Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, and Andy Kubert – A Book Review

Redemption.

That’s the word I would use to describe Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race.

I mean this both literally and thematically.

From a literal standpoint, Master Race undoes the travesty of Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  Of course, these are both sequels to the seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Master Race is the first Batman book I’ve read in quite a while that kept me turning the pages.  When I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait to pick it back up.

Some say that The Dark Knight Returns helped to usher in the Dark Age of comics.  It played a role in taking Batman back to his dark roots, establishing a general psychosis to the character, and promoting the idea that Batman and Superman would be anything but super friends.  It’s impact can be felt even to this day.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again was just a hot mess.  I haven’t read it in a long time, but I remember feeling that it had nothing in common with its predecessor and seemed intent on being as crazy as possible even at the sacrifice of plot, character, good taste, and logic.

Master Race takes the best aspects of both books, blends them together, and churns out an incredibly satisfying read.  Carrie Kelley, the young girl who took on Robin’s mantle back in The Dark Knight Returns, is front and center in this book.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again brought Superman’s daughter Lara into the fold, as well as Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkboy and Hawkgirl, Atom–all of whom reappear in Master Race.  This time, though, they are treated with depth and care.  In fact, some would say they are all actually redeemed.

There’s that word again.

Master Race redeems every single character in its pages.  They each go through a personal journey, and they each come out better for it.  I don’t want to get into the particulars due to revealing too much plot, but this book made me look at these characters as heroes again.  Redemption strikes me as a theme of the book.

Which is probably the most ironic thing ever.

Master Race also, in my eyes, redeems Frank Miller.  Frank Miller is a gifted writer and artist–he proved that on books like The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, Batman: Year One, and the first Wolverine miniseries.  Unfortunately, his work on The Dark Knight Strikes Again made me question both his talent and character.  That book seemed like a total cash grab.  It almost acted like it wanted to make a point to the reader–that the comic fan will buy anything if there’s enough hype surrounding it.  It definitely turned me off from Miller for a while.

So why did I return for Master Race?  Brian Azzarello.  I’ll read anything that man writes.  I knew that if he played a hand in Master Race, it would be worth my time to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.  I have no idea as to the politics of Azzarello teaming up with Miller, but if DC made it happen to ease fan apprehension, it worked like a charm on me.

It’s so ironic that two men who are known for grim and gritty, hard-boiled writing provided one of the most inspiring Batman stories that I’ve ever read.  As much as The Dark Knight Returns created a Dark Age, I could see Master Race igniting a Heroic Age.  It truly counteracted all of the negativity surrounding our society at the moment.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe you won’t, but I definitely recommend you read Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race and see for yourself.

Image result for batman the dark knight master race

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Wonder Woman is nothing if not a contradiction.  She is warrior of peace, after all.  She absolutely believes in truth and justice, yet she will fight to the death in pursuit of those things.  This complexity of character, an attribute that has always accompanied Wonder Woman, came especially to the forefront during Brian Azzarello’s masterful time on the title.  Within the last six years, it came to light that she was not only the child of the Amazon queen but also of Zeus himself!  To further add depth to the icon, she eventually became the God of War!

Greg Rucka embraces all of these contradictions and uses them to create a gripping first installment to what appears to be a captivating story line.  In Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, Wonder Woman remembers two distinct pasts, two separate lives, and she wants nothing more than the truth concerning these contradictory recollections.  She uses a unique approach to achieve this desired truth which sets her on a new path, and this new journey will seemingly put her in direct conflict with the entity Wally West is warning of in DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I love that already Batman, Flash, and Wonder Woman know something is amiss, that they are being manipulated and watched, and it’s only a matter of time before they do something about it …

Two artists are featured within this issue.  Matthew Clark handled the Wonder Woman for whom we are familiar, and then, half way through the book, Liam Sharp takes over when Wonder Woman ditches her New 52 costume and adopts more traditional armor befitting an Amazon warrior.  Consequently, this new armor is very similar to what she wore in her big screen debut last March.

Rucka, like Azzarello, delivers a complicated, multifaceted Wonder Woman with a clear mission in mind.  He is treating her with dignity, respect, and as the capable hero she is.  Like The Flash: Rebirth #1, this issue seems integral to the overall story unfolding within the DC Universe.

I left Wonder Woman after Azzarello’s departure because I didn’t care for the way the new creators handled her, but Rucka has definitely brought me back.  I can’t wait to join Wonder Woman as she discovers her truth.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the “Wonder” In Wonder Woman

Against my better judgement, I’m playing the old comic book fan card.  You know the one: the “I’m quitting this comic because of a creative change!”

