And, I have to come clean; I was totally kidding about that standards thing! If I have any regular readers, that should not surprise them, but still worth noting for transparency’s sake.
I’ve read 7/9 of Miller and Lee’s
magnum opus comic that they produced when they felt like it, possibly as an elaborate joke. I have to say, as long as I can turn my brain off (or beat it in to submission, sometimes on pain of q-tip stabbing), it’s great fun.
Of course, mindless fun is my favorite kind, and I think I read so much crap you have to turn off your brain to enjoy that my brain atrophied, but still; this is another comic you can really enjoy with your cognitive faculties really impaired. Although, to be fair, I think Ian Brill beat me to that epiphany; I’ll be damned if I can find linkable evidence via a really lazy Google search, but I distinctly remember a post about how being drunk made the book much better for him. Me, I’m straight edge, so I have to rely on my brain chemicals being all out of whack to help me skew reality and enjoy comics demented old movie directors write to amuse themselves. They never let me down.
Trying to look at this book in anything approaching a critical reading just totally defeats the purpose, I think. Beyond it being more or less review proof, it’s just not trying to have anything beyond the surface level thrills and titillation any random cover would indicate are part of the proceedings.
It’s what everyone should have expected from when it was announced that Miller and Lee were teaming up for a Batman comic, much less the sentence Miller used to sell it to the New York effin’ Times’ audience back when they first became so enamored of comics. You know, the one that caused so much acrimony (there’s a Brill link!).
A lot of people were aghast that Miller would describe his latest comic work, with at least some eyes being drawn to him from the recently released Sin City movie, in such lascivious terms. But, after reading most of this book, I have to say; he was being completely up front right there about what he and Lee were up to. Why people reacted with such vitriol to the parade of women in various forms of underwear in later issues (especially considering how many women in various states of undress were in Sin City), I do not know. Unless the reaction was less shock and more consternation, which is both more understandable and dumber. It’s been awhile, and I can’t be bothered to remember the exact reason for the typical over the top net rancor at the book. Partially because it would probably contradict my argument, mind you.
From what I’ve read of the book, if this god damn Batman comic about the goddam Batman (Miller’s repeated that joke so often in just the first seven issues alone I may never be able to refer to the character in any other way again) is written for any audience besides Miller himself, it’s his idea of what hormonal 15 year olds today would like. And he’s not really far off, I think. That said, it really amuses to think that in his own way, Miller is following in a hallowed tradition at DC of middle aged gentlemen writing gonzo comics for teenagers, even if I think calling ASSBAR the 21st Century equivalent of the Teen Titans or the Creature Commandos is a hell of a reach.
The best “high concept” style description I could come up with for this book is this; if you ever imagined what would have happened had DC farmed out Batman to Image in the ’90s like Marvel did with the Avengers and FF, and Jim Lee had hired Frank Miller to write it between Sin City scripts (the meeting/confrontation with the JLA seems like Miller cut and pasted that scene from the Big Fat Kill and changed the character’s names), and Miller didn’t have enough of the tropes of that comic out of his system, well, here it is! It’s not snappy enough to be back cover copy, but I think it encapsulates it perfectly. That’s exactly the aesthetics being melded together here, with occasional lapse in to stock superheroic sincerity and melodrama seeping in on the edges.
Even with my already meager critical faculties turned off, I also have to deal with another nagging voice in my head, the opposite of the serious critic, and it’s the one that bludgeons him regularly; the inner fanboy. You know, the one who has to point out how comics movie adaptations aren’t totally faithful or how some plot point contradicts your understanding of the character or whatever.
This Batman isn’t my platonic ideal of the character, which is a synthesis of the ’90s animated show and the stuff the O’Neil/Adams/Engleheart/Rodgers ’70s version of the guy, with a little of the Burton movies that imprinted on me as a kid thrown in there; as Doug Wolk said, there’s no one definitive Batman. That’s what I like about the grumpy old fart; beyond the pieces of the myth set in stone, one writer’s version can vary wildly from another’s. He’s a very adaptable character, in ways that all of the other superhero icons cannot hope to ever be. Batman can always lighten up and still work; grim and gritty Spider-Man never, ever will It’s like drunk Winston Churchill vs. an ugly person.
