The first panel at New York Comic Con’s main stage on Friday, October 9 marked the triumphant return of an old favorite as DC Comics editors and creators gathered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Dark Knight Returns. They also previewed the upcoming The Dark Knight 3: The Master Race. This miniseries is co-written by original Dark Knight creator Frank Miller and seasoned comics veteran Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) with pencils from Andy Kubert (Flashpoint) and inks from the legendary Klaus Janson (Daredevil). All of these creators were present at the panel with Miller making a surprise entrance in his trademark fedora to thunderous applause. They were joined by DC editor and moderator Brian Cunningham and publisher Jim Lee, who worked with Miller on the controversial All-Star Batman and Robin.
Cunningham opened the panel by giving the history of The Dark Knight Returns, and how it deconstructed superhero mythology while also pioneering storytelling techniques, like wordless 16 page panels, talking heads, and sound effects as art. He poked fun at a tone deaf New York Times book review of the comic that said The Dark Knight Returns was “inspired by rock videos” before asking Jim Lee about the origin of the DK3 project.
Lee said that TDK3 began with a conversation between him, Miller, and Azzarello in a cab at Chicago Comic Con where they chatted about the absurdity of superheroes. (This led to the infamous Batman/Green Lantern fight in All-Star Batman and Robin #9.) Three years after this meeting, Lee and Miller discussed his return to comics and the expansion of the Dark Knight universe while having Batman and Superman pass on their legacies to Carrie Kelley and Lara respectively. Lee and DC editor-in-chief Dan DiDio looked for an artist with a powerful style and plenty of contrast. They picked Andy Kubert, who said he is dialing down his usual art style for DK3.
Cunningham asked the panelists about their response to the project. Brian Azzarello was originally set to do the story, heard nothing, and then got a call about it two years later. He will be fleshing out the world that Miller has crafted. Klaus Janson was both “happy and intimidated” and overjoyed to be doing a third big project with Miller along Daredevil and Dark Knight Returns.
Then, Cunningham teased the series’ plot in a vague, spoiler free manner. He said that thankfully nothing has leaked (Sorry, Bleeding Cool.), and that it ends the arc that began with The Dark Knight Returns in an unexpected way. Slides showed the first interior pages, including a black teenager getting gunned down by a police officer, Batman going into action, and Wonder Woman fighting a minotaur. I could definitely see Klaus Janson’s dark inks in the pages, and Kubert’s storytelling is iconic. The art was still unlettered and uncolored though. Janson remarked that DK3 has the same rhythm, pacing, and use of black as the original Dark Knight Returns.
Cunningham and Lee explained some of the innovative packaging of DK3. Each will come with a 5×7 minicomic titled The Dark Knight Universe Presents focusing on a different superhero. The first one will be about the Atom with art from Miller and Jason and colors by Alex Sinclair. Preview pages showed Ray Palmer running from a dinosaur. Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets) will draw the second story, and both the lead and minicomic DK3 stories will be collected in a hardbound volume that will fit in a special slipcase. The stories in the minicomic won’t be standalone, but will have two shock endings that tie together into a single narrative.
The panel concluded with the creators talking about their collaborative process and the reveal of some of the variant covers. Janson, Jill Thompson, and Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons drew particularly striking ones featuring Batman and Carrie Kelley. There will be about 100 variant covers to promote the book. (Or break readers’ bank accounts as Miller remarked.) About collaboration, Azzarello talked about how he flies from Chicago to New York every month to work with Frank Miller in person. He says that Superman will be likable in DK3, and that they enjoy making each other laugh. Miller joked and said he was just a “consultant” while Azzarello and Kubert reiterated that working on The Dark Knight 3: Master Race was starting to influence their own writing and art styles.
The panel was followed by short Q and A. The Dark Knight 3: Master Race #1 is set to be released on November 25.