There’s a new issue of The Dark Knight III out today, extending the three-decade lifespan of Frank Miller’s dystopian re-imagining of Batman. But, as the series goes on, it’s becoming more clear that Bruce Wayne isn’t really a central figure.
When The Dark Knight III: The Master Race began late last year, it showed readers a Batman who was beating up cops instead of criminals. The first two issues treated the identity of this new Caped Crusader and the absence of Bruce Wayne as mysteries. That was a big deal, because the original Dark Knight Returns series written by Frank Miller was all about how a crankily aged Batman had to suit up to save the day in much more grim fashion than he had before.
Things started to change in that series’ sequel. The Dark Knight Strikes Again revolved around Bruce Wayne’s secret army breaking out his imprisoned Justice League comrades to free the world from the tyrannical grip of Lex Luthor and Brainiac. Miller gave each Leaguer special spotlight moments meant to distil the inherent appeal of each character, a mix of Silver Age nostalgia inflected with acidic snark.
But, at the end of the day, DK2 was still a Batman story, climaxing with Bruce Wayne defeating a demented Dick Grayson and retiring to a life with Carrie Kelly by his side. Carrie was first introduced as a new Robin in 1986’s Dark Knight series, and she later changed into Catgirl in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. This time, Carrie’s superhero evolution funnels her into the Batsuit of the man who was her mentor as she faces up against Gotham’s corrupt cops.
DKIII‘s main story is credited to Miller and Brian Azzarrello but reads much more like the latter man’s work. Miller’s main output appears to be in the series’ back-up stories, which focus on the disparate lives of various Justice Leaguers. Overall, the creative team seems more fascinated with the series’ other characters than with Batman himself. In fact, Bruce Wayne is on the literal and figurative sidelines after finally admitting that his body is too brittle to bound across rooftops.
DKIII‘s main threat is a crop of Kryptonian religious zealots freed from the shrunken city of Kandor, and the pivotal sequence in this week’s DKIII #3 has the Dark Knight Universe’s Batman uncharacteristically admitting he needs Superman’s help. It’s a weird beat, given how Batman spent so much time in DKR and DKSA humiliating the Man of Steel.
Perhaps because of all that’s happened — and other setbacks alluded to by his daughter Lara — Superman has let himself freeze into a silent statue in the Fortress of Solitude. Bruce and Carrie’s appeal rouses him from his slumber, setting the stage for Superman’s confrontation with not only the death-obsessed Kryptonians but also with the child he created with Wonder Woman. The battle to come will seemingly happen on a wider scale than any before in the Dark Knight Universe. It’s already proven too big for Batman to handle without Superman, a pair of characters that Frank Miller presented as diametrically opposed to each other. This newest turnabout makes DKIII an even more bizarre piece of Frank Miller’s legacy.