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All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #6

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2007
By: David Wallace



"Episode Six"

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

Publisher: DC Comics


By now, readers know what they're getting with All-Star Batman. This issue sees the book conform to the model of the last couple of chapters, introducing yet another new character, making room for a bit of sex comedy and a couple of T&A shots courtesy of Lee, and filling the pages with huge splash panels that do little to advance the story, but show teeth being knocked out, faces being kicked, and glass shattering in a wonderful amount of detail. The plot developments are virtually non-existent, and the story feels like it has been at something of a standstill ever since Dick Grayson arrived at the batcave.

Maybe this is the price we pay for living in an era where creators can receive such instant feedback and interaction with their readers, but I can't help but feel that Miller should have continued to focus on the core story he was telling in the first couple of issues, rather than playing up to the complaints/praise that he's received for the more unusual elements of the book, and subsequently getting distracted by
  1. An Irish (?) Black Canary,

  2. A goofy, apparently time-travelling Superman (although he seems to have disappeared this issue),

  3. A man-hating Wonder Woman and a nascent JLA (although they all seem to have disappeared this issue, too),

  4. Batgirl, and

  5. The need to shoehorn the phrase "The Goddamn Batman" into the book at every available opportunity.
All of these elements are responsible for the shift in focus away from Dick Grayson (who appears in this issue for precisely zero pages, after what was little more than a cameo in last issue), who seems to have been forgotten about by a writer who is now flitting from idea to idea, having apparently grown bored with his own book to such an extent that he can only produce increasingly self-referential jokes and grim 'n' gritty pastiche in order to fill the void which has been created by his complete lack of story. Robin now apparently appears in this book in name only - and it's yet more evidence that the book (which was initially billed as a retelling of the character's origin story) is slipping further and further off the rails in favour of ill-judged comedy skits which seem to exist to make the characters seem as ridiculous as possible. When you've got Black Canary proclaiming, "Oh Sweet Jesus. It's the Goddamn Batman!" as the final page of your issue, you can't interpret it as anything but an attempt at humour, but I'm simply not convinced that this is the direction that the creators had envisioned for the book. Of course, it's easy to ridicule the conventions of the superhero genre, which features some of the most exaggerated and hyperbolic storytelling conventions in all of literature. What's harder is to take those established conventions and characters and do something innovative and original with them, but you won't see any of that here.

You could well suggest that this is Frank Miller doing what he does best: being provocative, iconoclastic, and acting against expectations to produce exactly the book that he wants to create, rather than the book that the fans want to read. However, I do wonder whether the childish humour and ADD-afflicted plotting that's evident here is really the best use of his time. Miller is a talented writer, and I don't begrudge him the opportunity to let his hair down with some less serious projects every now and again - or indeed, whenever he wants, as he's earned every right to do so with his impressive catalogue of work over the last few decades. However, I do wonder whether a tentpole title, with a hugely popular artist, featuring a high-profile appearance of a flagship company character is the best place to be doing it. I also wonder what function is being served by editors Bob Schreck and Brandon Montclare, as this title has become a directionless mess (which now also seems to be tying itself into Year: One continuity for some reason) in which events happen and characters come and go without rhyme or reason. Is it a case of the Emperor's New Clothes? Is everyone too afraid to say that Miller's story is a shambles? Who knows - but as long as the book continues to sell well, I doubt that things will change.

Once upon a time, Frank Miller made his name with the reinvention of superhero comics - and now he writes All-Star Batman. It feels like a huge step backwards and a two-fingered salute to those of us who bought into this title expecting something on the level of Year One or Dark Knight Returns. I wonder how long it's going to take for readers to realise that there isn't a clever twist on the horizon, or a plot development to redeem what's been written over the last six issues; that this is as good as it's going to get; and that All-Star Batman is exactly that book that Miller wants it to be.

Oh, and before you ask: yes, the issue still earns 2 bullets. The artwork might be serving a dud story, but it's still very pretty, and there's still some amusement to be had from Miller's silliness - but you can't escape the feeling that a book with the creator pedigree of All-Star Batman should be aiming higher than this.



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