Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i), Alex Sinclair (c)
Publisher: DC Comics
All-Star Batman and Robin has already generated its fair share of publicity, with the two issues released so far receiving a mixed reaction from fans and critics alike. I have to admit to enjoying the last issue in an odd sort of way, but as the novelty of Miller’s frankly ridiculous approach to the character wears off, I’ve found myself left with a book which fails to engage on any level bar the strong artwork of Jim Lee.
In this issue Miller takes half of the book to show us an origin story for the Black Canary. As someone without much interest in DC comics, I’ve no idea how accurate this retelling of Black Canary’s story is, but Miller still manages to make it appear cliché and two-dimensional, providing very little insight into the character beyond the fact that she’s a barmaid who’s pissed-off by the constant sexual harassment of her clientèle, and decides to strike back in a move inspired by Batman’s crusade against crime. Still, Miller manages to drag this origin out to half an issue, ramming his story points home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and relying on Jim Lee’s art to paper over the cracks. When Miller does finally move on from the Black Canary origin, all we get is four pages (four!) of Batman and Robin, before moving on to check in on Superman in Metropolis, who has somehow received news (via milk cartons and his own newsapaper) of Batman’s Kidnap of Dick 15 hours before the night on which it occurs. Such cackhanded writing and editing is simply unforgiveable for a book with such an incredibly simple story to tell, and barring some incredibly unlikely plot twist which I haven’t foreseen, I’ll be interested to see how that little loophole resolves itself.
The only time that Miller rises above his po-faced Sin City-esque approach to the book is to provide some comic relief as Dick Grayson pesters Batman about what exactly a “ward” is, or how the name of the Batmobile is “totally queer”; a lazy continuation of Dick’s amusing unimpressed reaction to Batman’s overly serious posturing last issue. The sequence – and indeed, the whole issue - is redeemed only slightly by Jim Lee’s great art, which is perhaps the only reason to pick up this book. His linework during the Black Canary portion of the book is repetitive but solid, with a few amusing cameos thrown into the background to liven things up a little, and his take on Batman and Superman still ranks up there with some of the greats. I’ve really warmed to his style since reading Jeph Loeb’s "Hush" arc, but whereas that storyline combined strong writing with Lee’s pretty artwork, it’s clear that Miller is leaning on Lee as a crutch for an incredibly below-par story here. How else to explain the 10 pages of this 22-page story which are full splash panels (and that’s not counting the almost-double-page-splash of the underwater Batmobile which is tempered only by the “comedy” panels described earlier)? Four full-page splashes appear in a row at one point, which not only undercuts the impact of these impressive shots, but also impairs the flow of the book, as full splash pages are clumsily rammed up against one another on two occasions. It’s a shame to see Lee’s art go to waste here, and I can only hope that a new writer finds his way to the title soon to rectify this. I was also lucky enough to get stuck with the regular Jim Lee cover variant – the alternative is a grotesque Frank Miller take on the Black Canary which is best avoided if you want to keep down whatever you ate for lunch.
I think a lot of people were hoping that there was more to this series than Miller’s first two issues suggested, that perhaps the whole Batman/psycho/goddamn retarded routine was an exaggeration of the character as seen through the eyes of Dick Grayson, or that we were going to see an abrupt change in direction soon. Unfortunately, this issue would seem to confirm that we’re stuck with a distracted, unfocused writer with this series – and that any hopes of a return to form from the man who gave us the defining Dark Knight Returns are sadly unfounded. This is very much the Frank Miller of Sin City, and it’s perhaps not surprising that the huge amount of effort and energy that he’s lately put into the cinematic adaptations of that series have led him to write this “All-Star” project in a similar vein. However, whereas the ridiculously overplayed deadpan noir of Sin City worked well for that series’ comic books and movie, it simply doesn’t gel with any kind of satisfying incarnation of the Batman. The dour excesses of this book are so extreme that they’re simply laughable, and no attention seems to have been made to consistent characterisation, continuity of plot or story, or even to simply weaving a solid Batman yarn. It’s almost as if Miller is having a laugh at the reader’s expense with the slapshod nature of the book - but if this is the case, then he may have miscalculated, as All Star Batman could potentially lead to Miller being remembered as a one-trick pony who triumphed with his reinvention of comics in the 80s and 90s, but fell sadly out of touch with the medium in later years. For the author of Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and some of the greatest Daredevil stories ever told to have fallen so far seems unthinkable, but on the evidence of this book, it just might be true.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!