“...There Will Never Be a TRIumphteenth Time.” COMICS! Sometimes Comics Might Not Be For Kids Anymore But The People Who Make ‘Em Could Sure Do With Acting A Bit More Like Adults, Maybe?.

I sure hope everyone loves my unwieldy and turgid exercises in overkill, because here’s another one coming up right about now. But, hey, Batman’s in it. I know I said comics (plural) last time but this got out of hand so I’ve split the other bit for later, plus I couldn’t quite get that part to work. It’ll turn up though; nothing gets wasted. And now it’s over to…Batman!  photo TopB_zps8cwgl7oa.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins Anyway, this…

DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE Art by John Romita Jnr & Peter Steigerwald Written by Brian Azzarello & (yeah, right, whatever; if you say so:) Frank Miller Lettered by Clem Robins Coloured by Peter Steigerwald Cover by John Romita Jnr., Danny Miki & Dean White Variant covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee & Alex Sinclair, Lee Bermejo and Bill Sienkiewicz with John Vernon as "The Mayor" Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller - WITH KLAUS JANSON AND LYNN VARLEY (See, it's not that difficult is it DC? “with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley”, that's all it takes. Try and put “with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley” in the credits for The Dark Knight Returns before this slipshod cashgrab ends, ey? There's a good multinational corporation. Cheers, from your big pal, John.) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane The Joker created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger & Bob Kane Robin created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger & Bob Kane Jason Todd Robin created by Don Newton & Gerry Conway Killer Croc created by Don Newton, Gene “The Dean” Colan & Gerry Conway Poison Ivy created by Sheldon Moldoff & Robert “Bob” Kanigher DC Comics, $6.99/£4.99 (2016)

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We all know what happened to Jason Todd in The Dark Knight Returns timeline; we’ve known since 1986. Not precisely mayhap, but enough. So a comic in 2016 about what happened to Jason Todd in the Dark Knight Returns timeline seems about as necessary as a loblolly boy. Ah, but, luckily Brian Azzarello is on the case with his very special reverse Rumpelstiltskin (Nikstlitslepmur?) gold-into-straw magic. What he plumps for is to fill in some of the pre-history for The Batman and The Robin. Turns out that in this timeline Jason Todd is Commissioner Gordon’s nephew, and inspired by The Batman’s example the plucky young fellow takes to the roofs, vigilante style. One night the dynamic duo’s paths cross, and, senses heightened and inhibitions shattered by the visceral thrill of night time crime fighting, they fall upon one another in a throbbing heap of sweat, muscle and appetite. Alas, Batman gets post-coital regrets and blanks The Robin, who cries and is sad. Then the Joker jumps out and smashes his head in like an egg filled with mince and jam. Ha ha ha ha! Only joking. That would be stupid!  Not to mention monumentally crass. What kind of a dunderheaded poltroon would write something like that? Ha ha ha ha!  Might work with a chick though, huh, guys? Yeah, a chick would fit. Chicks are all emotional and needy, yeah? Chicks, huh, go figure. Okay, yeah, that doesn’t happen here but there’s enough dodgy stuff on show to suggest someone’s a bit confused about this whole sexuality lark; little things like men frequently being taken roughly from behind and the main female character manipulating men into giving her stuff without giving up her, uh, stuff, her, er, you know, her, uh uh uh, sexy nectar. Now I wouldn’t want to read too much into all that, Heaven forfend, but some people might imagine such a toxic combo of hostility towards the opposite sex and tortured self-loathing could, if unaddressed, manifest in later life. For example, in the tawdry sight of a grown man insulting someone much younger who has paid money to be in the same room, and has simply asked a question about the tired rehash of a better writer’s work our (hypothetical and wholly imaginary) adult individual is shilling; most likely by calling the innocent questioner a rude name, quite possibly a derogatory term for female genitalia more suited to the playground. In his 1953 paper “Repression and its Expression: Pundits and Pussies.”, the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner dubbed such conduct “classy”.

 photo frankB_zps4avqb0oe.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE alternate cover by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair (Sweet, huh?)

