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All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder Volume 1 Review, Part 1: Is There Any Meat Left On Them Thar Bones?

by  in Comic News Comment
All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder Volume 1 Review, Part 1: Is There Any Meat Left On Them Thar Bones?

Quick! I think I see a couple pieces on the femur that Chris Sims didn’t get to yet!

Got the All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder vol. 1 hardcover in the mail today or, as F. Chong Rutherford dubbed it (I’m pretty sure that was him, at least), ASSBAR. In spite of all reason and sense, I’m very excited.

I’ve been waiting for three very long years to read and then talk about the damn thing on the internet. I didn’t want to break up my Frank Miller Batman hardcover collection and waited for the inevitable collection. So I’m happy I can share my thoughts on Miller’s latest magnum opus with the faceless blob of spite and sarcasm that is the internet comics community. Maybe K-Box will come by here and say something absurdly over the top about how much he hates it! But I’m also intimidated to do so.

Not in the way I was intimidated by reviewing something like, say, A Contract With God (so much so that I never actually did it. Or finished the damn omnibus collection of the trilogy it started, as of yet). It’s not that I’m unequipped as a critic (or, more realistically, “critic”) to review a towering achievement of the medium or anything. I’m just not sure there’s an angle left to talk about with the damn thing. I mean, when someone quits comics over script of the first issue and it goes on from there, what the hell’s left?

Hell, I’m barely sure that there’s even going to be anything in the stories I haven’t read in graphic detail via this internerd. I think I’ve gone beyond being sick of the “goddam Batman” running joke and am now nostalgic for it. And, in case you forgot, I have not read it yet!

It was amusing, as an observer, to watch the critical commentary on the book change over the course of the near Presidential term it took for them to build up enough issues to collect. Of course, this is all subjective, since I haven’t read the same bloggers over the course of these three years for one thing. But it seems like the dialogue changed from “This is indescribably awful, but let me take a stab at doing so on my blog!” to “This is a classic of postmodern satire!” Or at least “Frank Miller’s insanity is contagious and I am laughing riotously when this comes out every six months!” But there seems to have been a change in the tenor of the dialogue, you know?

Maybe it was the comics version of stockholm syndrome. Maybe I can bust out an MMA reference and say that Miller had the readers in a figurative cross armlock so long they just tapped out and accepted what he was writing. Or maybe all the people who hated it with a passion bucked OCD comic nerd stereotypes and dropped the damn thing and now it’s just Miller fans and other weirdos reading and enjoying it.

Of course, none of the dialogue around the book was ever gonna dissuade me from reading it, for two reasons. One, I’m one of those weirdo Frank Miller fans. Not that I like everything he does, or take any of it seriously, no matter how much he does or not. But he’s in that pantheon of my favorite creators that get a pass for their eccentricities and missfires, because even at their worst they can generally manage to entertain me and be interesting. Also, I’ve already read that debate, and I liked it better the first time when it was over The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Back in the far flung days of 2002, when we thought we knew how delayed and controversial a Miller Bat-comic could be, there was a huge debate over the merits of DKSA on CBR’s very message boards, and there were two sides. Only two sides. Polar, opposing sides. Like an organ grinder’s monkey on uppers and a surly grizzly bear who likes to windsurf while listening to Fall Out Boy on his I-pod. Total opposites.

On one hand, there were people who hated the book. And by hate, I mean despised it with every fiber of their being. I’m talkin’ a focused totality of hatred here, man. Its existence was a personal insult. The art was one of the greatest atrocities in Western Civilization, the story akin to Miller pushing the audience’s mothers down a staircase en masse. It was an affront to all human dignity.

On the other side, there were the folks who liked it. Like, in this case, meant they thought it was genius. Art. Pure, unbridled creative energy, a thumb to the eyes of a staid, boring DCU. Anyone who didn’t get it was retarded and should go take their short bus back to the comic shop and buy something more their speed, like Spidey Super Stories. (This was before Chris Sims recently re-discovered the brilliance of that milestone in sequential literature.)

I was in that latter camp, more or less. I tried not to insult people openly back then, but I agreed with sentiment that it was a great comic. I really enjoyed the damn thing. There was so much verve and energy to it, and it really was a breath of fresh air compared to DC’s stuff back then. Remember, this was in the pre-Didio days, when DC’s main goal seemed to be as unoffensive and bland as possible. You know, the days that look halycon compared to now, give or take a Grant Morrison comic here and a Latino Blue Beetle there.

Anyway, the battle for the soul of DKSA was a fun piece of my agorophobic history as a comic board lurker. It was a good time. A better time. Like days of flowing soft serve ice cream you can only navigate in a boat filled with nympho strippers. The boat’s made of chocolate. The chocolate, chocolate boat. Also, because I can fill in all the massive holes in my memories of it with things that amuse me, mainly.

Of course, DKSA had a handful of things going for it that ASSBAR does not:

1. Miller drew it. Now, I will admit, it was sloppy as hell. But that was the appeal to me. It was like a mini-comic tossed together by a frentic maniac and guadily colored by his wife. Which it was, really. I liked that it wasn’t a polished, Neal Adams-ian production. God forbid they got someone like Jim Lee to draw it. Also, Miller’s work had started moving away from a polished, mainstream style to what DKSA was in DKR, so all the “Oh god this art is awful” hullabaloo was kind of dumb in retrospect, wasn’t it? Of course, it is entirely possible that fandom at large had not read 300 or any of the Sin City books in the intervening years, but even Elektra Lives Again had that same kind of harsh style.

2. It was the first Batman comic Miller had written in 15 years. That should probably be #1, but I had just read DKR a week before DKSA came out, so it means less to me. And this crap is all about me.

3. Did I mention how much it stood out from all the boring crap DC was publishing at the time? At this point all of DC’s pantheon were written so reverentially that it was tedious. Say what you will about Didio, but the dude knows how to whip the fanboys in to a frenzy. Of course, that frenzy has led to a proverbial lynch mob calling for his head, but still; at least he generates excitement!

At any rate, it took someone like Miller to bring a Mad Magazine vibe to the DCU. It made what could have been a self referential, dead serious sequel that mimicked all the stuff about the first one people had been aping for years in to what amounted to a Morrison JLA story arc filtered through Miller’s uniquely demented filter. I can see how this would piss people off, mind you, but I adored it at the time.

4. There’s a bit at the end where the Question and Green Arrow have a political debate. It is quite possibly the best thing ever.

So, yeah, even compared to what a lot of people probably think is Miller’s second worst Batman comic, ASSBAR has a fair bit to live up to. To be fair, I get the feeling that his Batman is something I am such a unrpentant fan of that I will be reading and enjoying it well beyond this critically lambasted comic, its follow up, where Batman takes on Al-Qaeda, political correctness, good taste, and sanity, and on and on, until Miller’s just write crank letters to the editor in the form of Batman minis. And gets the GDP (or whatever the measure of a nation’s wealth is; economics was a long time ago) of a South American country to do so.

As long as I can line up all my hardcovers sequentially (and still enjoy the comic! Although that’s secondary at this point), I’ll be around. I will probably draw the line when he personally insults me with Batman Kicks Brad Curran In The Head 37 Times, Throws Him Off A Building, And Calls Him Mean Names Before He Falls To His Death. And Then Explodes. It Will Not Be A Good Death. That I’ll just wait for the soft cover of.

So, is there any point to writing about it at all? Well, I just wrote this damn thing as a prologue, so I’m kind of obligated now. We’ll see what I think of the actual work next time.

To Be Continued! When I Actually Read The Damn Thing!

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