Let me explain.  A few years ago, DC Comics (sort of) rebooted their universe and called the (sort of) reboot “The New 52.”  In the (sort of) new DC Universe, super heroes have only been around for about five years.

Some of the (sort of) rebooted titles have languished due to the change, but others have flourished, such as Wonder Woman.

You should know before The New 52, I never bought a Wonder Woman comic book in my life.  Truthfully, I wasn’t very excited about buying it for the first time ever as a thirty-something, but the fact is that Brian Azzarello is a master storyteller, Cliff Chiang is a fantastic artist, and I could not resist their combined talent.

Their Wonder Woman is rooted deeply in Greek mythology, which is totally in keeping with her history.  The Greek Gods are important characters in her title, but they are nothing like you’ve seen before.  Azzarello revitalized an already wildly popular character by making her appeal to a larger audience.  Azzarello’s interviews before the title’s release describing his plans for Wonder Woman and the Gods’ incorporation proved the main reason I came aboard.

Furthermore, Chiang draws an attractive, respectable Wonder Woman.  I’m not embarrassed for my wife to see my Wonder Woman books lying around.  I’m not worried about my small daughters’ sense of body image when they look at Chiang’s Wonder Woman on the covers.  Chiang draws her beautifully.  She is large and feminine.  She is powerful and graceful.   Her costume could be manipulated into something skimpy and trashy, but Chiang makes it appropriate and even regal.

Wonder Woman has been an intelligent, exciting story concerning Wonder Woman and her Greek God family with dynamic, attractive art that celebrates Wonder Woman’s heroism.

I worry that all that is going to change.

Azzarello and Chiang are leaving the title.  They said in the beginning they had a three-year story to tell, and that third year is about over.

A few days ago, DC announced the new Wonder Woman team.  I at first felt pretty good about it.  The writer is Meredith Finch, who is, of course, a woman.  A woman writing Wonder Woman is always a good thing in my book.  Meredith’s husband, David, will be the artist.  Uh-oh.  David Finch is an engaging artist, but his women tend to appear more like pin-up models.  My red flag is going up.

To make matters worse, Meredith Finch is on record as saying she wants to veer away from the Greek mythology and focus more on Wonder Woman’s interactions with her fellow Amazons and the Justice League.

Here is where I play my comic book fan card and scream, “I’m out!”

Here’s why: I don’t want the overly sexual Wonder Woman that Finch will most likely depict in his art.  I certainly don’t want a Wonder Woman title where she is primarily interacting with the Justice  League.  You know where I can get that?  The Justice League books.  Or the Superman and Wonder Woman book.  When I read a Wonder Woman book, I want it to be a unique experience, something specific to the character that sets her apart from her shared universe.  The Finch team seems intent upon returning Wonder Woman to the status quo.

I get it.  Wonder Woman is going to be in the new Superman movie.  It will also have Batman with probable appearances by Aquaman and Cyborg.  I suspect the rest of the Justice League will show up as well.  They want to position Wonder Woman to capitalize off of the movie, and they want to position the movie to capitalize off of Wonder Woman.  I think they call that corporate synchronization.

I understand their intentions, but it’s a shame.  Azzarello and Chiang made a character I previously refused to read my favorite DC title, a title I regularly told people who don’t read comic books to check out.

So I’m playing the comic book fan card: I’m out.

Chiang vs. Finch

Spaceman by Brian Azzarello – A Book Review

With art by 100 Bullets collaborator Eduardo Risso, Azzarello has created a bleak, unsettling landscape where the very rich are well taken care of, and the rest of us are left to survive by any means necessary.

Spaceman follows the story of Orson, one of a group of genetically engineered astronauts meant to explore Mars.  However, most of the story takes place in a flooded, ruined city that, like most of the coastal world, has been overwrought by melting glaciers.  Long since returned to Earth after the demise of NASA, Orson is left to pirate and scavenge in order to endure.

Soon, however, Orson finds himself in the middle of a kidnapping, one in which an orphan has been stolen from a reality television show’s super-couple, obviously modelled after Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  The couple are the stars of a show where orphans must compete to be adopted by the celebrities and live a life of leisure.

Before long, Orson is at odds with the only other surviving member of his astronaut crew, Carter.  His brother has taken a darker path in life, consequently, and he too becomes involved with the abduction.  If the child is to survive, Orson must overcome hauntings from Mars that still disturb him as well as a very present cadre of killers.

Perhaps it helped the book that I suffered from stomach flu while reading it, but the ruin and demise of the world depicted in its pages truly touched a nerve.  Risso’s gritty, detailed artwork is a perfect match for the tale, and he portrays a horrifyingly civilization that may not be that far off.

Quite honestly, I expected Spaceman to take place more in outer space.  I was surprised that the majority of the book unfolded on Earth.  I was further surprised that, at its core, the story presented a child kidnaping case.