So that’s what Brian “Maturity” Azzarello doesn’t do, but what does he do? Stuck with pages to fill Azzarello does a nifty swerve around expectations, dodges the whole Joker business for the most part, and instead writes a fairly mediocre Batman comic primarily concerned with demonstrating Batman’s feet of clay. If anything Azzarello’s a bit too good at the feet of clay business, because throughout the comic Batman seems to be in the wrong job. Because throughout the comic Batman is basically a bit shit. Sure, he does his bit of detecting, but otherwise he should be renamed Bit Shit Man. I get that this is Batman losing a step just before he hangs his trunks up, but there’s losing a step and staggering about like a drunk who has just hopped off a roundabout going at full tilt. When he’s not being surprised from behind by big men in small rooms, Batman’s being pounded to paste and spectacularly failing as a mentor. There’s something wrong with Robin, see, but Batman just can’t quite put his (Bill) finger on it. Just little things, like literally disarming a man, or standing on a thug so that his face bubbles like cheese on the griddle of a burning car roof. Tiny cracks, hairline fractures, I trust you’ll agree. I’m a ridiculously liberal (i.e. lazy) parent (so I’ll be regretting that in a few years no doubt, officer) but even I might take Jason Todd aside for a talk after he’s just bataranged a guy’s arm off. Seriously, it comes right off in a whoosh, a gush, a sploosh even, of blood. I mean, the whole thing of what exactly a batarang is made of so that it can sever an arm aside, Batman just wrinkling his nose and basically going, “Bit much, old chum, don’t you think?”, seems a bit light on the old response stakes. Dude’s arm just comes off. SPLASH! Seriously. Best case scenario: that guy’s crippled for life, worst case: he just bled out all over his traumatised for life wife. Sweet crime fighting skillz, guys. The streets feel safer already. This, of course, is the kind of stupid horseshit you get when someone wants to be all realismy with something as unrealistic as Batman, and hasn’t got the skill to pull it off. Frank The Tank could pull it off, and that’s part of his genius. But this…Jesus. It’s all over the place, like vomit after a teenage party. Yeah, like a lot of modern North American genre comics THE LAST CRUSADE is sophistimacated stuff.

 photo actionB_zpspdd80pwa.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

Because I made it up I should probably define that scholarly term a bit. Sophistimacated is when comics want to be sophisticated, but can’t be arsed to do the hard graft that sophisticated involves. There’s a lot of sophistimication about in comics these days, and Brian Azzarello is a dab hand at it here. In a deluded attempt to seem to be Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (Bop bop soo-be-do-wa!) there’s some silly business about whether or not Batman is guilty of child endangerment. Smack Frank The Tank up all you like, but the satire in THE DARK KNIGHT was genuinely funny and had a point. (Whoa, I didn’t say it was subtle. C’mon, It’s The Tank.) Azzarello tries his hammy hand at a similar thing but…Glycon preserve us! There’s a surfeit of stupid hooey running through the comic which I think is supposed to be satirical, but it isn’t. Satire doesn’t need to be funny, but it does need to have a point. This comic has no point to make about anything. It is squarely set in the la-la land of comics. It has no relevance whatsoever to anything in the real world. Look: A grown man dressed as a bat aided by a teenage acrobat dressed like he’s colour blind. Is it child endangerment? Golly, I better book a day off work just to mull that one over. Deep stuff, huh? No. Why are you even wasting my time with this shit? Is it child endangerment? Yes, yes it is. But it’s a comic; so it doesn’t matter. It not being real and all, you dig? In the real world disturbed American millionaires don’t fight crime dressed as nocturnal mammals, they run for the presidency and insult Mexicans. Ho ho ho! Topical me! Now, I don’t know about you, but I think one of the costs of writing about a young man dressed like a pantomime Peter Pan fighting crime with a grown man dressed as a bat, is that you don’t get to draw attention to that. And you don’t draw attention to that because it is fundamentally ridiculous. That's part of the appeal, genius.

 photo smileB_zpspd9lruuc.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

Despite Christopher’s Nolan’s pompous cinematic attempts to convince us otherwise, the concept of Batman doesn’t work on any realistic level. The last thing a Batman writer wants to be doing is chucking that mutually agreed suspension of disbelief overboard, particularly for boneheaded point scoring about child endangerment shorn by its very context of any actual relevance whatsoever. Woken from slumber the reader starts to ask questions about this whole Batman deal. That’s the last thing you need.  Some smartarse asking questions. Better slap him down with a nasty sexual slur, right? But, alas, this reader isn’t in the same room, so your brave and manly verbal abuse won’t work. Nothing can stop the ungrateful fool of a reader now they have awoken. For starters how does Batman get anywhere? By Batmobile? Really? In the city? Have you tried driving around a city at speed? It’s not on is it? Even at night, even in, say, Chesterfield; chances are if you start haring about like your arse is on fire you’ll end up with a drunk smeared across your windshield. It’s simply not do-able. And Chesterfield’s no Gotham, and your family hatchback is no Batmobile. So major carnage is on the cards either way. (“Car”-nage and “car”-ds and, yes, I’m talking about – “car”s! Two can play at rubbish word games, Brian Azzarello! But only one of us gets paid a small fortune for it.) Maybe, you say, Batman travels by swinging about? He’d be Bat-knackered before he got anywhere near his destination. Then upon arrival (at the docks, or the reservoir, or the charity ball) he has a fist fight with a bunch of goons and has to swing back for a Bat-brood in his Bat-cave, before having a Bat-nap and then overseeing a successful multi-national Bat-corporation. Bat-Christ, my Mum’s a work-horse but Batman makes her look like a right Bat-slacker. All this is only possible because, and look, I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this to you (and I certainly don’t want to steal the thunder of that guy who studies Batman (the one in the 2000AD documentary who wears eyeliner and gels his hair like a fourteen year old on his way to his first Cure concert. Aw, bless.)) but…brace yourself…Batman isn’t real. Sorry about that. You know THE KILLING JOKE (which may not be Alan Moore’s finest hour (as he himself admits) but is a lot better than this addlepated guff) isn’t going to work as soon as you hit the panel of the “Bob Kane” signed picture on Batman’s Bat-Desk. In a world where The Joker dresses Commissioner Gordon as an S&M gimp and shoots Barbara Gordon before taking snaps of her in nude distress, there’s no room for an Ace The Bat-Hound or a Bat-Mite. Nor, crucially, is there any place for a gaily costumed child. Robin isn’t in THE KILLING JOKE. Did you notice that? Oh, I know you noticed all the stitches Alan Moore (self-confessedly) dropped in THE KILLING JOKE (Boo! Alan Moore! Boo! Yawn.) but did you notice what he got right? Robin isn’t in The Killing Joke. That’s not an accident. Even Alan Moore on a bad day got  that much right. Brian Azzarello? Not so much.

