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“Azzarello: But there’s always room for a 10th issue. [Laughs]” COMICS! Sometimes The Laughter is Hollow.

John Kane

Some say it’s not the journey but the destination. In this case it’s very much about the destination, which is the final issue of the artistically impoverished big ticket cash-grab from DC Comics, Dark Knight III: The Master Race. After this we’ll all just pretend it never happened and get on with our lives. We shall never speak of this again. EVER.

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DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

Anyway, this…

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #9
Pencils by Andy Kubert and Frank Miller
Inks by Klaus Janson
Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello
Colours by Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson
Variant Covers by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Alex Sinclair, Frank Whitely, Mikel Janine and Chip Kidd
Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. You couldn’t be ARSED to credit them, could you, DC Comics? Hee-haw, you jackasses. Hee-HAW!)
Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane
DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)

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In which all things move towards their end. And the end here is as stupid as the beginning. Yes, DKIII:TMR is consistent if nothing else. And there’s a strong possibility that it is, in fact, nothing else. Basically, the comic remains as oblivious to its own inanity as ever. So, straight in then, Batman has a truly poor internal monologue where he talks about money being the root of all evil but then talks about dogs and new tricks, and you kind of worry about a writer who can put their name to this kind of scattershot banality. Hey, Kids! What’s Batman’s favourite Birthday Party Track? Release The Bats! That’s right! And he does. You might think setting a swarm of tiny, frail bats loose on a flock of superhumans is a pretty poor plan as plans go. But you would have been forgetting that thought is the enemy of this comic. The Kandorians panic and shoot each other with their eye beams because, uh, bats. It’s kind of epically dumb, but not quite dumb enough to like. This proves to be the last straw for the preternaturally docile supercretins, and after eight issues of tragically inept attempts at world domination, most of the Kandorians finally turn on the bald idiot whose main strategy seems to involve floating over things and talking rubbish. He and his kids kill the turncoats with heat beams and continue to s-l—o-—w—–l——y detonate the atomic bombs they ingested way back when I didn’t hate Batman quite so much as I do now. Green Lantern shows up to save Lara from B’aal D’ee’s three wives. (This Autumn only on NBC, “My Three Wives!”) We don’t know what happens to them as Kubert chooses to give us a big blank panel with a tiny inset one within which Lara pulls a Little Rascals face. It’s terribly suggestive. Suggestive of Herculean artistic indolence. Big blank spaces are Kubert’s go-to solution for most things, and I’ll probably be saying more about that later. You know, seeing as how I can do big blank spaces myself and I tend to pay comic artists to do stuff I can’t do, of which there are many things, but big blank spaces are something I’m pretty okay on, thanks.

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DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

Meanwhile, back at the levitating shrews…unfortunately these three have served very little purpose in the series other than to passive aggressively snipe while floating about, and to suggest some weird attitudes to wives on the part of the author. I guess also the fact there are three of them is supposed to suggest something a bit muslim-y about B’aal D’ee and his chums. I went through this before, how the whole Batman versus muslim terrorists thing doesn’t work here, and in fact ends up backfiring. I don’t want to go into it again, but it’s a shitty, dangerous, clumsily conceived metaphor and speaks poorly of the level of thought that went into this series. Superman swoops in and the Kandorians beat him up but he has a strategic surprise! He “outthinks” them we are told, although it just looks like he’s smacking the shit out of them. Better yet, Batman observes Superman has been “holding back…” yes, “…all this time…” This is so magnificently dumb it deserves a round of slow applause. If ever there was any doubt remaining that his comic didn’t have a fucking clue this finishes that doubt off with a hollow point magnum load to the face. All his life Superman has been holding back…until this one time? Christ, Superman always tries his hardest and always does his best, it’s part of being Superman. He doesn’t fucking piss about; he gets it done. It’s basic. Heck, it’s Superbasic. Superman was holding back all this time is a Supercheap Supershit “twist”. It’s “unearned” as people who watch TED talks might say. Nope, DKIII:TMR hasn’t got a clue what to do with Superman. Which is kind of a problem since he’s all over its pages like an unsightly rash.

