Thursday, July 5, 2012

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder

Oh God...

Frank Miller's "All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder" might have seen like a brilliant, groundbreaking storyline in Frank Miller's own head.  Yet another excellent Batman comic that would revolutionize the Batman mythos once again just as his previous "Dark Knight Returns" and "Year One" had done back in the Eighties.  However, to the rest of the human race, Frank Miller's new Batman tale appeared to be more like a nightmare, an insult, or just a plain old prank.  The fact of the matter is that nobody has the slightest clue what Frank Miller was thinking when he wrote this horrible comic, which is without a doubt the worst Batman related product ever released, and possibly the worst superhero story ever*.

DC's "All-Star" line began as a rather admirable idea, I think.  Back in the mid-2000s, DC decided that they would create a whole new series of brand new Superman, Batman, and Wonderwoman comic book series that would be out of continuity of the goddamn confusing mess that is their DC universe, so that new readers would able to get into comics without needing to memorize eight decades worth of stories, exactly how the Ultimate Marvel Universe did.  They also wanted these new stories to be written by the very best authors money could buy.  "All-Star Superman" was written by Grant Morrison... who I assume is a very good author of comics.  And "All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder" was written by Frank Miller, who was then considered an absolute genius, perhaps the most famous comic book author in the world.  Unfortunately whatever genius Frank Miller had rolling around up there seems to have been replaced with total madness and "All-Star Batman" was a total disaster.  Worse for the All-Star line, their other two projects, "All-Star Wonderwoman" and "All-Star Batgirl" never got made at all, so I guess we could say that this entire ambitious project was a failure.  "All-Star Superman" apparently is really really good, and I might have to read it one day, but its success was balanced out by the vile terribleness of "All-Star Batman".

I feel almost ill-equipped to review "All-Star Batman and Robin" because like the rest of the world, I have no idea where Frank Miller was coming from writing this story.  The story is so bad on so many levels, and is fact downright disturbing, that you almost can't believe that Frank Miller is playing this straight.  You cannot believe that he actually thinks what he's writing is effective storytelling.  Is this whole comic written by the Joker?  That's really the only explanation, Frank Miller is the Joker.  Its a comic where everybody is insane, where Batman talks like a seventh grader, where Frank Miller gleefully mocks a great deal of superhero mythos, and where the fanservice is so blatant and shameless that I'm surprised this isn't anime.  And then, ten issues later of atrocious dialog and cringeworthy plot points, it all just ends, with no resolution.  The comic was never finished, its last issue came out four years ago.  The story barely reaches its second act.  And maybe, that's for the best.  For it just to end.

Three pages into "All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #1", the audience gets to feast their eyes on half-naked Vicky Vale, babbling to herself in lacey pink underwear while wandering her apartment with huge glass windows open out to the city.  Immediately "All-Star Batman" became a giant joke, which was met with collective groans from every comic reader in the world.  You see, despite what you'd think, comic book fans don't want to be deluged by ridiculous over the top fanservice anymore, they understand how horribly objectifying this sort of drawing is.  (I however, have no such complaints, because well, she does look very nice in that pink underwear.)  What I did have problems with though is what Vicky Vale is saying, mostly complaining that while Metropolis gets a Superman with a Dick of Steel, Gotham only gets a Batman with a rodent penis.  Vicky then gets a date with Bruce Wayne, a fact so amazing for her that she has to repeat that fact to herself about ten billion times.  "I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne, how cool is that?"  She, like everybody else in this story, comes off as either a deranged slut or an idiot.  Also for some reason Miller keeps referring to Vicky Vale as a "gadfly", showing that he has no respect for this character.  Which is unsurprising because she mostly disappears from the comic forever after getting into a huge accident that Batman completely ignores.

Why is Vicky Vale in this comic at all?  Good question.  Unfortunately the story never concluded, so we don't get to see whatever final character arc Frank Miller had for her.  Batgirl is also included in the series, and she gets to do... nothing.  Instead of Catwoman being Batman's supervillain love interest, its this character called Black Widow Canary, who Batman has sex with in a graveyard.  She does... nothing.  Superman, Wonderwoman, and the other superheroes show up, they ultimately do nothing.  The entire comic moves at a glacial pace, so when Frank Miller or DC or somebody decided to abandon the comic entirely, nothing is ever resolved.