 photo smackB_zpsikicrevx.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

For the most part DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE isn’t even a Batman vs The Joker comic as you might expect. (You fool! Why do you persist with such notions!) No, bizarrely it’s a not wholly awful Batman and Robin versus Killer Croc & Poison Ivy comic. People familiar with Azzarello’s Bat-work have my sympathies, but they also have probably noticed his fondness for using Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Those uncharitably inclined might say that this is because Croc allows him to dabble with questionable racial stereotypes without risk, and because Ivy lets him have Batman slap a woman about. Which is all kinds of creepy but I think Azzarello often seems to mistake being creepy for being edgy, but then so do Mainstream North American Genre Comics as a whole, so there you go. I really liked the Killer Croc & Poison Ivy bits for the most part, not for themselves, mind; but because they were a throwback to those Gerry Conway, Dough Moench, Gene Colan, Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, Klaus Janson etc etc Batman comics of my squandered youth. You know, when Batman did a bit of detective work? Sure, here in DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE all he does is find the common denominator between the victims, but credit where it's due, that’s Sherlock fucking Holmes compared to his usual modern day manoeuvres; where he just looks at a computer screen and then pulls stuff out of his Bat-backside. It’s getting to the point where I think Batman is only The World’s Greatest Detective because he exists in a world where his nearest competition is a chimp. And back then, in those old comics, he’d always have a girlfriend who would be thoroughly uninteresting and usually also part of some evil plot; her larger function being to avoid people going on about Batman and Robin having Bat-bum fun.  And here, again, in THE LAST CRUSADE  Batman has a girlfriend, although it’s Catwoman obvs, because then we can have a reference to them rutting in costume like sexy cosplayers. Yeah, there was a lot of Killer Croc and Poison Ivy back then, I think. My memory could err, but I’m pretty sure they popped up a lot. Black Mask was over everything like a rash, I remember that. Bloody Black Mask. Jesus, it got so it was like, why not just call it Black Mask Comics, people! I don’t even remember who Black Mask turned out to be. Harry Truman? Barbara Cartland? Sandra Bernhardt? A Dog Named Boo? Probably Tom bloody Hardy. Tom Hardy’s in everything. He was in my toilet yesterday; I told him to shut the door because no one wants to see that, Hollywood bigshot or no. Anyway, stop distracting me, so I went on The Comixology to check who made those old comics and found a listing which said DETECTIVE COMICS (1937 - 2011) #255 featured a “tiresome” encounter with Killer Croc. Seriously. “Tiresome”. I do not think that word means what you think it means, Comixiology Precis Writer. That was funny, but not as funny as the fact that the encounters with Killer Croc in DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE are actually tiresome, as in “tiresome”. To be surprised from behind by Killer Croc once may be regarded as a misfortune, to be so surprised twice seems like you’re in the wrong job.

 photo tiresomeB_zpskebvoumt.jpg Comixology Precis courtesy of some poor overworked schlub.

