Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2007
By: Craig Johnson

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

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating: 5/10

Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:
Chris Murman:
Thom Young:
Kevin Powers:

Shawn Hill:
Plot: Batman having taken young Dick Grayson hostage (for all they know) does seem to have riled up some of his super-allies, though no one but Wonder Woman is man enough to intervene.

Comments: You just to have smile and bear it to enjoy this series at this point. Any semblance to any version of any heroes other than those who sort of made appearances in Miller’s two Dark Knight series need not apply. Try to imagine the X-men movies made by Otto Preminger back in the 1940s, starring Jane Russell as Wonder Woman, William Holden as Clark Kent, and Clark Gable as Batman, and you still won’t quite have the oddly violent and exaggerated tone of this crazy book.

Jim Lee is at least finally getting the hang of it, emphasizing his more cartoonish instincts, giving himself over to splash pages full of giddy Batmen leaping over Gotham rooftops, and angry amazons stalking down grubby streets. When the League does show up, he has special fun with Plastic Man (who really should have a greater role in subsequent issues--pretty please Mr. Miller?--he’s the only one who actually fits into this skewed vision seamlessly), though his milquetoast Superman and his standard issue Green Lantern seem leftover from some other era, some elseworld where they might have made sense.

This is the Bat universe in shiny leather, with whips and chains and stiletto heels, where the Day-Glo pop cultural colors only make the decaying piles of bricks that frame them look all the worse, where crooks are dumb and passions lead immediately to violence. There’s no point in taking it seriously, you just have to cheer as Diana, Princess of Amazons, sneers at Plas as a “nutcase,” berates Superman in front of his peers, and treats Hal as her servant. Supes then stomps his foot and sweeps her into his arms for a kiss they both succumb to as gods walking an earth full of “ants” (more of her kind terminology).

On the next page, Bruce laughs … well, make that cackles madly. The only one guilty of reflection in the issue is Alfred, who muses as he works over a punching bag on the things that shaped Bruce into the Bat he’s become (coming to the conclusion that he was pretty much born that way), while Bruce saves a woman from a trio of hoods and Dick (in his oversize jammies) gleefully discovers the Wayne Manor arsenal.

Bring it on, Mr. Miller! Whatever’s coming next, I’m ready for it! All expectations have been abandoned!

Dave Wallace:
This latest issue of All-Star Batman is perhaps the weakest of the series so far, abandoning any attempt to examine Bruce Wayne’s relationship with the young Dick Grayson and spending much of its time fleshing out an early incarnation of the Justice League which seems determined to take Batman down. Frankly, I’m with them.

Much of Miller’s writing on this title seems to be built around pure shock value, and here he applies the book’s unsubtle brand of nonsensically hyperbolic characterisation to the third of DC’s big heroes, presenting Wonder Woman as a man-hater whose ultra-feminist outlook is difficult to reconcile with her gratuitous T&A appearance under Jim Lee’s pencil. Miller quickly moves to introduce the first All-Star glimpse of the Justice League, but it’s a concept which is never fleshed-out beyond that of a smattering of heroes who think that Batman is a problem that needs to be dealt with. The characters of Plastic Man and Green Lantern seem to be included just to give Lee something interesting to draw, and silly scenes such as the Wonder Woman/Superman argument (which culminates in a passionate kiss between the two for no apparent reason) come off as contrived moments which were only included because the writer thought they might seem cool or edgy. Perhaps Miller is trying to infuse the book with an extreme, operatic quality to play up the godlike status of these heroes - but if every personality is turned up to 11, there’s no contrast, and the whole thing just feels slightly ridiculous.

Unfortunately, those who were clinging to the hope that Batman might only seem so ‘extreme’ because he’s being seen through the eyes of the impressionable young Robin would appear to have their theory blown out of the water this issue, as we see Batman being just as much of a sadistic prick when he’s out on his nightly rounds as he was when he introduced Dick to the batcave. The young Boy Wonder himself is only glimpsed in the book’s final two pages, and for a terminally late book such as this to have such minimal plot development from issue to issue is inexcusable.

