Reading Comic Books Out of Order #3 — “All-Star Batman and Robin”

1asbrI was warned ahead of time by my comic book guru friend that this would be bad. I agreed to read it, however, because a) she needed someone to talk about this thing with and b) I wanted to see how Batman, probably my favourite “big” superhero of all time, could be messed up. It turns out Batman doesn’t work so well when you turn him into a complete psychopath.

Batman/Bruce Wayne has always been a volatile character. Despite his vow not to kill, many times he’s almost driven to committing the deed. He will never fully get over his parents’ brutal deaths, probably because of how their deaths shaped his entire life from the minute the bullets felled them after the fateful viewing of The Mask of Zorro.

Frank Miller succeeds (if you can call it that) at pushing Batman to his most volatile in All-Star Batman and Robin. From my basic research into its history, I learned that this series was published between 2005 and 2008 in sporadic bursts, and initially sold really well. Here’s the problem, though; the series is awful.

There are numerous reasons why this is so, but the core reason is that Batman/Bruce Wayne is at his most crazed possibly ever. Over the course of this book (thankfully the only book in the series) Batman kidnaps Dick Grayson and forces him into the Robin role, makes out/mates with Black Canary and gets into a fight with Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern.

Let’s narrow in on Batman’s psycho personality here. When he kidnaps Dick, the just-orphaned boy repeatedly asks where he’s being taken and what’s going on. Batman often replies with variants of “shut up,” or “just watch this, kid” at one point uttering his most infamous line from the series “I’m the goddamn Batman.” The line cringeworthy, and is even used as the name of “Episode 5”: “I love being the goddamn BATMAN.” When Dick and Bruce finally arrive at the Batcave, Bruce basically leaves Dick to fend for himself. This means eating rats.

When Alfred rightfully clothes and feeds Dick, as should happen, he gives Bruce shit for the way he’s treating the kid. Bruce’s justification? He had to fend for himself that way, therefore so should Dick. If Bruce were anything like he’s been characterized in other series, he would never want another kid to have to live through his experience.

There is a shred of humanity that Miller attempts to write in, however. At a few moments, Batman wonders whether he’s doing the right thing, and more importantly, if he’s going to traumatize Dick worse than he himself was traumatized when his parents died.

Other characters suffer a lot too. For no particular reason, Black Canary is said to be Irish, a bit of heritage that adds nothing to her character other than for a chance for several characters to say “she’s Irish.” Wonder Woman is turned into a parody of a radical feminist, first shown skulking through an alley wearing a trench coat. Her thought bubbles have her griping about how awful the world of men is, and the first actual words that come out of her mouth are aimed at a man in her way: “Out of the way, sperm bank.”

Hell, the books opens with a scantily-clad Vicki Vale, basically presented as nothing but gratuitous near-nudity and not possessing much of a shred of a journalist’s mind. However, she gets a call that she’s to go on a date with Bruce Wayne and she flips the hell out. That’s about all there is to her character, other than the fact that she becomes someone Batman needs to save later when she’s badly injured.

The winding story features one chapter that is basically a buildup to Black Canary flipping out and knocking out a bunch of pervy drunk dudes in a bar and little else, a verbal argument (and partial fist fight) between Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and Plastic Man on what to do about Batman and Dick confronted with the choice of whether or not to kill the man who killed his parents. It’s very scattered, and in all fairness was probably meant to set up a grander story, but it’s probably for the best that it’s been retired.

There are a few bright spots, however. Frank Miller made Hal Jordan’s innate dumbness more apparent, and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing when Batman called Hal “as dumb as a post.” It’s even funnier when Batman begins talking circles around Hal, forcing Hal to verbalize how dumb he is when he tells Batman to sop confusing him.

The Joker only appears briefly, but his scene is pretty memorable as he brutally kills a woman he’s just slept with, then tells Bruno (a Frank Miller creation) to dispose of the body. It’s a pretty ridiculous cameo but well worth the nearly-whole-page spread.

Which leads to another bright spot, Jim Lee’s art. Miller has always had a rather unique drawing style, but I feel like it would have been an even worse series if Miller had drawn the thing too

I’m obliged to agree with Linkara’s theory as to how this happened; this Batman is actually a hobo named Crazy Steve who convinced himself he’s the Batman. It’s the only thing that makes sense, besides the idea that maybe Frank Miller just might have lost his edge here.

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