Alas, if you bought this for the Joker you probably bought the wrong comic. Everyone bought this for The Joker, yeah? To see the penultimate donnybrook between Batman and his maniacal nemesis of murderous mirth. Well, tough titty to you. You don’t get that. What you get mostly, is a Killer Croc and Poison Ivy comic. As demonstrated at soul sapping length above. When Azzarello does deign to show The Joker it’s not even Miller’s creepily withered Camp Bowie, just a wearisome rehash of the old Silence of The Lambs business. You know, the bit where Multiple Miggs flicks man-fat at Clarice, and in return Hannibal induces Miggs to swallow his own tongue via loony whisperiness? That bit (the death by suggestion, not the flying man-fat) is strip-mined once again. More than once. Mrs Leeds in Human form – do you see? Mrs. Jacobi changing – do you see? Brian Azzarello – laughing all the way to the bank – DO YOU SEE? Man, remember when everyone was ripping off Thomas Harris? All those serial killers with their grand pianos and jones for Goethe?  Complete bullshit perhaps, but Harris (at least for two books) gave us chillingly well done stuff. Good serial killing times; and here they are again. Only rubbish. Oh, it’s not all stale sub Alex Cross (ugh!) guff though, Azzarello brings his celebrated wordplay to bear to his portrayal of the homicidally jocular one. Mind you, I’m not sure who celebrates Brian Azzarello’s wordplay at this late stage in the game; people who hate the English language? There’s some prime wordshittery on these pages; wordshittery which I’ll not spoil because recoiling in alarm at the latest word turd thrust at your face is one of the few pleasures (if pleasure that be) of this thing. And no, I don’t think I’m missing any subtleties here, thanks. This is a book where a psychiatrist says “You want to tell me why you PULLED OUT YOUR EYES?” And, yes, it is in ITALIC BOLD CAPS. Nice bedside manner there, pal. Credit to the profession. Yup, subtle has done a bunk, old chum. So, maybe you were wondering what the Joker’s madcap scheme is; the one which succeeds in catching the Boy Wonder? Get this strategic shit: he sits in a chair reading, with his gang outside. That’s it. A regular Rommel, eh? Robin tries to pick the lock, but the gang creep up behind him and smash his head in. Worth waiting around forty years, for, eh? That’s right, They sneak up behind Robin and smash his head in. BAM! POW! BIFF! Holy twaddle, Batman! Holy Hole-in-a-cranium, Batman! Azzarello leaves what happens afterwards to your imagination, which is awfully sweet of him, but this comic might have been a bit better if Brian Azzarello had stooped to using his own imagination a bit more, instead of relying on mine.

 photo WhumpB_zpsncdbrmq5.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

Reading this book may well be a miserable experience, but looking at it is quite delightful. There’s something seriously bizarre about the art in this. I’m pretty sure the book was solicited as having inks from Battlin’ Bill Sienkiewicz, but there’s no sign of The Sink, or even of inks, at least not as I know them. It looks like John Romita Jnr did his chunky stuff in pencil form and then Steigerwald hurriedly smeared colours atop it all to give it some semblance of finish. Since the book was delayed, a cynic might think this was some rush job stuff to get it out. (Cynics are just awful, aren’t they just.) Wild and unfounded speculation aside, I don’t know why it looks like it does, but I know I like it. The soft haze of the colours blur everything into a dreamlike state; a bad dream to be sure, but one where the writing’s bad and the colours are dreamy.  People give Romita some stick these days but I don’t know, I think he’s pretty great. Look at how the smoke curls from the Joker’s mouth; how the blood swings from his nose as his head moves; how Romita repeatedly gets the shock of impact just so; it’s good stuff. And the colours may(?) be the result of desperation incarnate but, you know, sometimes art just happens; things just work. Because this is good looking stuff. I was particularly taken with how Steigerwald gives Joker skin tones with all the allure of a mixture of guano and fag ash, and the liquid chaos of the police lights/flares were another delight. Romita Jnr’s work deftly balances brutality and delicacy, giving the whole thing a visual conviction far in excess of anything the shambolic and self-satisfied mess of a script deserves. Like the kids whom comics are no longer for, the art’s alright; it’s the writing that drags DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE down to CRAP! Or Bat-CRAP! If you will.

NEXT TIME: It’s time to cheer the f*** up,  so up next is a bit of Howard Victor Chaykin during which we’ll discover how bananas changed history.

Or something else, because guess what just arrived in the post – COMICS!!!

“Wonderfully PEDESTRIAN.” COMICS! Sometimes I’m Less Than Impressed.

There was a new Batman comic out. It was an Event because Frank Miller was reportedly involved. I bought it. Frank Miller may well have been involved in actuality but, honestly, I could only detect homeopathic quantities of Frank Miller. Overall, I thought it was a pretty poor Event and only a mediocre Btaman comic. Yeah, that’s it; I thought I’d spare you having to read what follows. You can if you like, but it goes on a bit. Ooh, what a palaver!  photo DKIIIkB_zpsl0ghmsh4.jpg DKIII by Miller, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins

Anyway this… DK III: THE MASTER RACE BOOK ONE Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (Although in the comic DKR’s just credited to Frank Miller alone, which is a bit rich, and not something I want to encourage. Cut that shit out, DC Comics.) Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller& Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson Variant covers by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Dave Gibbons & Brad Anderson, Jill Thompson Retailer Variant Covers by Dave Johnson, Sean Gordon Murphy, Lee Bermejo, Klaus Janson, Rafael Albuquerque, Jae Lee & June Chung, Eduardo Risso, Jock, Walter Simonson & Laura Martin, Ivan Reis & Marcelo Maiolo, Aaron Lopresti, Tyler Kirkham & Tomeu Morey, Brian Bolland, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Gabriele Dell’Otto, John Cassady & Laura Martin, Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey, Matt Wagner & Brennan Wagner, Michael Allred & Laura Allred, Brian Stelfreeze, Amanda Connor & Paul Mounts, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson, Jason Fabok & Brad Anderson, Darwyn Cooke, Josh Middleton, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson, Howard Porter & Hi-Fi, Kevin Eastman & Varga Tamas, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Dorman, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Marc Silvestri & Alex Sinclair, Kelley Jones, Dale Keown & Jason Keith, Neal Adams & Alex Sinclair, Simon Bisley, Tony Harris, David Finch, Scott Hanna & Brad Anderson, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White, Adam Hughes, Francis Manapul, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino, Tim Sale, Bruce Timm and Babs Tarr with John Vernon as “The Mayor” Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC COMICS, $5.99/£4.99 (Standard Ed.), $12.99/£9.99 (Deluxe Ed.) (2015)

