Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s The Dark Knight Returns, a comic book series that was so pivotal to the development of DC Comics’ Batman character that comic creators and filmmakers alive constantly go back to the dark aspect of the aging vigilante as inspiration. Most recently, Zach Snyder announced at Comic-Con a few years back that his upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be based on the pivotal comics, and as luck would have it, DC Comics have brought Miller and Janson back for DK3: The Master Race, continuing the stories from Miller’s 2002 return to the universe with The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Joined by writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and artist Andy Kubert on pencils, DK3: The Master Race begins with Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter Lara trying to enlist the help of the Atom to revive the citizens of shrunken bottled city of Kandor to their rightful size, while Carrie Kelley (the former Robin/Catgirl) has taken on the mantle of Batman, claiming that Bruce Wayne is dead. The main story is enhanced by mini-comics featuring other characters with issue #1 featuring an Atom comic drawn by Miller and #2 a Wonder Woman mini-comic drawn by Azzarello’s 100 Bullets collaborator Eduardo Risso.
Den of Geek had a chance to sit own with the four creators of DC’s latest “Dark Knight” mini-series recently. Just to paint a picture, we were at Midtown Comics in downtown Manhattan where the four creators were preparing to do a signing for a group of contest winners, a rare opportunity to speak to all four of them outside a comic convention.
(Note: We’ve chosen to split the interview in half between the two writers and the two artists, even though this interview took place in one sitting with all four of them.)
I’m old enough to have been around when The Dark Knight Returns came out and I remember how exciting it was for two of Marvel’s top creators going to work at DC Comics. I think at the time none of us knew it would be something so influential that we’d be talking about it thirty years later. I assume DK3 started with the two of you, as far as reviving it and coming back after 12 years. Can you talk about how that conversation went? Did one of you come to the other one?
Brian Azzarello: I think DC went to you, right?
Frank Miller: I think they came crawling to both of us.
Azzarello: Well, I wanted to be more generous.
Miller: They approached me.
Was this because they had already been talking about doing Batman v Superman based on Dark Knight Returns?
Miller: You’ve got your sequence backwards. Dark Knight the first one begat the Batman movie, and the Dark Knight Strikes Again began the next Batman movie. The ideas come from the comic books and are translated into movies. Hollywood is way too busy with its own shenanigans to come up with ideas.
Of course, but they had announced that the next Batman incarnation would be based specifically on…
Azzarello: We weren’t tied to it at all.
Miller: Also, Batman fought Superman in my Dark Knight and that was a long time ago. Dinosaurs walked the earth back when I was having them fight, so the fact that Hollywood got around to it in a century or two…
I was wondering if the decision on where to take the movies influenced DC to want do something more in comics. Did you already have ideas that you wanted to tackle when they came to you?
Azzarello: No, there’s no linkage between the film and what we’re doing at all. If there was, they certainly didn’t mention it.
But did you already have ideas of what you wanted to do?
Azzarello: Yeah he had this title. (laughs)
Miller: It’s a nice title! Come on!
It may be construed as a controversial title because The Master Race is a reference from World War II.
Miller: That’s our job.
Is that title going to be explained more as the series goes along?
Azzarello: Have you read the second one?
I guess it’s a spoiler.
Miller: Let’s just say that if there were a few million people with the powers of Superman on earth, what would you call them?
Why did you decide to start the story with Carrie and Lara, the new generation?
Miller: I like girls, so does he.
And Wonder Woman, too, whom you (Brian) wrote for a while.
Miller: Wonder Woman was a major player in Dark Knight.
Of course, so did you want to do more with her as well?
Miller: Oh, any time. She’s a wonderful character.
Azzarello: It’s hard to leave her out.
Miller: Also, she’s the closest thing that Superman has to a wife and she’s the mother of his child.
Azzarello: Both children.
Miller: Both children, that’s right.
Coming back to this version of the DC universe—and people have tried taking elements from the first two Dark Knight volumes—was there a lot of stuff that you didn’t get to play with that you wanted to tackle in the one you created?
Azzarello: (chuckles) We’re still trying to get some characters into it.
Miller: I got to use The Question. That was one I really wanted to use. He got Killer Croc happening.
Azzarello: Shhh… (laughs)
Miller: I never found a place for Brother Power the Geek. I still regret that. It’s a treasure trove of good characters and bad ones, but the good ones are often ones that are forgotten or had done badly for so long. How long has it been since there’s been a good version of the Challengers of the Unknown? Wouldn’t that be fun? A bunch of guys in jumpsuits who fight dinosaurs. I can’t get better than that!
Azzarello: Let’s do that next! (At this point, the two of them start talking excitedly about the possibilities of the project while the DC publicist behind them ignored the chatter about what could be a pretty cool project.)
Miller: You heard it here first!
I really liked the use of the Atom, and I don’t want to spoiler too much of the second issue, but how come no one has thought of going to the Atom to save the people of Kandor?
Azzarello: Because it’s obvious.
Miller: My bigger question is this: Not why didn’t they do this before, but why does Superman keep all the competition in a bottle? What kind of bastard is the guy? Imagine the football team he could have had.
Maybe that’s why no one has tried to revive them before?
Miller: Because we would be ants.
Was that one of the ideas that kicked off doing this third series?
Azzarello: Which one? You meant he growing of the Kandorians? That was one of the original ones, yeah, because it’s kind of linked to the title.
Times have changed a lot since the original Dark Knight, but I liked the use of the media to tell the story. Back in the ‘80s, we didn’t have the 24-hour news cycle we have now. Now it’s different because the news is everywhere and constant.
