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Valiant’s Movie Precedent, Miller & Lee’s “All Star” Joker

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Valiant’s Movie Precedent, Miller & Lee’s “All Star” Joker


An upstart comic book company has its own self-contained universe filled with superpowered characters.

They hire a bunch of Marvel/DC creators to work on them.

They attract a devoted and loyal audience.

So far, we have CrossGen.

Then, they get a big motion picture deal that guarantees a huge flow of money to keep them going.

That’s where CrossGen failed, and where Valiant just succeeded.

CrossGen was again ahead of its time. Superhero movies became hot at a time when CrossGen was vowing that it wasn’t a superhero company while trying to make superhero movies. Or something. Without that planned infusion of Hollywood capital, the company couldn’t afford to keep the doors open. So much of what CrossGen did in 2001 or so was considered crazy or new, and today it’s de rigeur. (Digital comics, comics in the classroom, comics for the bookshelves, motion comics, etc.)

Valiant, instead, has lots of cash coming from investors on both the publishing and the Hollywood sides. They have deals in progress already. And now, they have literally hundreds of millions of dollars on hand to make movies with. That’s similar to how Marvel Studios started, and that’s the comparison everyone is making.

But is it a fair comparison?

Marvel Studios started in the wake of the success of the Spider-Man and X-Men films. Riding that wave and wanting more control, they took on a big loan (over half a billion dollars), put the movie rights to several characters up as collateral, and made an “Iron Man” movie. The rest is history.

Valiant is — well, they don’t have a single movie made yet. They don’t have any characters that people outside the comics world have heard of. Remember that the original “Spider-Man” movie scored well in all four quadrants, as did the first “Iron Man” movie, as I recall. I don’t see “Shadowman” doing that.

Business-wise, they’re following the formula Marvel struck lightning with. But Marvel Studios isn’t succeeding because of that one good business deal. They had the movies to back it up.

The key, as always, is to make good movies, have a little luck in the release schedule, and hopefully the rest will follow. It’s an incredibly tough road to drive down, with big money at stake. I just hope all the contracts are clear enough that we’re not looking back at this deal in five years and wondering who owns which rights to which I.P. for whoever next in ten years wants to publish the next reboot of Valiant Comics.

And I hope the comic creators of today realize what they’re in for now at Valiant. The business structure in which publishing is the research and development arm for the movies has never been laid so bare before.


Last night, on Twitter, I wrote:

I was thrilled when I got a response from Lewis Trondheim, himself. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much hope:

So, back to work on the French, I guess.

C’est la vie.


You know Ricky Jay. He’s the magician/actor/friend of David Mamet in countless movies. He’s written a lot of fun books. He’s done late night talk shows and hosted his own prime time specials. He’s also been the subject of a couple documentaries.

This week, I point you to this six-minute excerpt from one of those documentaries. In it, Jay performs a card trick with two participants. While performing the trick, he talks about the origin story of “Lone Wolf and Cub.” True, he’s talking about the movies and not the classic comic book series, but it was a pleasant surprise. What connection is there between the magic and the story? Not a whole lot, to be honest, but that’s the thrill of show business for you. It’s not even misdirection; it’s just Jay’s ability to tell a mesmerizing story in a very conversational off-handed manner (almost very geeky, too) while doing a card trick like this. It’s uncanny and it’s so much fun to watch. The quality of the video isn’t great, but it’s worth watching. Trust me.

Also worth doing: Read the YouTube comments for that video. It’s mesmerizing to watch people give away the secrets to a trick while claiming it’s a simple or stupid trick because the sleight of hand needed for it is so easy. They miss the entire point of magic, really. They’re missing the experience. They lose the forest for the trees. The process junky in me, admittedly, loves to read theories on how the trick is done and then watch the video back to see if it makes sense. But once the trick is “spoiled” like that, I don’t think any less of it. Instead, I marvel at how well the magician performs the trick in an entertaining way. That’s all that matters.

It also makes me want to pick up a deck of cards and learn a couple sleight of hand techniques, if only out of intellectual curiosity…


  • Jimmy Olsen once did an Asterix imitation. Looks like a fun comic.

  • In case that’s not enough Asterix for you, I heartily recommend the latest edition of the Virtual Memories podcast for its interview with “Asterix” translator, Anthea Bell. She sounds every bit as warm and sharp as you’d expect. With that British accent, she’s a lot of fun to listen to, too. There’s not a whole lot of Asterix talk in here, but the couple of minutes they spend on the topic is well worth it. She’s a fascinating lady above and beyond just that job.

