ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDERPosted: May 2, 2012
I just finished Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder—published sporadically between 2005 and 2008, on indefinite hiatus after 10 issues, incomplete in several senses of the word.
No, I’m not: I didn’t enjoy reading it. It was offensively sexist, even (or especially) when it was pretending not to be. The dialogue was often ludicrous. The plot was disjointed and uncompelling—though part of this is probably a function that in ends in medias res (more on this in a bit). The villain, the person responsible for the murder of Dick Grayson’s parents in the first pages of the first issue—the Joker, who else?—doesn’t appear until the final page of issue seven (and then only as a full-page joker card), and then is only given a brief and fucking boring scene which opens the eighth issue. Also: the goddamned Batman is a goddamned sadist, laughing gleefully while breaking bones and setting people on fire.
Not fun at all. And yet, perversely, I think it would be a lot of fun to teach—for all the reasons I just said it was no fun to read.
I revisited Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead back in February, and I realized that while it’s bad, it’s bad in interesting and instructive ways. So is All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (also it has a stupid title). I’m teaching Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in the fall, and I’m tempted to add ASBAR to the syllabus—Miller has stated that both take place in the same universe (along with The Dark Knight Strikes Again and Batman: Year One)—but there’s not any room left, or I’d be tempted to add Are You My Mother? as well. And, really, teaching a class that was just Miller’s Batman (with his not-Batman thrown in for good measure) would be awesome. Sometime. Maybe after Miller and Lee finish ASBAR, which is never going to happen.
Anyway—why would ASBAR be so fun to teach?
One example: the Joker appears so late—and is such a shallow, uninteresting, carelessly written—because he’s superfluous: this Batman takes up all the room for senseless violence. This is Batman as the villain who thinks he’s the hero, or who just doesn’t give a fuck about the distinction. He’s his own enemy, and he’s really hard to like. He’s an anti-hero, or something. He’s a character ripe for armchair psychoanalysis.
A second example: this series clearly illustrates how ridiculous it is for Batman to exist in a world populated with “real” superheroes—like Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern, who all make appearances, and all look like idiots. And, interestingly, the incipient Justice League is vehemently anti-Batman: Superman wants to hand him over to the “authorities,” and Wonder Woman (“Diana”) wants to put him down, like a rabid dog (and that’s a direct quote). (It doesn’t help that he kidnaps Dick Grayson—the first Robin—moments after the boy’s parents are murdered.)
A last example: the series stopped after ten issues, with basically every plot arc unresolved. (Why did the Joker want Dick’s parents murdered? What’s going on with the unnamed Black Canary? What will happen to Batgirl? What about Catwoman? And, seriously, what does Barbara Gordon’s alcoholism add to the story?) The first nine issues were collected into a single volume: All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Volume One—a collection that ends with Batman and Robin crying together at Robin’s parents’ graves. It’s not an ending, exactly, but it does provide some sense of resolution. Issue ten fucks that up completely—and saving that issue (withholding even the fact of that issue’s existence) until after the students had read and discussed Volume One could be a really interesting exercise.
I have no idea when, or if, I’ll get to teach this class—but it’s totally going in my file.