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An Open Letter To Frank Miller Part 4: All-Star Batman & Robin – The Boy Wonder

You know something, Frank? This actually wasn’t the last Batman-related comic book that I read from you. I had read “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” by the time “All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder” was hitting the shelves. And yet, I hadn’t read “The Dark Knight Strikes Again” yet, so I had no idea that you had already crapped on your legacy yet.

So when DC Comics introduced their All-Star imprint, I was happily on board. I mean, what a concept! Giving the industry’s top talents free rein on their most iconic characters and present them in their own self-contained continuity.

Why should I have doubted you? You had already proven yourself with “Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One”, and even if I had heard the terrible rumours about “The Dark Knight Strikes Again”, you were still two-for-one. You and Jim Lee took on “All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder”, while Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took on “All-Star Superman”? It’s a concept that should have worked.

SHOULD HAVE!!!

Little did I know that by this point I could no longer call you the Picasso of the comic book industry like I did before. The more I read “All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder”, the more I realized that you have transformed yourself into the Gary Busey of the comic book industry. You have fully transitioned from cool Jailhouse-Rockin’ Elvis to Fat, Drunken, Rhinestone Elvis.

DC Universe Fact: The world and continuity of Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” saga is one of the fifty-two divergent realities officially considered as a part of the DC Multiverse. Its designation is Earth-31. So if you find yourself with a Cosmic Treadmill and you want to go somewhere nice for your next vacation, avoid this one.

Batman’s characterization is arbitrarily changed without purpose. To quote Iann Robinson, who actually wrote an essay on how bad this book is, “Frank Miller (that’s you, Frank) has stripped Batman of all of his dignity, class, and honor. This isn’t the Dark Knight; this is Dirty Harry in a cowl. The worst part is that this is exactly what Batman isn’t about. (…) In one fell swoop, Miller has erased all the good he did for Batman with ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Batman: Year One’. All of that is just gone.”

Whoever this Dark Knight is, he is insanely violent and cruel, taking gleeful pleasure in the pain and injuries he inflicts upon criminals. He dips his Batarangs in snake poison, smashes his Batmobile through (albeit corrupted) cop cars, breaks limbs, and throws molotov cocktails. He’s completely unrelatable and irredeemable. There’s nothing about your portrayal of Batman that I can sympathise with.

I don’t know why I was expecting anything different. This is the same Batman you wrote in TDKSA, if not worse. I suppose I’m a little bothered by the inconsistency of it all. If I were to read everything from Year One to TDKSA in chronological order, Batman goes from sensibly characterized, to raging psychopath, then to disillusioned vigilante, then right back to raging psychopath all over again.

The worst victim of Batman’s rage is Dick Grayson, age twelve, to whom he is physically and verbally abusive. Batman kidnaps Grayson just moments after his parents were murdered, slaps him in the face for to prevent him from grieving over his parents, and even withholds food from him (basically suggesting that he hunts down and eats rats.)

This is as dysfunctional an interpretations of the Batman and Robin partnership I’ve ever seen. You might compare this treatment to a drill sergeant treating a new recruit. Me, I can’t help but wonder if this is only traumatizing Dick even further. If this could be interpreted as a prequel to DKSA, such speculations become self-fulfilling prophecies.

This was supposed to be a coming-of-age story about Dick Grayson’s origins as Robin. I say “supposed to be”, because the whole “Batman and Robin” thing encapsulates less than one-quarter of the whole book. It seems that you’re having a lot of trouble getting around to actually telling that story, and instead you’re going off into random tangents that are unrelated to the rest of the narrative.

Things like Vicki Vale sauntering around her apartment in her underwear (not that I’m necessarily complaining about that), the Black Canary as an Irish bartender beating up her patrons for no real justifiable reason, or a foul-mouthed Batgirl being foul-mouthed.

In one scene, we cut to Wonder Woman walking the streets of Metropolis … and she looks like a prostitute. Seriously, Frank? You’re not even drawing this, and somehow you manage to squeeze that in. Are you somehow contractually obligated to do this or something?

Once again, just like in DK2, Diana is a heartless, scornful bitch, not to mention a serious man-hater. She especially hates Batman (for reasons completely unexplained in this book) and advocates for capital punishment, offering to carry out the deed himself if the other members of the Justice League of the back-alley hell-hole aren’t man enough to do it. On top of that, she only shows her softer side when someone is physically abusing her. When Superman finally can’t take any more of her crap, he yells back at her, punching a wall behind him and knocking Wonder Woman off her feet. Cut to the next page, and they’re playing tonsil hockey like there’s no tomorrow.

Oh, and somewhere along the way, Batman bangs the Black Canary in some sleazy back alley, and Robin kicks the Green Lantern in the throat and almost kills him.

Way to rob icons of their dignity, Frank. Way to go. Seriously, the only super-hero who doesn’t get (proverbially) shafted is Batman.