However, the story is far more than just that.  I truly believe Azzarello to be an underestimated writer in today’s literary scene.  His stories are often violent, alarming, and graphic, but they also touch on themes that apply to our modern life.  For example, Azzarello realizes that we are ruining our environment and that repercussions await us all.  Those repercussions are evident in Spaceman.  He also has noticed that the poor seem to be getting poorer, while the rich get richer.  Spaceman delivers a painfully realistic portrayal of what the current trend may yield.

And though it’s a matter of much controversy, I find Azzarello’s commitment to language commendable in Spaceman.  Like his rendition of society, he presents a language that is falling apart, shortened, and slowly dying.  Azzarello clearly put a great deal of thought into his vision of our ruined language, and the dedication to his vision reminds me of writers such as Anthony Burgess.

Spaceman is a potentially prophetic science fiction work that offers a troubling glimpse of our destiny.  Azzarello grants us a violent adventure with the life of a child hanging in the balance, a societal warning, and a craftsmanship to be celebrated.

Wonder Woman: Guts by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang – A Book Review

Guts is the second volume of Wonder Woman’s New 52 iteration.  Now, I have to admit, I’ve never particularly been a Wonder Woman fan.  I mean, sure, as a young boy, I liked her just as much as the next young boy, but I never read her comics.  But, when DC decided to (sort of) reboot their shared universe with the New 52, and when I learned that Brian Azzarello would be taking over Wonder Woman, well, even as a thirty-five year old man with a wife and two daughters, I couldn’t resist.  Azzarello is a superb writer.  He’s multifaceted, visionary, and merciless to his characters.  Plus, in the months preceding the series’ debut, he spoke at length about how his version would focus upon the Greek Gods and have more in common with horror than super hero adventures.

He had me at Greek Gods.

I haven’t reviewed the first volume of Wonder Woman yet because, while I loved it, I frankly wanted to wait and see if the second volume would sustain my interest.  Not only did it sustain my interest, it in fact increased my interest.

With Guts, I have a lay of the land.  I’ve gotten used to Azzarello’s interpretation of the Greek Gods and his general “atmosphere” for Wonder Woman.  Now that I know what to expect in certain regards, I love the title all the more. His take on the Gods is unconventional, but that’s what makes it captivating.  He gives us just enough to make them recognizable, but changes everything else.  Make no mistake, however, this man knows his mythology.  At no time does he write a God “out of character.”  Of course, the genius is that these Gods have existed in world mythology for thousands of years, so that gives Azzarello a lot of wiggle room.

In Guts, Wonder Woman is trying to save a young woman who has been impregnated by a missing Zeus.  Hera, as usual, wants the girl dead, and is going to great lengths to make that happen.  Hermes is assisting Wonder Woman with the girl’s rescue, and before long Wonder Woman encounters Hephaestus, Demeter, Eros, Apollo, Artemis, Pandora, and Hades.  They are exactly like you’d expect and nothing like you’d expect, and that’s why I love this title.

There is a lot going on in this book, but I never felt overwhelmed or confused beyond comfort.  All literature should confuse a little, after all, for if the author makes everything crystal clear, well, that’s a little boring, isn’t it?  But like the Greek Gods, Wonder Woman is recognizable enough to satiate the fans, but she and her back story have also undergone a few tweaks that makes the character even more likable and, to be honest, respectable.

Chiang’s art is definitely a great match for Azzarello.  His Wonder Woman is attractive without being a sex object, powerful looking without losing her femininity, and is always drawn to look like the royal she is.  As a father of two small girls, I’m always searcing for female super heroes they can look up to that are not a facsimile of a male super hero or presented as a pin up model.  I got really excited when they were going to put pants on Wonder Woman because, you know, she’s basically wearing a bikini and I’d like her to put some clothes on for my daughters’ benefit.  Of course, they opted to keep the corset and bottoms.  Even with that being said, though, Chiang draws her in such a way that, again, she is beautifully rendered, but her clothes also completely cover her.  She is not drawn with ridiculous cleavage or wearing a g-string.  Admittedly, no matter how strongly she is written by Azzarello, if they did present her in such a fashion, I’d be too embarrassed to read her book.  As it stands, though, I’d have no problem with my daughters (if they were twelve or older) reading it.

I’ve read several of the New 52, and I have to say that Wonder Woman is so far the best when it comes to art, action, dialogue, characterization, plot complexity, and general coolness.  Even if you’ve never read the character, I urge you to do so.  And don’t worry, instead of your wife rolling her eyes at you for owning it, she might just pick it up and read it herself … so long as she doesn’t mind a little bit of Greek God horror.