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DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

At the end he Superpisses off again, leaving no word of his whereabouts. Remember how he’d gone AWOL at the series start? Remember how you thought there might be a reason for that? Well, at one point when questioned Superman Superpetulantly says, “I made a mistake.” This is Superman’s only explanation of why he was sat in his Fortress of Solitude like a Supersad Superpopsicle at the series’ start. This is thoroughly unsatisfying as an explanation. And now he’s just flown off again with neither a bye nor leave. This guy isn’t Superman he’s Superflaky. Er, then The Atom (literally) pops up and (despite not having eaten for several weeks looks buff as ever) shrinks the baddies and they explode in little nuclear snap, crackle’n’pops. Which is the kind of Comic book dumb I can get behind. Really, I didn’t mind that. Kara finally (finally(finally (finally))) actually does something and flies B‘aal D’ee into the sun, where he can explode to his heart’s content. In all fairness this is a nice two page spread by Kubert. Ah! You’ll notice Batman has done very little. Well spotted. And nor has Carrie. “Let’s die with BLOOD on our knuckles”, says Carrie in that kind of feebly faux Miller way the series occasionally raises itself to. Yes, “raises”, because on this showing a tone deaf Frank Miller impression is infinitely preferable to a presumably sincere Brian Azzarello performance. What actually happens Carrie-wise is a lot of nothing. But then, “Let’s capefloat down there and stand about contributing nothing while some supporting characters sort out this shit for us.” may be more truthful, but it sure lacks impact. There’s some jibber jabber and a nice last page which despite being as obvious as the beard on your mom’s face, in this context seems to belong to a better, more intelligent comic, but will have to make do for being stuck at the end of this unholy 9 issue shitshow.

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DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

In the minicomic (drawn with reliable goofiness by Frank Miller but with energy suffocating inks by Klaus Janson) Superman gives Lara an extended session of Supermansplaining about being a hero but how the real hero is a sandwich in a New York fireman’s helmet, and even if you have the powers of a God you should tidy your bedroom. Or something. I don’t know, it was kind of hard to plough through without starting to hate the written word, but what I do know is it’s the usual worn-out homilies masquerading as profundities via corkscrew syntax and bizarrely applied emphases which Azzarello trades in these days. Superman’s verbal effluvium is so tedious that I was more interested to discover he was brushing his teeth throughout. My experience of talking while brushing my teeth is limited, but I once had to tell the cat to get down off the bath, and that resulted in a foamy splatter and a limited choking fit. I wouldn’t want to be delivering a poorly scripted Superpatronising screed while polishing my choppers, is what I’m saying. But he’s Superman so he could be using his Superventriloquism, I guess. (Superman used to tease J’onn J’onzz in the early days of the Justice League by throwing his voice so it sounded like a Chilean miner was trapped in Wonder Woman’s woo woo.) But how does Superman brush his teeth? We all know he uses his heat vision and a mirror to shave, but what about his teeth? And does Superman know that soft bristles are best to avoid damage to the enamel and gums? This minicomic is very poorly written, raising more questions than it answers; mostly about Superman’s oral hygiene. Still, given Azzarello’s repeated mistaking of the squalid for the substantial we should think ourselves lucky that Superman isn’t shouting his barely coherent Old Man Wisdom at Lara while he takes a Supershit with the door open.

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DKIII:TMR by Miller, Janson, Sinclair, Robins, Azzarello

And we started out with such high hopes didn’t we, children? Hopes whose height had realistically been adjusted accordingly for the medium of comics; where hopes should never be too high. Particularly when it comes to sequels of evergreen triumphs. (Apologies to that one fan of Wolverine: Origin 2 or Batman: Year Two. No apologies whatsoever to anyone who liked Before Watchmen). Kind of knee high hopes, then. I just wanted to be entertained by a quality comic. Apparently even that stunted expectation was excessively ambitious; as I have documented over the past 2 years (22nd December 2015 to 28th July 2017 to be precise), in a series of poorly written but heartbreakingly sincere pieces which appeared on a schedule so plagued with delays it could be taken by the most generous of readers as a comment on the slipshod schedule of the comic itself. (It wasn’t. I’m just an undisciplined mess). But, hark! I can almost hear a phantom voice piping up with the old standby, “Do you want it right, or do you want it on time?” Hey, nameless corporate apologist, if you boil down most businesses to a black crust welded to the bottom of your metaphorical pan, most of that crust will be composed of timeliness and getting it right. Being on time and doing it right is the basic essence of most businesses, is what I’m saying. (Of life, even.) Deadlines don’t just exist in B&W movies about feisty newspaper reporters, you know. Yet only Comics believes in making its audience feel like a demanding twat for expecting the bare minimum of professionalism; that is, the artistic equivalent of turning up on time with your pants on. Clearly that’s a bit much to ask as this series has shown up, professionally speaking, whenever it wants, drunk as a Lord and clad only in a shit stained onesie. They even had the bald faced gall to add an issue because it wasn’t running late enough. I was interested how they had spun that so I had a look back on The Internet and found this HERE:

Azzarello: We split issue #8 and issue #9, mostly because of Andy. Andy said, “Give me some room, I really want to draw this war, I want some space.” So yeah, sure, OK! We had two climactic scenes, #8 is one part of the story, #9 is another one. We’re just doing that each issue, too. You think it’s over, then there’s another cliffhanger, then another one.”