In addition to the Black Canary, who was introduced a couple of issues ago, there are now so many secondary characters running about in the pages of this book that I can only assume that Miller has got distracted and isn’t really sure what to do with the story. This lack of focus, combined with the horrendously late scheduling, has really undermined what could have been a simple, streamlined and compelling story, and even if Jim Lee could conjure up the prettiest artwork on the planet (which he can’t), All-Star Batman wouldn’t make for enjoyable reading. Whereas the other All-Star book has seen Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely capture an elegant and timeless quality for their new take on Superman, Frank Miller and Jim Lee have stumbled, with a rambling, incoherent and (most heinously) unentertaining take on DC’s other iconic superhero which can at best be labelled ‘distinctive’. If this book is aiming to be a parody, it’s forgotten to be funny, clever or insightful. However, if it’s simply an expression of Frank Miller’s contempt for the superhero genre, then I don’t know why it’s continuing to be published, as the joke stopped being funny a couple of issues ago.

Chris Murman:
Something about reading this issue made me want to be wearing a loincloth while eating raw meat off the bone. Reading this issue made me feel sexist, elitist and racist. I desired pure unadulterated violence accompanied by my favorite beer. There were certain acts I was compelled to do that didn’t necessarily comply with my Christian fundamentals. Thank goodness my wife was there to calm me down.

This was most likely the desired effect Frank Miller had in mind when scripting this plot two years ago. Guess that’s a lesson in perseverance.

I, for one, do not believe this issue is as bad, or as good, as some pundits on the Interweb. My favorite analogy made by my fellow hacks is likening this book to a car crash. So gruesome you can’t turn away and all that jazz. It makes me laugh. Mainly because we they are right.

A normal stream of consciousness escapes me, so I thought I might address thoughts as random as this issue itself. Call it poetic license. Off we go:

  • We’re still going to buy this issue, no matter how good or bad we see it…so what does it matter? The same goes for Ultimates, if it comes out once a year and we know that going in what’s the harm?

  • Some will feel that the characterization of our favorite sperm bank hating Amazon is over the top, but in actuality what is considered over the top in this title now? Shouldn’t she have kicked a dude in the ding-ding just for spite?

  • Before we get off Diana, will someone please explain why she would spit on Clark right before she kisses him? No, seriously, I need it explained by someone smarter than I. Thank God for our message boards here at SBC.

  • If you are going to ship as sporadically as this book, can we have a time frame? How long has it been since #4? Two days? A month? While we are asking questions, did Dick Grayson ever sample the fine rat cuisine in the Batcave or was all that just sterile conjecture?

  • Biggest letdown for me has to be issue #3 so far. You can’t show Black Canary dismantling a bar in Gotham and have her disappear right after that without even a mention. Love chunks or not, you just can’t do that to us poor readers.

  • As far as the Justice League scene, we have Diana and Clark playing the role of angry, ridiculous lovers. Hal and Plas weren’t half as over the top as they should have been written given the outrageous nature of this book to date. Supes shakes the room and only the princess goes flying. Nobody managed to slap her on the behind once in all this madness either. If this is not the subject for the next “I’m a Marvel/I’m a DC” spoof I’m doing it myself.

  • I half thought the woman Bruce saved in the alley was a set up. Someone who has their life threatened suddenly takes a sip of bravado and shows her attacker what a little pressure in the genital region can do for your social life. Greatest portrayal of passive-aggressive personality I’ve ever seen.

  • Did Frank Miller add “GD Batman” to the dialogue after reading the backlash about it on the Net? Someone get Kevin Smith to do a “Night with” about this stat!

  • Lost in all this madness was the fact that after the Dynamic Duo leave the Batmobile, the book has seemed to me as nothing more than Miller standing on his podium of greatness riffing about what he loves and hates about the DCU. Some said the book had no direction when they were in the car, and there’s probably a part of all of us that thought the book dragged a bit in it’s beginning. This issue makes me wish we were back in the car.

