Saturday, September 17, 2005

All Star Batman and Robin Issue 2

Oh, how the Batman fans must hate this comic.

I am not a Batman fan. In my 4000+ comic stash (it is not a collection- I do not collect comics, I read them) I have a handful of Batman comics. And they were purchased mostly for the writers or artists involved. I do not follow the character and his ups and downs and ins and outs. He's one of those characters whose existence I accept but who I do not care to think about much.

I'm buying All Star Batman and Robin for two reasons. The reasons are Frank Miller and Jim Lee. I am fans of both men. Frank Miller's writing tends to amuse me and I like his noir style. And I'm a Jim Lee fan.

(That sound you hear is my beret being snatched from my head by the croninborg)

So I decided I'd give this series a try. And I'm quite glad I did. The first issue was hysterical. Miller crafted the kind of comic that gave Wertham a screaming fit. Violence, gratuitous sexuality, lack of respect for authority, strong homnosexual subtext involving a grown man and a teenage boy- they're all there. Wertham must have spun in his grave yelling "I was right! See? See? See?".

Hmmmm.....Wetham IS dead isn't he? If not I bet he reads Warren Ellis comics.

Anyroad, I had hoped that issue 2 would continue in the comical vein of the first issue. But it didn't quite, did it? Something happened between the first and second issue. Something interesting.

I wonder at what point Frank Miller decided to point out to people what an insane bastard Batman is and how amazingly disturbing it is that he's got a young teen as a sidekick.

Now, admittedly, that isn't anything new. The whole sidekick thing has been discussed before. Most recently in the quite brilliant Top Ten. But in All Star Batman and Robin Miller cranks it up a notch. And he does it in a very easy way- instead of making the discussion general or involving characters you don't know he shows how completely and utterly insane the most famous pairing in comic books is.

Batman takes a traumatized Dick Grayson and he drugs him, verbally attacks him and at one point hits him. And Grayson ends up deciding to partner with Batman. I'll tell you, by the end of the comic I found myself wondering if any of the Batman fans were going to ever buy this title again. It was truly disturbing.

It was made more disturbing by Batman's internal struggle and Dick Grayson's thoughts. Batman finds himself wondering why he's doing it. He feels guilty about doing it. And he does it anyway. And Dick Grayson is obviously still deep in shock and goes from repressing memories about his parents to attaching himself to Batman.

It was more than just kinda creepy. it was horrifying. And extremely well done.

Miller's Batman is a Batman at the start of his career. A man driven by his demons and completely alone. And as a result of that isolation he's become a little, well, crazy. He doesn't know how to talk to people. He doesn't realize how he sounds or that he seems nuts. He's driven by a need to recruit Grayson that he doesn't understand.

Grayson understands it. Batman is alone. He lacks a grounding, a touch with humanity. Grayson can feel Batman's complete isolation. And in the end he decides to join Batman. And can this be anything but bad? Maybe. On the very first page the Batmobile almost runs a white rabbit off the road. There's an obvious comparison there. Dick Grayson is Alice, falling down a hole into Wonderland, where he will discover madness and adventure beyond his wildest dreams and nightmares.

This comic has, in two issues, made me laugh out loud and made me want to take a bath to clean the ick off my soul. And it's made me think. So I declare that this comic is good.

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23 Comments:

Anonymous thekamisama said...

Sorry I love Miller, but to me this thing was a bunch of floating heads and pinups.

How many times can you deconstruct the "Bat-myth" and it not become redundant?

9/17/2005 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

I think it's ridiculous. I think it's probably a bad comic. But I also think it's highly entertaining for its awfulness.

I suspect that Miller's parodying the way DC completely misunderstood the point of DKR and have made Batman progressively more insane since then. Miller's doing the most nutty version of the character, partly to make fun of DC and partly to see if they even notice.

Maybe. Or it might just be a bad comic. I haven't decided.

I have decided, however, that Jim Lee is seriously miscast on this book. I'm not his biggest fan, but I do know he's good at some stuff and not so good at others. And demented tales of child abuse aren't his forte.

9/17/2005 10:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

"I wonder at what point Frank Miller decided to point out to people what an insane bastard Batman is and how amazingly disturbing it is that he's got a young teen as a sidekick."

You might as well ask, "I wonder at what point Miller decided to recycle his first Sin City story with a truckful of flat Elektra rip-offs and pad out the dialogue with endless repetitions of 'Little Miko. Deadly Miko. Miko Miko. Deadly Little Miko.'"

