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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All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

This book is absolutely insane, and I loved it!

What we have here is a Batman story free of any previous or current continuity.  Writer Frank Miller is taking Batman and starting his story from scratch.  (Or is he?  More on that later.)

The Batman in this storyline is testosterone fueled, immature, and more than a little nutty.  Miller takes him so over the top that I really and truly hope the writer is poking fun at his previous incarnations of the characters and his previous, ultraviolent works such as Sin City and 300.  The fact that both Batman and most other characters in the book refer to him as “the g-d-n Batman” can only lead me to believe Miller didn’t want us taking this too seriously.

However, Miller is also proving a point.  We’d always heard that Batman needed a Robin to take the edge off the man-to bring him back to humanity.  However, as a Batman fan of over twenty-five years, I’d never really seen an incarnation of the character that had him in DIRE need of a humanizing sidekick.  That is, until now.  Miller’s All-Star Batman is a whack-job, and it’s only through his dealings with Dick Grayson that he slowly begins to realize he’s turned into a monster.  Despite all the sex and violence in the book, Miller actually does a wonderful job evolving Batman’s character-there is real character development taking place that is rarely seen in the comic book medium.

And because this is an all-star title, the artist must be as equally as big a star-enter Jim Lee.  Jim Lee has always been a mesmerizing artist, but he truly outdoes himself with All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.  His figures look amazing-as always-but the settings are what really blew me away.  His attention to detail is nearly genius-level, and I found myself studying every building in the skyline, every poster on the wall, every tread on a tire.  He is absolutely astonishing.

So while I’m glad this book isn’t the definitive and mainstream interpretation of the character, I am so glad we have this Batman as well.  I couldn’t put the book down.  It was ludicrously fun and breathtaking to look at and had me addicted within the first few minutes of reading it.

Now, if you’ll allow me a slight digression: Does anyone else think this is a prequel of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns?  As I started reading it, I noticed some thematic links between All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  This is nothing unusual with writers, many of them tend to have certain passions that they return to (consciously or not) in their work. 

However, as I continued reading, things began to seem like more than just coincidence.  For example, in the huge spread from Episode 4, doesn’t that look like the Dark Knight Returns Batmobile being built?  Also, we clearly see the cover to The Dark Knight Returns collected edition as a poster on Barbara Gordon’s wall in Episode 6.  The Wonder Woman design in Episode 5 is very similar to the Wonder Woman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as is her basic personality and attraction to Superman.  I would also argue that Superman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, and Jim Gordon all seem tonally the same as they are in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again

But, the real cinchers for me occurred first in Episode 8 where the Joker’s henchwoman was the same lady with the swastikas covering her nipples (wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct) as from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three.  

And then, the big one-the HUGE one-happened in Episode 9 where Batman tells Green Lantern, “Of course we’re criminals.  We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.”  Now compare that to Superman’s internal dialogue from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three, which was written roughly twenty years earlier: “When the noise started from the parents’ groups and the subcommittee called us in for questioning – – you were the one who laughed … that scary laugh of yours … ‘Sure we’re criminals,’ you said.  ‘We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'”

In my estimation, it seems Frank Miller is using All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder to build upon his mythos originated in The Dark Knight Returns, and I think that’s incredibly entertaining.

Of course, if I’m right, knowing what we know about the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again certainly makes his developing relationship with Dick Grayson seem bittersweet.

Sin City – A Movie Review

I don’t know if I’m getting older or what, but movies like Sin City just don’t do it for me anymore.  I went into this movie thinking I was going to love it.  I mean, it’s based off a comic book, so right there I was pretty excited.  (Yes, I am an unrequited comic book lover.  Have been since the age of four.  Sue me.)  The commercials proved that it was a unique film in terms of visuals.  And it was.  Just one thing bothered me about the movie so much that I can’t bring myself to say, “I liked it.”

The violence.  This movie was about as masochistic as they come.  Yes, rarely did they show red blood.  It was more often than not stylized so that it appeared stark white against the black and white colors of the movie.  But, the beatings, the shootings, the ripping off of body parts, the sawing off of appendages, the ramming of blunt objects through heads, it just got to be too much for me.

