Thursday, July 10, 2008

Review: All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder Vol.1 HC

Well, since I’m trying to keep this blog somewhat active, I thought I’d start doing some reviews on comics I’ve recently read. Some reviews will be very brief, some will be extremely lengthy, like this first one I’m doing. Some will have lots of pictures (when I can be bothered to scan them in) and some will just be Bendis-like wordy.

I thought I’d start on perhaps one of the most popular and talked about regular series in the last three years or so…and it so coincides that DC Comics released the first nine issues in a handy hardcover collection. I’m talking about Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Sure, there are other comics I love more and I’m primarily a Marvel Comics man. But I just read the new All-Star Batman and Robin HC from cover to cover and it’s fresh in my mind, plus I DO have a lot of things to say about it. It’s controversial, if nothing else.

No one writes Batman like Frank Miller. And while that can be taken as a compliment, I’m afraid, in the case of All-Star Batman and Robin, it’s not. Miller has written perhaps the two most important important stories in Batman lore: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. If you were a comics fan, you’d know these two storylines, along with Batman: The Killing Joke are THE classic Batman stories in his 60 plus year history.

You can relate to Miller’s Batman in both Dark Knight and Year One. In Dark Knight, he’s a crazy old coot that’s forced out of retirement but still wants to prove to the world that he’s the ultimate badass. In Year One, Batman is still a rookie, learning the ropes and the reader gets to see a Batman before he starts becoming infallible, before he starts becoming the world’s greatest detective.

In All-Star Batman and Robin though? Miller’s Batman is an utter nutjob, a loon, a psychopath. I would like to present Exhibit A, perhaps the most controversial and certainly most talked about AND parodied panel in the series so far:

Yes, Miller’s Batman not only goes on to insult the Boy Wonder by calling him dense and retarded, but he also refers to himself in the third person. But he doesn’t refer to himself as “The Dark Knight Detective”. He doesn’t call himself “the caped crusader”. He doesn’t even call himself the “I can kick your ass any day of the week and make you pee your pants in fear” Batman. No, he refers to himself as the “goddamn Batman”.

If you think calling Batman “goddamn-ed” once in this series was bad enough, well, somehow, it transcends to the supporting characters in the series too. Other characters have referred to Batman as “goddamn-ed”. Case in point:

Though in that last panel, I suppose Robin had a reason to refer to Batman that way, since that’s how he was introduced to Bats in the first place.

For the other panels though, it’s as if Batman has telepathically influenced Commissioner Gordon and Black Canary so that they start referring to him as “goddamn-ed”. They seem to be able to “read” Batman’s thought and speech balloons and steal his thoughts and make them their own!

Hell, they call him the “goddamn Batman” so much that this series really should be renamed as The Goddamn Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Miller’s Batman, as I said before, is certifiably nuts. One thinks that he probably belongs in Arkham Asylum, along with all the other crazies he’s put in there. What other Batman will laugh insanely, a la the Joker, while terrorising the criminal element in Gotham City?

While that panel is just above, I’ll address something else. The dialogue in All-Star Batman and Robin is…entertaining to read, but you’d have to REALLY suspend your belief to imagine Batman ever saying stuff like: “You don’t know from screwed, you losers.”

It’s as if one has put the book down and started watching Army of Darkness on DVD! What’s Batman going to say next: “Listen up your effeminate screwheads! This is my BATARANG!?!” Though the way this series has gone so far, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if Ra’s Al Ghul is some sort of ancient sorcerer and turns up with the Necronomicon in hand.

There are quite a number of other one-liners in the series that one would never expect Batman to utter, like “Eat glass, lawman!” and “I’ll break your goddamn neck” and even “You poor little bastard”.

What is this, Sin City’s version of Batman? I’ve got a whole bunch of memorable and controversial one-liners in the first nine issues that will be at the end of the post. Will just round up the one-liners with this panel:

I swear to you, when I read that panel, I automatically thought of former WCW and WWE wrestler Booker T and imagined Batman doing the spinneroonie. Hell I know what 2 + 2 is! Thomas Jefferson sucka! (Just a bit of The Rock humour there, folks.)

Miller’s Batman is brutal and unforgiving. He takes sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain, even torture!

You will believe this Batman will kill if he needs to…something that the regular DC Universe Batman abhors. In one scene, All-Star Batman even tells Green Lantern that superheroes’ are criminals and always have been criminals!