  • Albert Uderzo draws Obelix about halfway through this short video.

  • Going back to 1975, Rene Goscinny appeared with Uderzo on Tac au Tac. Thankfully, there’s a 13-minute video of that on YouTube.


    The Joker shows up, kills someone, and then has tea with Catwoman. Batman doesn’t get along with Green Lantern. And Dick Grayson has costuming issues.

    As the previous issue ended, so we pick up this issue with The Joker. It’s a succinct four-page Joker story. In this case, he’s just slept with a ridiculously attractive woman, and then he kills her. She was a pillar of the community, a prosecutor with a specialty in child molestation cases. So why is she shacked up with The Joker in a shady hotel somewhere in Gotham?

    The Joker slipped her a mickey, basically. And then, post-coitus, he explains to her how little their time together meant to him, and how his way of showing her true love was by killing her. It’s not a pretty scene, but it is The Joker.

    The running captions throughout the scene from The Joker have a unique font — off-balance, juvenile, out of sync with every convention in comic book lettering. It works beautifully for showing the inside of the unbalanced mind of a madman. It’s the only case in which I’d argue that using the crossbar-I in the middle of a word is an OK thing. Letterer Jared K. Fletcher did a good job in putting this all together.

    The scene also has classic Frank Miller narration, with short sentences and lines that echo. This is Miller’s poetry, not just expository information or secondary character motivations. It’s a style many others have attempted, but none have matched. It’s easily satirized or made fun of, but it’s also the kind of language that rolls off the tongue beautifully in the style that it’s meant to.

    Alex Sinclair’s coloring is also very muted in the scene. Matching the gloomy rainy scene outside, the whole scene is given a faded blue feeling, including the Joker’s otherwise green hair and all the backgrounds. The rest of the issue goes back to the series’ standard-issue style, but that opening scene’s colors are interesting for being so filtered through a specific color.

    Jim Lee’s Joker design is skinny, but strong. His face looks gaunt, and his legs are long and skinny, but he’s got some serious muscle on his frame. He also has a serious dragon tattoo covering his back, as seen on the cover. It all gives him the best of both worlds, able to look like a funny lanky clownish guy, but also a seriously scary strong guy capable of overwhelming someone and choking her to death.

    At the end, Joker walks out into the much more colorful hallway wearing a purple striped suit, while being saluted by a topless henchwoman who has swastikas painted on her breasts. That’s the Bruno character from “Dark Knight Returns,” so it’s a cameo appearance that once again cements that this series is set in Frank Miller’s Batman canon.

    Later in the issue, just when you’ve forgotten about him, The Joker approaches Catwoman. The scene lasts all of three panels, and is awkwardly positioned across two pages. It feels like an odd piece of filler, particularly when the first panel is nearly a full splash image, and the next two panels are two-thirds of one tier on the next. Most comic scenes end at the bottom of a page, often with a question mark or exclamation point of some sort to induce the reader to turn to the next page in a hurry. This one just gets shoe-horned in. I wonder if the issue just ran long and they needed to squeeze this in somewhere.

    The scene pays off, but not for another couple issues. In fact, this is the last appearance of The Joker in the series. Maybe he was due back in the 11th issue, but he’s not in #9 or #10. Even if you read this issue as part of a larger work, this scene sticks out in an uncomfortable way. It breaks the pattern of the storytelling for no immediate purpose or pay-off. The only other theory I could come up with is that the whole scene was originally set to be one page, but Lee really wanted to give Catwoman a big splashy first appearance, so he scrunched up the panels elsewhere to fit it in.

    The big tease of the issue happens in the Batcave when Robin is quizzing Batman about the Joker. He wants to know more about the crazy guy, and won’t settle for anything less than three levels of “Why?” questions to be answered. Batman at one point explains the Joker’s motivations:

    “The Joker is a serial killer. Sometimes he murders for profit. Sometimes for sick pleasure. But there’s something else going on with him, now. He’s up to something new. I haven’t figure out what it is, yet.”

    Given that the series effectively ended two issues later, we never found out. Batman suspected that murdering The Flying Graysons was part of it, but didn’t know why yet. He couldn’t explain, either, why Joker used someone else to do it in his place.

    To which Grayson shoots him a look and says, “So you don’t know squat.”

    This is why Grayson is such a perfect foil for Batman. The Batman in this book is a confident, overbearing, arrogant jerk. Grayson is a snot-nosed punk, but one who’s smart enough to know when Batman is being a jerk and can call him on it. Grayson isn’t all attitude, either. He can back it up. He’s got some moves (which still need polishing) and Batman admits to being impressed by Grayson’s detective skills in this issue.

