Almost 30 years have passed since Frank Miller first imbued Batman with his signature darkness in “The Dark Knight Returns,” yet his work still holds tremendous sway over the comic book world.
In April, Miller, the author of “Sin City” and “300,” announced that he and comic book writer Brian Azzarello were coproducing the third and final chapter of Miller’s “Dark Knight” comic series – “The Dark Knight III: The Master Race.”
However, Miller announced Tuesday that “The Master Race” would not be the end of the series, and that a fourth, currently unnamed installation is in the works. This announcement comes only a week before the release date of the first issue in “The Master Race.”
“The Dark Knight” series, published by DC Comics, centers around an aging Batman who comes out of a government-imposed retirement in a dystopian 1980s. “The Master Race,” the series’ third installation, is an eight-issue miniseries slated to release issues and special editions twice monthly beginning Nov. 25. The story will continue until sometime in 2016, and Miller will only begin his work on the fourth volume after he has read Azzarello’s story in full.
If the speculation is true, then “The Master Race” will be the only “Dark Knight” story not exclusively written and drawn by Miller, featuring writing by Azzarello and art by Klaus Janson and Andy Kubert. In keeping with the spirit of the first two works in the series, the unnamed fourth and final volume would be another Miller solo project. While it is too early to tell how this collaboration will be received by fans or how it will measure up to the previous two installments, it is certainly a departure from Miller’s traditional self-reliance.
The addition of a fourth book in the series reverses the claims that “The Master Race” would be the finale. Despite Azzarello’s assertions that Miller is pleased with the direction the story is taking, a new fourth book raises questions about the quality of Azzarello’s work, the amount of influence Miller had and his reason for adding another chapter to “The Dark Knight” saga. Perhaps Miller is only making positive statements regarding “The Dark Knight III” for the press and may be secretly displeased with Azzarello’s direction for the series.
In his quest to “piss people off,” Azzarello also may have earned the ire of the man who created the fictional world he now treads in. Miller might be loath to leave his baby, “The Dark Knight” series, in the hands of another writer and might want to end the story on his own terms. Or maybe Azzarello simply renewed in Miller a love for the character that was previously dormant.
Whatever the reason, the announcement detracts from the potential influence that “The Master Race” might have had as the conclusion of such a beloved and influential story arc. While fans of both Miller and Batman will surely grant “The Master Race” their attention, readers will not likely grant it the same fervor and anticipation as they would have before “The Dark Knight IV” was announced.
Miller’s comments, especially his need to read Azzarello’s story before beginning the next book, suggest his involvement in “The Master Race” was minimal and will result in stylistic differences from Miller’s previous takes on Batman. As it stands, Miller plans to return to the style of “The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Dark Knight Strikes Again” and take full control of “The Dark Knight IV.”
At the very least, “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” will serve as a sort of midseries prequel to tide fans over until Miller’s grand finale is completed.