Damn strong. Not that he's got a prayer of escaping my grip --

All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #2

No… no wait…

All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #2

Ah, better. Better.

I had a very nice time discussing this book with Jason over at RIOT!, the two of us trying to nail down the key moments (read: most ridiculous bits) in this sophomore issue of the megahit Frank Miller/Jim Lee (with inks by Scott Williams) series. After all, no less than two magnificent catchphrases were struck from last issue alone - the ever-popular “How cool is that?” and the underrated yet preferable to me “Go back to your newspaper, sexpot.” Sadly, only Tim O’Neil has taken up the baton and run with the latter. Regarding this issue, Jason was partial to the panel in which Batman remarks:

I guess somebody on the force put out a kill order on me. Cool.”

Just something about Batman saying “Cool.” Eventually, I began reading aloud from Our Hero’s opening narration in my most dramatic Batman-style voice:

From up here, Gotham City is beautiful. Beautiful. Like Edgar Allen Poe’s sweet Lenore, before her small cough brought a spot of blood to her lip and the poet knew she was plagued. Doomed.”

Proving himself again to be a prince among men, Jason did not eject me from the premises. I wonder how they stifled the giggles at the initial cast read-through for Sin City. Did they?

Still, I remain convinced that Miller above anyone else is not stifling any giggles over this thing. Hopefully the current issue’s opening splash of the Batmobile cruising around a mountainside as Batman muses “I’ve just kidnapped a traumatized youngster. Strong boy. For his age he’s damn strong,” and a wavy dialogue balloon rises from the passenger’s side window bearing a “MMFF” will put any arguments as to the gravitas of this project to rest. If not, there’s always the bit where Batman blows up a whole squad of police cars and then the Batmobile takes off into the sky, doing graceful loop-de-loops through the clouds. Also, Alfred spends the entire issue bare-chested, which is definitely worth a mention.

A pair of thoughts race to mind upon completing this book (and I promise you that “Why did I spend another three bucks on this?” was not one of them). First off, I wonder if Miller is trying to play around with the old-style ‘killer Batman’ through Bruce’s apparent disregard for the lives of Gotham’s Finest. Is he already aching for a Robin to lighten him up? Certainly Batman is pretty young himself; giving Batman lines like “What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman,” does manage to get the point across, as (shall we say) indelicate as the artistry is. Miller’s Batman is a bit of an oaf here, and not above cackling like it’s the end of The Killing Joke whilst sending some cops flying and burning onto the grass.

And the title-emphasized Boy Wonder is likewise indiscreet. “He’s such a tool,” muses Dick, right after letting out a few refrains of “How weird is that?” and “We fly,” to evoke memories of those legendary lines from last issue. Miller’s working with a weirdly self-referential, hyper-stylized and hyper-idiosyncratic narration/dialogue formula. Vicki's lines this issue are outright bizarre, not so much for their content but for their too-formal ‘shock’ repetition.

“…I remember every goddamn thing. Every goddamn moment. I remember the kid. Dick Grayson. Age twelve.”

I saw it all. Dick Grayson. Age twelve. He was brilliant. Brilliant…”

“…somebody murdered his parents. Right before his eyes. Brutally. Brutally. It was brutal. I saw it all…”

“…I saw every last damn moment of it. It doesn’t make any sense, but I saw it. I saw it. It was brutal. Brutal. It was brutal.”

It’s practically obsessive-compulsive (wave of the future, wave of the future, wave of the future...), yet all dutifully rendered in Lee’s usual muscular superheroic style (check out the neck on Alfred!). This issue is less prone to distracting visual shortcuts than last, and the part with the flying Batmobile was actually sort of graceful. There’s also a bit near the end where the pages expand to seven panels, than twelve panels, than two pages worth of sixteen panels, than an explosion of a splash page used to signify a breakthrough - apparently, somebody’s been reading We3, but the technique still works like gangbusters.

As for that other thought I had, it was less about the work itself than what the work stands for. I think this book bodes extremely well for Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. Sure, you can argue that as per the stated new reader friendly line-wide intent of the All Star label, this book is a failure. You could make a great case. But look at how the failure comes about. This is Frank Miller gone wild, indulging his ever whim, cackling and smashing cars and making things fly and blasting out repetitious gunshots of misconceived dialogue. This is Frank Miller given control, left to roam. He’ll fail in his own way, as I’ve said before - he’ll not go down with some impersonal product chained to his ankle. Maybe in execution the All Star line really means ‘big creators go wild on big icons.’

And damn it, that’s pretty much what I want from Morrison and Quitely; I want them to make the Superman they’d always dreamed of, because I expect such a thing with be thoroughly goddamned entertaining. It’ll certainly be a more intuitive partnership than Miller and Lee, and probably more palatable to that much-vaunted newcomer audience. It’ll certainly be more palatable to me, selfish git that I am.

So that’s why All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder makes me happy, that and all the parts I laugh at. They’re slightly embarrassed laughs, and I’m still hard-pressed to actually recommend this thing to anybody, because it’s just so eccentric and cheesy and self-absorbed; it’s arguably a calamitously bad comic, and many have made that argument already. But hey, Frank Miller failures, Frank Miller failures…