Maybe that’s how it went down. Maaaaaaaaaaaybeeeeeeee. Maybe. Mebbe. Sure sounds like a ripe pile of horseapples to me, though. This would be nearer the mark, I think:

NotAzzarello: We split issue #8 and issue #9, mostly because of money. Didio said, “Give me some money, I really want money, I want some money.” So yeah, sure, OK! We had two extra terrible issues, #8 is one big waste of time, #9 is another one. We’re just doing that each issue, too. You think it’s over, then there’s another pagewaster, then another one.

What’s just delightful about that is it also looks like they found a nice way to throw Kubert under the bus there to give the blatantly grubby commercial incentive an artistic veneer. The idea that Kubert needed more space is nonsensical; one of the big things about Kubert’s art on this series is how much space there is in it. Dead space. Blank space. Much of the series consists of great swathes of lifeless space punctuated by tiny panels in which a sketchy approximation of something or other dully squats. At one point, so tedious did the series become, I started mentally rearranging the pages, shifting the panels and speech about. You know what? Just using the stuff on the page and shifting its position I could reduce most pages to a half (some to less, some to more than a half; on average though, a half. Not counting full page splashes; they are what they are) of the space. With no loss of coherence either. Yes, I am aware that was an utterly fucking pointless exercise but I am also aware this utterly fucking pointless exercise was more entertaining than the comic. How totally must a comic fail to have the reader resort to rearranging it on the fly in order to remain conscious? Yeah. Precisely. The last fucking thing Kubert needed on this series was more space. It’s even better (that is, even worse) in the big format pages of the hardback special editions of each issue. Kubert’s arid spaces become vast desolate voids the eye has to take a bus across to find the item of interest. And usually the eye’s only reward at journey’s end is a small square with a roughly sketched face in it going “…”. Because, if the art on DKIII:TMR is terrible in its dreary laxity the writing is worse. (See my stuff on DKIII:TMR passim). But not all the art is that drab because a lot of the minicomics are drawn by Frank “The Tank” Miller.

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DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller

Truly, Frank Miller’s the only one who comes out of this debacle with anything approaching something like dignity. And considering he was probably only there initially to get some coin off the back of one of his Glory Days successes while in his troubled Twilight Years that’s saying something. The fact that so much of the art on the series was by Miller surprised me, but I think it surprised everyone involved. Remember how the minicomics were all going to be by a cavalcade of comics’ superstars? Geoff Darrow was supposed to draw one of the mini comics, yeah? And maybe Paul Pope? Maybe even Paul Darrow from Blakes 7? And we got…uh, Eduardo Risso in issue 2. After that it’s Miller Time, with various inkers and various levels of success. Hey, I like Eduardo Risso just fine, he’s a regular Comics Beast, but I like Frank Miller inked by John Romita Jnr even more. I think Miller just got into it, just really liked flinging ink at that page again. You look at his stuff in these minicomics and it’s all energy, it’s all gusto. It’s the work of an old man, sure. It’s scrappy and lopsided and just plain goofy. It’s the work of an old man, sure. A man past his prime, sure. But it’s Comics through and through. Miller could have just sat back drinking Snapple®, watching Diagnosis: Murder, humouring Brian Azzarello and cashing the cheques. And who’d have the heart to think ill of him. Not I. The guy’s a Comics Titan. He’s said some silly shit and made some silly comics and we could all live without the “whores” business, but he’s always drawn like a man with Comics tattooed on his heart. Everyone else involved in DKIII:TMR seems too preoccupied with whether the banks will have shut by the time they’ve stopped laughing all the way to them.

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DKIII:TMR by Miller, Janson, Sinclair, Robins, Azzarello

Word on the street is DC Comics has been in the business of making and publishing comics for over 8 decades now and it’s still beyond them to get a decent comic featuring Batman out in a timely fashion. It’s only 80 years; it’s still early days after all! Then what do we usually get? Oh, yeah, we get the whole “Yeah, but, once it’s done and collected no one will remember the delays.” Up to a point, okay. I mean, I still remember The Dark Knight Returns was delayed, and Watchmen and Ronin and Dark Knight Strikes Again. Even Camelot 3000. But that was back before Rexall freed the slaves, and it has ceased to matter to all the people buying them in collected editions. Now this unprofessional tardiness is just an interesting historical footnote lending credence to the view that, basically, DC can’t get its act together as a monthly publisher. But there’s something important about all those books: they are good (well, maybe not Camelot 3000, which is, uh, fun? It’s drawn by Brian Bolland, and that’ll do). And DKIII:TMR? Meh, not so good. One of my biggest fears going in to DKIII:TMR was that I was going to be abducted by possessed children’s puppets who would keep me in a car boot in a remote scrap yard in the Australian outback and torture me on an hourly basis with acids and edged implements until my larynx burst with the screaming and I was just a mass of scar tissue with eyes. It still is one of my biggest fears, but Batman-comic speaking my big fear going in to DKIII:TMR was that I’d have to buy Absolute Dark Knight again. In short, that won’t be necessary. So that’s the upside. In fact the very last thing I’ll be doing in the future (besides visiting the Australian outback or going near scrap yards or children’s puppets) is buying this series in any collected form whatsoever. Part of that is the fear that if I did repurchase Absolute Dark Knight (but now including DKIII:TMR!) I would be awoken at night by a sudden, dull thud followed by a strange, low rustling (almost a crackling) and upon gingerly descending the stairs find the volume had removed itself from the bookcase and was (in defiance of all the laws of man and nature) scraping itself across the carpet in a bid to remove the unwanted appendage. Like a dog when it’s got poo stuck in its bum fur, is what I’m saying. Artistically speaking that’s where DKIII:TMR stands in relation to The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It’s CRAP!

