I like you, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.

*Holy Shit Dept: Was that an honest-to-god Charles Atlas ad in the back of BPRD: The Black Flame #5?! I think it was! Apparently, this is the latest official revision of the legendary ‘The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac’ cartoon, which has had various incarnations from the ‘40s to the ‘70s to just a few years ago. But god damn it - this one loses the classic “I’ll gamble a stamp” line beloved by so many Flex Mentallo readers, since it seems that the Atlas book is no longer free - a $2 charge is now required. At least HERO OF THE BEACH has weathered the ravages of time and economics. And you do still get to check off your interests on the order slip: “A Big Chest,” “Powerful Legs,” “Magnetic Personality,” “Success with Girls,” etc. I for one am a proud, strapping devotee of the Atlas plan, but be warned - while I do credit all of my romantic success to “Dynamic-Tension,” my magnetic personality certainly wreaked some havoc on my Internet computing equipment! You’ll want to leave that Pandora’s box unchecked.

*Yeah, I just got caught up on my Punisher MAX reading, and man - those last three pages of issue #28. That’s what the book is all about, man. Ennis doesn’t exactly crack ‘em out of the park every time these days (did Ghost Rider get any better after issue #1?), but I’d rather not think about this book without him. It’s just too perfect a match of writer and concept, as far as Big Two properties go. And somewhere along the line the art really started getting good, but in a way that snuck up on me; currently, Leandro Fernandez (pencils), Scott Koblish (inks), and Dan Brown (colors) have created a wrinkle-rich, lacquered visual approach that’s perfectly keyed to Ennis’ harsh scenes, with enough caricature to recognize the wit still lurking underneath. It’s low-down, bloody fun, and remarkably consistent in quality; the book hasn’t had a weak storyline since Kitchen Irish way back in #7-12. It’s just that when there’s only so many books I can buy, it’s stuff like this that gets put on hold; I know I’ll always find a copy of this thing somewhere, even if I wait three weeks. ‘Tis the nature of the beast.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #3


That’s one double-page splash and seven single-page splashes out of twenty-two story pages, in case you didn’t want to count for yourself. Really it ought to be eight, except penciler Jim Lee adorns one of them with these dynamite emblems, in what strikes me as a homage to J.H. Williams III, only far more literal; Lee’s icons aren’t purely symbolic, they’re also directly sequential in that they illustrate Black Canary’s shifting inner state, responding to the more realistically-rendered action of the story in accordant time progression. This comes after last issue in which Lee appeared to be channeling Frank Quitely in We3, utilizing a contraction-expansion system of panel layout to emphasize the release of tension (it was through freedom for We3's animals - it’s the mustering of interior fortitude for Dick Grayson [age 12] here).

Debate however you’d like the aesthetic appropriateness of Lee on this material (obviously he’s needed for the economic boost), but he’s gamely working to incorporate a worthwhile set of influences into his work, and it adds a little spice to an issue like this - what with all the scantily-clad vigilante women, the big bushy hair on that little guy in the bar, and of course the many splashes, this feels more like an early Image book than anything else I’ve seen in a while, even from a genuine Image founder like Lee.

But you know what? It works pretty damn well here. And that’s undoubtably in part because of Miller’s already famously eccentric scripting, but this is no one man show. Just look at the first seven pages of this book. There’s that overheated narration (“A rotten joint. It sits there like something that came out of the back end of a horse.”). There’s corny gags, like the “It’s Sunday! Have a shot with Jesus!” sign, or Matt Murdock and Elektra sitting around in the background. There’s Miller’s odd predilection for replacing naughty words with less-naughty and rather silly ones (‘dipstick,’ ‘sass’). There’s plenty of cheesecake.

But as the pages pass, these elements suddenly fall into place as something resembling a coherent design strategy; Miller’s narration dances around that almost-splash, raising repetitive questions as dislocated word balloons toss out fragments of statements and snatches of jokes, often directly separating the narrative captions form one another. The fuse on the dynamite begins to burn away.

Across the next two pages, a mass of rectangles and balloons and icons slosh these elements around, bad jokes repeated (in the way bad jokes always are), literally clouding up the air as Miller’s narration becomes increasingly absurd (“From the men’s room – sounds that could be torture or rapture. Or both. The men’s room. God, who’s going to be cleaning it up this morning? And what will they be cleaning out of it? Stop it. Never think that far ahead.”), the panels become increasingly small, the smile on Our Heroine’s face never fades but the fuse keeps getting lower and lower.

And then, the first thing you see (your eyes trained to start at the top left of each new page) is that guy’s head and teeth flying straight at you. There are no words save for the sound effect and two isolated cries of shock. And then, you even go back and notice that there’s a punchline of sorts to the bit about the guy spilling the girl’s scotch from the page before.

It’s lurid and hammering, and lord knows the messages about respecting women are mixed, given the vantage point we have (but remember folks, as Miller himself has said in regards to this project: “I’m shameless.”), but god damn if it doesn’t work in terms of sheer blunt impact. And that’s when Miller starts cackling along, spitting out lines meant to evoke the omnipresent word balloons of pages past in short, damning beats, the edges of the square captions pertinent when compared to the woozy oval floatations of before. Finally, Miller settles on simply repeating the term “love chunks” over and over as globules of gore spill and bones pop, Lee throwing himself into every testicle kick. Garish sound effects are everywhere. Arrows point out helpful details. And finally, for the first time, you realize that Miller and Lee are operating as a real team, their styles finally complimenting each other.

After that, it’s really all gravy. You barely even notice that there’s almost no plot advancement whatsoever. The title characters show up for a four-page cameo, still blasting through (above, under) Gotham in the souped-up Batmobile (“Batman’s car talks. With a British accent. And it turns itself into a Harrier jet. And it drops like a stone. And it cuts the water like a knife. And I guess now it’s a submarine.”), still trading quips. And then Superman pops in for a ludicrous three-page epilogue in which he gets so mad at the newspaper that it catches fire. See ya in February, kids!

Way back when issue #1 of this thing came out, I wondered aloud if it was satiric. I understand now that there’s no need to wonder anymore, as there’s plainly no satire here. I don’t think there’s any parody either. I do think there’s elements of self-reference on Miller’s part, that much is clear, but after these three issues I’m convinced that the intent behind this book is largely straightforward. This is what Miller considers to be Fun comics. And it’s the same type of Batman he’s been writing since Spawn/Batman in 1994, only with even less palpable industry comment (which is to say none) - forget about DK2 and its neon tsunami of politics, superhero and otherwise. I’ve gotten fond of this Batman, these mumbling recitations and big loud silly blasts of excess. This book started out rocky, and I blame the dissonance between writer and artist. But that evaporates here. There is no embarrassment in the issue, though I figure the title will always toe the line.

How can it do any less?

This is undeniably to me an entertaining book, as of this issue, happy to be floating off in its own world. The DC All Star line has two good comics in it, as far as I’m concerned.