  • Did I make sense with any of what I just tortured you with? If I were honest with myself I would answer “questionable” at best. In the end, that has been my point with ASBRTBW #5. Some of it was funny, some angering, and some was ridiculous. All in all, it questionably resembles a well-done comic book.

    Thom Young:

    So, All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder Annual #5 finally arrived. I must confess that I continue to buy these annuals for two reasons:

    1. To see just how much more Frank Miller can screw up the story.

    2. To see if Miller actually has anything in mind for clarifying his story that he has “screwed up” on two levels.

    The one level of confusion that Miller has wrought that seems completely untenable to me is the messed up chronology of events in this series. For instance, the first two issues are set in “the present,” but the third issue opens “Six Months Ago” with the tale of a bartending Irish lass working in a pub called “The Black Canary.”

    This Irish lass, dressed in the establishment’s uniform of black bustier and fishnet stockings, broke the bones of dozens of lowlife men who made sexually crude remarks to her. She then rode off on the motorcycle of a biker she throttled and we’ve not seen her since—even though her “origin story” took place two issues (or “six months”) ago.

    The next “time stamp” in the series that occurs outside “the present” of Batman’s actions is where we first see Superman in the third issue. We are told that it takes place in “Metropolis, fifteen hours ago.”

    In this scene that took place “fifteen hours ago,” Superman crushed a milk carton that had Dick Grayson’s “missing child” picture on the side—even though “in the present,” Batman was still driving Grayson to the cave in the Batmobile after saving his life about a half hour earlier in the first issue.

    So, how did Grayson’s “missing child picture” adorn the side of a milk carton almost 15 hours before Batman even abducted him? The only way out for Miller is to either have this whole series be a dream (and so follows “dream logic”), or to have Clark Kent travel into the future to buy his groceries so that he stocks his refrigerator with food from the future—which wouldn’t actually extend the shelf life of the food, of course.

    Then, in issue #4, Batman tells Alfred to call Clark Kent in Metropolis so that Superman can fetch a world-renowned surgeon from Paris to save Vicki Vale’s life. We then see Superman race across the Atlantic like a good errand boy even though he was ready to fire a blast of heat vision after seeing Grayson’s picture on the side of a milk carton 15 hours before Batman had kidnapped him.

    In other words, not only does the chronology of events not make sense, the way Superman is depicted in these two scenes is in contradiction to each other—which leads us to the second level on which this series is “screwed up.” It’s the one that most Batman fans complain about: The way in which Miller characterizes Batman.

    Of course, this “characterization problem” for fans now goes beyond Batman and Superman. With this current issue, it now extends to Wonder Woman—who is presented as a ball-busting misandrist who seems to have stepped into this story directly from Miller’s Sin City.

    We’ve already seen how fluid Superman’s characterization is in this series. That fluidity continues in this issue as he begins as the generic Superman we’ve basically known for the past 30 or more years but then becomes an angry, Old Testament-styled god whose rage implies the threat of potential mass destruction. The reason for his fluidic disposition is that he has suddenly had enough of Wonder Woman’s ball busting.

    In Miller’s world, of course, ball-busting women inevitably end up having sex with physically threatening alpha males—so Superman and Wonder Woman just as suddenly start making out in front of Green Lantern and Plastic Man. The implication is that they’ve had sex in the past and will have sex in the future—just not “on panel” in this series.

    It seems that DC will allow Miller to show graphic violence but not graphic sex. After all, the Calvinists who settled New England still control our social attitudes nearly 400 years after they landed at Plymouth Rock—and DC must respect those twisted views of violence and sex by reinforcing the double standard.

    Okay, so the first level of mistakes (the confused chronology) is something that Miller can’t possibly rectify in any way that will be satisfactory. I doubt the revelation that the whole series is a dream would go over well. The fact is, I don’t believe Miller actually cares that he’s messed up the chronology—and so he has no interest in trying to “fix” it.

    I firmly believe Miller views this entire All-Star series as a way to make a pile of money while he laughs at readers for buying any crap he chooses to write for no other reason than because his name’s on it.