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DKIII:TMR#7 image by Miller, Janson, Sinclair, Robins, Azzarello
NEXT TIME: We remind ourselves how good it is to read – COMICS!!!

7 Responses to “ “Azzarello: But there’s always room for a 10th issue. [Laughs]” COMICS! Sometimes The Laughter is Hollow. ”

  1. I like that Batgirl/Batwoman/whatever she’s called costume.

    So now someone has finally said something good about DKIII.

  2. I think what pisses me off the most, even if we can ignore the shit story and the crap artwork, is that the collected hardcover, is priced at only $29.99! I spent $60 on this… this… this turd burger! Where the mini-comic fell out in almost every issue and now the HARDCOVER collection (with full sized mini-comic pages) is only $30!!!! Great way for DC to tell it’s fans they should never buy monthly again!

  3. JohnK made it through the Bataan Death March of four color tales, DKIII: TMR! Yay! We readers will need to supply him with Chaykin-brand Viagra and a week’s worth of Judge Dredd comics to get him back to health.

    I think actually depicting a Lara-Green Lantern sex scene might have made the comic a bit less boring.

    There’s a bigger question than Superman brushing his teeth. Are the microbes that cause tooth decay descended from Kryptonian microscopic life? Otherwise, aside from getting rid of rotting food particles, what reason is there for Supes to brush his teeth?

    BTW, would the Super-mansplaining have been more bearable had old Supes been taking a super-dump on the toilet?

    Kidnapping by possessed children’s puppets and imprisoned in the Australian outback in a car trunk is a more entertaining idea than the whole of DKIII:TMR.

    “Release the bats!” somehow lacks the campiness of “Unleash the Kraken” or “Not the bees!”

  4. @Daniel: Yeah, it’s okay isn’t it? Of course she only wears that on the penultimate page. Otherwise she’s clad in a bubblegum pink and melon green fiasco for some reason.

    @Chris: I never even thought to look at the collected editions (since I wasn’t going to be buying them) but that’s a good point. That’s pretty shitty, DC!

    Also, I see there is a hardback of all the covers. There were so many variant covers they have their own book!

    Anyhoo, take comfort in the fact you didn’t buy the Deluxe editions like yours truly. That’s circa a hundred quid I pissed away right there.

    @Peter: I really, really wouldn’t want a Brian Azzarello scripted sex scene at this point in his career. He can barely manage people talking never mind…well, you know.

    Superman brushes his teeth so he can know what it is to be human, Peter! (No, I don’t know why either.) I don’t know about Superman’s superdumpery improving things but Azzarello and Kubert sure took several dumps all over these pages. Metaphorically speaking, obviously.

    Thanks for sticking with me, kids! I wish I could say it’s been fun but…well, it’s certainly been expensive!.

  5. Just back from vacation so only now getting to this. I laughed out loud while sitting at my desk which is unusual (and probably making people wonder about me.) Thanks for slogging through this John. I wanted nothing to do with the book, but your reviews were must reads for me.

  6. @Rich Larson: Hope you had a good vacation! (UK=holiday). Glad the DKIII stuff made you laugh. Kinda feared I was coming off a bit too mean spirited, you know,after nine issues of trying to communicate the unbelievable depths of ineptitude this utter hog of a book was happy to roll around in.

    I truly, truly appreciate everyone who stuck with this thus far.

    (People probably wonder about you anyway, Rich Larson, don’t be pinning that one on me!)

    Thanks and stay mellow!

  7. Yes belated thanks for seeing this thing through to the bitter end, John. You didn’t mention young Batman again so I assume by the end of this mess they didn’t unwind that plot point, which as you said, seems counter-intuitive to the whole premise of the book except from a merchandising/line extension/path to and even bigger cash grab. “Look Frank, I made him young again so we can tell ‘regular Batman’ stories in your own universe. With a whole different creative lineup like Before Watchmen, so we just have to cash the checks. It just seems like what you and Jim Lee started with All-Star Batman but … you know … “

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