Since Tim Burton’s brooding, black-as-oil Batman hit theaters in 1989, the cinematic world of Bob Kane’s iconic detective has drawn invariably from the comics of Frank Miller. Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns, a four-part story about Batman’s return from retirement and self-imposed exile, seeped into the crevices of every subsequent comic-book movie, from Sam Raimi’s Darkman to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy; but it most notably acted as a template for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which practically owes alimony to Miller. The brooding, hulking, neo-fascist Batman favored by Burton and Nolan stems from Miller’s Reagan-era creation, which erased memories of Adam West’s campy Caped Crusader from the minds of an entire generation.
Now Miller will return to pen a new Batman comic, according to the Verge. The comic, called The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (hopefully an ironic title), is the third part of Miller’s Dark Knight Trilogy. For those who are worried about Miller’s recent track record (recent meaning the last 15 years), don’t worry: Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Joker) is co-writing with Miller. And yet fans seem less than ecstatic.
Miller’s circuitous, bipolar career has vacillated between extreme highs (the Miller-penned, David Mazzuccheli–drawn Batman: Year One is ubiquitously considered a masterpiece, and Nolan overtly borrowed from at least one scene for Batman Begins) and extreme lows, with the nadir being, arguably, his most recent work, Holy Terror! (more on that in a second).
Despite the doldrums in which he’s dwelt for the last decade, Miller had a helluva career for about 20-plus years. He ushered in the idea of a comic-book artist as an auteur and a name brand. Of course, he wasn’t the first to pen and draw his own comics; Will Eisner, often credited with inventing the graphic novel and from whom Miller has drawn much inspiration (he even adapted Eisner’s The Spirit strip into a much-maligned movie a few years back), was doing that before Miller was even born. But Miller undeniably brought comics kicking and screaming into a new lurid age, becoming, along with Todd McFarlane, one of the comic world’s superstars. His Daredevil: The Man Without Fear has become arguably the definitive origin story of the blind lawyer-turned-herpo (Netflix’s series channels Miller pretty hard), and his neo-noir Sin City books depict a world of grayscale morality rendered in stark black-and-white illustrations.
Since then, things haven’t gone so well. Miller began his Über-hyped sequel to The Dark Knight Returns in 2001. Called The Dark Knight Strikes Back, it featured a drastically altered art style and rampant sexism. It sold well, but earned dreadful feedback from fans. From 2005 to 2008, Miller wrote All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, with artist Jim Lee lending his singular style of voluptuous muscles and hyperdetailed backgrounds. Again, Miller drew the ire of fans with his licentious and irate Batman, whose unintentional mantra, “I’m the goddamn Batman,” left an acrid taste in readers’ mouth. IGN called the comic “widely reviled,” though All Star topped DC’s sales charts almost every month for three years.
One hopes that Miller, whom io9’s Rob Bricken aptly deemed “one of the comic world’s weird, crazy uncles,” will return to form, though the title The Master Race doesn’t offer much hope. Miller, to put it kindly, has had his share of racially turbulent moments. 300 presents a slightly skewed version of the Persian Empire, while his last graphic novel, the virulent mess of anger and violence Holy Terror!, offended just about everyone. It began life as a Batman vs. Al Qaeda before Miller expunged the Batman aspect (though he retained the Batman title, for whatever reason).
Be sure to tune in for more news on Miller’s Batman. Same Vulture-Time, same Vulture-Channel.