Review: All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder

Comic book fans were salivating when DC Comics announced their All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder creative team of Frank Miller and Jim Lee. Miller defined the character with Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One and Lee recently did a well-received run on Superman and with Jeph Loeb heated up the charts with Batman: Hush. Unfortunately, two issues into their first ever team-up and I’m willing to drop the title.

The All-Star line of DC Comics is basically their version of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate line. Continuity-free and carte blanche creative freedom has made the Ultimate line one of Marvel’s biggest sellers – sometimes selling better than the in-continuity counterparts. The appeal for creators to “reinvent” and “re-imagine” the classic characters is high. However, there has to be some editorial control and brand management. It looks like with DC’s newest Batman title, the editor is out to lunch.

Fans wanted Miller to redefine Batman once again, this time with a fan-favorite artist to enhance the experience. What we get is a convoluted mess of pretty pictures, repetitive and ridiculous dialogue, an origin of Robin lacking logic in every respect, a Gotham Police Department that is so corrupt they shoot first and ask questions later and finally a central character that seems like Marv from Miller’s Sin City dressed like a flying rodent. This is wrong on so many levels.

In the first issue, twelve-year-old circus aerialist Dick Grayson watches as his parents are gunned down in front of him during a Gotham City performance. Why are they killed? Why not weaken the trapeze ropes and make it look like an accident? Why make it an obvious “hit” and get people investigating? Next, the corrupt Gotham coppers take young Grayson into custody I assume to question him, but they end up in the woods just in time for Batman to kidnap himself. Let me tell you, this kid is having a bad night.

Issue two has Bats and Dick speeding away from the police laughing maniacally and trying to scare the kid so he can forget his grief. It makes no sense and frankly insults the reader into thinking a 12-year-old can just “deal” with his parents brutal murder of at most a few hours earlier. If the All-Star line is attempting to make Batman more “real” then it fails miserably. I know Miller made a big deal about including Robin into the mix making sure he was in the name of the book AND Dick Grayson instead of the current Tim Drake. In my opinion, attempting to shoe-horn Robin into the mythos isn’t a bad idea because of the mainstream connection with Batman (Superfriends, Adam West Batman, Chris O’Donnel, etc). Unfortunately, Miller has done it in a perplexing, unrealistic way.

One of the greatest strengths of the dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson is that the brutal slaying of Bruce’s parents made him seek vengeance on the underworld and the criminal element. He made sure that he would strike fear into the cowardly and superstitious. Grayson’s murdered parents is a mystery that he helps Batman solve. The oath by candlelight is terribly important and if I don’t see it next issue then I’m dropping the title. Grayson is not all-consumed by Batman’s “war.” If anything, he balances the dark blue of Batman with the bright colors of red and yellow. Robin keeps Batman from turning into the Punisher minus the guns. Batman doesn’t kill.

The Batman Miller presents here is a crazy vigilante more at home in the far future of Dark Knight Returns than modern day. In fact, he talks and acts like Miller’s Sin City character Marv played admirably by Micky Roarke in the recent movie. Batman laughs as the cops come at him, slaps a kid he’s just kidnapped and revels in the apparent demise of various officers (albeit crooked cops, but dead ones nonetheless).

The T and A factor in issue one didn’t bother me like it did so many other reviewers. You know, if you have Jim Lee (or Michael Turner) doing the art, you’d better include as many gratuitous shots as possible and to hell with the plot. I was hoping for a bit more balance though and so far it’s a mess like Dark Knight Strikes Back was a mess. The writing isn’t even as good as Batman/Spawn.

At one point in issue two, Batman says, “…once I’ve put you through holy hell, it’ll make sense. A lot of sense.” Miller, it seems, is determined to put readers through that same holy hell as well, but it remains to be seen if the opening arc of “Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder” will make sense. So far, I’m not impressed or hopeful.