When it comes to great Batman stories, inevitably the conversation will turn to Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns. This is a graphic novel that is held up as one of the three truly great stories to come from the comic medium (the other being the Pulitzer Prize winning Maus, and the other being Watchmen – if you read only one, read Maus), and I’ve said before how fantastic it that I think this story is. That’s not in question.
What is in question, however, is the name of it’s new sequel. Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
As a title, The Master Race made me a bit uncomfortable when I first heard it, and whether there’s going to be an explanation or not within the context of the story, the title of the third entry into Frank Miller‘s Dark Knight series brings an association in my mind to another man who used the phrase “master race.”
It was, arguably, one of the darkest and most horrific periods in modern history, perpetrated by a man who believed that certain people were superior to others.
If this was an intentional choice on behalf of Miller and co-writer Brian Azzarello to establish the belief system of whomever the title refers too, using the meaning behind the term in Nazi ideology that states (bear in mind this is a condensed interpretation) that the Nordic, or Aryan, race represented the purest example of the peoples who originally inhabited the Germanic Plain. Based on their belief of superiority over other races the Nazi’s believed they were entitled to expand their territory, removing other, non-Aryan, races in the process. Whether the writers are using the spirit of this horrific idea in their story to show the expanse of followers of a certain person within the story, or simply an unfortunate coincidence, then in that regard only time will tell.
To be abundantly clear: I am not in no way accusing Frank Miller, or anybody at DC of being a supporter, or sympathizer, of the Nazi regime. I just think that maybe, just maybe, there could have been a better title out there to name the third entry into the franchise.
If the title is framing a story in which the followers of Batman have become fanatical in their mission, unintentionally falling into a similar mindset as the other group mentioned in this article, before an older Caped Crusader swoops in to save the day, then I can understand the reason behind the title choice. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that there could have been a better, less controversial choice that wouldn’t have brought uncomfortable thoughts and images to mind.
Unless that was the entire point.
Frank Miller is certainly no stranger to controversy, and in all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised if the title was chosen simply to anger some people. You may remember the controversy surrounding his 2011 graphic novel Holy Terror! during the six years of it’s development. Originally entitled Holy Terror, Batman! it was a tale that would have had the Dark Knight facing off against Al Qaeda, much the same way Superman and Captain America had done sixty odd years before. However, when Miller moved the story from DC to another publisher, he lost the official Batman association in the process. When released, however, Holy Terror featured some barely altered characters that were clearly from the Dark Knights’ world, led by The Fixer (or, as one reviewer wrote Batman without the horns). As it turned out, the graphic novel was more than anti-Al Qaeda, it was anti-Islamic. Indeed, Miller himself has gone on record as claiming that the story was always intended as propaganda – whether had he originally conceived it as an homage to the comics of the 40’s where Captain America was punching Hitler, or a self aware story that would have the subtle undertones of which Miller had mention in interviews, is something beyond my cope of knowledge, but Holy Terror was always intended as a piece of propaganda; however it was probably never intended to be so terrible.
If the title of The Dark Knight III: The Master Race was chosen both to highlight the motivations of a group of characters within the pages of the comic, and at the same time drawing on our own associations of the term, and it’s history then personally I don’t know how exited I’ll be to give DC my hard earned cash, regardless of how good the story actually is. At one time, it was common for superheroes to punch Nazi’s on comic book covers, or within their pages (and, let’s be honest, we all enjoy that), but by using the phrase “master race” in the title of the comic, the inference is there that this may be a bit more than just a story choice, especially given how vocal one of the creators has been about his anti-Islamic views with Holy Terror.
Hopefully, the influence of Brian Azzarello on the writing of The Dark Knight III: The Master Race will prevent the highly anticipated story from descending into a troglodytic mess. It is obviously impossible to judge the context of the title within the story until the six issues in the series are released, this is equally true with the quality of the story. To do that we have to until November 25th when the first issue hits the racks.
Also posted on Graphic Policy.