The Dark Knight III: The Master Race

Note: The below article is one that I intended to upload to comicommand back in March. Since comicommand is not being updated for the moment (but will be soon), I have decided to post this article on my site instead.

I heard mixed things about The Dark Knight: Master Race but my love of Batman eventually persuaded me to check out Frank Miller’s latest foray into the character’s mythos. This series is also co-written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and follows three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

In this continuity, Ray Palmer (The Atom) is successfully able to free the inhabitants of the miniaturized, bottled Kryptonian city Kandor. Not only does he free them, but he also returns them to full size. Once free, these new inhabitants set out to create a society where the strongest, their own people, rule.

Although I also have mixed thoughts about this series, which shifts from amazing to mediocre within one issue, its exploration of Superman and his people is enough to keep me reading.

One of my biggest issues with the new 52, at least as portrayed in animated films like Justice League: War, was the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman. When together, they are like the captain of the football team and the head cheerleader. Lois Lane wasn’t just a love interest to me. She was one of the key figures, along with Superman’s adoptive parents, that literally and figuratively kept Superman grounded. While Superman was more physically separated from his parents, Lois was a constant thread that enabled him to value human life. Growing up among humans also developed Superman’s respect for them.

In contrast, the daughter that he had with Wonder Woman grew up among Amazons and sees humans as “ants”. When the inhabitants of Kandor make their intentions clear, Lara is eager to follow them and shun her father, who she sees as a traitor to his people. She has grown up with the power granted by two of the world’s greatest heroes, along with the isolationist mindset of the Amazons.

The Kandorian leader, Quar, is a twisted version of what Superman could have been. While enemies like Zod desired the annihilation of humans, Quar expresses a paternalistic mindset that undermines human agency. In his own view, humans need to be ruled. They are the savage slaves that he wishes to civilize. Superman recognizes his power, and the advantages it gives him over the people of Earth, but he also recognizes the strength and free will of its people. Although he is better than Quar in many ways, he is not far removed from him.

 

Superman and The Old School

As I was scrolling through Twitter this morning and came across this gem:

I knew I had to talk about it, even if only briefly, because it captures an argument I have made time and time again. So @CaptainMarvelTalk hates the art on the right (which is just fan art if I’m not mistaken) because it makes Superman too “dark”, “gritty”, “intimidating”.

I have previously noticed that people tend to have very static fews of certain characters. Superman does typically have a boy scout persona, the typical nice guy. Does that mean every single piece of art has to depict him smiling and happy? He can’t look intimidating in a single art piece?

When I raised this point to @CaptainMarvelTalk he said that intimidation is out of character for Superman.

I then responded with this:

An iconic scene from Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come where Superman angrily bursts into a political meeting. Of course, he doesn’t kill anyone, but he is undoubtedly intimidating here. Then @CaptainMarvelTalk argues that Superman is “angry” here, not intimidating. The two can obviously overlap, and are clearly affected by audience interpretation. In the original fan art, and in Kingdom Come, Superman is floating with his eyes glowing red. If the fan art counts as intimidating, the Kingdom Come piece undoubtedly does too.

Clearly, @CaptainMarvelTalk just hates newer artistic interpretations of Superman, in favour of the old school. Instead of saying that, he nitpicks and shuts out common sense and reasoning, contradicting himself time after time during our debate. I think this is a solid example of the bias that also fuels the Marvel v DC debate and the never-ending debate about how DC is “too dark” and doesn’t have enough “fun”.

 

Kill Or Be Killed

Hello everyone,

Comicommand is back and the first articles of the new year were uploaded yesterday, including my article on Ed Brubaker’s “Kill or Be Killed” (2016).

Check it out below or on the site.

 

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I first came across Ed Brubaker’s work with Incognito, a short but interesting series about a former supervillain in the witness protection program. Kill or be Killed (2016) frequently popped up in any discussion of Brubaker and I was quick to add it to my reading list.

The series follows Dylan, a college student who is visited by a demon after a failed suicide attempt. The demon advised Dylan that he spared his life, but must now kill one person a month in order to continue living. After the demon breaks his arm and uses host bodies to assault him, Dylan begins his quest to eliminate people who deserve to die.

Dylan’s father committed suicide when he was younger, which indicates he may have inherited certain dispositions from that side of the family. What makes the story so interesting is that Dylan has tried to commit suicide previously, so we know that he is mentally troubled. For all we know, his vision of a demon is all a part of his own delusion: a sort of split personality that prods him to begin his quest. The series is only on its fifth issue so there is still plenty of time to see if this theory is right.

Dylan may be mentally troubled but many of his struggles are universal. He is yet another student trying to figure out his life, and who struggles with girls. His best friend, Kira, is dating his roommate and he mostly sees her only when she visits her boyfriend.

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People Who Deserve It

Even though the protagonist is relatable, the story can fall apart if the transition to crime-fighting is handled poorly. Brubaker excels at creating a realistic portrait of attempted vigilantism that reminded me somewhat of Kick-Ass. Dylan is able to get a gun pretty easily, since his deceased father had one buried in his possessions. This plot point might seem too convenient but it fits since we know Dylan’s dad committed suicide, he is likely carrying out his mission with his father’s murder weapon.

The toughest part for Dylan is finding people who deserve to die. He realizes that he can’t rely on movies as a blueprint, knowing that muggings and other crimes don’t routinely happen on subways or dark alleys when he is present. He finds his first target because he remembers that one of his childhood friends was molested by his older brother. He already knows the person’s name, and Facebook gives him everything else he needs, including the person’s work place.

When he’s successful with his first hit, he can’t remember if he said something to the target before he shoots him. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t, and his mind is retroactively adding in a cool one-liner that one of his favourite movie characters would say. Dylan faces success, but he also faces plenty of failure. His actions escalate, bringing more consequences for him. As the story progresses, we’ll likely see consequences for his loved ones too.

Kill or Be Killed is a deconstruction of vigilantism, a love story and a story of mental illness. Brubaker deftly handles Dylan’s development and I am eager to see how the series ends his journey.

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