People who insist that Miller is instentionally making a point with this are operating under the impression that Miller still has talent. He doesn't; this has been apparent since "The Big Fat Kill." He's a burnt-out old hack with a small but devoted fan base who'll eat up the sputtering, autistic dialogue Miller has mistaken for "grittiness."

People who insist that "All-Star Batman and Robin" really captures the essence of Batman don't actually read or like Batman (as Chad here makes apparent). But they also apparently don't read or like good writing. A sampling of Mr. Miller's fine, fine dialogue:

"You poor boy. You poor little bastard. Welcome to HELL. Hell or the next best thing... the world I'm gonna wake you up to will be no better than the world you already know - but it'll make a whole lot more SENSE than that one did - once I've put you through holy hell, it will. It'll make sense. A LOT of sense. Holy hell or the next best thing."

"(No. Don't go there. Not now.) MOM and DAD. Their BRAINS. They SPLASHED on my FEET. All over my FEET. They're DEAD as HELL. They got SHOT right in FRONT of me and they're DEAD as HELL. Their BRAINS splashed RIGHT on my FEET. (No. Don't go there. Not now.) Their BRAINS splashed all over my FEET!"

What's striking about all this isn't just how awful it is, but how derivative it is. This is Miller going through the most sluggish of motions, retracing and rewriting his clunky old scripts without any trace of the energy that made them work in the first place. What we have is a grotesque exaggeration of Miller's worst flaws and excesses - much like everything else he's written in the last ten years.

Miller's not doing parody. This isn't him having a chuckle about his previous work or making some grand statement about the nature of superhero comics. This is Miller trying to lazily ape what he's done before and producing crap as a result. It reads just like DK2 and his last couple Sin City minis: stupid comics for stupid people.

9/17/2005 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger John Lombard said...

All I know is, Chad's write-up made this comic seem *awesome*.

9/17/2005 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Whitmore said...

I could personally give a crap what Miller's intentions are.

Batman slapped Dick in the face and called him a retard!!!

That is going right on my desktop. I haven't decided yet whether or not I'll have it blown up to poster-size.

9/18/2005 12:05:00 AM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Whew... someone's an angry Lungfish...

Good point though; I spotted the many "classic" Miller images in the comic (lots of high-contrast stuff in the rain, that opening mountain road shot which has been in every Sin City story), which leads me to suspect that he's providing a fairly specific script to Lee. But I didn't spot the dialogue which, as you say, is Sin City again, just with the names swapped out.

Still, it's a great read, in a train crash sort of way.

9/18/2005 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger Candy Kane said...

It's an interesting take on the series, which I can almost believe until I remember the total inane stupididty of the plot in the first issue with the death of Dick's parents, where instead of faking an accident while they were doing their dangerous high wire act, the bad guys shoot them through the head and then kidnap Dick because he witnessed it. Him and everyone in the audience.

Explain how that makes any kind of sense and I'll be willing to accept your take on issue #2.

9/18/2005 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Chad said...

Two things in response to Lungfish:

1) I never said I thought this captured the essence of Batman. I said it was an interesting look at the sheer, mind-numbing weirdness of teen sidekicks.

2) I'd take your pronouncement that this is a Sin City rehash more seriously if you'd read Sin City closely enough to know that her name is Miho.

9/18/2005 06:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

I'd take your pronouncement that this is a Sin City rehash more seriously if you'd read Sin City closely enough to know that her name is Miho.

Yes, because her character is so finely-drawn and delicately-textured as a background-free, motivationless ninja hooker that the thing you really remember about her is the spelling of her name, and not her status as yet another Millerian exotic killer sex object.

I never said I thought this captured the essence of Batman

Actually, you claimed that Frank Miller has "decided to point out to people what an insane bastard Batman is," which does imply that the essence of Batman is that of an insane bastard, and that Frank Miller is capturing it for us. My point, by dragging up "Dark Knight Strikes Back" and the last three or four Sin City minis, is that Miller is making no such statement here. It's not that Miller is writing Batman as an insane bastard. It's that insane bastards are the only thing Miller knows how to write.

9/18/2005 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Bob Violence said...

But Batman ,is an insane bastard. What is he supposed to say, "I see, young man, that your tragedy very much echos my own and I would like to give you the opportunity to DRESS UP LIKE A CRAZY PERSON AND HAVE OTHER CRAZY PEOPLE TRY TO KILL YOU.
Please sign this waiver." ?

