Like him or not, you have to admit Frank Miller is a comics legend.
Though he’s faced criticism over the years for his controversial, conservative stances and his attitude toward female characters, Miller wrote books such as the groundbreaking Dark Knight Returns and its sort-of-prequel Batman: Year One, which comics fans the world over now consider sacred texts.
But Miller, who usually illustrates his own stories, stumbled with the forgettable, critically panned, sketchily drawn sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again in 2002.
Miller knew he wanted to continue the series after that, so why did it take so long to do so?
“The material had to come together,” he says. “You don’t jump in on the job until you have enough material and a good enough idea … It needed some new wrinkles, some new places to go.”
Returning 15 years later for Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race, which is published in graphic novel form this week, Miller assembled what he calls “the best talent out there:” co-writer Brian Azzarello and artists Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, and Brad Anderson.
Frankly, they made all the difference.
There are some neat touches that only Miller could bring to this comic — such as the character of Carrie Kelley (the best of all the Robins — fight me). She absolutely shines opposite the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, Lara Kent.
“Carrie Kelley was a real breakthrough for me because she was such a fresh character,” Miller says. “Her perfect contrast was Lara … I loved the fact that the dark guy (Batman) had the bright daughter and the bright guy (Superman) had the dark daughter.”
The fact that these two (and many more) well-written women exist in the book is testament to a fact Miller admits: he’s grown up.
“Over the years, I had to listen to criticism,” he says — and he actually listened: “My female characters have gone from kind of an adolescent fantasy about women into much more fully formed characters.”
These women are more than just their relationships to their fathers. Carrie and Lara are young women developing their own personalities and powers. They’re a delight to read and they keep you turning the page.
Miller’s other accomplishment is political satire. With writing partner Azzarello, Miller brought the kind of commentary that we saw him introduce with his take on Ronald Reagan — who he remembers as “quite funny in a terrifying way” — in The Dark Knight Returns. But this time, he’s showcasing both the media and now-President, then-candidate Donald Trump.
Miller says that Trump and his administration are is “a cartoonist’s dream” and that there hasn’t been this kind of political figure that so lends himself to that craft “since Nixon.”
These moments will make you laugh uncomfortably, which is something Miller’s work tends to do.
The team that makes it shine
If nothing else, this book looks awesome. From Kubert’s pencils, to Janson’s inks, to Anderson’s colors, this book really finds it feet in the art.
Kubert especially, who Miller himself calls “remarkable,” pulls off something really impressive in this project, marrying his own drawing style with echoes of Miller’s own art. He found that balance while creating the original sketches Mashable is exclusively debuting here.
Kubert’s family is prominent in the industry and he’s worked with many notable creators, but he found this project to be “daunting.” Kubert considers Miller to be “god-like” in the comic world, and he says he was under a lot of pressure to measure up.
“I idolized Frank big-time growing up.” He laughs and remembers, “I was scared shitless.”
Kubery says the key to the book was two pieces of advice Miller gave him after he sent his first roughs (11×17 conceptual versions of a page.) Kubert was told to “be more experimental,” and warned not to “forget about negative space.”
Kubert collaborated a lot with Azzarello and Miller through the process, working with ample feedback. For him, that made this one of his favorite scripts to work on.
The other members of the art team more than carry their weight here, adding depth and character to the art.
Kubert and Janson had been close for years, but this was their first project together.
“I always knew this guy was good,” Kubert says of the inker, “but you don’t really know how good he is until he works on top of your pencils … the guy is so freaking good.”
It was a similar story with colorist Anderson. Kubert says that Anderson has a way of just getting what Kubert is trying to do in a piece. “He kind of finished my sentences … (but) he brought his own distinctive voice to it.”
The art team worked so well together that they’re partnering on a book called New Challengers with yet another legendary Batman writer — Scott Snyder.
Another chapter to come?
Miller won’t say exactly what the next chapter in his Batman story will look like, but he does hint that it would involve the next generation — Lara and Carrie, and perhaps even Jonathan Kent, too!
And he says he definitely has the drive to do more: “Every project makes you want to do more projects.”
As for Kubert, he’s just extremely proud of the work he’s done here.
“I hope I can do this again sometime … how am I gonna top this?” With the kind of talent he, Anderson, and Janson put on the page, there’s no doubt there are incredible things to come.
Check out more of Andy Kubert’s sketches below. You can also find them in the hardcover edition of Batman: The Dark Knight: The Master Race, which hit shelves last week.