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PART THE FIRST: Oblique? C’est Chic!

 photo DKIIIpB_zpstyynd74y.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

On November 11th, 2015 it was reported in a number of British papers that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had written to Oxfordshire council leader Ian Hudspeth criticising the council’s proposed cuts resulting from the austerity policies imposed by the very same Government of which David Cameron is Prime Minister. Dave was, we are told, “disappointed”. Dave’s disappointment was mostly because he is also the MP for Witney which is covered by the council. Austerity and cutbacks are okay as long as they don’t affect Dave’s constituency. So far, so Tory. Thankfully though like the great Statesman he is Dave pushed past his disappointment to offer Ian Hudspeth unsolicited assurances and advice on how to best allocate his reduced resources. Showing he is not without humour Dave tried out the old one about how in fact the Council had more money not less. Probably in “real terms” which is always a sign someone is having a laugh. Regrettably and no doubt to his eternal chagrin Ian Hudspeth had to point out the unfeasibility of Dave’s helpful suggestions and indeed also corrected a couple of erroneous underlying assumptions particularly the one about Dave’s government having given him more money; they hadn’t, they had taken some away. But my favourite of these hesitant corrections, and one which will prove pertinent to the Batman comic under discussion today, was Dave's wizard idea that council property be sold off as a solution to the funding deficit. Alas, Mr. Hudspeth had no alternative to remind Dave this wouldn’t work as they are one-off receipts, so you can’t keep selling the same buildings every year. And the moral of this story is as applicable to Prime ministers as it is to Entertainment Corporations: You can only sell the family silverware once.

PART THE SECOND: Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Pandering!

 photo DKIIIlB_zpsdmcd9zpy.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

Do you remember those splash pages with a one panel inset Frank Miller did in DKSA? Andy Kubert does. Herein Wonder Woman fights a minotaur for no clear reason except this is how Frank Miller introduced his characters in DKSA – with a big splashy action set piece which had little to do with anything which followed. A lot of the book is like this – Frank Miller did something in DKR or DKSA so DKIII:TMR does it too but takes up more space, has less spark, and has no idea why it’s doing it other than Frank did it first. There’s the Gotham skyline which was used by Miller to give the city a sense of being a huge gaudy (Gaudi? Oh, I can do wordplay too!) cathedral of heat hazed sin. Here the Gotham skyline is used to show us, uh, it’s Gotham. In DKR and DKSA Miller used insets of TV screens to comment on the culture of the time, the events portrayed and also the comic itself, while also employing them to propel the narrative forward and fill in exposition in a graceful and entertaining fashion. Here the same inset TV panels are used because Frank Miller used them, and here bear as much relation to satire as does a knock-knock joke. Like most of the visual language of the book it’s been purloined from the source with no thought as to its original purpose or intent. You could imagine Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert noticing Frank Miller looks natty in a hat and buying themselves a couple only to go out wearing them on their arses. (The only people laughing would, of course, be Haters who had prejudged those hats, or fools who didn’t understand what Kubert and Azzarello were doing. Clearly.)

 photo DKIIIgB_zps4dki76vw.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

Then there’s the youth-speak, which in DKR was apparently contributed by Lynn Varley (and her rightly legendary colouring on DKR and DKSA is in no danger of being de-throned by the trendy lens-flare and banal gloss job of Brad Anderson) but here is by Brian Azzarello and…look, I’m inclined to leniency on this one, he has a pop. It’s not as good; it’s clumsy, ineffective and calls attention to itself more than it serves any real purpose. But, still, he has a pop. That scene also show a young POC being menaced by the cops which is so timely and relevant it’s a shame to point out the scene doesn’t go anywhere and is thus shameless attention seeking rather than any useful contribution to the debate about state sanctioned violence and institutionalised racism. I do have a sneaking suspicion that our harassed POC might turn out to be the new Robin (it won’t make the book any better but it might get some coverage; that’s what matters right? “White Man Writes Black Character in Comic Book! All Racist Violence Ends!”) Mind you, it’s reassuring to know that “The Man” is still the problem. If only we could find “The Man” and beard him in his lair! All our problems would be solved! Then we could all go down the “Disco” in our stack heels and “chat someone up”!