    I haven’t bought any of Miller’s Sin City stories because of how much the dialog grates on me—and the only reason I’m buying this series is because Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are two of my all-time favorite Batman stories (so I know what Miller can do with Batman).

    Anyway, I don’t see any way for Miller to correct the chronology in the series—except, of course, revising it all when the series is eventually published in a collected edition. However, when it comes to the characterization of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, I’m willing to acknowledge that Miller probably has something in mind.

    If these characters did not have almost 70 years of history, most readers would probably be more accepting of Miller’s presentation of these concepts:

  • A billionaire who watched a man murder his parents when he was only 10 years old, who then grows up with a violent streak directed at criminals, and who has the predilection to dress up in a bat costume made of black leather and spandex.

    In other words, Miller’s characterization of Batman makes sense. He’s a mentally unstable character who has a weird perspective on what to do with young boys who have seen their parents murdered before their eyes.

  • A princess of the mythological Amazons—a tribe of warrior women whom Aeschylus (525–456 BCE) called, “The warring Amazons, men-haters, who will later dwell in Themiscyra” (Prometheus Bound).

    Greek mythology depicts these misandrist women as warriors who are always trying to invade (and overthrow) male-controlled city-states. In other words, Miller’s characterization of Wonder Woman makes sense—except, perhaps, her sexual attraction towards Superman. The actual men-hating Amazons became a lesbian society.

  • An extraterrestrial with god-like powers who arrives on Earth as an infant and is raised by farmers in rural Kansas. We really haven’t ever seen just how weird this scenario could actually be, so Miller’s take on Superman can’t actually be argued against.

  • It’s when I realized that Miller is trying to imagine what such characters might actually be like that I became willing to cut this series some slack. However, I still despise it for the chronological errors in the events and for the over-the-top Sin City dialog. Perhaps, though, that’s how people really speak to each other in Miller’s life.

    Anyway, I gave this issue three bullets because it didn’t have any of the chronology problems of previous issues, and because I can sort of see what Miller is trying to do with the characterization even though the over-the-top dialog grates on me.

    Oh, and Jim Lee’s illustrations are pretty good. In fact, his version of Wonder Woman on page four comes the closest I’ve seen in a long time to what I think an Amazon Princess from Greek mythology might actually look like.

    Kevin Powers:

    This past Wednesday was a rare day for comic books. Two overly hyped and insanely delayed comics hit the shelves, The Ultimates 2 #13 and All-Star Batman and Robin #5. All-Star Batman has been met with a great deal of criticism since its inaugural issue but it has not stopped readers from buying the book. The original idea for the All-Star universe was to have All-Star creators handling All-Star characters outside of mainstream continuity; it was essentially DC’s answer to Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. As fantastic as All-Star Superman is, I can honestly say that the All-Star idea hasn’t lived up to the hype nor lived up to my expectations. When All-Star Batman was first announced I remember a teaser image in an old Wizard magazine with a re-envisioned Batman and Robin designed by Jim Lee. I loved the look; it was more realistic, more modern and carried a bit of an edge. But since that initial image of the All-Star universe, things have been a bit amiss amongst the “Ultimate DC universe.”

    I’m just going to come out and say it, this issue was awful. Frank Miller has got to be one of the most overrated writers in modern comic books. And I’m not talking about the Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, or Daredevil Frank Miller. It seems that in the past few years since Sin City in the 90s, Frank Miller can’t seem to reclaim the magic he once had. I’m not saying that he isn’t influential to comic books or even to me; Batman: Year One is one of my all-time favorite comic books, it’s just that I feel he hasn’t really had a hit in a while. Personally I love the concept of Batman: Holy Terror which Miller announced would be his next project, Batman vs. Al-Qaeda. But after seeing what he has done to Batman in All-Star, I can’t really get excited about is work anymore and that includes the announced film adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

    The question is where to begin with this issue. The answer was simple: the first page. Wonder Woman affectionately refers to a man as a “Sperm Bank,” and from there everything seems to just go downhill. She hates Superman, thinks he is the epitome of everything she is against, even gets hit by Superman, she… wait... Superman hit a woman? Superman threw a temper tantrum because someone didn’t like his little clubhouse? You’ve got to be kidding me. And after Wonder Woman’s rant about the evil of men, getting hit by a man, and declaring her hatred for Superman, she kisses him, um… what?