Azzarello: It’s really difficult. If we were to mirror media today, there’s no room for story. It would be a book of talking heads talking about
Miller: I remember when I first discovered the joys of the internet. I first went on it because I’m a news junkie, or I was at the time, and found myself doing nothing but reading news all day, to the point of a complete distraction where I became completely obsessed with news. That made me go back to newspapers in a hurry, but you can overload on information because we live in an information age. Everything Marshall McLuhan predicted has come true and now it’s a matter of us developing, as he also predicted, filters of our own so that we’re not completely inundated with information and never end up doing a damn thing.
Can you talk about the idea of doing the mini-comics and telling a second story in a non-linear way since they’re not in the same timeline? How did that come about?
Azzarello: That was his brilliant idea. He didn’t think there was enough work, so he had to create some more.
Miller: The Atom gets small so I thought to put him in a small comic. I want to do a Flash flipbook where he just runs, I think it would be fun.
Azzarello: That is a good idea! (laughs)
Also, what about having Eduardo Risso (also from 100 Bullets) doing Wonder Woman? Was that something the two of you had wanted to do before?
Azzarello: No, Eduardo was Frank’s idea. He said he wanted to see what Eduardo would do with Wonder Woman. He said he thought he would make her look strong and sexy without cheesecake. He was right.
You’re only two issues into the story and you have six more issues to go, but I understand that you want to do a fourth chapter and an actual conclusion to the story that started in Dark Knight Returns. Do you have to wait to see how you feel after finishing this one or is that something you already know what you want to do?
Do you feel it’s going to be more in the vein of DKII with you and Lynn, doing it on your own, or do you feel you prefer the collaboration to work with different writers and artist?
Miller: We’ll have to see. It really depends on a lot, but I’m just eager to play in that sandbox again.
Do you feel the same way?
Azzarello: Well, we were talking about story when I go over to the studio, and we’re just shooting the sh*t, and then he’ll say “Oh, if we do something like this…” and if it doesn’t fit in here then it will go in the next one. There’s that kind of stuff.
I think when you’re making a movie (which you’ve done), there must always be things where you might want to leave them for a sequel in case one might happen.
Miller: No, no, no, you pack it all again. More ideas are going to come to you and they’re spilling all over the floor and you pack it tight and you give the reader the best possible ride they can have. You’ll end up with a whole pile of ideas still sitting on the floor ready for you the next time.
(After the interview, we were told by the DC publicist that Frank’s actually working on a prequel comic with John Romita Jr. that will be called The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade.)
And here’s the concurrent interview with the two artists…
Klaus, you were involved with the artwork on the original Dark Knight Returns so when you found out they wanted to do another story, how were you approached about it? When they came to you, did they already have a full script in some form?
Klaus Janson: Like any product, it goes through a lot of iterations and discussions until the final product or final decisions are almost never how it starts out. Personally I had heard about this about two years ago and I kind of begged DC to consider me for it, and they were very nice and thought I would be able to bring something to it. That’s how I got involved. Andy, how did you get involved in it?
Andy Kubert: Dan Didio asked me. He talked to me about it a couple years ago, too, and at that point, they didn’t know what incarnation it would take, issues-wise, anything or that, or what other artists would be involved, and I just told Dan, I want to be involved no matter what. In whatever capacity, I’d want to be involved.
Janson: For me, one of the things I was thinking about was that Frank and I had done two really good projects together, and I really wanted to do a third. I just felt that a third one sort of closed the chapter in a way. I was very intent on making DC know that I was available for this. We had done Daredevil, we had done Dark Knight, and very eager to work with Frank again in any capacity.
Andy, you do have a chameleon type of art style where over the years, you’ve been able to adapt different styles and approaching this with Klaus in a style that will probably be compared to Frank’s previous books.
Kubert: When I first got asked to do this, I said, “Can Klaus ink this?” That’s what I said I wanted.
Janson: I didn’t know that, but that’s very nice of you. You should talk about how you’re adjusting your style a little bit.
Kubert: I don’t really know what you’re doing, to tell you the truth. (laughs) I’m just doing it. There’s no gameplan. I just see it and that’s just the way I see it. If I think about it too much, I might lose it. I don’t want to think about it too much.
I’m guessing both of you had a chance to draw characters you hadn’t had a chance to before, so can you talk about some of the ones you were excited to draw?
Kubert: You’re seeing my first Wonder Woman in there. I did her on a couple of covers, in terms of storytelling, that was the first time there. What else?
Janson: You know, a lot of times when fans ask what comics am I reading now or what favorite books do I have right now? It isn’t a question of titles, it’s a question of people, so I have favorite artists and I’ll follow them to whatever book they’re doing, and the opportunity to work with Andy and Brian and Frank was something that you don’t pass up. So in terms of the art, it’s just a privilege to work with somebody who is as talented as Andy, and intelligent as Andy in terms of the work that he is doing. If you’ve read the second one, then you know there’s an amazing sequence with Atom in there that Andy drew, and it’s terrific. It’s storytelling, it’s smart.
Kubert: Why, thank you.
Janson: It is, it absolutely is, so it’s about the talent not necessarily the characters. I’ve always thought that the talent comes first.
Kubert: I’m just following his scripts.
Janson: And I’ll tell you something else. This team proves that it’s not about the characters, because this team can take any character and make a good story of it.
Issue #2 of The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (featuring that Eduardo Risso-drawn Wonder Woman mini-comic) can be found in local comic shops today with six more issues to come.