 photo DKIIIdB_zpsbzs1wqdt.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

A similar sense of worldly awareness is indicated in the bit where Wonder Woman breast feeds her baby. In keeping with the rest of the book this takes a lot more panels than a normal human being might expect, or a writer with any self-respect would risk. Largely, I think here it takes so long to get the kid on the tit so that we all have plenty of time to get upset. Except no one has got upset. Nice try, Brian Azzarello but you failed for the same reason Matt Fraction failed with that outrage baiting issue of SATELLITE SAM which was just blow job central. Try getting out of the house a bit, guys. It’s 2015 not 1986, superstar-comic-book-writers-whose-reputations-and-influence-far-exceed-your-actual-accomplishments, and your notions of what gets people upset are a bit behind the times. Also, calling your book THE MASTER RACE isn’t “provocative” (calling it BATMAN THE DARK KNIGHT: **** ALL YOUR MOTHERS is provocative. Not wise, but provocative.) and nor is seeing Wonder Woman breast feeding. Taking a dump on Superman’s chest? Sure, that’d probably get some tongues wagging even in this fallen age, but breast feeding kids not so much. I’ve sat next to complete strangers breast feeding their kids in cafes on public streets and I managed to neither touch myself lewdly nor call the peelers. Of course we won’t be seeing Wonder Woman laying some tarmac on Superman’s chest any time soon, not in this comic anyway because Superman is having a Supersulk in his Fortress of Solitude. At first I thought he was frozen and I couldn’t understand why his naughty daughter didn’t just unfreeze him with her eye beams. At first, I admit, I was ungenerous in my response and I thought it was just shitty writing. Then I figured he was just Supersulking and the ice had frozen over him. That’s still shitty writing because it’s basically saying in order for this plot to get going we need Superman out of the way so we’ll have him sulk. Batman will turn up and shout at him and Superman will get so angry he’ll break out of his ice and…look, I’m not getting paid for this so let’s leave it to the professionals. Believe you me those dudes are getting paid for it. Otherwise it’s just fan fiction. Which this isn’t. A lot of people get confused about the difference between fan fiction and professional fiction when there’s no need to. Professional fiction is precisely the same as fan fiction it just costs $5.99, or $12.99 for the Deluxe Edition.

INTERLUDE#1: I have seen The Future of Comics And It Is Expensive!

 photo DKIIIaB_zpsauxojhxf.jpg DKIII Cover by Jim Lee

Because, yes, this comic comes in a Deluxe Edition. For $12.99 you get precisely the same comic but at a bigger size and encased in hard covers. I kind of admire the satanic genius of this. This series alone is 8 issues and a couple of “Specials”; that’s around and about $120 dollars from each punter who signed up. Imagine if your entire line of comics were in that format. Sure, there’d be an audience drop off but at those prices you could probably absorb losses of around 70% of the comic buying public. This? This is the comics retailing equivalent of David Warner at the end of TIME BANDITS! This is Concentrated Evil! This is like the comics retailing equivalent of a first strike nuclear attack. (“We’ll lose Washington, but the Eastern seaboard should still be salvageable. Forecasts are bleak for Texas, and Mexico will fall into the sea. Predictions have Lootcrate picking up the slack when the Corn Belt goes. Mr President, those losses are acceptable to our shareholders. Let the prices soar. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”) Holy terror, wait until Marvel get wind of this. Imagine $12.99 for a single issue of a slim wisp of a Brian Bendis comic! And Marvel being Marvel they’ll probably double ship the shitters too. One day all comics will be this way. Are you ready for the world which is coming? Better start saving, kids! As for comics retailers, duck and cover mes amis, duck and bloody cover. Remember WAR GAMES: The only way to win is not to play!

PART THE THIRD: The World’s Finest Splash Page!

 photo DKIIIfB_zpspczi1xaq.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

My main beef with this comic is it is so badly written. We don’t say we love each other enough and, more pertinently, we don’t say comics are badly written enough. Comics have never been so replete with visual wonders. The standard of art these days is off the scale and we critics find that hard to talk about, but not as hard as we do to point out the failings which are rapidly rotting the craft of writing away from within. Oh, hang on I should in all fairness point out that visually this book is hardly better than average. Andy Kubert’s art is slick but thoroughly unconvincing in terms of spatial dimensions; the size of the minotaur is hard to pin down; at one point there’s a police car parked lengthways in an alleyway which is too narrow for it; a few times Kubert channels Miller and David Mazzucchelli but somehow makes it dull; but you know, it’s slick enough stuff. A bit too slick really. You can just about tell Klaus Janson’s at work here, but you have to really squint. There’s none of that lively line flurry and sparky scribbliness which usually peps his stuff up. He’s saved all that for The Atom mini-comic. Because, yes, for some inexplicable reason halfway through the comic you come to a bit of cardboard affixed to which is a mini-comic about The Atom. I can’t believe Frank Miller wrote this mini-comic. Sure, he probably said “And then the dame, she goes and gets The Atom to make them big. Damn big. Maybe some whores are involved. Not the ones with bruised vaginal walls and PTSD. Fun ones. Fun whores. Big damn fun whores.” But the execution has Azzarello’s tin ear and indecent love of decompression smeared all over it like Deep Heat on an old man’s back. Actually, that’s’ unfair. Decompression is a legitimate narrative technique, this is just pissing about. Brian Azzarello doesn’t use decompression, that legitimises what he does; it plays right into his money filled hands. It’s pissing about. At one point a door opens and we get this:

