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All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #1

Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2005
By: Kelvin Green



"Episode One"

Writer: Frank Miller
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)

Publisher: DC Comics


I love a good chicken tikka masala. I also love banana ice cream. Both are wondrous culinary delights in their own right, but Iíd be some kind of filthy deviant if I enjoyed them both at the same time, because they just donít go together.

I think you can probably understand where Iím going with this.

DC would have had a top-seller on their hands with just Frank Miller on this book, and itís probable that they would have done so with just Jim Lee; but they decided that both would be better, except that they failed to realise that the writer and artist do not play to each otherís strengths. Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. (if you could get him) would have been a masterpiece, as would Grant Morrison and Jim Lee, but Miller and Lee is a mess.

Whatís worse is that it makes DC look bad; DC seems to have been more interested in the names of the creators than actually putting out a decent product, and that makes them look like the same kind of cynical shits that inhabit Marvelís offices, which surely wasnít the intention, even if "All-Star" is an anagram of ďUltimateĒ.

The scripting is terribly clumsy in places; Vicki Valeís external monologues come across as a bit weird, for example. Thereís a suggestion that sheís the sort of person who thinks out loud to herself, but the comics medium naturally makes that look like bad exposition so it was perhaps not a wise move. Similarly, Dick Grayonís captioned thoughts in the opening scenes may be some of the most cack-handed attempts at foreshadowing Iíve seen in a while, and Miller should know better. However, the biggest problem in terms of writing is the setting, which is so dark and twisted that it borders on the ridiculous; Millerís already reinvented Batman twice, and this really does feel like barrel-scraping, with a Batman thatís less of a ground-up rebuild and more of an evil twin of the original. When thereís a fair implication that Batman arranged the murders of a childís parents just so he can take custody of the child, and the writer subsequently has to give an interview to explain that that isnít the case, you know youíre in Spock-with-a-goatee territory. Fans complained when Dark Knight Strikes Back wasnít grim and gritty like Dark Knight Returns, even though that was never the point of DKR, and it seems Miller has veered violently in the other direction here, which might have worked if (A) this wasnít the origin story of a character who wears a bright green and red costume, pointy shoes and no trousers; and (B) it wasnít being drawn by Jim Lee, who does big classic superheroes well, but canít do grim and gritty to save his life.

Itís a bit sad to see Lee valiantly struggling with a script that appears to have been written for Miller himself; the much-talked-about opening scene with Vicki Vale prancing about in her kecks might have worked if Miller was doing it, but comes across as an embarrassing throwback to 90ís Image and Marvel under Leeís pencil. Similarly, the dark tone of the script doesnít come across properly in Leeís work, but I canít criticise Lee too much, since the whole thing is so absurdly grim that he should never have been assigned to it in the first place. It also looks a bit rushed in places, with a rather-too-common use of splash pages and some scrappy figure work here and there. Itís never a good sign when the first issue of a new series looks like it only just met its deadline.

I suspect Iíll be in a minority in my opinion of this book, as DCís smug hyperbolic marketing tends to work like a self-fulfilling prophecy. But this is shite, and no amount of aggressive marketing will change that. It would have been shite had it been a standard issue of one of the ongoing Batman comics, but as a big over-exposed media event, itís particularly egregious.



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