Tag Archives: Batman

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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Reading Comic Books Out of Order #2 — “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”

the dark knight returnsI’ve never been 100 per cent convinced that Batman always has to be a brooding, gritty and dark character. Of course, that’s his most popular characterization, made famous in recent years thanks to Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed film trilogy. What cast aside that brooding image for me was watching the wonderful Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which successfully explored the lighter side of the Dark Knight, pairing him up with a slew of DC heroes to create stories I would have never thought imaginable.

That being said, I don’t mean to come across as someone who hates Batman noir. When brooding Batman is done right, it can be spectacular. Such was the case with a graphic novel I knew of for many years but hadn’t read until earlier this week, The Dark Knight Returns, by the legendary Frank Miller, known for his work with 300 and Sin City.

The basic premise of The Dark Knight Returns features the return of Batman after 10 years of inactivity. As Bruce Wayne himself points out at the beginning of the book, in a conversation with Jim Gordon, Batman didn’t survive, but Wayne is alive and well.

Gotham is overrun by the Mutant Gang, led by a bloodthirsty leader who wants to tear the city apart. Miller makes an interesting choice in coming up with Bruce’s rationale for bring Batman out of retirement. He illustrates the metaphor of the bat as a literal thing—Bruce can’t escape its grip once it comes after him.

Naturally, Batman’s resurfacing ruffles feathers, and not just the criminals who suddenly have to deal with the re-emergence of evil’s greatest enemy. Jim Gordon is set to retire, and Gotham’s indecisive mayor elects Ellen Yindel, a woman whose stance on Batman is that he needs to be put in jail.

Soon after Batman hits the streets, he ends up rescuing a girl named Carrie Kelly, who ends up becoming the first full-time female Robin after she saves Batman from nearly being killed by the leader of the Mutants.

There’s one particular scene in the book that I would become aware of before reading it, courtesy of an episode of The New Batman Adventures called “Legends of the Dark Knight.” The story in that episode, and the story in the comic, are more or less the same—a much older Batman and a red-haired, female Robin take on a gang of mutants in the Batmobile, which has been reconfigured into a huge freaking tank. Some of the dialogue in the episode is also straight from the comics—at one point, Batman says “Young people these days…No respect for history.” Later, as Batman begins to shoot at the Mutants, he reassures Carrie by saying, with a grin: “Rubber bullets. Honest.”

Later on, the Joker is released from Arkham Asylum and plots to (and ends up succeeding in) killing hundreds of people, and soon after that the police, under Yindel, are fast closing in on the wanted Batman. As Batman physically hurts his enemies more than ever, the public begins to see Batman as more of a menace, especially when an anarchistic group called the Sons of Batman begin attacking criminals in the name of “justice.” Eventually, the US government sends their chief superhero to stop Batman; that government weapon is none other than the Man of Steel himself, Superman.

I don’t want to go into the plot too much, especially for those who want to be surprised by this saga’s ending, so I’ll leave the plot summary as is.

The art style is definitely something that will be loved or hated. Miller’s style is pretty unique, often making characters monstrous, perhaps as an outer manifestation of their monstrous thoughts. At certain points, Miller makes Superman look like the least perfect being in the universe. Batman looks occasionally liked a crazed savage. The Mutants are outright terrifying,

But at other times, his art style is striking. The first large panel where Batman is seen on a horse is nothing short of breathtaking, even more so when he appears with his “army” in tow.

Characterizations do suffer a little, however. When I read Year One, another Miller Batman story, I was not pleased with his turning Catwoman/Selina Kyle into a prostitute. He continues this characterization here, and Kyle in her old age seems to not be able to do anything but complain and yell at people. I miss the charming, unpredictable Selina of The Animated Series and beyond.

This world of Batman is certainly an absorbing one. As Batman became more brutal, I found a small part of me agreeing with the TV talking heads on why he was such a menace. On the other hand, Miller’s clear disdain for government officials (particularly his portrayal of the eternally-smiling president) is presented well, and his politicians made me (and probably most other readers) despise them greatly.

This is probably the pinnacle of Miller’s writing, at least as far as I see it. In the next edition of Reading Comic Books Out of Order, I’ll be taking on another Miller tale of Batman, and it’s probably Miller’s low point.