So how different is this Batman from the one we all know in the regular DC Universe? I present to you a collection of Robin’s thoughts about the All-Star version:

And the coup de grace:

Robin thinks Batman is a tool! That is simply hilarious!

All-Star Batman and Robin is published on a bimonthly schedule, or at least when Jim Lee manages to crank out new issues in time for release anyway. While it doesn’t have a history of lateness like some titles such as Ultimates, Ultimate Hulk Vs Wolverine and even Battle Chasers way back in the day, it DOES suffer from “late issue” syndrome.

Having said that though, just like Ultimates and Battle Chasers before it, when new issues do hit the stands it usually is well worth the wait. Jim Lee has been an influential penciller in the comics industry for nearly 20 years…but believe it or not, like a fine wine, his pencilling seems to mature with age.

It was his art alone that got me hooked on X-Men way back in 1991. I still remember buying multiple copies of X-Men #1 just so I could cut out the pretty pictures! I’d argue that his art now far surpasses his seminal work in the early 90s in the pages of X-Men and his creator-owned WildC.A.T.S.

Just check out this beautiful six-page spread of the Batcave (apologies in advance that the scans aren’t that great):

Look closely and you can see many different versions of the Batmobile in the Batcave, including the 60s Adam West and Burt Ward TV series Batmobile, the Batmobile from the Animated Series and even the Batmobile from the big screen movies! There’s also Spartan war gear…a nod to Frank Miller’s 300?

And while Jim Lee doesn’t draw the most babelicious women in comics (that honour would go to Frank Cho in my opinion, with perhaps J. Scott Campbell and Terry Dodson not far away!), the women he draws are still smoking hot!

Who else but Jim Lee would dare to draw shots of Wonder Woman with the camera angle focusing down on her…assets?

Another exceptional thing about All-Star Batman and Robin is the fantastic supporting cast. Batman may be the main man, but if you’ve read the series, you’ll instantly care about Robin and Alfred.

Alfred is loyal, he’s reliable and he knows his place. But at the same time, he takes crap from no one, not even if the crap is being dished out by his employer, the goddamn Batman:

Not sure whether it was the script calling for it or Jim Lee over-exaggerating the poses, but there was a scene where Alfred, sans top, is trying to help Vicki Vale to her feet after she gets injured in a car crash. But the scene looks so…morbid, as if Alfred had some evil intentions for Ms Vale! Case in point:

Miller’s Robin is like an extremely young Spider-man. He’s witty and dishes out the snappy banter. He doesn’t keep still, not for a second, always constantly in motion like the graceful acrobat that he is. And Robin is not afraid to pay Batman out for his choice in equipment and gear:

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Calling Batman queer must be contagious because Black Canary does the same thing!

I must admit, calling one’s high tech souped-up top-of-the-line vehicle the “Batmobile” does sound pretty fruity.

Not all funny moments revolve around Robin though. Miller’s Batman can be funny too when he wants to. He goes so far to call Green Lantern a moron with “the imagination of a potato”…oops, sorry, I meant a “goddamn potato”. (Yes, we all love it when Batman swears!) And what are Batman’s thoughts about Green Lantern’s weakness to the colour yellow?

In fact, Batman dislikes Green Lantern so much, he meets GL in one of his safehouses…with the interior already painted completely yellow! And then he taunts GL with a glass of lemonade.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! Robin picks up on Batman’s taunts and soon follows suit!

What a rube indeed.

Miller doesn’t just stop with Batman’s immediate supporting cast though. He also introduces the Justice League in the series, portraying them more like the Squadron Supreme, willing to get things done just on principle alone, than the Justice League we all know and love.

Heck, he portrays Wonder Woman as a man-hating dyke, even going so far as to get Batman to call her “the wicked witch of Lesbos Island”! This Wonder Woman is unnecessarily aggressive and she’s willing to kill anyone who stands in her way.

But, as the very next panel shows, she also enjoys some tough love and being submissive. Yes, Supes. She really is “a very nice girl”. What is this, the 60s? Whatta putz.

This series has everything! An aggro, mental Batman, swearing his head off by referring to himself as the “goddamn Batman”. The Justice League being portrayed as a bunch of maniacs who can’t get along. And there’s even a sex scene in the book!

Most controversial series for quite some time? You betcha.

For all the controversy, I do enjoy reading All-Star Batman and Robin. It is one of the most refreshing reads I’ve had in a while. I know I can expect the unexpected in the series and for all of Miller’s butchering of the Dark Knight, he keeps us interested long enough to purchase the next issue, just to see what else is in store.

