Saturday, September 8, 2012

All Star Batman and Robin (comic)

Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Jim Lee
Collects: All Star Batman & Robin #1-9

Frank Miller's at a point where he's not the surefire hit he used to be. Oh sure, he'll probably sell a lot of copies of whatever book he's putting out, but critically he's fallen pretty far. Kind of hard not to, though, when you put out shit like Holy Terror.

If Dark Knight Strikes Again was the book that made everyone realize he could, in fact, do wrong, All Star Batman is where people started to turn on him. The book is a love it or hate it affair among fans these days, but for a while there it was the joke of the internet for several reasons. The dark mirror of the universally beloved All Star Superman.

Its reputation is somewhat deserved. I've rarely seen a book filled with characters this unlikable. Wonder Woman is a radical misandrist - she calls a random passerby a "sperm bank" for no other reason than he had the misfortune of walking near her - Batman is the guy forching a freshly traumatized child to eat rats, Commissioner Gordon is a guy who chats on the phone with his former flame while his wife is in the other room and so on. If there's a single decent person in this book, it's Alfred.

Frank Millers typical traits are on full display. Everyones a slut, whore or at least dresses like one. First time we see Vicki Vale she's on the phone in her lingerie while inexplicably wearing high heels in the comfort of her penthouse. An ass shot follows within three panels, of course. The protagonist is a cackling, uber-violent maniac. It's like Miller never managed to dial things back after Sin City.

Worse still, it feels like it takes forever for the book to go anywhere. Only in the last issue or so do we get the idea that Miller may be going somewhere with this. Where that is, only he knows. After all, this volume collects nine of the ten issues released in the seven years since the book started. As it stands now, the book has vanished into the ether with the six issue conclusion wildly off schedule*. It's tempting to wonder if anyone will even care by the time this finishes.

Is there any merit to the story? I suppose. Millers Batman has always openly opined that his fight against crime is a war, which is taken to its absolute breaking point with Robins recruitment. Dick Grayson is practically drafted into this "war" and the parallel doesn't stop there. In the old days, part of the point of the training was to break you, to mold you into the killer the army wanted and needed. The effects were, frankly, real bad; we hear a lot about how utterly broken many soldiers were after wars**. The cruel treatment of Grayson seems a similar attempt to mold him and it seems just as likely to break him. It likely even explains the murderous psychopath he became by DKSA; like a soldier, it seems this treatment had ill effects that never truly went away and going by this book the blame can be laid entirely at Batmans feet.

The Batman Miller has been writing since DKSA is a hell of a lot less heroic - despite the good his actions inspire - and definitely more of an outright psycopath. I suppose that's a perfectly valid interpretation and there's certainly no harm in it existing as a contrast to the typical heroic Batman. Still, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

Using Jim Lee for the artwork is an odd choice, one I'm not sure paid off. We'll set aside the delays it caused for now; the problem is more that Lee does not seem to suit Millers world. When we think of Millers Dark Knight work, we visualize his artwork, faults and all. Lee, however, is much more mainstream with his art; it's cleaner, brighter, smoother and suited more to a regular depiction of Batman. The result is a man doing the best art of his career on a book that isn't quite suited to it.

Perhaps when the conclusion hits at some vague point in the future this book will hold up better, but as is it's a curiosity at best.

The Score: 6 out of 10

Lee's artwork is worth an eight, at least, but on the whole this book is a misfire. It has merit, but little I can really appreciate. I can understand why others like it - it can be funny at times if taken as a deliberate parody of Millers typical work - but I don't think it's for me. Not something I can recommend.

* Fitting, I suppose, given the books notorious delays. At one point there was something like a year between issues. All Star Batman truly is the Duke Nukem forever of the comic world. Ten to one it'll disappoint just as badly.

** My step-fathers father was a particularly bad case. His war was Nam. He came back an abusive, horrible man who had any good in him destroyed by the experience. Stories of my step-fathers childhood are pretty heartbreaking in regards to the abuse. I've also heard plenty about how his father would wake up from a dead sleep, dive for cover, flip the coffee table and scream about Charlie over the ridge. Chilling stuff to hear about.


  1. I'm guessing this series will never be finished. Seems like the moment has passed....

  2. Yeah, I'm not going to be shocked if they just don't bother. The book has been MIA for years now. I suppose it's possible now that Lee is off Justice League, but like I said in the review, will anyone care by then?

    Had Miller done the art himself the whole thing would probably have been wrapped a long time ago.