting harder and harder to care about where this series goes.  Maybe the finale will knock it out of the park and redeem everything that precedes it, contextualizing even the roughest chapters and making it all worth it.  One can hope, but right now I don’t care if the ending satisfies as long as it just ends.

At first glance, this shows great promise.  Yindel has been the most interesting, sympathetic character of this series, and having the spotlight shine on her piqued my interest.  For a page or two it was looking like this would bump the overall score up by a point or so, thanks to a focus on somebody who isn’t Batman.  Plus, these pencils are the best work Miller has done in years, with fairly clean lines, good proportions, and nice colors from Sinclair.  It’s a pretty attractive backup story, which isn’t something I’ve been able to say up to this point.

That is, until it falls apart and becomes a sloppy mess again.

Welcome back, Frank.

It started off promising enough, with Yindel fighting against Bruno and some Joker wannabes, but spirals down to macabre silliness.  Fingers are lost, people are decapitated, and I’d call the ending ambiguous if it even felt like an ending.  No, it just ends.  The fact that it started off so strong just makes how bad it ends even worse, displaying the worst attributes of Miller’s little backup stories: it’s confusing, it’s ugly, and it’s unclear how it ties into anything.

BONUS: If nothing else, there’s a truly magnificent variant cover this month.  I was genuinely speechless when I first saw it, it’s such a haunting, beautifully composed image.

<spoiler>

I saw this Bill Sienkiewicz piece on Twitter a few weeks ago and I was completely taken aback.  It’s haunting and quixotic, the image of a broken man who has pushed himself beyond his limits yet keeps going.  It’s a shame the book itself doesn’t display such artistry.</spoiler>

Recommended if:

  • You get a discount on items in your pull list.
  • You want to see Amazons fight Kryptonians.

Overall: Try as I might, I just don’t care about this book.  It has long since lost any narrative momentum, made worse by endless delays and constant filler.  The few bright spots are overshadowed by narrative cheats and endless, confusing fights, and the backups are a continuing case of diminishing returns.  When this series was announced it seemed unnecessary, though it’s debut was promising.  Sadly, each passing month just proves how pointless an endeavor it is.  It goes beyond bad; it’s forgettable.

SCORE: 3/10