 photo DKIIIiB_zpswzurrfh2.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

That’s a full page splash that is. It’s then followed on the page turn by this:

 photo DKIIIjB_zps1crpzfx1.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

This comic takes ONE AND A HALF splash pages to depict a door opening. Decompression, my pile ridden arse. Sort yourself out Azzarello, you’re a disgrace, man.

Frank Miller definitely drew some of this mini-comic, but mostly, I’d say, it’s Klaus Janson. Which is okay; Janson never gets enough credit for all the weight he carried at the tail end of Miller’s DAREDEVIL run. I like Klaus Janson and it’s nice to see him here, tidying up Frank in his dotage. Dabbing the egg from his chin, artistically speaking. The best bit of the minicomic, the whole comic even, is the cover which is drawn by Frank Miller and features a Superman who’s all creased up like a pug dog’s scrotum. I liked it, but then I like Frank Miller’s art. I’m not shuck, I know he has got old and I think something has undoubtedly taken its toll; both you and I know his line isn’t as sure as it was and there’s just something off about it. It’s a frailer Frank, but it’s still Frank. I guess crumpled-up-and-badly-flattened-out Superman won’t be to everyone’s taste, what with the outline of “Lil Kal-El” (his Superwinklestick!) clearly visible to boot, but, you know, it’s what Frank’s doing now, so I like it because I like to know what Frank’s up to. Shit, I’m just glad he’s still drawing breath never mind drawing Superman. It’s a wrap-around drawing so the back of it is stuck to the cardboard thus providing a physical manifestation for the respect with which the big Two treat the art of even the giants of the industry.

 photo DKIIInB_zps0wzmfgbx.jpg DKIII by Miller, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins

PART THE FOURTH: The Ernest Hemingway Memorial Award for Clarity and Economy of Prose 2015

 photo DKIIImB_zpsxjcgtpx9.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

So, yeah, I was starting to go on about the writing and then I went on about the art. I’m not going to spend much time on this bit because it’s depressing how badly written this comic is. And, yes, people can pretend Frank Miller wrote it but he didn’t, Brian Azzarello did. You can tell because all the flaws are Brian Azzarello’s characteristic flaws. You can also tell Frank Miller didn’t write this comic because Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of stereotypical natives straight out of a 1920s Tarzan serial and no one flinches. Look, if anyone thought for one hot second that Frank Miller had written a scene in which a bunch of POCs in loin cloths with stuff stuck through their noses ran about in big eyed fear, you best believe there’d have been a right ruckus. Oh, I’m sure these natives are well researched and based on currently existent tribes but that’s not really my point. My point is that this comic is badly written and not by Frank Miller, so let’s gets back to that point.

On page 9 we have this:

“They’re afraid. And they will be, until they are what they ARE most afraid of…Dead.”

Now, I don’t know, there might be a way to make that more convoluted and unpleasant to parse but I’m happy to die unaware of it.

On page 15 we’ve got Wonder Woman describing her stroll as “Wonderfully PEDESTRIAN”.

Do you need me to walk (heh!) you through that one? She is saying her walk was both dull and something she did with her feet. It’s funny, see, because she had a fight with a minotaur which is very far from pedestrian and it was, indeed, actually something she did with her feet! O! My aching ribs.

 photo DKIIIhB_zpsfv5gfk2s.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

On the first page of The Atom mini-comic we have:

“When Jean divorced me, a fundamental scientific tenet I’d clung to—since being a mind-blown grade schooler hearing it for the FIRST TIME—was DEBUNKED. Everything—from Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN to a molten flash of goo bubbling at the Earth’s core—shared an undeniable COMMONALITY—That being, every damn atom in the UNIVERSE, was made from the SAME basic matter. Well, Having my HEART BROKEN meant NOTHING mattered.”

Sorry, Ray, I nodded off there. Jean left you? You don’t say, Ray! Why? Why would she do that? Why, you are such an interesting fellow what with your oh-so-convincing and not at all crude and excessive shoehorning in of shallow science-isms (fundamental, tenet, debunked, Stephen Hawking, molten, core, commonality, matter, universe, jism) and your pulse quickening randomly EMPHASISED speech patterns. Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN, you say! Golly, Ray, and yet you say JEAN left you? I bet the winter nights just flew BY for you two. An undeniable COMMONALITY, yet! C’mon, Ray, NO tears. It’s Jean’s loss, Ray. Honest. Here let’s make a VOLCANO with some Diet Coke and some MENTOS! SCIENCE, Ray! SCIENCE! Cry into the science, Ray! Science Won’t LEAVE you, Ray! Cry into the SCIENCE!