I don’t want to sound like a pansy here, but the movie could have been awesome without all those things.  I keep hearing people say it’s a great throwback to the film noir style of decades past.  I have no recollection of people being shot and stabbed in the genitalia of those old films. 

The man who wrote the original graphic novels (a term for a fancy comic book) is Frank Miller.  He is largely considered a genius in the comic book world.  He redefined Batman in the mid-eighties, and the 1989 Batman was based largely off of his vision of the character.  And his comics are violent, for the most part.  But, the movie took it one step farther.

The acting wasn’t great, although I thought Mickey Rourke did a nice job.  I’m glad to see his career may be revived due to this film, like Travolta with Pulp Fiction.  The lines were supposed to be fragmented, which works great in the comics, but not so well in movies.  It’s hard to get the complexity of the character and the moment across with just three words per sentence for the better part of the entire film.  Rourke pulled it off, but I’m afraid that Willis (who I think is a great actor to watch, but not necessarily a great actor; I mean that as a compliment) and Del Toro didn’t.  I do have to say that the movie had a stellar cast.  I think everyone knew this was going to be a milestone in the film world.

The style of the movie was phenomenal.  It was primarily black and white with splashes of color here and there for symbolism or effect.  Very dark, very moody.  It nailed the heart of the comic in that respect.  It had lots of really cool shots and angles, lots of awesome sets, and the costumes (or lack thereof, in many cases) and make-up were top notch. 

So, if you can handle gratuitous violence and enjoy hyper-stylized movies, this is for you.  If you’re not one for lots of violence, guns, knives, razor wire, bombs, swords, and any other killing device you can imagine, this may not be a first choice for your Friday night. 

Ultimately, I respect the work of Frank Miller, and I respect all artists.  Considering he was a co-director of this film (which I think was awesome of the other co-director, Robert Rodriguez, to include him), I have to trust that he got it the way he wanted.  That’s all I ask of artists.  Do it your way, and let the public make its own decisions.

300 – A Movie Review

When I first saw the preview for 300 several months ago, I knew that this would be a film that would have the same impact upon the industry as did The Matrix and the original Star Wars.  It looked so unlike anything else out there!

Guess what, folks?  It finally came out last week, and it delivers.  300 was a visual feast from start to finish.  Moreover, it was quite compelling!

Granted, I’m not going to say it will win any awards for story or acting, but I have to tell you, the acting was much better than I expected.  Gerard Butler had me convinced he was King of the Spartans.  That guy just seethed power and passion!  Plus, it actually had much more story to it than I thought it would.  Bonus, right?  At no point did it feel drawn out or overextended, yet it still came in at feature-length.

I was a bit concerned going in because of Frank Miller’s connection to this film.  Miller, who created the source material, is known for his gratuitous violence.  I feared 300 would resemble Sin City in its ridiculously over the top displays of brutality.  Anyone remember the scene where a man had his testicles pulled off in Sin City?  Yeah, that’s when I decided that movie was not for me. 

Not to worry, friends, while 300 was very vicious, the violence, like everything else in the movie, was so hyper-stylized that it at no point even resembled reality.  I think that was a good call on the makers’ part.

Hyper-stylized-that’s how I would describe this film.  Truly a joy to watch.  Some people are complaining that its too testosterone-fueled, there’s too much yelling, too much machismo, but you want to know what I think?  When done in such an interesting manner, I see nothing wrong with those things every once in a while.  I mean, if you’re going to see an action movie, don’t you want action?  Don’t you want fervor?  I do.  I was so in the moment, I didn’t even notice all the yelling.  To me that means it must have fit perfectly within the scenes.

The director of 300 is supposedly in line to direct the film version of Watchmen.  Let me just say that if he does half as good a job on Watchmen as he did with 300, I’ll be very happy indeed.

My only question is, where did those warriors in ancient Sparta get all the ab-rollers?  Seriously, every dude in this movie had a sixteen-pack for a stomach.