One of my favorite comic books of all time is The Dark Knight Returns. It’s got a bit of a slightly dinged rep these days, just because people are kinda sick of the grim dark shit it inspired in comics, and the continued influence it has on Batman and comics/comic movies in general. You just gotta look at Ben Affleck’s Batman suit in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as it is straight up just a translation of the suit Batman is wearing in The Dark Knight Returns. But despite some of the wariness people have of the book now from oversaturation, one can’t ignore the massive impact that this book had on the comics industry in 1986. It brought a more adult minded writing style to the mainstream, as that sort of high minded material had been brewing in the lesser seen stuff at the time. And with the impact it had on the medium of comics in general, it also had a massive impact on Frank Miller.
Miller had had good success before this book, but e became a legend afterwards, given a free pass for life. He would go onto other great works, like Batman Year One in 1987 and the Sin City series in the 90s. But he would never, rightfully so, reach the heights of that seminal Batman work. Though he would definitely try to by reaching back into that world of The Dark Knight Returns to craft a sequel to that classic masterwork. In 2001, he dropped The Dark Knight Strikes Again onto the world and everything changed yet again. Not in a good way though. The book was instantly lambasted and hated on by comic readers. What changed after this was the respect that Miller was given. It was such a massive failure on a critical level that people were worried that he had lost his talent and would never be able to reach his prior heights again. And they weren’t wrong since he would go on to release All Star Batman and Robin, Holy Terror and directing the movies of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For and The Spirit. All of which are massive failures on such a level as to be comedic.
Millers fall from grace was epic. So when it came out a few months back that he would be returning to comics with yet another sequel to that seminal book, everyone got really ironically interested. And when the title was revealed to be The Dark Knight III: The Master Race? Anyone with even the slightest history with comics knows of Millers fascistic, racist and misogynistic tendencies had to be salivating at the mouth for this book. So when I saw there was gonna be a panel at the Con for the 30th Anniversary of the book and that Frank Miller was gonna be at the con, I knew I had to go.
Going into the panel I was expecting a panel all about the history of that iconic book with some passing mention about the newest one. It was still a month or so out at that point and details were scarce. But co writer of the book Brian Azzarello was there, as was artists Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, so I figured something about it would be discussed. And when the panel started, that’s what it seemed like. Moderator John Cunningham introduced the panel of Azzarello, Kubert, Janson, and DC legend Jim Lee to the stage. He had talked about that original book and it’s legacy, putting up some images from the book and talking about the iconography of it. But where things started to go away from my expectations was when he brought up The Dark Knight Strikes Again as a great book too, bringing up images from the book like he did for Returns. And to prove how misguided the idea was that the sequel was a popular book that had gained respect in the intervening years, nobody cheered at those images. There was more snickers than anything. Images from Returns, in contrast, had a massive response of positivity. Maybe it was just a little glitch in the planning of the panel I thought. A swing and a miss. Because next up was the surprise no one was surprised by. The appearance of the man himself, Frank Miller.
Frank Miller looks like a shell of a man at this point. There’s no getting around it, no being mean or clever. Rumors have abounded of health issues for a while now and they seem to be true. Frail and weak and old beyond his years, it’s a miracle he made it to the stage. But when he showed up, the crowd went apeshit. Even if the prospect of him writing a new book brings about PTSD for people at this point, the mans legacy is still huge and deserves praise when he’s seen. So the panel started to really get going at this point. But it started going in a direction I didn’t expect. The topic was really about the newest book, without getting too detailed to spoil anything. They started talking about how this project came to be. It really came down to Frank wanting to get back into comics again and he wanted to bring Azzarello to help him craft it. What really surprised me was the tidbit that Miller wasn’t actually writing the book. His role is more of counselor, guiding Azzarello when needed to keep the book within the realm he created 30 years ago. In that instant, my ironic interest in the book was swapped with a genuine curiosity with it. Could it actually be good? When Andy Kubert started talking about his art work on the book and some images from it were projected onto the screen, I was then sold. It may still very well be bad, but this looks like it’s being treated well. So if anything else, the panel did something I didn’t expect at all.
What else kinda took me aback was that while Miller isn’t drawing the main book, he is doing some art on the project. Mini comics will be inside the main books of the series, something extra to entice readers and broaden the world of the book. He’s gonna be doing the first one, a book about The Atom. And there was some images shown from that and his art seems to be back on track. After the shit show that was Strikes Again and Holy Terror, he seemed to have regained that Frank Miller thing. It’s kinda weird how this panel had been doing work on me. I didn’t expect it.
In terms of info from the book or what it’s even about, we don’t know much. Even after this panel, we didn’t get much info. Just some gorgeous stills from Kubert, that perfectly evoke Miller without being an imitation. The panelists were good and fun, having a good time together. Azzarello is obviously not much of a talker and would just fuck around when asked some questions. Miller did too but gave some good insights into his past work. The others were there mainly as the talkers of the group, offering tech insight and some love for the man and the book. It wasn’t the best panel I had ever been too in terms of personalities or info. But in terms of changing my perspective on something completely, it stands on it’s own. The book may very well be another in the long line of embarrassments from Miller. But that he isn’t doing this all on his own, barely doing much work at all on it from what it sounded like, and that DC is treating this with import and giving it all it can to succeed? I’m not 100 percent on board, since that lingering doubt will always be there. But that I’m even semi interested is a major win.