Dark Knight: The Master Race by Frank Miller

So I usually never finish a graphic novel at one shot. I am extremely attention deficient, more so with graphic novels than other means. But this book, my god! I had read Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and his earlier works on the Dark Knight Universe. So when I wandered into this book-store and saw the thirty percent discount tag on Dark Knight – The Master Race I had to just sweep this gorgeous black hardcover novel right off the shelf and run straight to the billing. And then I checked right into the closest coffee bar and went right down, devouring the same. And was I hooked!

I mean, like being completely riveted to the glorious art-work, puzzled by the non-linear narrative, awed by the final coming together of story lines and plot resolution. It happens rarely. I loved SAGA – and I was impressed by the Unwritten. But this? Frank Miller’s blockbuster re-entry to the DC Universe after The Dark Knight Returns polarized the world into solid haters of Gotham’s dark hero and staunch supporters of the symbol, that Batman has grown into, standing up for a gritty retribution to the oppressed. Personally? I loved it. No two ways about it.

The Master Race is sort of a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns/Strikes Again. The world mourns the loss of its greatest hero, Batman’s fate unknown while the media and the mob are divided on their hatred for the dark hero. Into this chaos, comes in an alien race, the Kandorians led by the prophetic Quar who wants to subjugate the world and make them worship himself and his people, as Gods. The GCPD chief, Commissioner Yindel yearns for the heroes to come back but cannot hope to stand against the tide, that is the Kandorians.

Thrown into the mix, are Wonder-woman and her Amazonians, when Lara – her headstrong daughter born to Superman, decides to join hands with the Master Race. Superman is frozen and abstains himself from the troubles of this world. But when the threat of the psychotic and megalomaniacal Master Race wanting to eradicate earthlings becomes too hot to handle, the heroes are forced out of their retirement and hiding. Out of their ice-cages, self-imposed exiles and their Amazonian fortresses. But it is not just the physical selves that our mini Justice League union superheroes have to haul out of their cages or forts. Their hearts are broken, minds trampled on and wits frazzled by the injustice meted out to them for all they have done for the world. And this is far greater a travail than pulling themselves out of the ice-cages.

So the whole feel for The Master Race is a bit different from the dark, gritty cynical world-view that is borrowed from real life events that shaped those novels and our worlds in the 90’s. There is a lighter optimistic tone to the whole story – the rise of superheroism and our exuberant cheer and belief in their ability to set things right, to set this broken world alright – this is very evident in this Frank Miller/ Azzarelo collaboration. The narrative is uneven and non-linear, causing that omnipresent undercurrent of tension and suspense riding out well. Like we aren’t sure if this the events are happening in the present and has any connection to the larger conflict of aliens threatening to raze down Gotham city to make an example for the earthlings.

Anyways so this is Batman/ Bruce Wayne, really old and down. What is Old Man Logan to the Wolverine, Dark Knight: Master Race is to the DKU. Our hero is old, battered and really down. But you can never put the guy fully down. His overarching sense of duty and of course, the constant support of Carrie the Batgirl, his protégé, pulls him through to keep coming back for his city [ “We might as well die, with blood on our knuckles!”] 

And then there is Superman, Batman’s bestie who really shines in this installment. He may not be younger or agile any more but he is definitely smarter than his fellow Kryptonians. The way he scythes through the villains, really letting himself go, making mincemeat of his Kandorian opponents makes for one of the most satisfying art work I have seen, in terms of explosive artwork. The other narratives that feature Lara – and her mom Wonder Woman or the Atom are scattershot and really didn’t feel very deep. Another superhero, The Green Lantern’s story bit also felt like a force-fit just to prolong the series. Coming back to the villains, the Kandorians : the misunderstood race locked up in a glass-bottle for ages, finally relishing their powers and giving into megalomania made sense. But somewhere along the way, I felt Quar was reduced to this rabble-rousing mad priest consumed by his own hubris and power, a rather empty trope.

Coming to the art work, Kubert and Miller have done some amazing art work, brought to life and action in an epic splash of red and black riot of colors and panels. I absolutely loved this – plus the hardcover in that gorgeous black that convinced me to buy the book in the first place.

Whatever the purists may croak, I really really liked this one and the book for me ties up neatly as a concluding piece to the original DKU trilogy. A flawed effort sure but it is so much fun and addictive to boot. This one's a clarion call of the re-birthed DC universe and setting a new tone to the older, grim-dark cynical Dark Hero. 


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