In 1986, Frank Miller cemented his place in comic book history with his new take on Batman, The Dark Knight Returns. Miller offered a reinterpretation of Batman that shattered the common perception of the campy Adam West Batman TV series, replacing it with an aging Bruce Wayne, broken by the murder of his parents.
In the story, the death of his sidekick Robin has convinced Bruce Wayne to retire his alter ego. Batman hasn’t been seen fighting crime for a decade. But the rise of a new criminal gang and the support of Carrie Kelly, a new Robin, emboldens Bruce Wayne, now in his 50s, to get back out on the streets to defend Gotham.
Miller’s Dark Knight was incredibly influential, essentially creating the obsessed, morally questionable character that we still know today. A new comic reader could easily pick up The Dark Knight Returns and enjoy it without the need for decades of Batman backstory and comic book continuity.
It’s thirty years later, and Frank Miller is back with his second follow up story, The Dark Knight: Master Race, this time with help from co-writer Brian Azzarello and artists Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson. Like the first sequel, 2001’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, this new book is nearly indecipherable. The Dark Knight sequels rely heavily on the wide world of DC superheroes, requiring the reader to know all about DC’s characters and past histories. If you know what a Lazarus Pit is or who Ralph Dibny and Patrick O’Brian are, you’ll probably be able to follow the stories. Even then, there are tons of gaps you’ll be left to fill in for yourself.
If I understand it, the story of Master Race goes something like this: Scientist Ray Palmer, at the urging of Lara, the daughter of Wonder Woman and Superman, attempts to enlarge the citizens of the Bottle City of Kandor. He’s surprised when the newly-embiggened Kryptonians turn out to be a cult of zealots led by the evil Quar. Quar’s cult members expect to be treated like gods by the people of earth. This forces the once again retired Bruce Wayne, now somewhere between age 60 and 90, to become Batman again. Superman needs to be awakened from a self-imposed coma. Green Lantern, previously seen to be all-powerful, gets his hand heat-visioned off. The Flash gets his legs broken and turns into a computer hacker. Batman dies and is brought back to life, young and strong and ready for another sequel.
If you’re a fan of Frank Miller and his previous Dark Knight books, you’re probably curious enough to check out Master Race. Go ahead, maybe you’ll like it. If you’re not a DC Comics aficionado, I can’t imagine there’s any part of Master Race that you’ll enjoy. I’d advise you to, put yourself into an ’80s mindset, take a look at the original Dark Knight Returns, and see what you think.