Writer: Frank Miller
Artist(s): Jim Lee , Scott Williams (i), Alex Sinclair (c)
Publisher: DC Comics
Frank Miller surprised me with this issue, on a few counts.
The first is that he's actually used issue #7 of All-Star Batman to begin to tie together some of the disparate story strands that have been left hanging by the book over the last few issues. I've been wondering whether Miller's seemingly random, apparently ADD-afflicted plotting was ever going to come together, and the manner in which he unites Batman, Black Canary, and (by the end of the issue) Dick Grayson at least gives me confidence that he can remember what he's written from one issue to the next. That said, for all that Miller is showing signs of tying elements of his story together, there are still several other plot threads (the appearance of Batgirl, the anti-Batman activities of the Justice League, and the activities of Vicki Vale) which seem to have been completely forgotten about, yet again.
The second way in which Miller surprised me is that his writing of this issue goes some way to making his weird take on Batman actually work. Acknowledging Batman's borderline insanity with the simple lines "She's dead RIGHT to say I'm half-CRAZY. But only half. The OTHER half is doing JUST FINE.", Miller poses an interesting question: which half is which? Does Batman see himself as the crazy half of Bruce Wayne’s split-personality, or the sane half? Or is it more complicated than that? It might be only a throwaway line, but it adds some depth to his characterisation, reassuring me that the character is at least aware of the mental instability which he has demonstrated throughout the series so far. That said, Miller's All-Star Batman is still not a take that I particularly enjoy, and the ill-suited dialogue ("You don't know from screwed, you losers!") combines with Miller's apparent desire to completely run the "Goddamn Batman" gag into the ground to almost completely distract from the possible insight that Miller might be showing elsewhere. I'm also still not entertained by the apparent glee with which Batman physically punishes his enemies, but if you look at Miller's portrayal of him throughout this series, it's clear that he has a lot of unresolved psychological issues about the murder of his parents (as though we didn't know that already). As such, you can infer that he's projecting his own anger and lust for revenge onto the criminals that he deals with. This motivation might be an established element of the character in his mainstream incarnation, but has never really been looked at from such an extreme and vengeful point of view before. As such, I'm still finding something compelling about Miller's unique take on the Batman. However, I'll be interested to see whether we'll get any more glimpses of Bruce Wayne as the series goes on, because although Miller alludes to Wayne's playboy persona in this issue, we still don't actually know all that much about the character of the All-Star version.
The third surprise comes with the last page, and the reveal of a classic Bat-villain who apparently has ties to the murder of Dick Grayson's parents. One of the great things about out-of-continuity books like the All-Star titles or the books which have been produced under Marvel's new Marvel Knights imprint is that they allow creators to remix established elements of a character's mythos and do something genuinely new with the ideas. As far as I know (and I could be wrong), the Joker hasn't been implicated in the murder of the Flying Graysons in any other version of the story, and having seen both creators handle the character very effectively in the past, I'm keen to see what Miller and Lee can do with him here. Still, considering what Miller has done with Batman, I'm half-expecting the clown prince of crime to turn up next issue in a sober grey pinstripe suit, with neatly-combed brown hair and a permanent frown.
Jim Lee's art continues to dazzle, and the fight sequence that kicks off this issue is a good example of his talents. He fills the page with action and energy for the entire scene, and the vivid colours of Alex Sinclair complement his pencils well. If you're buying the book for the artwork alone, then this opening fight is a good justification for that decision. However, elsewhere the use of space is less convincing, and the huge panels (including, yet again, several big, flashy full splash pages) aren't helping to disguise the fact that not much happens in each issue of this book. When you look at how much was packed into each page of Batman: Year One or DKR, it seems criminal that Miller would be content to offer so little in the way of substance for each issue of this book. Then again, maybe he's just writing to Lee's undeniable strengths.
So, whilst All-Star Batman still isn't the great book that everyone seems to think it is, it's at least showing signs of a possible semi-recovery. The book still feels like it has been conceived by somebody with stunted maturity (and even if that's Miller's commentary on the entire superhero genre, it's getting old), and it simply isn't focused enough to make for a really compelling read. Still, fans of Miller will still find nuggets of entertainment in his writing, and followers of Lee's artwork will probably be satisfied by his consistent level of artistic quality. I just wish it was all serving a better story.
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