So, it’s one thing to not be able to reconcile one creative team’s Batman with another. My biggest nerd quibble is that I can hardly reconcile this Batman with the one in Miller’s own pinnacle of Bat-work, Year One. I could handle his somewhat demented take on the character in Dark Knight by the years and his warped surroundings changing Bruce from my conception of the character to Miller’s. I can’t really believe that you can go from the neophyte in Year One to Dirty Harry Batman at the point we catch up with him in All Star.
Of course, no matter what anyone says (including the editor, Bob Schreck; and seriously, what is his job here, besides listening to Miller’s pitches and responding on cue and asking Jim Lee nicely when he might be able to get around to drawing the thing?), there’s no way this story could ever be sandwiched between Year One and DKR. Too much time has passed. Miller’s almost a totally different writer. He’s given in totally to his excesses.
There’s no one to tell him no. He doesn’t need comics, so he can write whatever he wants. I mean, he didn’t even seem to have that much freedom in DKSA, and that’s a story where Batman has a climatic “subtext, what subtext?” worthy fight with Robin and then dismembers him. So of course this book is going to read differently than the stuff he wrote almost 25 years ago, when he was merely a maverick comics trailblazer and not the only other celebrity mainstream comics pro besides Stan Lee. Are there any indie/alternative celebs? Other than maybe Crumb and Pekar?
Also, just to really state the obvious, Miller’s writing is so repetitive at times it grates on the nerves. If I never read another line about how old Dick Grayson is, I’ll die a happy man. Also, the reason why Batman laughing works is because he doesn’t do it very often. Having him constantly throw the laugh turns him in to the goddam Joker, and you established too many pages telling us he was the goddam Batman to swerve us on that. Unless he’s a Skrull. That’s a questionable characterization get of jail free card right there.
That said, I did like his characterization of Dick Grayson quite a bit, and the “the Batmobile is a queer name for a car” joke? That one works for me every time, so far. I think he’s a pretty good representation of how a real twelve year old would act if he were recruited in to a war on crime by a half mad vigilante in a bat costume. He’s the closest thing we get to a P.O.V. character (which is one of the things he was designed for in the first place) and the only person in the book who doesn’t feel totally over the top so far. Well, at least compared to everyone else.
There’s also the matter of how seriously we should take all this. There’s a certain point in any Frank Miller work where that stops being a plausible reading to me, at least since I keyed in to his style. Even the adaptations. About the time the Persian Ninjas showed up in the 300 movie, I abandoned all pretense of thinking it had anything to say about anything at all (even if the whole “impossible odds angle” still resonates with me. Must be my Marvel fandom showing).
The whole debate whether Miller means for his work to be a satire or its dead serious amuses me to no end, though, especially because the people who talk about how satirical it is are just trying to justify liking stuff like, well, this book. But also Sin City, mainly (there was a lot of debate over whether the whole thing was a gag when the movie came out, I remember). If you have to make the book more than it is to like it, then maybe you should either lighten up or move on to something else. I really, genuinely don’t think there’s anything beneath the surface of most of Miller’s work, at since he elevated himself to legend status with DKR.
That’s especially true of his work with other people on pencils. Every collaborative effort of his I’ve read, from Elektra: Assassain to Hard Boiled seems less about telling a story, even, and more about writing towards the strengths of his collaborators. To be fair, and finally do more than pay lip service to Jim Lee’s contributions to this book, he does a very good job of that with Lee. Unless you’re Brian Azzarello, what else are you going to write for Lee to draw besides kicking, splash pages, and voluptuous women? Throw in the occasional air ship in the background and that Steranko-esque fold out, and it’s enough to make me remember why I liked the dude’s work when I was a kid.
It can be hard to reconcile all of this stuff at times, if you insist on thinking about it. I suggest not doing so at all if you want to enjoy this book. Or just treat it like any other summer blockbuster. Who cares that Batman’s wantonly killing cops? The Batmobile just flew! If you don’t have any axes to grind against it, it can be a ton of fun. Well, until the Joker strangles a woman and you have a knee jerk reaction. Even if I read that first, blogged about it, and then went back and enjoyed the first seven issues a lot.
Ahem. So far, so fun, we’ll see how the last couple issues grab me. All the Hal Jordan abuse in the last issue is certainly something in its favor. I don’t even dislike the character per se, I just think someone needs to balance out Johns’ ongoing hagiography.
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