This month, DC Comics will launch Dark Knight III: The Master Race, the third entry in author-artist Frank Miller’s subversive take on Batman, the popular crime-fighting superhero. To promote the eight-part saga, DC will release the first issue under 47 variant covers, each by a different artist, and each available exclusively in a single city. Canada’s lone Dark Knight variant cover features artwork by Francis Manapul. Manapul, who lives in Toronto, has drawn interiors and covers for many comics, and is best known for his work on Top Cow’s Witchblade and Necromancer series. He has worked solely for DC since 2007, where currently he scripts and draws Detective Comics, the series that debuted the Batman character in 1939.
Variant editions of comic books – the same comic available with multiple different covers, some with lower print runs than others – have been making a comeback in recent years. They peaked during the “speculator boom” of the 1990s, which began, in part, thanks to the success of Miller’s original 1986 Dark Knight series. Comic publishers oversaturated the market with variant covers and other gimmicks, which collectors bought in multiples, convinced the books would rise in value. When the market’s bubble eventually burst, two-thirds of independent comic stores closed and publishing giant Marvel – home of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the X-Men – filed for bankruptcy. Many once-valuable comics from this era are worthless today.
Miller’s acclaimed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns took place in a dystopian future, where Gotham City’s rising crime rate convinces a middle-aged Bruce Wayne to again don Batman’s cowl after a decade in retirement. Its gritty storyline and high production values ushered in a new era of darker, more adult-oriented storytelling in comics. A poorly received sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, followed in 2001. A fourth instalment has already been announced.
The first issue of The Master Race will appear on stands Nov. 25. Manapul’s variant cover version will be available exclusively at the Silver Snail in Toronto.
Update: Manapul will be signing the comic at the Silver Snail on Nov. 28 from 1–3 p.m., and 5–7 p.m.