I Really Dig Frank Miller’s Weird New THE DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE Art
Frank Miller is a total asshole. I want to get that out of the way right up front, because a lot of people fixate on this fact and they let it get in the way of everything else when it comes to Miller. He's a fascist and a jerk and he's also one of the most extraordinarily talented creators to ever work in superhero comics. Miller is one of the most influential creators in comics history, and he is one of the guys in the 80s who truly changed the direction of comic book storytelling and brought superhero comics to a new level. Whether you think the legacy of his The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One is good or ultimately negative doesn't make a difference - in that moment of time Frank Miller is one of the guys who wrestled an artform into a new direction and gave it a whole new sheen.
Miller, who has been remarkably unwell - the last time I saw him in person I thought he could die at any moment - is returning to the character he defined as much as anyone else, Batman. His second sequel to The Dark Knight Returns is in the form of an eight issue mini-series co-written with the great Brian Azzarello, and it's called The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. People already got up in arms about that title, which is pretty weird to me because I haven't seen enough from the comic to tell you what The Master Race actually means, and considering Miller's writing of other superheroes - The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a savage ridiculing of all the DC superheroes, in my mind - I wouldn't be surprised if this is yet another opportunity for the guy to piss on the four colored crusaders. I know a lot of people think his All-Star Batman and Robin is an unintentionally hilarious series of misanthropic poses, but I think the whole book is a kick in the pants of hardcore Batfans.
At any rate, Miller is back with The Master Race, although he isn't doing the art. Klaus Jansen and Andy Kubert are on interior duties, but DC got Miller to create an alternate cover for the first issue (the image you see above) as well as a mini-comic featuring The Atom. The cover for that was revealed a couple days back and oh boy did the Internet have stuff to say.
Me? I like both of these images. But then again I'm looking at Frank Miller within the context of his career and also understanding that comic art doesn't always need to be 'realistic' to be good.
Let's take the Batman image first. It fucking RULES. That drawing has Batman as a coiled animal, a bloodspattered beast coming in low and angry, his cape a tattered shred. Could we complain about the anatomy? I guess, but you'd be a fucking bore for doing it. Jack Kirby didn't revolutionize comic book art with perfect anatomy, he did it with images that got across emotions and had an impact. I like clean, realistic art as much as the next guy, but I also like art that is doing something different, and I recognize when I am being given one or the other. That Batman cover is in your face, it gets across a feeling and it doesn't have to be absolutely realistic or perfect to do so.
And the Superman cover - I love that as well. Knowing how Miller has used Superman in the Dark Knight series before this is the obvious next step. He's a fucking brute, more ape than human, an animal of primal rage. People keep pointing out that you can see his dick - yeah, exactly! That's not an accident! Frank Miller drew his dick, knew he was drawing his dick, and he had a purpose in drawing his dick. This is an image of Superman as hyper-masculinity run wild, it's a critique of the character. While Miller's post-9/11 politics have leaned decidedly neolithic, his TKDR Superman was always a government stooge, a brutal enforcer of US will abroad. Miller is leaning in to that, going cartoonish with it. Superman's fists are exagerrated both to underline how he solves problems but also to bring to mind the forced perspective of Jack Kirby. His face looks like old, yelling at a chair Clint Eastwood. His body is splayed in a way that denotes an utter lack of control. It's messy and weird looking and I love that about it.
Of course you don't have to like it, but to somehow think that Miller doesn't know what he's doing, doesn't recognize that his anatomy is all over the place and that he's heading into a distinctively more absurdist and expressionistic territory is silly to me. This is the age of internet snark, which means we always look at art and, for some reason, assume the artist has no fucking clue what he or she has made. That is so rarely the case. To truly analyze and appreciate art you should walk in with one assumption: this is on purpose. What does that tell you about the intent behind the work? Unless I get information telling me otherwise I always assume that this image/movie/song is what the artist wants me to experience and then I interact it with it from that position, not from the position that I, a guy dropping bad jokes on Twitter, am the only person able to see that the emperor has no clothes.
Again, you don't have to like it - what Miller is doing may not appeal to you aesthetically and that's okay - but to deny that this is purposeful and that Miller, in his later years, is choosing to be weirder and cruder, is ignorant. These images speak to me; they're unique and exciting. I think the Batman cover actually, no caveats whatsoever, totally kills. I will be purchasing that variant cover.
So much comic art is safe and kind of dull. I admire when an artist steps up and delivers work that doesn't look like anything else, that takes advantage of the fact that this is art, not attempts to replicate the real world. I wouldn't want every single comic book to look like this, but fuck, I love that this comic book (or its cover, at any rate) looks like this.
Yeah, Frank Miller is an asshole. But he's a talented asshole, and I think that a lot of people think he's still trying to make another Dark Knight Returns when that is the last thing on his mind. He's totally messing with you, and he has been for years. I can't wait to see what weird, angry statement Miller is making with The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. I guarantee half the readers will not recognize that what he's saying is absolutely purposeful.