The Wait, What? Roundtable: The Dark Knight III, Part 3

November 26, 2015

PREVIOUSLY, ON THE WAIT, WHAT? ROUNDTABLE: There’s a schism in the Wait, What? hivemind, and Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 is the cause! Jeff, Matt and Graeme have discussed whether or not there’s a “there” there to this book, or whether it’s merely the latest in a series of Brian Azzarello projects wherein he takes on the role of Company Man. And then Jeff asked Matt, the most cynical about this project’s very existence, what it would take for him to consider the series a genuine “event.” The answer may surprise you!

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MATT: That’s a genuinely great question. Part of me wants to go on a ramble involving Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and the old “I know it when I see it” Supreme Court decision on pornography, but that would be (a) pretentious as hell, even for someone who already went all “Paradox of Theseus” above, and (b) kind of a cop-out.

So, I dunno. I think there are several kind of events; I’m sure I’m missing a few, but I think you could probably streamline down to: events based on creator, events based on shared-universe impact, and events based on unusual stories for a given character.

Obviously, there’s some overlap between these, but … for example, Batman: Odyssey is undeniably an event, despite being a borderline unreadable comic: it’s NEAL ADAMS doing whatever the hell he wants with Batman for 12 issues. Batman: Hush is JIM LEE doing Batman’s greatest hits, even if it’s just a bog-standard Batman story. No Man’s Land was by a bunch of lesser-known creators (at the time, weird as that is to remember now), but it was a Batman story based on a plot that was largely new to the character.

The actual plot beats and moments of DK3, no matter how dramatic, don’t live up to story-based event standards–Superman gets frozen like once every three years, Batman fights cops twice a day and three times if one of them is named Merkel, and Wonder Woman is just as Wonder Woman as usual.

There’s no impact on the shared universe, so it can’t be that sort of event (although DC’s shared universe is so weird right now that I can’t imagine that working anyhow).

No, this is being positioned as an event based on creator — it’s FRANK MILLER! AGAIN! — but I don’t see Miller in it enough to warrant the event tag, and I don’t believe “It’s the further adventures of characters from Earth Frank Miller, but, you know, written and drawn by other people!” qualifies in ANY event category.

I have no idea why this makes me bristle so much–”You marketed your comic wrong, you monsters!”–but it really does. Am I totally alone on this?

JEFF: I doubt you are, Matt, although a lot of my anger and frustration at the project flared up at the announcement and then eventually settled down to a sub-smolder.   The Dark Knight Returns was definitely the event you’re talking about–it was a way for FRANK MILLER to do whatever the hell he wanted with Batman, including finish him off–but that already happened some time ago.   (And it’s since been so thoroughly assimilated by popular culture I feel like any DKR riffs in the upcoming Dawn of Justice film will have a strange double deja vu to them.)   To their credit, DC appeared to let MIller do whatever the hell he wanted for DKSA, and he pretty happily bit the hand that fed him.  If they’re taking out larger insurance policies this time around, well, I can’t blame them.  I was sure I wouldn’t like this at all, but apparently a dash of contemporary concerns and gorgeous high-contrast drawings of that triangle cape crashing into things will do the trick for me.  (Who knew?)

Which I guess is my way of saying for those of you reading this who are wondering about the art:  Andy Kubert’s art looks pretty keen.  He’s no J.H. Williams III but it’s fun watching him modulate his art from impact-based Dark Knight Returns to the hot, flat Dark Knight Strikes Again with the occasional dip into Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One.

And it’s a shame I don’t have a better memory because I read Benjamin’s “The “Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction” way back when (probably right around the time DKSA was being released in single issues, god help me) and if nothing else it seems like it’d be an excellent discussion point for a comic subtitled “The Master Race.”   After all, toward the end of the essay, Benjamin says: “The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property.”

