You look at any list of must-read Batman graphic novels, and The Dark Knight Returns will usually always be at the top of that list. It was ground-breaking stuff at the time, a four-issue mini-series that reimagined the darker side and cost of being Batman in the form of an aged and angry Bruce Wayne struggling to enjoy retirement. If you’ve read or watched it, there’s something else there that the graphic novel is notable for: A dirty street fight between the man of steel and the dark knight.
It’s the moment that defined the series, as a beaten and broken Superman realised just how far Bruce Wayne was willing to go to protect his secrets and ideologies, even faking his death in the end so that he could live to fight another day. That second round came in the form of The Dark Knight Strikes Back, a sequel series that was equal parts silly and crazy.
This week wrapped up the final chapter in that saga, Dark Knight III: The Master Race. A chapter that had Batman facing a threat of monumental proportions but more importantly rebuilt the world’s finest as he buried the hatchet with Superman to focus on doing what the two always did best: Save the world. Spoilers below.
Here’s the gist of the series written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello while artists Andy Kubert, Klaus Johnson and Brad Anderson brought it to life: Invasion. Remember that bottled city of Kryptonians that Superman kept around, hoping to one day restore to their natural size? Well thanks to the work of Ray Palmer AKA the Atom, the citizens of Kandor were finally freed from their prison. Albeit a sect of Kandorians led by a bloodthirsty individual by the name of Quar who believed himself to be a god on Earth.
With thousands of rogue Kandorians free and boasting the same level of power as Superman, the world was thoroughly f***ed at this stage. Dark Knight III was about not just surviving the army of Quar, but fighting back and reclaiming the planet in the process. A fight that reached crazy heights as Batman’s grand plan for such an eventuality was revealed:
Seeding the clouds of Gotham with synthetic Kryptonite that weakened the Kandorian army immensely, a massive war across the globe that eventually ended with Wonder Woman’s Amazon army killing the rest of the rebels with their enchanted weapons. Quar and a handful of his followers would eventually kill the rest of the Kandorians themselves when they threw in the towel, with a final battle that was decided not by Superman but rather his daughter Lara.
Having spent the series refusing to take a side due to her DNA being half-Kryptonian and half-Amazon (Oh yah, Superman had two children with Wonder Woman), Lara’s journey eventually ended with her taking a page from her old man’s book and experimenting with the idea of finding the humanity inside of her.
By the time that the Kandor-Earth war was over, both sides had taken massive losses, including that of the Batman himself. Properly dead this time, even Superman realised that the world was lost without Bruce Wayne leading and inspiring the people around him. Gotham may have an ace Batwoman in the mix by the time the series ended, but it wasn’t enough. Fortunately, the DC Comics universe has numerous ways of cheating death. Like a Lazarus pit.
So what’s the takeaway here? Batman is back, restored to his physical prime and working alongside someone who isn’t his sidekick but a partner and a teacher. Dark Knight III: The Master Race may have closed the door on a universe that was born over three decades ago, but it’s not entirely closed. There’s a chance that the Dark Knight may return yet again.
Only the future feels a little less grim now.
Last Updated: June 12, 2017