Seriously the whole things like this. Any chance which arises for characterisation is rudely shouldered out of the way so that Azzarello can parade another of his fundamentally empty linguistic pirouettes, which impress no one more than himself. Dreadful, dreadful, self-indulgent stuff. Personally I pick as the utter nadir of this approach what came on p.10 when Wonder Woman’s brain emitted this tripe:

“How many times have we saved them? A hundred? A HUNDRED hundred? Though the math may elude…the SENTIMENT does not.”

Rushing past the weird innumeracy of “a HUNDRED hundred” we get “…the math may elude…” Seriously? I was under the impression Wonder Woman was a kick-ass feminist Amazon breaking faces in the name of Peace and Love not some Elizabethan dandy-man.

There’s barely enough plot in this comic for half a comic, and then to dollop on top all this obnoxious showboating results in a not terribly well-written comic. That's a pretty basic mistake to make.

INTERLUDE #2: Exclusive Extract from Frank Miller’s John Ford’s “’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE”!

Scene: The interior of YE OLDE COMIC EXPERIENCE. Scrolls and leather bound volumes festoon the sturdy shelving. A bear of a man (BRIAN A HIBBS) hunkers behind the counter tapping at an abacus, his florid and hirsute face cauliflowered in concentration. A small brass bell tinkles as the stout door opens inward and tumbling into the shop, resplendent in doublet and hose, cassock aswirl, is the slighter but no less furry figure of JEFF OF LESTER.

JEFF OF LESTER: “Privvy, Sirrah, hast thine crusty experience and tender mentals allowed thee to ably scry the quantities required for the 1:200 Jim Lee “Static and Over Rendered Variant”? Pray tell, lest FOC pass ne’er to return! Pray tarry not and fly thine answer on wings fleeter than Hermes!!”

BRIAN A HIBBS: “Hey nonny ho, a ho nonny hey! Nay, sweet Jeff. And ‘tis to fear I shall ne’er do such. FOR MAY THE DEVIL TAKE ME FOR A PAPIST, THE MATH DOTH ELUDE!

PART THE FIFTH: Concluding Remarks

 photo DKIIIeB_zpsntuor3ph.jpg DKIII by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

Basically I think I disliked this comic because whatever the faults of DKR and DKSA (of which there are none, clearly, but let’s pretend) they were both at core genuine expressions of a remarkable artistic vision. The DK books were Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s books. I bought them because I wanted to know what Frank Miller & Lynn Varley were up to now. I didn’t buy them just for fucking Batman. There’s plenty of fucking Batman comics as it is, but there aren’t a lot of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is more fucking Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is a largely inept but still not entirely unentertaining Batman comic set in the Millerverse. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is an unthreatening remix; a toothless rehash of familiar elements which speaks to an ultimately condescending view of the comic book audience and embodies a complacency the source texts actively kicked against. If DC had sold this book as an Azzarello and Kubert book set in the Millerverse I’d have been a lot more indulgent, I think. All its flaws are their usual flaws after all. But DKIII:TMR’s biggest flaw is to pretend it is Frank Miller when it is patently not.

And yet…

And yet…

…there is an easily sated part of me that doesn’t mind this comic for all its flaws (which are not small – characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) because I don’t expect a great deal from a Batman comic, but there’s also a part of me that despairs that something so flawed (and they are not small flaws– characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) can be treated as an Event. That what is basically a fan fiction pandering remix can be met with such acclaim. Cue STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS joke. DKIII:TMR as a comic is EH! As an Event it is CRAP!

And that’s it for 2015!

Thanks for all the magic, and I’ll see you in 2016 at some point when, in all likelihood, I’ll be writing about – COMICS!!!

“I Think of Dollar Signs. The Rest is Easy.” COMICS! Sometimes I Think Some Folk Need To Remember You Can Only Sell The Family Silverware Once!

Yeah, so I'm not getting it together at all over here. Sorry. Let's just leave it as I'll be back in the New Year then we all know where we are. But wait! No one leaves empty handed! So until we next meet let me gift you with the pathetic results of what happens when an old man messes with Paint. Yes! Please be seated and feast your eyes upon a tribute to DKIII: The Childishly Trollingly Fascistic Title, with particular emphasis upon the rocket ship pacing and Shakespearean word play of Brian Azzarello and, naturally, the visually scintillating fireworks of Andy Kubert.

 photo DKIIIk_zps6s6fx7tt.png DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Frank Miller(?) & Brian Azzarello

I sincerely thank each and everyone one of you for your patience, attention and forbearance during 2015 and I hope to see you all in 2016. Have a great Holiday Season!

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All artwork by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson.

Merry Christmas! See you in 2016 for – COMICS!!!