9/18/2005 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"But Batman ,is an insane bastard. What is he supposed to say, "I see, young man, that your tragedy very much echos my own and I would like to give you the opportunity to DRESS UP LIKE A CRAZY PERSON AND HAVE OTHER CRAZY PEOPLE TRY TO KILL YOU.
Please sign this waiver." ?

The problem is, if you deconstruct an inherently and deliberately unbelievable genre as superheroes to that extent, NONE of them are sane and they all collapse under scrutiny. It's like trying to examine why if Elmer Fudd hunts with a rifle that doesn't kill him when he accidentally shoots himself in the face, how can he expect to kill anything with it? Or why in the "Rabbit Season vs. Duck Season" episodes, why Bugs and Daffy are so scared of being hunted by Elmer Fudd when Daffy gets shot point-blank in the face several times and is fine by the next scene. Or why Popeye waits so long to eat his spinach. Anyone can seem like a genius when applying adult-level scrutiny to something that was originally never meant to appeal to anyone over age 12.

That's why I think a lot of these deconstructionist writers that people proclaim as geniuses are quite overrated. Batman and Robin makes sense because it was conceived in a world where heroes didn't die and the villains were caricatures that killed sparingly and used elaborate deathtraps.

It'd be like placing Popeye and Olive Oyl and Brutus in a world with stalkers, restraining orders, assault laws, sexual harrassment and rapes and then exclaiming "See? It makes no sense!" That's dirty pool.

9/18/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

As for the inane murder of the Graysons, I'm still waiting to see if Batman was behind it, because I wouldn't be surprised at anything from Miller right now.

9/18/2005 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Whitmore said...

As for the inane murder of the Graysons, I'm still waiting to see if Batman was behind it, because I wouldn't be surprised at anything from Miller right now.


Neither would I, especially since for all we can tell, Batman damn near blew up Alfred and Vicki. :)

9/18/2005 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

"(That sound you hear is my beret being snatched from my head by the croninborg)"

That's bullshit. I/we think it looks very good on you and would as such would never swipe it from you. You have to stop immitating our elitist raised pinky gesture when you drink coffee, though. And I liked DKSA, but someone saying that I enjoyed it because I'm stupid is actually one of the least scathing critiques of it I've read on the internet, so I can't take offense.

9/18/2005 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

Ockham's razor suggests that the simplest answer is most probably the correct one. So, here are our two options:
1. Frank Miller is a satirical genius, who is using his hyperviolent, over-sexualized, insane, decompressed, repetitive Batman comic to underscore the utter absurdity of Batman's character, and the sadistic insanity that one would require to draft a traumatized teenager into a war on crime. In a broader sense, Miller is deconstructing Batman's character and exposing the farce that is "dark" comics.

2. Frank Miller likes writing slutty women and insane hyperviolent protagonists.

Hm...given his track record (Daredevil, DKR, Sin City), I'm gonna have to go with William of Ockham and pick the second answer.

9/18/2005 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Here's a largely unrelated question:

About a year or so ago (maybe two now), it was announced that Miller was working on a big chunky Batman graphic novel in the Sin City style.

Given how similar All-Star Batman is to that Sin City style, are we seeing that graphic novel rejigged, or is it still in the works?

Anyone know?

9/19/2005 01:03:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Nope, the big GN was about Batman fighting Al Qaeda and was called "Holy Terror, Batman!" not to be confused with "Batman: Holy Terror" which was a different thing entirely.

Apparently Frank's at least 200 pages into it.

9/19/2005 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

"1. Frank Miller is a satirical genius, who is using his hyperviolent, over-sexualized, insane, decompressed, repetitive Batman comic to underscore the utter absurdity of Batman's character, and the sadistic insanity that one would require to draft a traumatized teenager into a war on crime. In a broader sense, Miller is deconstructing Batman's character and exposing the farce that is "dark" comics.

2. Frank Miller likes writing slutty women and insane hyperviolent protagonists.

Hm...given his track record (Daredevil, DKR, Sin City), I'm gonna have to go with William of Ockham and pick the second answer."

Strange, I was gonna say that given his track record (Daredevil, DKR, Sin City) all of which contain strong elements of parody-bordering-on-farce, I'd hafta say a little bit of both.

Still, good call Chad: I was wonderin' what the heck the POINT of this thing was, and I think you nailed it.

Still, as a reader, not my cuppa. The reason that DKR and DKSA worked was 'cause they're looking at Batman as a mythical figure. They're both about myth and how myth works, as much as Joseph Campbell or Jack Kirby's 70s stuff is.