This is more or less the situation both readers and creators of work-for-hire product find themselves in, since they will never get the changes to the status quo they both crave and eschew.  (Even a story where Batman is old and dies at the end gets two sequels…and possibly a third, if Miller is serious and sales are good).  But the older I get, the more my indifference feels less like a failure and more like a gift.  I mean, ya know, “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Maybe it’s just one of those weird relationship dynamics where your bristling gives me license to relax, but I’m perfectly okay to pull up a chair and watch this Punch & Judy show from the rushed-out, incomplete-feeling first issue, to the oh-god-it’s-going-to-be-delayed-by-three-months finale. From this spot in the back balcony, Miller, Batman, and the Dark Knight Returns feel secure in their history.  (Despite all his impressive efforts, the only one of the three Miller might’ve truly succeeded in dislodging from their pedestals with The Dark Knight Strikes Again was himself.) I’m old enough that nearly all of my memories are up for sale in today’s marketplace and any shudder of horror eventually just became the muscles in my ass cramping during the second hour of Age of Ultron.

I say all this like the jolly bougie I am, but even I shudder when I think what DC will have to do once this is all over.  Watchmen, Sandman, Dark Knight.  What’s next?  Kingdom Come Again? (And, yes, Graeme, I do remember The Kingdom, thank you.)  Or should I start girding my loins for Preacher: Aftermath?

GRAEME: We didn’t just have The Kingdom, we also had Thy Kingdom Come in Justice Society of America, which had the added benefit of Alex Ross on art and Geoff Johns on full retro mode, being arguably more in tune with Ross than Waid ever was. And I was going to say, “Nah, we won’t get any more Preacher,” but then I remembered (A) Garth Ennis is apparently just saying yes to random shit these days — see All-Star Section 8, Where Monsters Dwell and whatever the hell his new Dynamite series is called (A Train Called Love, I think?), and (B) we’re getting a Preacher TV series soon. Dammit. Otherwise, all aboard for Even More Fables and Y Not: The Last Trans sooner rather than later, I think.

In terms of superhero stuff, I honestly dread to think what’s next, because if DC keeps going down this nostalgia route, at some point we really will end up with Watchman vs. Justice League, which… no-one really wants to see, surely?

That said, I’m with you on this, Jeff — I’m not that upset about Dark Knight III as an event, or anything like that (But then, I wasn’t as upset as Jeff about Before Watchmen, either, so my moral compass is obviously broken). Maybe I’m just desensitized to this kind of thing after a summer where Marvel followed DC’s lead by trying to cash in on almost every iconic storyline at once as part of Secret Wars, but this just feels part of the landscape now: another way in which nostalgia can be mined and turned into Lucrative New Intellectual Property To Be Mined. It’s not only comics, either; we heard about Memento being remade this week, in terms of movies, and that’s what, 15 years old? This kind of thing is happening all around us.

All we can do — besides supporting new ideas and new stories, of course, but we’re talking about comics here, and superhero comics at that, so maybe that’s a lost cause — is hope that the comics that come out of this kind of thing are good. And, for me, Dark Knight III is good. Not great, not epic or groundbreaking or anything that can live up to either of its predecessors or even its own hype, but definitely good, if a little slow. But let’s be honest — this was never going to be any of those things, surely. What third chapter of a beloved trilogy has ever been up to the standards for the first? (That’s a rhetorical question, but now I’m curious if you two smartasses are going to have an answer.)

In a strange way, isn’t it the case that what we actually get with Dark Knight III — a good comic, but not a great one — is the best case scenario considering the circumstances?

MATT: Depends what circumstances you’re considering. I kinda feel like the best case scenario is that the whole thing was scuttled in the idea stage before any of us ever even knew they were discussing it.

Despite my (oddly intense) irritation with the project, I’ve tremendously enjoyed discussing it with you both. Let’s do it again at the inevitable launch of Brian Azzarello and John Cassaday’s Planetary 2: Planetarium of the Apes in 2018 or so.

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10 comments on “The Wait, What? Roundtable: The Dark Knight III, Part 3

  1. Bruce Baugh Nov 26, 2015

    I didn’t invent this thought and can’t remember who did, but…the quintessential work not yet done is Dark Herbie, or Herbie; His Final Days. Hope this helps.

