Tuesday, September 20, 2005

All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder, Issue 2

There's critical consensus building throughout the WeboComicsBlogoNet: All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder is a satire, a parody, a gleeful pissing upon Batman and superheroes in general. Anyone taking Miller seriously is missing the point, as this is the bastard child of Sin City and the Adam West. "I'm the goddamn Batman" is now a pullquote enshrined in internet lore.

With all due respect, I completely disagree.

Unlike some others, I bought the second issue with the full realization that I has some serious problems with the first. It was an act of faith in Frank Miller, because the man's written a lot of damn good comics. I wanted to see if there was bigger game afoot, if he had something to say in his return to Batman that went beyond T&A and homoerotic sniggering. I wasn't disappointed: Miller's making a statement, and he does the readers a favor by constructing a giant neon sign pointing to it.

All throughout the first issue, we've seen no more than six panels per page, with many that are less. High-action, Lee-friendly adrenaline panels rocket us through a pulp Gotham filled with overwrought extremes of corruption and glamour. The second issue starts off much the same, and actually moves to more splashes and widescreen shots during the big set-piece chase sequence. It's during this sequence that we see most of the over-the-top dialogue that's been mocked throughout the WeboComicsBlogoNet. Then, near the end of the book, we get the now-flying Batmobile bursting through the clouds in a final escape from it's pursuers. The top of the page is a silent panel, then closes in to a series of small panels on the bottom half - it's the bottom half of a classic Miller 16-panel grid, making this by far the most dense page in the series so far. The next page is a full sixteen panel grid, and at this point, the tempo of the entire series has been subverted. It's the visual version of an abrupt shift in soundtrack, and all the hyperactive noise of the previous issue and a half is instantly tuned out as our heroes fly up above the clouds, removed from the hurlyburly below.

It's no coincidence that the first half-page concentrates on Dick Grayson's internal monologue, while the first full sixteen panel grid is of Batman. Though the soon-to-be-Robin's been the focus so far, this is still Batman's story. It's the first time the series has slowed down, and Miller uses that abrupt pace shift to get inside Batman's head. In so doing, he reveals the card that was up his sleeve: the true thematic content of the series. All the questions that have plagued the series up to this point start to unravel, as we see a deeply conflicted, young Bruce Wayne forcing himself to be hard and uncaring and tough. He's trying to be a father, and without a true role model, he has no idea how to do it. So he synthesizes his own rage with the aloofness of the father figure he knows best, his butler Alfred.

Though the Batman and Robin relationship has been viewed as sexual since Wertham, it's always seemed to me much more about fatherhood. Bruce Wayne is a man with no father and no childhood of his own, and when he sees the same fate looming for Dick Grayson, he tries to make a difference. The thing is: he's completely unfit for the role, and that's what Miller's driving at. The desperately hip lingo, the wildly changing tactics (from "best buddy" to "stern-n-angry"), the faked voice ... it's all about a man trying to be something he's not. He can't relate as a peer, because he never was a child. He can't relate as a father, because he doesn't know how one acts. It's a picture of a human Batman who's in over his head and too stubborn to take another course of action.

... Or maybe Miller's just playing a big joke on fandom. Only the next few isues will tell.



Shane Bailey said...

Hmmm, nice take on the book. I'm personally not enjoying the book, but you've written a pretty good interpretation of the first two issues.

I'm the goddamn Shane Bailey!

Greg said...

I think everyone's taking it too seriously. Stop thinking about it, it's too stupid.

Actually, those are good points you made. I wouldn't think too long about this, because I didn't like issue #1 so I didn't buy #2, but thanks to posts like yours, I don't have to think about it. I can just steal your thoughts! Whoo-hoo!

I think Shane is onto something. From now on, we should all talk like that. I'm the goddamned Greg Burgas!

Mark Fossen said...

This is the guy that defined the modern Batman with Dark Knight Returns and Year One. I don't think you can take it too seriously. Good or bad ... it's definitely something.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I liked your take on this issue enough to go back and reread it, but still came to the same conclusion I did the first time around. No matter what Miller may attempting here, the execution is just awful. Adam West as Marv awful.

Mark Fossen said...

Guy -

You might be completely right there. In my attempt to provide an alternate take on the book, I conciously sidestepped the issue of execution.

The fact I think Miller's trying something beyond satire doesn't mean he's doing it well ... and I sure don't think Lee's helping matters any.

Ian said...

I like this take on the book.

Mark Fossen said...

Thanks, Ian.

I don't know the execution is quite working, but I can't get past the laughable dialogue is the same uncomfortability of that guy who's desparately trying to be the kid's favorite uncle. And failing miserably.

Percival Constantine said...

I agree it's satirical and I can see what Miller's trying to do with the book, and having Jim Lee, one of the most overhyped artists in history onboard, certainly helps with the satirical aspects.

Still, I just don't think it's particularly good satire.