The Darkest Night of All: Batman METAL and Dark Knight III

I have not read a whole lot of Batman comics in 2018, but the stories I have enjoyed the most were Dark Knight Returns III: The Master Race and Dark Nights: Metal. Both were fun stories than interested me far more than the other regular sprawling monthlies with their endless sub-plots, and both I waited until they were completed before reading any of them at all.

Nothing bugs me more than reading a single chapter of a story then having to wait weeks or months to read the next chapter. It’s the same reason I won’t watch Flash or Daredevil until I have the time to go through the whole season in a week (or a couple days). Too big a gap and I forget what is happening in the story.

In both of these Batman stories, we explore the roads less traveled, the paths not taken by Bruce Wayne. Some are realistic views and events based on the familiar Bruce we know and his values. Others versions [of Bruce] are nightmarish scenarios vomited into existence because every polarity must have its opposite or its tangents that demands to be heard, even if that demand is a shrill piercing endless scream from a reality that should not exist.

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Dark Nights Metal managed to be both a kick-ass action packed Batman / JLA
story and ALSO be a really dark and fucked up slow crawl through the mind of
Bruce Wayne – leaving you wondering if he is sick or sane.

All Bruce Wayne’s dark and most demented aspects are given truly terrifying life in the previously unknown Metal Underverse.  The main story was good, but the highlights to me were the tie in one shots each showcasing a more depraved, more driven more
demented aspect of Bruce Wayne / Batman’s psyche.

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It’s an intelligent and fun look at how many ways Bruce Wayne could have fully gone over to the dark side. If you thought Darth Vader or Spawn were dark and demented characters, well you ain’t seen nothing yet – they pale in comparison to these gloriously demented zealots, these bizarre twisted manifestations of Bruce Wayne’s ultimate drive and his obsessions perverted to the extreme. It’s a deliciously slow crawl through the worst parts of Bruce Wayne’s psyche, all his murky mucky hidden corners lit up like a Christmas Tree to be savored and devoured.

If you’ve ever read any DC Elseworlds, this is like an evil universe of “What If….” Batman stories, but incorporated into one deep dark bizarre evil universe that starts merging (or more like ravenously consuming) the mainline DC Universe. Its dark demented and exactly the kind of story I love. It also runs with themes of Alchemy and Heavy Metal laced into the story like a deadly neurotoxin that poisons you before you even open the to the first page.

There are so many evil fucked up versions of Batman that it’s just a smorgasbord of super nasty.

A Batman who becomes the new God of War? Another Batman who is infected with the Doomsday virus, why not? Each one more depraved and driven than the last.

How about a Batman who is basically a Clive Barker style cenobite with little demon Robins chained on leashes? That’s him in the tasteful fetish attire and a Joker grin on his face. He wears his influences on his sleeve.

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And there is a load more of them, a whole JLA of evil Batmen from a wicked universe that should not and could not exist, all based on key moral decisions Bruce Wayne did or did not choose. That’s my favourite part really, that each personality splinter comes from something deep, true and honorable in Wayne, all twisted by a dark universe where evil prevails.

It’s Metal, Horror and every fucked up Grimm’s Fairy Tale with a horrific ending wrapped in big black coat of the Bat and put through a meat grinder. On paper, it looks gimmicky as fuck. All style, no substance. Exactly my first impression, and also the reason I put off reading it for months.

Convention has it that Batman’s adventures work best when they’re rooted in a basically realistic world of gritty crime violence and backstreet reprisals, but from the very start of his career, he was drawn into demented episodes of the supernatural, uncanny and inexplicable. His was the territory of the dark unconscious after all… – GRANT MORRISON / Supergods

But reading the complete story in one day (and it’s tie ins over a couple days) – there is surprising depth and exploration of Bruce’s psyche in this story. It’s nice to also see horror being an essential part of the story, something we rarely get in modern Batman comics outside of the cliched often boring obligatory Scarecrow  appearances or the odd Kelley Jones anomaly.

This is no story of hyper-rationality and realism, but a deep exploration into parts unknown. It’s a fairy tale of pure unrestrained evil and chaos, and how close it is to home, and how the complete self in all of us has these same potentials and impulses. It’s multiple Batmen expressing their shadow self and domination of all life on earth, rather than in service to humanity.

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JLA + Evil Universe = Demented Batpeople

Dark Nights Metal also manages to creatively link itself to Grant Morrison’s run, and Snyder’s infamous NEW 52 run – both of which I rather enjoyed. It was not even necessary to do so, but it’s a nice extra – and a bit clever.

Snyder is nowhere near the caliber of writer that Morrison is when it comes to exploring niche exotic, weird and offbeat material, but he managed to really surprise me with this story by including key elements of his NEW 52 Batman personality, and tapping into the larger mythical/magical framework of stories human beings tell for generations.

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There is a good dose of archetypes and a scale to this mini-crossover that felt not too big, not too small…. but just right. Dark Nights Metal is a terrific read. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but I encourage you to to check it out.

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THE TRIUMVIRATE KNIGHT

After the original Dark Knight Returns – a seminal stand alone defining work – nobody could have expected, predicted (nor wanted) a sequel.