“All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder” is just horrendously bad in almost every sense of the word. I say “almost”, because it’s not nearly as awful as “The Dark Knight Strikes Again.” But at least DKSA had a direction and an ending, something All-Star sorely lacked. It has a miserably incohesive storyline filled with unrelated tangents, it’s unnecessary repetitive and vulgar, which only gets progressively worse with each new issue.

One of the worst parts about this book, one of the worst parts, is that you have a bad habit of repeating yourself, a bad habit of repeating yourself. Anytime  something mildly relevant is said, it’s repeated ad nauseum. Things like “I have a date with Bruce Wayne. How cool is that?” or “I hate his guts.” or “Dick Grayson, Age Twelve.” Or …

… Or how about “I’m the goddamn Batman.” This phrase was initially introduced in issue #2 and eventually became something of a cultural meme. Some people liked it, some people hated it. I honestly didn’t mind it at first. It basically set the tone for the series, and (intentionally or not) it was kinda funny. At least it was the first time. Afterwards, however, you started using this phrase at least once every issue, and by that point it lost all of its dramatic (and comedic) value.

While we’re on the subject of vulgarity, I’d like to clarify that I’m not against it. I’m not trying to uphold some standard of moral decency. I would argue that profanity is fine in “Sin City”, for example; in fact, it’s welcomed. Its use can compliment the setting of the story. However, you have to realize that there’s a time and place for it.  It’s another thing when it’s used in mainstream comic books. And when it’s overused, it just comes off as juvenile.

Case in point, Batgirl. You put a mouth on her that would make a sailor blush. There was no real rhyme or reason to her potty-mouth. She was just vulgar for the sake of being vulgar. In fact, she was so foul-mouthed that when the tenth issue was distributed without proper censoring, it was immediately recalled. Not to mention that issue ten was the last issue we saw of this series.

There’s also thinly veiled uses of double-entendres, such as Dick Grayson referring to the Batmobile as being “queer” or Batman referring to Themyscira as “Lesbos Island.” Yeah, I know what you’re doing there, Frank. You’re not fooling anybody; unlike Dick Grayson, I’m not twelve!!

The only saving grace of this book is Jim Lee’s artwork. He’s one of the most celebrated artists in comic books, and the work he presents here is on par with his previous works in “Batman: Hush” and “Superman: For Tomorrow”. I don’t know how he got talked into doing the artwork for you. Cliff Biggers made this suggestion in Comic Shop News on November 2007, that this book would be better off with blank speech bubbles and narration boxes and allow readers to substitute the writing with their own. I’m honestly half-tempted.

There are these rare moments where you almost come out of your shell and reveal the writer you used to be, the one we all know and love. There are these moments when Batman seems to lower his facade around Dick Grayson and show genuine compassion. Unfortunately, he then slaps him in the face and makes him eat rats, and those fleeting moments are immediately ruined by the rest of this book.

I used to think that it’s not because Your writing isn’t what it once was. I’ve read your run on “Sin City”. I’ve read “300”. But you have made things that are ungodly terrible over the last ten years, not just in the Dark Knight’s universe, but into other forays. “The Spirit” and “Holy Terror” are just horrendous beyond description.

It’s hard to say if this is a sentiment that occurred over time or if it was always there to begin with, but if I didn’t know any better I would almost guess that you have developed an intense hatred for the super-hero genre, and you are deliberately attempting to sabotage our beloved universe by writing something that’s bad for the sake of being bad.

Sincerely,

Super Mark

Overall Grade: 2/10

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7 comments on “An Open Letter To Frank Miller Part 4: All-Star Batman & Robin – The Boy Wonder

  1. you hit the nail on the head with this review! I read this a long while back in Graphic novel form and was aghast from beginning to end. I can’t even remember if I made it to the end. He mutilated Batman and all the other fine heroes. And DC let him! I don’t know if there’s supposed to be some underlying statement being made about society or whatnot, but I just don’t get it at all. This series is horrible. It’s like Miller took some sadistic joy in burying himself and status as one of the greatest comic book writers and slapping the faces of all his original fans.

