Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trade Waiting - All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder Vol 1

Today I'm taking a look at the controversial and oft-talked about book that launched DC's All Star line of titles, Frank Miller's and Jim Lee's All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder. I like Frank Miller well enough, though I tend to differ with the popular consensus when it comes to his "better" works. Ronin is probably my favourite Miller work that I've read so far, with 300 and Daredevil being the only two big stories of his that I haven't read yet, and I enjoyed The Dark Knight Strikes Again more than The Dark Knight Returns. Yes, you read that last part right. So, what did I think of The Goddamn Batman? Hit the jump to find out.

Written by Frank Miller
Art by Jim Lee
Collects All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder #1-9

Long story short, I liked All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder. The biggest reason is that it is just plain fun. Sounds like an odd thing to say about a Frank Miller written Batman comic, but it's the same reason why I like The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Most of the story is Batman beating people up while being crazy, in a very fun way. Fun and crazy is probably the best way to describe the book as well. It's an odd mix of a crime thriller, Silver Age camp and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Batman set in an earlier time period. It is a weird, yet awesome combination.

Despite the fact that the trade collects nine issues, it mostly feels like a bunch of set up for stuff that will occur later, which I found really weird. I can't imagine reading this in singles, even if there were no delays. I can deal with the trade being nothing but set up, and really slow set up at that, there is a number "1" on it after all, but it seem oddly paced for something that was originally released in singles.

Miller usually does something interesting in each issue and it is paced well, for a trade collection anyway, but it does feel kind of hollow. Yeah, it's fun seeing Batman go crazy, beat people up and having fun while doing it, but that doesn't really carry a nine issue trade. In fact, it isn't until issue #9 that we get a hint of what the series will be about. So while it is a pretty fun read, it is also a very light read and it feels more like this trade was put out to maintain interest on the book and generate some income from these big name creators while the monthly series has stalled and is delayed indefinitely.

So, the story is a light read, but it is still pretty fun and engaging. As I've said, it is mostly Batman going around doing crazy things, like painting an entire room, including the furniture and even himself, yellow, and beating people up. Miller does make it interesting and goes about introducing a lot of the characters at the same time, some more than others though. For example, Black Canary gets a pretty lengthy intro and later teams up with Batman while Barbara Gordon only gets a few pages in order to suit up as Batgirl for a brief splashpage.

Like Batman, a lot of the characters Miller introduces are also on the slightly crazy side. None of the characters really "feel" like their mainstream counterparts and are more like Miller's take on the characters from DKR, which I'm cool with and is one of the reasons why I got the book - for Frank Miller.

Most superhero characters, and especially DC characters, don't really have strong voices, so it's really up to the writer to give them that. Obviously, Miller imparts more of his own voice than most other writers would and it shows. Black Canary, for example, seems like Frank Miller just needed a female character that could beat people up and he chose her. She has very little in common with the Black Canary from all of the other DC comics, but she works perfectly fine in the context of the story Miller is telling.

The "Justice League" has the same problem, if you consider it one. Superman is very much Miller's Superman from DKR, though he's much angrier, possibly due to being younger than his DKR counterpart. Hal Jordan is just kind of an idiot, though Plastic Man seems kind of normal (or at least as normal as his regular DCU counterpart). Wonder Woman was one of the things people found controversial, though I found Miller's take quite amusing. Yeah, she's kind of crazy, but, then, so are all of the other characters. But at least she has a strong personality, something I've often found lacking in a lot of takes of the DCU version.

Batman and Dick Grayson are handled much better than the other characters, probably due to more page time. Yeah, Miller's Batman is kind of demented, but there is a method to his madness and there is a little more to the character than that insanity, so he works pretty well. Grayson is probably the only sane character in the book. Miller's take this time around seems to be pretty different from his work in the Dark Knight books. I'm not sure contempt would be the best way to describe how Miller treated the character previously, but whatever it was, it is gone. Miller does play the two characters off each other quite well and they do work good as a team, despite some early contempt for each other. Miller plays up the parallels between the characters which, while being unoriginal, does help lay the foundation for a strong Dynamic Duo.

Jim Lee is often called one of the best superhero artists working today and he does deserve the praise. That said, I've never really liked his Batman work. Batman is the least interesting character, visually, in his own book. Lee's Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman, Robin, Batgirl, and Black Canary all look better than his Batman. While his designs, actions scenes, panel layouts and the rest are all great, his Batman is just less than impressive. Definitely not the worst Batman design out there but there are far better ones as well.

Verdict - Check It. Despite being a light read, All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder is still a fun, unique and, at times, fascinating take on one of DC's biggest icons.

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Bill said...

I had a similar reaction to you (although I still don't like DKSA). I was actually frustrated through the first few issues, having gone into it hoping for something similar to Year One and obviously not getting that. I found myself thinking "what the hell?" every couple pages. But then I realized I was also laughing my ass off at the strangeness of it, and just relaxed and enjoyed the rest.

And really, the yellow apartment alone is worth the price.

Andrenn said...

Great review, I myself have been loving All Star Bats. It's been one of my favorite series whenever it does come out. You hit a lot of important stuff. Though I myself really like Lee's art, especially since it feels like Miller pushes him to do more than his usual stuff.

Tromeritus said...

I didn't see that coming.

As hilarious as the Goddamn Bat-Man and Frank Miller's insanity are, I personally couldn't see myself buying any part of this series. Money'd be better spent going towards something that's genuinely good, not so bad that it's good.

Eric Rupe said...

Bill - The whole Batman/Green Lantern confrontation was pretty good.

Andrenn - I liked Lee's art but didn't like his Batman, specifically. Just his Batman.

Tromeritus - I just liked and not any so bad it's good kind of way.

Matthew Hex said...

I didnt see the good comments coming either. I bought this trade and couldnt get passed the first couple of issues. I just found it totally un-readable.

Ramon Villalobos said...

I completely agree with you again about this book. I had been reading it in singles but as multiple dogs of mine had chewed up a couple issues, I bought it again in trade and I still like it for pretty much the reasons you gave. I think a lot of people ignored the fun that was in this comic and expected to read it in the same tone of DKR or Year One and that's just not the right context to read this book in. I like the idea of a young Batman having fun being Batman and at the same time wanting everyone to take his pretty childish behavior as serious as he does. Now if only an issue would ever come out... that'd be awesome.

brandon said...

I just read this a couple of weeks ago.

I didnt follow it in singles (I thought the series was cancelled).

I liked it a lot. I realize a lot of people have problems with how off-the-wall Miller was with the bread and butter characters of the DCU, but I read it like Batman in Sin City. Basically Marv's the voice of Batman.

The only problem I had was the setup of the characters. Clearly Miller wanted to do something with the Joker and just never got to tell that story.

Fun stuff.

Matt Ampersand said...

To my knowledge, the series went on indefinite hiatus. So yeah, it's pretty much canceled until further notice.

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