    I can imagine that some readers didn’t like this relationship, but I’m loving it. It’s two strong-willed characters butting heads. Dick is a spunky kid who likes to needle Batman the way a petulant child might treat his father. And Batman is starting to admit that he’s taken on a very parental role in Dick’s life, and is questioning himself as to why. Batman is changing, but he doesn’t quite get his own motivations behind it yet.

    In the end, though, this is the issue in which Dick Grayson creates his new superhero identity and costume. Batman immediately rejects it, of course, but Grayson’s on the right course.

    The scene also includes a good question that the reader ought to have, too. Namely, how is it not obvious who the new sidekick to Batman is when Batman was last seen “abducting” a kid out in public of that sidekick’s age?

    In the grand tradition of writers pointing out their stories’ flaws in order to neutralize angry mobs from rampaging against them, Frank Miller raises the question inside of the story and doesn’t answer it. Batman replies with, “I’ll figure something out.” We’ll come back to this next issue, though.

    As occasionally annoying as Grayson can be, though, Miller is sure to add a moment to this story to show that he is still a kid. So we get a full page splash of Grayson asking Batman about the Robot T-Rex in the Batcave with almost childlike awe.

    “It’s cool as hell, but what’s with that?”

    Batman then takes care of a loose end, tossing the Grayson Family’s murderer (“Jocko-Boy”) into the river, stoned out of his mind on the poison he threw at him a few issues ago. The page carefully shows that he’s not sent to the bottom of the river. He’s out there bobbing in the water, though his hands are tied and he likely wouldn’t last long. But, still, Batman gave him a chance, right? He’s not a killer. He does enjoy his job, though, as the sadistic laughter following that panel shows.

    The odd thing about that panel is that after Batman lies to the creep and tells him he’ll never get better, he admits in a caption box that it’s a lie. That’s not surprising, given what we’ve seen of this version of the character so far. The odd thing is the last caption box:

    Editor’s Note: We can’t print Jocko-Boy’s response, due to standards of decency. The response demands an anatomical impossibility.

    I found that breaking of the fourth wall to be jarring. There aren’t any other editorial notes in the series. And the dialogue has rarely shied away from rougher language. It used the black bars to cover particular swear words. But this witty bon mot needs extra explanation? I get what they’re going for, but I don’t think it fits in here. It’s just playing the scene too much for laughs after all the laughs had been had.

    Meanwhile, Green Lantern is calling for Batman, using a green light-up Bat Signal created with his ring. Batman doesn’t like powered people. He finds them to be clowns. His explanation for Green Lantern’s history and current situation is laughably true. Hal Jordan is amazingly powerful, yet chooses to use it to create light-up eggbeaters and mouse traps. It’s Batman reacting to an early days version of Green Lantern, a slightly more campy version of the character. This Batman is grim and gritty, but this Green Lantern is still stuck in the Silver Age. That natural contrast leads to hilarity.

    The two agree to meet at a later time that you and I would know best as “Next Issue.”

    In the Bat Cave, Dick has taken his inspiration from Robin Hood and has decided an arrow, a cape, and a hood are the ways to go. He’s also adopting the name “Hood.” Batman, of course, stops that in a heartbeat, pulling at Grayson’s hood to show how useless some visual amenities can be, tells him his name is “Robin,” and then walks out.

    I’ll be honest; this issue has been a tough one to review. Previous issues have been simpler and more streamlined, composed of two or three scenes. This one jumps back and forth a bit more, and has one scene with Catwoman that sticks out like a sore thumb.

    This is the issue that feels like the book was being written “for the trade.” This is the issue where Miller was writing 22 pages in the middle of a graphic novel, wrapping up some events from last issue, introducing The Joker for some future issue (that we’ll likely never see), and bringing back Green Lantern to set up the next issue. There’s also a faux editor’s note thrown in for a cheap laugh that just isn’t funny (for being an old joke).

    On the other hand, Batman’s attitude toward Dick Grayson is changing and there’s a bit of self-awareness going on there that you might pick up on. The sparks between the dynamic duo are as strong as ever. And it’s great fun to see Jim Lee drawing Green Lantern as a hot dog-eating putz, Catwoman as a single sexy splashy image, and, of course, his new interpretation of The Joker.

    It’s not that the issue doesn’t have anything going for it, but that it feels more scattered than other issues in the series.

    That’ll change next issue, which is basically one long scene inside a room between three characters, with a major character twist at the end of it. I can’t wait to get to that one!

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