The Dark Knight Returns was a masterpiece in storytelling and artistic direction that altered the comic book landscape forever. The subsequent sequel was somewhat unnecessary but still hugely enjoyable with a worthy story to tell. This third installment in the iconic franchise is neither a masterpiece nor does it have anything of worth to say, in truth it is nothing more than a watered down cash grab that pales in comparison to its predecessors.
What made the first entry in this saga so compelling was, aside from the gripping story, the gritty artwork from Frank Miller that expertly set the tone for what was to come. It engaged the reader and helped to form a wonderfully dystopian backdrop the Batman’s later life return to tights. Andy Kubert tries to emulate that famous style with his work on this book but it comes off as a lifeless imitation that doesn’t hold a candle to the original. In fact, the art here doesn’t even match up to Kubert’s own back catalogue and instead feels like an attempt at it by a less talented copycat. The characters are boringly depicted for the most part with none of them leaping off the page and demanding your attention, not even The Bat which is a rarity. Settings and backgrounds are listless and dull, providing no real reason to study any of the panels in great detail. Truthfully the panels here serve only to highlight how sublime Miller’s were in the original.
As for the actual writing it can be summed in much the same way as Azzarello’s script for Batman Europa in that it is essentially just a prolonged monologue with very little to offer. The story drags along at a snail’s pace without giving the reader much insight into what is going on. It has to be said that this makes it very accessible for a reader who hasn’t read either of the first two sagas, but then that’s likely because there isn’t very much to access. You won’t be made to care about any of these characters despite the fact they were all built up so well in the past. Commissioner Yindel was once a confident, powerful character but has been reduced to a weak figure who looks to be something of a deer in headlights. Carrie was on a path to building her own identity as the new Robin but that has now been scrubbed away with her instead taking on the cowl and relinquishing everything that made her likable in the first place. Sure that plot point is referenced elsewhere in the comic as a criticism of Bruce but it still feels like a poor idea to rip away the very essence of this character.
More than the poor characterization though the biggest problem is that there is nothing new to be found here. The story is that, once again in Batman’s absence, Gotham has gone to hell only this time it isn’t the criminals running the asylum but rather a corrupt police force drunk on power. Relying on pretty much the same trope as in previous stories is just lazy and shows that this is not an exercise in sparkling storytelling but rather a shrewd business decision on the part of DC. This fact is further supported by the release of so many different cover arts as a way to bolster sales figures and ring out every last penny from foolish fans who need a complete collection.
Accompanying the main narrative is a sub-story held in a smaller booklet within the comic. This seemed odd to do but actually it ended up being marginally better than the DKIII proper. It showed The Atom finishing a fight with The Lizard and returning to his lab where her ponders, at excruciating length, what it is to be a hero. These few pages manage to make him into one of the most interest draining figures one is likely to find in a comic as he says nothing of note for quite a bit of time. The story clearly links in to the main plot but as that has barely even been hinted at as of yet it is not even slightly clear as to how that may be. You may then be wondering how this was better that the main story and the answer to that is the art. Miller weighs in here and it definitely helps to add a bit of a spark to proceedings. Sure, it is still quite ordinary and doesn’t live up to the hype that surrounded this book but it is at least somewhat visually captivating.
All in all, this isn’t an awful opener but it isn’t as far off as one would have expected. It’s hard to see this bringing any new eyes to The Dark Knight, unless of course some hapless Neo-Nazi’s take a shine to the ‘Master Race’ subtitle. There is some story to be found but it is deeply disappointing in its brevity and does little to build to the next issue. Honestly it could never live up to the hype but it is disheartening to see it fail so spectacularly. Let’s hope Miller and Azzarello can turn things around as this series continues or they risk forever tarnishing its legacy.
Score: 2 out of 5.