So, years later Miller wrote The Dark Knight Strikes Again (aka DK2) as a sequel – and it was not terribly welcome. There was as sense of “the first one was classic, don’t fuck with it Frank” coming from many fans, the same way classic stand alone movies are revered, and sometimes genuinely shit on when remade, rebooted or re-interpreted by a studio looking to make a quick buck.

I first read Dark Knight 2 from my local public library in the collected edition. The art was a real turn off, but I enjoyed the story. On subsequent readings, I’ve come to enjoy the skewed art that is more…. mmm…. expressionistic and emotional (moving away from realistic anatomical drawings).

I certainly can see why there were so many complaints about the art. Some of it still bugs me to this day, but it’s definitely Art. The scratchy look really reminds me of early Romita Jnr stories, the kind that suit a grim crime ridden environment. While I enjoy the color palette used, the actual digital coloring itself is a bit of any eyesore, coming across as more experimental than refined.

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DK2 didn’t try to just repeat the first book or story, but did something new. And really that’s what I want out of any comic book story. The art style is clearly closer to Miller’s 300 book,  Lynn Varley also colored those books. Can you see Wonder Woman’s nose in that picture? Did you even notice?

Art (good or bad) should get a reaction out of you, and I do find many of the comments hilarious that just assume EVERYTHING in DK2 is “bad art”. It’s pretty ignorant to assume that anything not anatomically accurate or super shiny and Avengers style pretty is “bad”. Or that doing something more fast and loose is bad rather than a stylistic choice. It’s not even a new style for Frank, as he has done these freakish looking pin ups for decades that have appeared often in other people’s books. His Savage Dragon pin up is an eye sore to me, but it’s one of Larsen’s favorite Dragon pin ups.

Personally I found Dark Knight Strikes Again an interesting read and more enjoyable the second or third time through when you get what Frank was going for. And I still re-read it regularly. I picked it up again just now to flip through while writing, and will probably read it again this weekend.

With Dark Knight Returns III: The Master Race, we got a more conventional commercial story – usually the death of creativity. But when that commercial story is a collaboration of Miller and Azzarello – well that’s still one damn good read, even if it lacks deeper meaning and more overt political commentary like the original Dark Knight Returns. I did enjoy seeing more classical comic art in DK3 rather than the hyper stylized Pollock splashery of DK2.

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It’s pointless trying to outdo the original DKR – it’s a masterpiece of sorts, but instead we get another story set in that universe that is less controversial and more… for lack of a better word – palatable. That should be a criticism, but it’s not. It’s a fun read if you like Batman, or even just the wider DCU.

How much Miller wrote DK3 is debatable, as his co-creators (check out the credits below) and more “hands on” style of DC Comics suggests that it was a more commercial effort with a more restrained Miller.

The art by Andy Kubert is lovely, but you get the impression with another artist (and another well known writer) involved, did Miller ghost write this one? Did he pass them some details scribbled on a cocktail napkin and DC said “Hell yeah, we like money, but we’re in control on this one Frank, fans don’t like when you draw outside the lines with squiggles and stuff”

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*spoiler alert* The Butler Did it

Whatever the reality of the situation, I enjoyed the final product.

But Frankly speaking…….I’d rather read a more wild, chaotic and excessive Miller story any day than a subdued one. I don’t care if it’s downright bonkers, as it’s his freedom to express what he wants to express. I’m sorry if you don’t like his stories or whatever…….(yeah I’m not) – but artists have to actually genuinely express themselves to make something interesting. Anything else is just vanilla monthlies.

I love monthlies too, there is a time and a place for restraint and “by the numbers” story telling (such as regular monthly books) and there is a time and place for more experimental material, such as in one shots, Elseworlds stories and creator driven mini-series.

Anytime you get  a Kubert – be it Andy, Adam or Papa Joe on a book, you are in for a visual treat. I still fondly remember Andy Kubert’s amazing work on Batman vs Predator, he’s one of my all time favourite comic books artists.

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The backup stories in Master Race use the “scratchy” style we saw in DK2, and are Miller’s art, while Kubert’s stuff is in the main story.

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It’s not like we have not had a good Miller story before with someone else on art duties. Mazzucchelli / Miller on Batman: Year One was a winning combination. But it does make me curious what would a purely Miller written and drawn DK3 have been like? Supposedly there is yet another sequel coming. Which for many fans means an excuse to foam at the mouth and scream gibberish online. I don’t care for that sort of thing.

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If you like something, read it and enjoy it. If not, move the fuck on.

It’s a waste of life to rant and rave nonsensical crap. I don’t mind genuine criticism, whether it be written or video content, provided it has an actual point of view. But mostly, I just love to read comics – and I don’t care or have the time to read “reviews” of comics (that take more time to read than the actual comic itself!) I do however like anything that takes the time to go deeper into a topic  I love – like Batman – and wish more people would create that sort of thing.

In Dark Knight III: The Master Race, there is a heap of other DC Icons as guests in the story. Superman is a more well balanced character, and Batman responds to one of the greatest threats he has ever faced. A whole army of refugee Kryptonians who intend to rule the earth by force as dictators and make it their new home.

Bats don’t tolerate that kind of crap, so you know he’s not going to sit back and do nothing. How it plays out is a fun enthralling read and perhaps a more traditional comic story than the excesses of DK2. That’s neither a good nor bad thing, but however it all stacks up – it’s a book I’m happy to add to my growing collection of Batman comics on the book shelf.

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