    Then there is the treatment of the “Justice League.” DC’s two best selling titles play up the history, the legacy and the importance of the Justice League and the Justice Society and in the same week that Justice League of America hits the shelves Miller manages to take everything the Justice League stands for and effectively drop it in the toilet. There’s a childish over-aggressive version of Superman who isn’t anything like the other All-Star version of the character, there’s Plastic Man who is a complete joke and then Hal Jordan or should I say the “Earthling Mask.” My outrage over the treatment of Hal Jordan cannot be expressed in words, the only woman who he would ever act as a servant to is Carol Ferris. And Hal doesn’t want to run off “half-cocked” without a plan? That is NOT Hal Jordan.

    But of course there is the main character of this title. If there was anything we learned from Batman Forever and Batman and Robin it is that nipples don’t look good on a bat suit and Batman does not smile. But Miller reintroduces us to the “g-----n Batman,” who apparently loves being the “g-----n Batman” so much he’s laughing hysterically in a manner much more suited to his arch nemesis. Miller tries very hard to focus on the aspect Batman character that enjoys being Batman and he does it in a very expositional and pretty awful manner. Batman hopes someone gets electrocuted trying to steal the batmobile?

    But that’s not even close to my biggest problem with everything Miller has turned Batman into. I understand that this is a different vision of Batman, an “All-Star” version free from continuity, but there are certain things about Batman that cannot be altered successfully. One of these elements is Batman’s feelings towards violence. Senseless violence is what created him, murder and killing is what haunts Bruce Wayne to the point of dressing like a bat, yet Frank Miller suddenly turns Batman into the Punisher without guns. The level of violence in this book caused by Batman’s hand is unacceptable. Personally, I’m disgusted by this “re-imagining” of Batman it’s taking everything the character is and stands for and basically destroying it. Batman’s not supposed to feel pleasure from beating the snot out of some lowly criminal that he could kill with one finger. Miller knows that no matter what people are going to read this book, so why not just go for the shock value and turn Batman into a sadist?

    There is something I did like about this issue though. I enjoyed the idea of Alfred working out with a punching bag and reflecting on his surrogate son. It’s rare these days to see Alfred’s thoughts and feelings on the life that he has been exposed to and I applaud Miller for providing an intimate look into the mind of Alfred. Unfortunately, what Alfred reflects on is what bothers me the most. That Bruce was always the “g------n Batman,” another element of Batman’s cannon completely thrown out the window. Again, I know it’s supposed to be a re-imagining of Batman, but Batman was born the night his parents were murdered in front of him, he wasn’t born psychotic.

    The saving grace of this comic (and my money) comes in the form of Jim Lee’s art and is the only reason this issue has 2 bullets. As always it is amazing. Jim Lee’s Batman is the definitive version of the modern Batman. Regardless of the story or the title, Lee’s Batman is always stunning. I also noticed that throughout his work on Gotham City it manages to maintain a futuristic-art deco-noir look that always manages to stay consistent and stunning. And I will admit, Wonder Woman’s nose guard tiara seemed to work very well.

    Aside from the art, this book is a travesty to Batman and all the other characters included with the exception of the woman Batman saves, who I assume is Selina Kyle. I don’t want to see a sadistic version of Batman that gets off from giving some guy a compound fracture and then proceeding to tell that same criminal exactly what he did and how it won’t heal. I’m all for seeing a darker version of Batman that isn’t a complete prick (i.e. the pre-Infinite Crisis/52 version) but I can never see Batman as a sadist who laughs like the Joker when he’s out “hunting.” I like the idea behind the All-Star imprint and I think Grant Morrison got it right in All-Star Superman, but I also think that Miller has re-imagined Batman too closely to characters of Sin City or 300 and a sadist. Batman is not a sadist.

    What did you think of this book?
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