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  2. Dont agree at all – i may be alone in liking this series- I liked because it was a different take on batman- but really let’s take a step back and see that at the end of the day it’s a fictional character!
    I like change – batman has changed dramatically since he was first conceived – and if Everyone is such a stickler for tradition then lets go back to when batman was getting stuck in jokers giant cakes and tubes of paint– why not some biff and pow-
    So why is everyone so resistant to some change or a different look- why not another take on him now?
    Batman is violent- in fact if he didn’t enjoy beating people up he could definitely go to more effort to avoid breaking bones. Would we read it?
    Who cares how many boring multiverses there are ? I find those concepts more lame than the lame elements of this book-
    If u need batmans behaviour explained then theres the possibility that batman hasnt yet refind himself- and the job is getting to him and pushing him over the edge- maybe this is a transitional phase-and he is unstable – hence the need for robin
    for me it just gives him some colour- as a psychologist I believe batman would go through some transitional phase which he would hopefully learn from, grow up from- its probable that there would be a time he would enjoy instilling fear and hurting people. He’s angry and he hasnt yet dealt with his parents death.
    Granted I also liked the dark knight strikes – but I’m not the type of guy to winge and stamp his foot because it’s not exactly how i want it or expect it or remember it or as predictable as all the other batman comics- in fact when im dissapointed I embrace it! when it felt like George lucas and Michael bay ruined childhood memories I seperated myself from having those kids movies as part of my identity and moved on, therefore I don’t find every annoying pop culture reference to star wars funny (big bang, family guy etc etc etc etc) because it’s not funny. So seperate yourself- don’t read it. I try and avoid all the batman comics where he has batgirl- and robin and night wing etc etc etc because I find that batman boring and Predictable.
    This is just entertainment – its not the greatest thing I’ve read but it is pretty funny. Definitely not worth getting your knickers in a twist- I like batman crazy it made a nice change…
    didn’t get the joker though

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    • It’s not the change that makes this book bad. It’s the BAD that makes the book bad. The dialogue is truly awful. The only thing Batman seems capable of saying is “shut up,” and “goddamn.” It reads like a little kid trying to impress his friends by saying bad words. There’s no rhythm or sense to the dialogue, and a lot of it is just people loudly stating their feelings.

      That’s bad writing one-oh-one. Add to that the rambling story line (they’re in the Batmobile for what has to be a month), the total mis-characterization of pretty much everyone, and a Mary-Sue cackling Batpsychopath and you have not only the worst Batman book, but quite possibly the worst comic book of all time.

      It might be the worst piece of writing of all time that someone actually published. It’s so, so bad. Juvenile yet hyper-violent and hyper-sexual, completely lacking in anything like nuance or even STORY (there isn’t one). Dick Grayson’s journey to become Robin is essentially ignored so that Frank can cram more scantily-clad woman into the story (and then quickly discard them).

      I can only assume the story is a deliberate troll against Batman fans, and that Jim Lee just somehow got swept up in it, because he wanted to do a high profile Bat book with a high profile writer.

      Also: Why, Joker? Why are you like that?

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      • because the joker is supposed to be Batman’s complete foil. In this comic, Batman is wild, unruly, cackling and a little goofy so the Joker has to be calm, calculating and extremely serious.

        Joker commits cold murders while Batman (in his own broken way) practices tough love.

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  3. Hey, Bar. I’m sorry that we don’t agree on our opinions, but I’m glad that you enjoyed this book more than I did. I can only speak for my own personal opinion on All-Star Batman and Robin, so reading someone else’s positive outlook might give me a new perspective. That being said, I’d like to take a few moments to offer a rebuttal to your message.

    Perhaps I focused too much on what I considered to be mischaracterizations. I didn’t mean to come off as a stickler for change. If you’ve read my reviews for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns or Superman: Red Son, then I hope it’s evident that I can appreciate a different outlook on a traditional character.

    That being said, that outlook still needs to meet a certain standard of quality. Writing about a Russian Superman does not equal instant success. It can’t just be a different interpretation just for the sake of being different. Like any story, it has to be well-written. It has to have structure, it has to be believable (a.k.a. suspension of disbelief), and it has to be fun to read.

    As far as I was concerned, this book was none of those things. Like Zenbryo said, it wasn’t just the interpretation of the characters that was bad. The book itself was bad.

    Now, I agree that being a costumed vigilante can take its psychological toll on Batman. Maybe you’re right. Maybe this storyline was meant to work as a transitional phase. I myself was hoping that as the series progressed, Robin would eventually bring balance to Batman’s inner-turmoil.

    But that never happened. Frank Miller had ten issues to explore those themes, to define and develop the Batman character in his story. But he didn’t. What I got felt like a pointless self-indulgence in violence and vulgarity. What was the point of Batman having coitus with Black Canary in the back of the Batmobile? What was the point of Batgirl’s hyper-vulgar potty-mouth? How did that give us insight into the Caped Crusader’s psyche? How did that advance the plot?

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Zenbryo on this one. “It’s not the change that makes this book bad. It’s the BAD that makes the book bad.”

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  4. […] person. His last go-round at Batman, All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, was an unmitigated disaster. So, why DC would dredge up this revolting piece of art originally slated for that misogynistic […]

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  5. I took it as a satire, and thus didn’t think it was that bad. Not great, but definitely not as bad as some make it out to be (like this article).

    I can understand not liking it, but I really didn’t get the part about how this invalidates Miller’s previous work. Huh? Last I checked, his previous work still exists, and can still be read and enjoyed. If this theory of bad work erasing and artists previous good work, how many artists would we have to invalidate? Tons, some of whom we consider great.

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