ASBARTBW, as Chad says, is actively anti-myth. It's puncturing the pinata of the Bat-myth and trying to render it in realistic, or at least some bizzare, over the top parody of realistic, psychology.

So. Yeah. Deconstuctionism.

Not my cuppa.

Good superhero writing, to my mind, means that you realize and acknowledge the lucridous absurdity of the concept and move on. Everybody over the age of six KNOWS superheroes are kinda silly. THat's FINE. We're superhero fans, and we cheerfully accept silly. T'have Miller, or anyone, tell us "Don't you KNOW how frickin' bizzaro this whole Batman and teen sidekick thing is?" Just feels, geez, almost insulting. Yep. Sure do. Duh.

Good superhero writing happens when the author is willing to revel in teh absurdist wonder of the concept, and use all these larger than life, caped 'n maked metaphors to relay some insight into the human condition or the nature of good and evil or somethin'.

Back to Joseph Campbell again. Superhero comics, at their best, deal with universal truths examinded through the veil of myth. (And, man, I really belive that.) To say that the myth is stupid and doesn't work seems t'me like missing the bloody point of superfolks.

And Miller should know better.

9/19/2005 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Shaenon said...

I'm enjoying All-Star Batman a lot so far, although I have to admit that a good portion of the entertainment value comes from guessing which part of each issue is going to piss off fans the most. In Issue 2, I voted for Batman's crazy laugh, and my husband voted for Flying Batmobile.

But it *is* entertaining. It's like Miller made a list of everything he likes about Batman comics and slapped them together into a story, with very little to hold it all together logically. It's dark and gritty and exploitative and everything I usually hate about modern superhero comics -- but done right.

Plus, it looks damn good. At this point in his career, Miller is a natural visual storyteller. He knows when to go for the small panels, and when to open up for a splash; few American artists can lay out a page so clearly and powerfully. He also gets an amazing amount of information into each page; think of how much plot and backstory has to be set up in the first issue, and yet how few static moments there are. And Jim Lee's art style isn't really my personal cup of tea, but, unlike most of his imitators, he's a capable draftsman, knows anatomy, and can actually draw. So there's that.

When Dark Knight 2 came out, most of its defenders seemed to be comics pros; I can't remember many artists who disliked it (or many Batman fans who liked it). I think Miller's now working on a level where most readers don't even notice the skill that goes into his comics; he's that good. All-Star Batman is a pretty silly, minor piece of work, and, yeah, as a story it makes almost no sense, but the level of craft behind it is kind of amazing.

9/19/2005 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

"Back to Joseph Campbell again. Superhero comics, at their best, deal with universal truths examinded through the veil of myth. (And, man, I really belive that.) To say that the myth is stupid and doesn't work seems t'me like missing the bloody point of superfolks.

And Miller should know better."

Or maybe he's using the myth to point out the hero's journey. Batman isn't the star of this. Robin is. Everything focuses around him. He's the hero. And right now he's gone from innocence to being out in the world. And he's found his old mentor- who is a fucking nutjob.

Maybe we shouldn't be paying so much attention to Batman. Maybe we should look more at what Robin is experiencing. And what Robin does for Batman.

You wanna talk about universal truths? Sure, this is an extreme example of it- but, really, don't you remember the first time you wondered if all the grownups were crazy?

I say this is good writing and I stick to it. Miller's doing more than deconstruicting Batman. He's looking at it in an entirely different way.

9/19/2005 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

'Nother good point.

I didn't think about the possible Robin-centricity of the storyline.

Maybe I'll stick around a few more issues. I did really like "Returns" and "Strikes Back."

And there's a part of me that really wants to believe that Frank Miller can do no wrong.

And, having said that, I'm gonna bitch about the art some.

Geez, this whole thing would be about 17 gwintillion times better if Miller drew it himself. Jim Lee's fine if he has a script that plays to his strengths, like in Hush, but here it just feels like Miller doesn't quite know how to use him. (I got the same feeling from the the Martha Washington books that Miller wrote and Dave Gibbons drew.)

For all his design skills, I always feel like Miller has trouble writing for his artists instead of for himself, with Elektra:Assassin the only exception.

9/20/2005 01:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this series; for those who like to reminisce about the Silver Age and comics older, goofier qualities, someone needs to point out that in tone this is a Silver Age book. There is nothing more outlandish and sillier than this on the stands. Even Godland pales in comparison.

9/23/2005 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger tujh67yiu said...

I enjoy reading the report, too. It′s easy to understand that a journey like this is the biggest event in ones life.
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