If only this series were released more frequently than six times a year…and that’s if we’re lucky!

Quotable quotes from All-Star Batman and Robin

“So we’ve got a man of steel in Metropolis…and why exactly is it we call him a man of steel? That does bring certain thoughts to mind.” – Vicki Vale, on Superman

“On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. Into a war.” – Batman, sounding suspiciously like Captain America

“You poor boy. You poor little bastard. Welcome to hell.” – Batman, with a Sin City-influenced tinge to his dialogue.

“What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman.” – The goddamn Batman speaketh!

“Shut up.” – Batman to Robin, Robin to Batman, Batman to Black Canary, Everyone to Plastic Man…the most overused two words in the series

“I touched my mother’s breast.” – Quote from Batman taken horribly out of context

“Sir, I am your butler. I am your aide. I am your medic. I am not, however, your slave. Unhand me.” – Badass Alfred to Batman

“Out of my way, sperm bank.” – A pissed off feminist version of Wonder Woman to some random man

“I’m ready for my punishment, Princess Pea. Shower it on.” – Plastic Man to Wonder Woman

“Never have a detective for a Dad. Not unless you’re really good at bullshitting him. And always throw in a smile when you’re bullshitting your Dad.” – Barbara Gordon, on Commissioner James Gordon

“Eat glass, lawman!” – Batman, as he kicks through a windscreen into a corrupt cop’s face

“You don’t know from screwed, you losers!” – Batman to a bunch of thugs

“We keep our masks on. It’s better that way.” – Batman, with Black Canary on the pier doing…questionable things

“This is love. In my own special way.” – Joker, as he brutally beats up attorney Donna Gugina after having had his way with her

“We can’t print Jocko-Boy’s response, due to standards of decency. The response demands an anatomical impossibility.” – Editor’s note after Batman throws Jocko-Boy into the sea

“I’ve got a retarded demigod to take care of. Demigod, my foot. He’s just a clown with more power than he knows what to do with.” – Batman, on Green Lantern

“I’ve seen more intelligent hockey pucks.” – Batman, on Green Lantern’s smarts

“The clown makes oversized eggbeaters and mouse traps and vacuum cleaners…when he could set the whole world straight with that ring. What a damn idiot.” – Batman, on Green Lantern

“Whoa. Here comes a big flashlight. Very inventive, Emerald Crusader.” – Batman’s thoughts, as Green Lantern creates…a big green flashlight.

“Here he’s got a power ring that can do anything he can imagine…but that’s his whole problem. He’s got the imagination of a goddamn potato.” – Batman, on Green Lantern

“He can’t even make himself a green dandelion with that ring of his if what he’s up against is yellow. Dumbest weakness I ever heard of…” – Batman, on Green Lantern’s weakness to the colour yellow

“There’s child labour laws about this sort of thing. This is exploitation of a minor. How’d you like me to sic some fat bureaucrat on your ass, big guy? Don’t think I won’t!” – Robin complaining about being asked to paint the interior of one of Batman’s safehouses completely yellow in anticipation of a showdown against Green Lantern

“Then there’s you and that little joy luck club you’re putting together.” – Batman on the Justice League

“The wicked witch of Lesbos Island, the last candy-pants of a blown-up planet, a shape-changer who’s nuttier than a fruitcake, and you, master of the giant green egg-beater when you’re not plagued by a primary colour.” – Batman, on Wonder Woman, Superman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern

“Care for a glass of lemonade? You really should try the lemonade. On a hot day like this, it’s a godsend.” – Batman taunting Green Lantern with a glass of lemonade

“Guess the man wants a fight after all, huh, boss? Here’s some more fresh-squeezed lemonade!” Robin, taunting Green Lantern

“What a rube.” Robin, on Green Lantern

“You stupid little snot.” Batman to Robin, after Robin accidentally injures Green Lantern

“And if you puke, I’ll break your goddamn neck.” Batman to Robin, after a grisly scene when Batman patches up an injured Green Lantern


Anonymous said...

Said it before, say it again: Frank Miller just plain sucks.

Michael Westen said...

And who the hell would dare to insult Frank Miller? Whoever who dares to say "Frank Miller sucks" must be either insane or completely emotionally unbalanced noob. Frank Miller's Batman is the Clint Eastwood of DC Universe. Is that hard to recognize? Or you're gonna tell me you that you hate Eastwood as well for being overly manly man?