But the main relationship here is between Batman and Robin.  Here's where things start getting really really bad.  They were really bad before, and really disturbing before, but now it gets to the point that you wonder if some authority should be alerted to the existence of this comic.  Can Frank Miller go to jail for this?  You might have noticed with Vicky Vale's comments about superdicks that Frank Miller was slightly out of his mind writing this story.  Well, it gets worse.  Robin, of course, is Dick Grayson, Age Twelve**, a young trapeez artist who works with the Flying Graysons who are tragically murdered.  Normally in Batman stories, Bruce Wayne just legally adopts Robin and the boy forces his way into the Dynamic Duo.  Not so much in "All-Star Batman and Robin".  Here Batman kidnaps Robin, tells him "you're in war!" and then demands that he become his teen sidekick.  Dick Grayson does not get much choice in this, Batman leads him to the Batcave and dumps him there to eat rats.  Batman repeatedly abuses Dick Grayson, slapping him across the face if the boy even so much as cries over his dead parents.  (There's even an implication that Batman might have kidnapped Dick Grayson anyway in a few years, dead parents or not.)  I'm actually surprised that Miller held himself back and didn't have Batman rape Robin at any point.

This all leads to the most infamous moment of the entire comic.  Robin asks "who are you to give orders?" and Batman replies with - you're not ready for this - "WHAT, ARE YOU DENSE?  ARE YOU RETARDED OR SOMETHING?  WHO DO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?  I'M THE GODDAMN BATMAN."

Yeah, the Goddamn Batman.  Do I even need to explain how stupid this is?

Immediately this became a huge joke as everybody mocked Frank Miller for saying this.  He responds in the most mature way possible, by spending the rest of the comic calling Batman, "The GODDAMN Batman".  Which is good because I don't think I'd want anybody confusing this insomniac lunatic with the real Batman.  The Tim Burton Batman wasn't afraid to kill if he needed to, this Batman is just a raving madman running around the city beating up criminals apparently for sexual thrills.  "The Dark Knight Returns" Batman seemed to be a bit unhinged, which made sense since he was a seventy-year-old man still Batmaning, but this Goddamn Batman is just plain old insane.

It all means that the most heroic character in the whole story is none other than Alfred, who actually stands up to his insane master at one point and gives Dick Grayson some food.

Beyond the two most infamous moments in this comic, everything simply feels wrong.  Frank Miller goes out of his way to insult and mock the very comic book universe he's writing within.  Batman giggles over how Green Lantern is weak to the color yellow, Wonderwoman knocks a random guy on the street down and says "out of the way, spermbank", then after acting like an ultra-feminist parody she makes out with Superman, a lot of people joke about Batman's "Clint Eastwood" voice, for some reason everybody in this comic thinks that the name "Batmobile" is gay, there are a lot of jokes over what the heck the "my ward" means.  It goes on forever.  This isn't just bad writing, its hateful writing.  Yeah, comic books are stupid, everybody knows this, but if you're WRITING a comic book you should either write them without the ideas you don't like or simply run with the ridiculousness of it all.  Instead Miller mocks everything he's working with, even making fun of the old Adam West "Batman", as if that show needed any further satire forty years after it aired.  I'm reminded of last year's "Green Lantern", an all-around terrible movie, which was made all the more terrible because everybody in the movie thought the Green Lantern premise was stupid.  At least show some goddamn respect to the mythos you're working with, and if you don't respect those things, DON'T WRITE A SUPERHERO COMIC.  What the fuck are you doing?  Its like if I signed on to write "Twilight 6".

Actually, if I wrote "Twilight 6" the results would be absolutely awesome.  Unlike this comic.  Finally Bella Swan would get to meet that Creature From the Black Lagoon boy that I've wanted for years now.

The pacing is so bad that it takes something like eight issues for Robin to finally get in costume - which in the real world was something like two years due to the incredible slowness of publication.  And then, the first major adventure Batman and Robin have is attacking Green Lantern, who came to find out if Batman actually did kidnap Dick Grayson.  Robin decides to murder Green Lantern here, because his training under Batman has finally driven him totally insane.  It takes six issues for a villain to finally be revealed, and its a lame sullen Joker who murders women after he sleeps with them.  By the way, WHY would any woman sleep with the Joker??  Unless they're actually Harley Quinn, WHY?  For a whole issue Superman says nothing at all except the word "damn".  Commissioner Gordon does not appear at all under the very last issue, never to do anything.

