Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series has, for better or worse, been one of the most highly influential pieces of Batman media in decades—and a return to that universe is one that usually could be fraught with danger. But the first issue of The Master Race has some surprising twists to it that leave us wanting to know more.
Suffice to say, there are major spoilers for The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1, by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Klaus Janson, Andy Kubert, and Brad Anderson.
If there’s one thing that is easily identifiable in Miller’s legacy with The Dark Knight it’s the overwhelming hyper-masculinity. This is a Batman who is a walking tank of muscled flesh, beating people bloody and senseless like it gives him a euphoric high. Everyone in the world of The Dark Knight Returns is, in an almost hysterical sense—even Miller’s Wonder Woman, rendered a powerful yet supplicant figure to the male heroes of the story, particularly Superman. Masculinity to its highest extremes drove Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again, pervaded its every page.
So it’s surprising to see that The Master Race’s first issue is dominated by the female perspective, including in one particularly huge way that becomes apparent at the end of the issue. The story picks up with Batman making an appearance attacking cops in Gotham for the first time in several years—but Batman is almost an afterthought as we catch up with the world of The Dark Knight again... a world where we pretty much see nothing but women in power.
We see Comissioner Yindel, having to deal with the Public Relations nightmare of Batman’s return, we see Wonder Woman striking out on her own, an Amazonian warrior queen. We even get to see Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Superman’s daughter in this universe, reflecting on a world where, for some reason, Superman is now on ice.
The groundwork laid here desperately tries to convey the world of The Dark Knight—the cold open of a young man texting a friend about the return of Batman echoing the street slang of old, the newscaster reel that deals with the fallout of that revelation—and yet every step of the way it’s a subversion of the hypermasculinity of the world Miller originally envisioned (one where, even with the presence of Yindel, Wonder Woman, and Carrie Kelley as a female Robin, was overwhelmingly male). It’s one where Women hold the power, and for now, the important men in their lives are out of the picture. In fact, thanks to the final twist in the last few pages which sees Batman captured and unmasked, you can actually say that The Master Race #1 has no major male character so far...
Because Bruce Wayne is dead. And the mantle of Batman has been taken by none other than Carrie Kelley herself.
With that absence of a predominant male perspective, it also means this is far from the insanity you might have expected from the mind of the current Frank Miller—almost undoubtedly because DK3 was co-written by Brian Azzarello, and Miller has since all but confirmed his involvement with the book was minimal (although that doesn’t seem like it will be the case for Dark Knight IV).There’s still plenty of time for that insanity, but the first issue of The Master Race is perhaps almost disappointingly subdued for readers expecting peak Miller. His presence is most keenly felt in the Atom mini-story included in the first issue—yes, the one with that atrocious Superman cover you might have seen—which Miller both co-wrote and drew with Klaus Janson and Alex Sinclair.
You’d almost think, given the large presence of women in the main story, that the “Master Race” of the title was a less-than-subtle reference to women as a whole, but this small side-story reveals the real reason behind the moniker, only briefly alluded to in the main issue. Focusing on Ray Palmer, the story sees Supergirl, after her moment of desperation trying to find a way to free Superman from his icy prison, come to the size-changing Doctor in the hope of restoring the miniaturized city of Kandor to its full sized glory.
For those not familiar, Kandor was a city on Krypton that survived the planet’s destruction after being shrunk by the Superman villain Braniac. So seemingly, given Supergirl’s desire to see the city restored (it makes a lot of sense that she’d turn to the Atom), that a whole enclave of Kryptonians will be the titular “Master Race”—and this new female Batman will have to rise to the occasion to stop them.