The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 4 (June 2016)

STK699760Once again Miller and Azzarello punish me for getting my hopes up with this series. Once again, too, I notice myself praising Miller alone for every good chapter and the two of them for every bad one. As the series lurches onward, the finality of The Dark Knight Returns and its pitch perfect “good enough” grace note of a conclusion to Batman’s adventures are only further diluted. The Master Race is in an alternating holding pattern, as I recall issue #2 was similarly lethargic. The plot progresses predictably with zero surprises to the reader. The spoilers are two sentences long. $5.99 for two sentences worth of plot development, stretched out by endless splash panels and another mini-comic of wonky Frank Miller art, which is sadly the only memorable part of the experience. For DC, not Detective Comics but the asset of Time Warner’s media empire, to charge $5.99 for this while an indy outfit like Avatar Press charges a buck less per new installment of Providence is utterly pitiful. On the plus side Miller does retain a consistently pessimistic, contemporary point of view – Obama and Trump are again invoked and this time disparaged as equally cowardly appeasers to the eponymous Master Race. He and Azzarello do know how to plot out their simple, cynical story. The insult to the reader, which ruins these positives, is how blatantly he’s elongating a four issue story across eight issues for what can only be a contractual obligation. Per Miller’s worst habits, they haven’t even been published in a timely manner.

Being a member of that tiny hipster elite who can find some value in The Dark Knight Strikes Back, it saddens me to realize every time I reach Miller’s mini-comic midway through a new Master Race that his late-period derangement, which Big Two fanboys consider his weakness, isn’t even present here. His art is still big and crazy, he just didn’t care about this project enough to contribute more than a few pages every couple months, leaving Andy Kubert to carry that load with competence that feels reliably adequate to the point of blandness. The new series has been dishearteningly lacking in any big or crazy ideas; the storyline is neither as jarringly off-kilter as Dark Knight 2 nor as fresh and original as Dark Knight 1. This is a book that goes out of its way not to take chances. Dark Knight 3 simply exists, as Dark Knight 4 could someday exist and make all thast came before just a little less special. Something like All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was at least a beautiful disaster; a joyously irreverent prank. Master Race reads as though Azzarello came up with the uninspired story purely as a mechanical continuation of what is now a franchise (there’s a prequel coming) and Miller peppered in his stylized dialogue afterward.

Has anything really innovative actually been done with Bats or Supes since 1986 when Miller and Moore wrote their imaginary final adventures? Every other week DC relaunches their “universe” hoping someone will figure out how to make them relevant again, and it seems increasingly apparent that The Dark Knight Returns and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow really were the ultimate showstoppers. If Batman is doomed like all superheroes of the current era to be merely an amorphous multimedia IP rather than a comics character, the best entertainment anyone can hope for are occasionally some good cartoons. Maybe when The Lego Batman Movie is the highest profiting Batman movie of all time DC will finally give up on self-serious, pointless cash grab comics for nostalgic manboy fanboys and grow a new comics readership where the real money is: actual children.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Four; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Wacky Raceland 1 (August 2016)

Wacky Raceland #1

I’m going to make a bold statement.

Wacky Raceland is the best soulless corporate synergy comic book of all time. I’m not sure how many serious competitors it has, because for this kind of corporate synergy you need a comic book company–DC–another company to license properties from–Hanna-Barbera–and another company with some kind brand reference–Warner Bros. Wacky Raceland is a Warner Bros. subsidiary mash-up, with writer Ken Pontac and artist Leonardo Manco not referencing a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, but instead bring Mad Max to comic books. Mad Max: Fury Road being a Warner Bros. film. And, you know, Warner owns DC.

So it’s synergy.

And it’s soulless, right? It has to be soulless. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it weren’t? Wouldn’t it be amazing if instead of just being really cool, somehow Pontac actually conveys an important storyline. I don’t think it’ll happen, but what if it did. It’d be amazing. But it’s already amazing. Does it need to be more amazing? Is there a place for purely entertaining entertainment, where the artistry is in how digestibly involving the material reads or plays?

I mean, Manco’s art is phenomenal. I’ve always liked him, but he juggles a lot of intentionally contrasting visualize styles and he rocks the Grim and Gritty Hanna-Barbera apocalypse. If DC’s Hanna-Barbera move is meant to answer Afterlife with Archie and other inventively done “pop culture” series, Raceland is the first sign they might have the secret weapon–enough pop culture properties, brands and icons to overwhelm the competition.

And Pontac’s essential here too. Because Raceland is a lot all at once. Pontac concentrates on making the story pleasing to read before anything else. He’s got a great pace to the endless dialogue, which is almost never expository.

It’s kind of awesome. If only Pontac could come up with a cliffhanger. He fails. But then there’s a cool backup where they riff on The Revenant. Because pop culture awareness is important and this book gets it. It’s great entertainment.

CREDITS

Writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

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