Batwoman. Not Batman, not Batgirl, not Batlady. Batwoman is here and ready to take on Gotham and the world. Batwoman is also the central character in a mostly female cast in Frank Miller’s graphic novel, Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race. Miller has always been a feminist and has written tons of strong female characters, and Dark Knight: Master Race — the third in the Batman: The Dark Knight series — is no exception to that. BUST recently had the opportunity to speak with Frank Miller about Batman, current events, and feminism.
“Originally, when I was first working on Dark Knight, I intended for him [Batman] to die in a hellapalooza gunfight,” said Miller. “But then I realized I couldn’t use that ending; but then I came to the ending I did, and I decided that was the last I could do with it. And then I got an idea for a second one, and as for the third one, I got distinct ideas for the characters because they can’t be killed and the possibilities are inexhaustible, so we’ll just see where it all goes.”
If you have had the opportunity to read the first two Dark Knight graphic novels, you know who Carrie Kelley is. As a quick recap, Carrie Kelley, formerly known as Robin, was first introduced in Dark Knight Returns. Unlike previous Robins, Kelley’s parents were both alive when she met Batman; however, her parents were absent from her life. Batman saw Kelley’s talent in Dark Knight Returns, and took her under his wing. Carrie Kelley became the daughter Batman never had. She took care of Bruce Wayne when everybody took him for dead, and it’s Kelley who takes on the burden of being Batman in Bruce Wayne’s absence.
Juxtaposed against Carrie Kelley is Lara Kent, the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman. Kelley is selfless and lives to bring justice to the world, but Kent sees humans as beneath her Kryptonian and Amazonian heritage.
Miller said he felt the story had to focus on Carrie and Lara; it was the natural progression of the story. “Carrie and Lara were extrapolations of the old characters,” said Miller. “And in a medium that is so dominated by these guys, it’s a wonderful shift.”
Lara and Kelly are introduced in the first book, but they really take off in the third book. They aren’t just a device to carry the plot forward, they are central to it. Feminism isn’t the only modern issue Batman The Dark Knight: Master Race deals with. The graphic novel is steeped in current events and makes references to issues including police brutality, sexism, politics and racism.
“Characters have to exist in a recognizable world,” said Miller. “It was really unhealthy for comic books to strip further and further away from the real world. Every decade or so, they jerk back. When I was a kid, there was a whole series where Green Lantern and Green Arrow were encountering series of social issues on a regular basis.”
Green Lantern has a small cameo in this graphic novel, as do many other famous heroes including the Atom, Superman, and the great Amazonian herself, Wonder Woman. In this version, Wonder Woman is a mother, and not just the mother of Lara Kent — she also has a small baby boy named Jonathan. However, don’t be deceived: Wonder Woman being a mother does not deter her from being herself. Our first introduction to Wonder Woman is watching her fight off a minotaur, while baby Jonathan is strapped on her back.
Miller also does a great job at exploring a dynamic we don’t see enough of, a mother-daughter relationship. While Lara is a bit haughty and believes she is better than all humans, Wonder Woman works hard to reason with Lara. She loves her, and that love is manifested through her training Lara and attempts to teach Lara the Amazonian ways.
One of the most epic battles in the book is between Lara, Carrie, and Wonder Woman. This battle shows strength, vulnerability and more importantly, the love Wonder Woman has for Lara. After the battle is done, Wonder Woman tells Lara, “Lara, I am your mother. And that bond cannot be shattered.”
With such larger than life characters, it would be easy to forget about current events or to fall into typical comic book tropes, but Miller does not. Miller allows the characters to take a life all their own. “I wanted them [Lara and Carrie] to really emerge with their own identity,” said Miller, “in a way, Batman, who’s the bad boy, has a good daughter, and Superman, who’s this good boy, has this rebellious daughter”
You may be wondering what it is that Lara, this rebellious daughter, does. Lara has been listening to some pretty extreme philosophy by people trapped in a jar. To be more specific, Lara has been convinced by Quar, a Kandorian, that Kandorians are the master race and humans are inferior, and that Lara, the daughter of Superman is Kandorian and should take her rightful place along the master race.
It is scary how much this graphic novel resonates with our real-life issues of white supremacy, racism, sexism, and hate. “These aren’t current issues, they are eternal issues,” said Miller. This book was written long before Charlottesville or the other hate crimes that have come about since then. The book reminds us that although, in their world, super-humans can fly, the biggest problems are universal, and related to our own real problems. “Everything has to relate to us, all this stuff has to come back to us in one form or another, or if not these are nothing but silly books.”
Batman The Dark Knight: Master Race proves that feminism is alive and growing in comic books, and that veterans like Frank Miller are well aware of the need for female-driven stories. “Feminism is essential to life,” said Miller, “I think it’s one of those never-ending battles, just because every time I think a certain type of talk or behavior has been forgotten or out of fashion I see it come back with a vengeance.” The book is called Batman The Dark Knight: Master Race, but it’s the birth and rise of Batwoman that drives the story.
All images from Batman The Dark Knight: Master Race, courtesy DC Comics
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