Almost 30 years after Frank Miller launched what many consider the definitive Batman comic, "Dark Knight Returns;" and 14 years after its sequel, "The Dark Knight Strikes Again;" Miller is back with the Bat. Today, DC Comics is releasing the first issue of "Dark Knight III: The Master Race," which brings readers back to the future world of a broken Gotham, and an even more broken Batman.
Spoilers for "Dark Knight III" past this point.
...And by broken, we mean maybe dead -- as the last page reveals that Bruce Wayne may have passed away, as told by Carrie Kelly, the most recent Robin, who is now running around in Batman's costume. Oh, and there's the little matter of Superman and Wonder Woman's children, who are about to cause some problems of their own.
To break down all the big moments in the issue, MTV News hopped on the phone with Frank Miller, as well as inker Klaus Janson (who worked on the art with penciller Andy Kubert) -- as well as delving into the inspiration behind the book.
MTV News: Why was it important to return to "The Dark Knight" now?
Frank Miller: I was always going to. Brian [Azzarello] got to it first, but it’s because the character is eternal and open to many interpretations, this being one of them. "Dark Knight" is... It’s a particular interpretation of him, and the main thing that "Dark Knight" does to Batman that wasn’t introduced before, is it introduces the element of time. But that really is it. It has to embrace the time, and the age and he has to get crankier, and his bones have to hurt more.
MTV: There's certainly a lot of play in this first issue on the current conversation around police brutality and racial profiling...
Miller: Real world events seem like a natural, organic thing to do. When I first got involved with "Dark Knight," what bothered me most about comic books was that they seemed to have no relationship to the time they were released in. Everything was still more or less happening in the 1950s, which is exactly the period where comic books had been castrated through censorship -- and [they were] dead in the water creatively for a long time.
I mean, not entirely. There were breakthroughs, and there were some good comics that were produced through the Vietnam War, but the comic code limited a great deal of what could not be done in comics. With the breakthrough of the direct sales market, and with the amazing breakthrough of the underground comics of the sixties... These two things coincided to bring a far greater level of liberty for our field to attract an older audience. You know, just really cut loose creatively. Applying that then to superheroes became a joy.
MTV: The first book mostly focused on Batman and Superman, while the second went a little crazy with the superheroes... here, we do get some Superman, and some Wonder Woman -- but we mostly bring it back to Batman.
Miller: It absolutely had to, because it is, after all, Batman’s story. Everything with "Dark Knight" in it has to be. The only other characters that need to be in it are Robin and Superman. But beyond that the DC characters remain a great big toy store for a writer to play with. I couldn’t resist Lex Luthor, for instance.
MTV: Klaus, how did the art duties break down? It's a fascinating experience seeing Andy Kubert drawing in the style of Frank Miller...
Klaus Janson: Well on "DK3" it’s Andy Kubert who’s doing the pencils, and I’m doing the inks so... The process is the way it’s always been, where the pencils are done first and then the inks are done second and then the colorist gets it and finishes the look of the page itself. So you know, no departure from the usual system. But Andy and I do talk about pages, and we do confer and make sure we are on the same page so to speak. It’s a very easy going, respectful, and I think productive relationship so far.
MTV: Did Frank do the layouts, or is it just you guys aping the style he set up in the first two books?
Janson: We have the intention of being consistent with the "Dark Knight" universe. And certainly what Frank did in terms of his page layouts in the first one, and in the second one, is being carried over. There’s a certain rhythm to it, there’s a certain pacing to the material that is uniquely "Dark Knight" -- and Andy and myself are trying to at least have that familiarity in there.
Not to mention, by the way, the pacing and the rhythm that was established in the first one and the second one works brilliantly... So there’s no reason to change that. In addition to having something that the reader can recognize and identify with as you know when you open up the book it feels like "Dark Knight," it looks like "Dark Knight."
MTV: Between all-powerful superheroes taking over and racial politics, the subtitle "The Master Race" certainly has basis in the first issue... But it's also very provocative.
Miller: I came up with the subtitle. I suggested it to Brian, for two reasons. One, it’s part of an author’s job to provoke the reader, it’s how we get your attention. The other is, what else would you call nine million supermen released upon planet earth all at once? Who’d be in charge? Who’d be the master race?
MTV: Were you worried at all about the Nazi symbolism, though? About throwing it out there in this day in age? Or was that part of the provocation?
Miller: That was part of the provocation, because it is to provoke people. It’s to make them think, that’s what provoke means. And I wanted people to take that with all the implications -- and then I’m sure Brian will show everybody just what a fine Leaguer Superman is, and show how the supermen mean us no harm, and will find a home of their own created in the image of Krypton. [Laughs]
MTV: On the last page, it's revealed that former Robin, Carrie Kelly, is now Batman -- and at least according to her Bruce Wayne is dead. What went into those two plot points?
Miller: These decisions I was not really a part of. I helped Brian with the story a great deal. You save the best line of the first issue for the last panel. I’m not quite sure where he's headed with this. I do know one thing for certain... She’s lying. [Laughs]
MTV: What’s your take then on Carrie Kelly as Batman? Given that when we were talking at the beginning of the conversation, that Batman is always about what’s current.... Why is it important to have a female Batman right here, right now?
Miller: Well didn’t you just answer your own question? What would be more current with the times than for Batman to be a woman?
MTV: Well, what are you hoping that female fans take away from Carrie Kelly’s -- I don’t know if you want to call it promotion from Robin to Batman, but that’s essentially what it is.
Miller: I can’t predict reader’s reactions, but we hope it would be encouraging. I mean, come on, women have been able to vote and drive for a long time. It's a cape.
MTV: It was recently announced that you guys are doing a prequel, as well. Looking back, did you ever see that "Dark Knight" would expand this much all these many years down the road?
Miller: I’ve already done two prequels myself. I did "Batman: Year One," and I did the job with Jim Lee. So this is a myth that’s instantly handable. I guess in my own egotistical way I like to create my own library of Batman books that doesn’t run contrary to a single thing that has been published before, but it also stands on its own.
MTV: Years later, the "Batman V Superman" team has been pretty open about how they've pulled from "Dark Knight Returns." I'm not sure how much this was on your mind when you tackled it, but how to attempt to write something that's both timely, and timeless?
Miller: You don’t. I mean, the character is timeless. You can do a lot with that story that would be equally applicable anywhere in time. We’re all scared of bats, and we all want to be Superman. These are primal fears and wishes. So they will always apply. These characters will never grow old, they’ll never die. And so I’ve got the most fun and easiest job in the world.