ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER

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.

I’m conflicted.

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.

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7 Comments on “ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER”

  1. I read one issue of ASBAR back in 2005. It was the “goddamned Batman” issue. #2, I think. I agree that it’s probably instructively bad, but I don’t know if it would be so instructive outside of a longer unit on Miller.

    Also: Batman never works in the League, which is why writers always put him on the fringes. He’s an ideological counterpoint to the basic optimism of the League. The League is all about different people coming together to do great things. They’re the UN. Batman is about being the baddest ass around and forcing people not to do bad things. He’s the post-war US. Sure they work together, roughly. But they don’t *like* each other.

    • hgoldsmith says:

      I don’t know that I could handle an all-Miller, all-the-time (all-Miller-time) unit. I could probably do Miller’s entire Dark Knight corpus (DKR, DKSA, BYO, ASBAR), with a few non-Miller issues for balance.
      Also: I know nothing about the Justice League except that there is one.

      • For a couple of great Justice League stories read Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s “Kingdom Come”–which is a deliberate response to DKR, and to which DKSA responds in turn–and Darwyn Cooke’s fantastic “The New Frontier,” which sets the League back in the sixties, where they embody the space age ideals of the Silver Age of comix.

        • hgoldsmith says:

          I’ve read Kingdom Come—on your recommendation, in fact—and really enjoyed it. DKR –> KC –> DKSA might be a fun sequence to teach, as well. I’ll check out The New Frontier one of these days.

  2. ASBAR demonstrates just how far Frank Miller has fallen since his heyday in the 1980s. Unlike some people, I was never a huge fan of Miller, but I do love Batman Year One. So it’s rather sad seeing how messed up his current conception of Batman is. I agree, ASBAR would be a fantastic instruction manual in how NOT to do a comic book series.

    • hgoldsmith says:

      The main reason ASBAR appeals to me as a teacher is that Miller’s Batman is such an asshole: he is the logical extreme of the orphaned, rich, revenge-obsessed vigilante.

  3. LordSpatula says:

    So… I’m late by a year and you’re probably over this by now, so… yeah..
    As such, I’ll try and contain this to a single point (which you probably already know).
    The ‘All-Star’ imprint was an attempt by DC to give writers the opportunity to start fresh with characters, tweak them, basically re-imagine them in a similar way to Marvel’s ‘Ultimate’ imprint.
    Apparently, according to wikipedia, (I know how you teacher types love wikipedia) DC wanted All Star to feature to feature the characters as the general non-geek public saw them.
    Rather than that, it seems Frank Miller wrote the way they saw him (Sin City) and DC let the All-Star creative teams run with it… if they kept the original idea we’d have 10 issues of Adam West throwing beach-ball sized bombs at Porpoises.
    I really love ASBARTBW, (even if it’s a mouthful) but I’m always mindful to remember that it’s not the real Batman. :)


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