Andy B’s Take: In Defence of All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder

All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Jim Lee

DC

A few years ago Japer and I were attending the Hobby Star Fan Expo in Toronto and were lucky enough to get a few minutes of face time with Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada. It was right around the time that Bryan Singer announced he’d vacated the X-Men film franchise and jumped to Warner Brothers to work on Superman Returns (a solid move, but you already knew I thought that). We chatted with Joe Q about Singer’s move and whether that would impede his in-the-pipe run on Ultimate X-Men (apparently it did because we’re still waiting on it). I followed up that inquiry with something that both Japer and I had contemplated for months.

“Joe, do you know anybody who liked The Dark Knight Strikes Back?”

Without missing a beat, the E-I-C responded, “I was always taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Ouch.

We were all feeling the same thing. That Frank Miller had totally dropped the ball with his 2001 sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, the four issue mini-series that helped redefine comic books for the 90’s. Something just didn’t feel right about The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Maybe it was missing the Klaus Janson touch of the original. Maybe the title was misleading, since the focus was less on the Batman and more on heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. Whatever the reason, at the time the time of its release, The Dark Knight Strikes Back felt underwhelming.[1]

That was a sentiment that continued in 2005 with Miller’s return to the world of the Dark Knight with All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, his frequently infrequent collaboration with Jim Lee.

Miller’s lost his touch. The story is boring. Batman is an asshole.

It’s amazing how wrong people can be (about the first two, anyway).

Of course it’s entirely subjective, but I picked up the hardcover All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, collecting the series’ first 9 issues, with some trepidation. The word on the street was that the book, written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Jim Lee, was underwhelming; great to look at but full of poor dialogue, poor storytelling, and a Batman that doesn’t remotely resemble the Caped Crusader we all know and love. After reading the series in two enthralling sittings, I walked away wondering why people were so hard on the book. I know this Batman. I recognize him. He scares me. He makes me laugh uncomfortably.

He’s Frank Miller’s Batman.

Read All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder as it’s intended, as the first in the Miller continuity, established first in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns and subsequently returned to in 2001 with The Dark Knight Strikes Back, and you’ve got the perfect introduction to a Batman that has no boundaries. A Batman who hates the world he lives in because it’s cold and corrupt at every turn. A Batman who watched his parents die, his hands covered in their blood. A Batman who knows he can’t do it on his own, but who needs someone on his side that he can teach.

Encourage.

Corrupt.

Some critics have said the Dark Knight that appears in All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder is too cruel to Dick Grayson, starving him and hitting him after taking him under his wing. Some question the sadistic nature of the character, breaking bones of cops and criminals alike. And would Batman really bang Black Canary at the Gotham docks?

Miller’s Batman would.

And that’s really the point, isn’t it. All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder isn’t just any Batman book. This is Frank Miller’s Batman. The one who isn’t part of regular continuity. The one who was clearly not the picture of sanity back in The Dark Knight Returns, and who was even more of a loose cannon during The Dark Knight Strikes Back. When you read All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder that’s who you’re encountering. An angry Batman, slightly bent, determined to do right by his city. No matter how many bones he has to break.

Frank Miller’s Batman.

I’m happy to have him.

But I’d never want to meet him.
[1] That being said, I’ve totally changed my tune on The Dark Knight Strikes Back, due in large part to having reread both it and The Dark Knight Returns back to back in the Absolute format. While it may lack the original’s consistency, the sequel does possess vibrancy and humour.

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