    (More seriously, fascinating discussion. Again, not my invention, but some years back I remember reading someone commenting on Miller’s work and wondering if detourning is something that a) you can do to yourself, b) without meaning to.)

    • The Fat Fury or the Love Bug? (Ooh! Or a crossover!)

      • Bruce Baugh Nov 26, 2015

        I was thinking of the Fat Fury, but it’d be better as a crossover, with the car in terrible permanent pain thanks to restrictions foisted on us by eco-fascists and such. 🙂

  2. Miguel Corti Nov 27, 2015

    Between the three of you, I feel like I understand a single issue of a comic more than I’ve ever understood a comic–and that’s without reading it myself. It’s great that even when there was agreement in your reactions, you still approached it from different angles. You definitely have my vote for doing more of these.

    I have to admit, I’ve never really been on the Frank Miller train, but I have enjoyed sitting on the bench at the station. I kept buying Sin City because all the older comic readers around were all, “You think those Image guys are the shit? They ain’t shit. Miller invented the shit.” Since Image was just Marvel and DC pastiches (ripoffs?), I thought I should probably be spending my money on something quality, but I gotta say, his storytelling and art never really did it for me. (I also blame him for what I see as the decline of John Romita Jr.’s art; or is that because Klaus Janson kept inking him on Punisher all those years?) That said, I have the first omnibus of his Daredevil work, and if that doesn’t win me over, then I’ll never be a Miller fan. (I do like Batman Year One, though.) But I’ve kept buying his work because I know he’s a legend in the industry and I feel that eventually it has to click, right? I didn’t like Jack Kirby back in the day, and now I can’t event fathom why I eschewed him for so long. It probably says a lot that my favorite Miller works are his collaborations with Geoff Darrows.

    I also was the wrong age for when I finally read TDKR. I had already given up superhero comics by the time I read it, and the ones I had read at that point were all just riffs on (ripoffs of?) TDKR and Watchmen, so I didn’t “get” what the big deal about TDKR was. To me it seemed like every ’80s action movie rolled into one, and having been raised on HBO and VHS rentals, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen it all before–with a better soundtrack!

    Final note: Doesn’t DK3 come with a mini-comic or something? What is that, and how did it relate to the main book? Does it up the meatiness Jeff said was lacking in this tertiary iteration? Did any of you pony up the cash for the $12.99 collector’s edition? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • DK3 had an Atom minicomic that ties into the story (Superman’s daughter asks the Atom for help to enlarge the Kandorians, who will be the Master Race referred to in the title)

      • Jeff Lester Nov 28, 2015

        Yup! Again, one of the things we should’ve made more clear in the roundtable was that we were working off an early release PDF that did not include the minicomic.

    • Vernon Wiley Nov 29, 2015

      For me, the most successful Miller is when he wrote and someone else drew it. It still didn’t make me a Miller fan either, but I thought they were much more readable because Franks work got progressively lazy over the years.

  3. Nate A. Nov 29, 2015

    I enjoyed this roundtable, and I second (or third, or fourth, etc.) the call for more!

    It’s funny how it’s easier to be generous about a reading when somebody else is down on a book. However, neither Jeff nor Graham convinced me that Matt is anything other than correct in his assessment of the goods on display. When support for a comic amounts to “could’ve been worse, and I liked the part when…” we should probably called that book a loser and move on to something else. But hey, I’ve spent enough of my own precious time on this planet watching Person of Interest to realize that not bad is often good enough in the moment.

    All that having been said, my favorite part of this whole thing was when Jeff grabbed the pretentious ball from Matt and ran with it. Great stuff, though Graham’s “Y Not: The Last Trans” comes in a close second, especially if you read it as a Y/Transmetropolitan mash-up.

  4. Vernon Wiley Nov 29, 2015

    You know, I didn’t even know this was supposed to be a trilogy at all until I hung the poster up at my shop.

  5. Nate A. Dec 6, 2015

    Did you all, (and by you all I mean the roundtable participants and the commenters), see that the Silence Podcast had Brandon Graham on to discuss DK3? If you haven’t listened you ought to do so ASAP. Great stuff!