Weirdly after Robin almost kills Green Lantern, Batman and him actually share a bizarrely heartwarming hug in the rain.  Because Frank Miller actually could be competent if he wanted.  Instead he wants to make slow horrible comics full of lame noir-ish narration about how much Gotham City sucks.  The whole adventure is Frank Miller babbling to himself in a language only he could ever understand.  Here I though "Batman: The Movie" was as weird as it could ever get, I was wrong.

A few years ago I saw the movie "The Spirit", Frank Miller's film adaptation of an ancient superhero from the 1940s.  "The Spirit" is in a lot ways a lot like "All-Star Batman and Robin", in that it was horrifically bizarre and makes absolutely no sense to anybody but Frank Miller.  But actually, I'm of a mind to say that "The Spirit" is actually a lot of fun, because despite how little it makes sense, its just silly enough that you can sit down for a confusing ride and ponder endlessly "what the Hell was the creator of this this thing THINKING?"  Its the kind of movie you watch with your mouth hanging open, unable to take in just what you're experiencing***.  And then you just start saying "what??" in a high-pitched tone, as if maybe somebody or something could explain what the Hell you're watching.  What kind of madness could have created a movie as awful as "The Spirit"?  Well, I still don't fully understand, but I do know that Frank Miller was insane long before he got to direct a movie.  Hopefully he'll never direct another thing, hopefully he'll never write another thing.  Hopefully he can just retire, because if his stories are any indication of his state of mind, he's a cackling maniac.

Tomorrow I have to watch "Batman and Robin" for the Batman Batdown.  That's going to be a much easier job for me now, because no matter how bad it gets, it will not be "All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder".  "Batman and Robin" is going to be easy.

* Due to the nature of comics, this is a very controversial call.  Because for every terrible comic book story, there are a million more worse in every way.  I mean, there's still "One More Day", the story where Peter Parker makes a deal with the Devil to bring incredibly old Aunt May back from the dead and in turn gives up his twenty year marriage with Mary-Jane.  Like, why would you do that?  Does the devil accept marriages as currency now?  Why would he want a marriage if not to act as a Contrivance of the Plot to magically reset the Spiderman universe for some idiot executive who liked it better back in the Eighties?  I'm so glad I don't read the mainstream in-continuity DC and Marvel comic books, because I would turn into a very angry person otherwise.

** For some reason people keep calling him "Dick Grayson, Age Twelve".  Even in regular dialog.  "I saw Batman kidnap Dick Grayson, Age Twelve".  Why?  I DON'T KNOW!!!  I HAVE NO IDEA.  Nobody does.

*** If you want more so-bad-they're-good movies like this, try "Troll 2", "The Star Wars Holiday Special", or "Southland Tales".


  1. Miller's sequel to TDKR, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was also pretty damn bad. And personally, I thought Returns was a little overrated.

  2. You actually did it. judging by your reaction it must have been painful. oh and thanks for the recomendation, ill get it eventually.

  3. i think you and everyone else who degraded this book are a bunch of pussies. The goddamn batman fits perfectly into the rest of frank millers dark knight continuity. its just a young bad ass batman story. would love to read the conclusion.

    1. If I'm a pussy, then Frank Miller is a cunt.

  4. Well calling it the worst Batman comic and one of the worst superhero stories ever made shows how you haven't even bothered to go deeper into this book. It has some really great characterizations and concepts. Its over the top yeah but for Miller's Batman it almost makes sense. We get clues in TDKR and TDSA about how he misstreated Dick Grayson and we finally get to see what he did to him. This isn't a Long Halloween, detective/tragic Batman he is a psychotic War Games/Tower of Babel Batman. We see that when he paints the whole room yellow in order to keep Hal's ring from working. It's awesome ! Frank Miller is obviously a very angry idividual. He was angry in his 20s and he is angry now. He has become in many instances both a "political liablilty and a joke". He expresses the way he sees the world with his writing and that ain't bad, like at all ! It's actually a great satire. Agree or Not he is making fun of the seriousness of comic books today by having Batman say things like "I'm the goddamn Batman". He is a man who loves superheroes being flamboyant and larger than life ! Give this book another chance, read it though a different POV. I'm not saying its good but i am saying that it is interesting.