Sunday Slugfest - All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Shawn Hill, James Redington, Jason Sacks, Mike Storniolo, Dave Wallace
“Episode One”

Michael Deeley

Recently, I’ve been playing the videogame Sudeki for Xbox. It’s a role playing game where you control up to four characters at once. Not bad, but not that great either. Sudeki has an M rating for bloody violence and a strong T&A factor. If these elements weren’t present, the game would be appropriate for gamers 14 and under. The game’s so simple, only young players could enjoy it.

So what does Sudeki have to do with All-Star Batman & Robin? Both works could be best enjoyed by kids if it wasn’t for the tacked on “adult” elements.

All-Star has two people getting shot in the head, cops threatening to beat up a 12-year old boy, an uncensored “goddamn”, and 3 and a half pages of a woman in her underwear, (including a close-up of her butt). Now I don’t want to sound like a prude, but I found this to be unnecessary. I’d let the shootings go because it’s part of Robin’s origin. I’d even let the full-page pin-up of Vicki Vale in pink lace intimates slide. (It’s a comic book drawn by Jim Lee; you’ve got to expect some of that.) But when 3+ pages of a well-rendered woman traipsing around half-naked is followed by 2-pages of scatted sketches and repeated panels, you know where Jim put most of his time. Would it be so terrible if Vale was wearing a nightgown? A robe? Or a big shirt that comes just below her waist? I’ve found women to be more exciting when they exercise (just) a little discretion.

Reading the advance press of All-Star led me to believe it would be more appropriate for younger readers. It was never said explicitly. But when publishers talk about making a comic book that’s accessible to everyone, that should be the target audience. A superhero publisher needs to be constantly attracting new generations of readers. All-Star could have been that comic.

The story itself is great. We get a feel for all the characters and the city they live in. Gotham City is a hellhole. Bruce Wayne is a rich eligible bachelor that Vale lusts after. The Batman has been around a while, but isn’t exactly popular. He doesn’t even show up until the last page. His entrance is preceded by theatrics and mystery similar to what audiences saw in Batman Begins. Frank Miller is probably the best man to write a Batman story. Miller’s Batman is strong, scary, but very human and vulnerable. He can explore the complex relationship between an obsessed vigilante recruiting and training a 12-year old boy to be his replacement. Vicki Vale, a character I’ve never seen in the Batman comics I’ve read, is brave, witty, and vivacious. She’s strong like a Claremont-penned woman, but more feminine.

Jim Lee’s art only looks bad when he inks it himself. It looks best when inked by Scott Williams. Fantastic job here from both of them. The crooked cops are menacing to the point of appearing demonic. The Grayson’s murderer is a filthy sack of dirt that barely looks human. I am disappointed that the comic looks drawn in the “Image style” (i.e. many large panels and full-page artwork). It feels as though Lee was trying to decrease his workload.

I came away from All-Star thinking it wasn’t intended for new readers but existing readers. For example, each character has his or her own uniquely designed caption boxes for their thoughts. Bruce Wayne’s are in the same style used in Miller’s Batman: Year One. You don’t need to know that to follow the dialogue. It just feels like a secret wink to current Bat-fans. The comic as a whole seemed intended for an older audience, say 15 and up. Trouble is, if you’re old enough to read this comic, you’ve already found a hobby. All-Star Batman isn’t a very complicated story, nor is it original. Non-readers are going to look at this and decide (1) This stuff isn’t appropriate for children, and (2) I can find better stories in movies, on TV, or “real” books.

All-Star Batman and Robin was created for existing Batman readers who wanted to see the superstar team-up of Frank Miller and Jim Lee. It is also intended to attract current comic book readers who do not read a Batman comic. It is not meant for non-readers or children. As a comic, I give it . As a marketing tool, I give it . Seriously, Marvel’s Ultimate comics and their flip-books are better for the industry than this.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Vicky Vale accepts a surprise invitation from Bruce Wayne to the circus, but it’s a bad night for the Flying Graysons.

Comments: See, now that’s the kind of plot summary I like to do. All the major players, a mix of sexes and ages, and each plays a prominent role in the story (well, if you substitute Dick for his parents, whose appearance is all too brief).

Sexism watch: Frank Miller, post Sin City, is the king of comics noir. So of course we need a femme fatale. Or – well, what’s the name for the female lead who isn’t evil? A heroine? Heroine fatale doesn’t sound quite right. Femmevivante?

Anyway, Vicky Vale is very vivante, and she’s playing an integral role in this story. Think Kim Basinger from LA Confidential (and ironically, not Kim Basinger from Batman the Movie; I’m trying to think of great Tim Burton female leads, but it’s only the kinky queens for him: Catwoman and Winona from Beetlejuice – or moms, he does moms well; femmes nourrissantes?). This means she’ll be imperiled at some point, but also that she might know what to do about it.

Jim Lee introduces her with a hot babe shot, and we even get a fashion show as she tries to stay cool for her date; fair enough, she’s pretty. I think Marcia Cross may be playing her for this “episode.”

More significantly, while we’re gawking, she’s working. She’s a smart cookie, well-versed on the corruption in Gotham City, and, in her own way, trying to combat it. She’s a Rosalind Russell level “His Girl ” but will Bruce realize it in this story? She earns a pop in the chops for her troubles later, from a thug, and she takes it like a man. Even more significantly, she’s our “everyman” point of view focalizer for the story. She’s our guide, through that always-welcome means of first-person narration (another noir staple that Miller exploits so well). In fact, the story is afloat in narration, from Bruce and Dick as well. I fully expect Alfred to get in on the act next issue.

Because narration, you see, is one thing comics do really well. With no sound component, there’s a perceptual gap left that words of all sorts (not just dialogue) seamlessly fill. Miller’s having fun with the medium’s possibilities here, in a retro way that’s only innovative because so many other writers seem to have forgotten how to do it.

Oh, what happens: bog-standard plot, really. Little more than my initial summary. But along the way we get instant insight into Bruce, Vicky and Dick, and we get the promise of continuing drama from the dramatic final splash. It’s an old story, but one that hasn’t had much focus in the anti-sidekick Batman era. The title alone is an indication of who the star will be in this tale, so that’s a draw for fans of the iconic partnership. There’s life in these old boys and girls yet.

James Redington

Jim Lee Back on Batman!

Frank Miller Back on Batman!!

The Origin of Robin… hold on, don’t we know this one?

Dark Knight Returns is one the best comics in the biz. Hell, I even didn’t mind Strikes Back (it was nothing to Returns though).

Jim Lee is one of the greats in the pencilling world. His art is excellent. He is definitely at the top of his game at the moment.

I enjoyed the re-telling of the story and loved the different voice over narrations that were used for the three main characters; they told us so much about the characters in a very simple way and took them to their basics.

While I enjoyed this issue I must admit this review seems a little lacking because I guess I found the issue a little lacking, and I can’t explain why. There are no flaws to be seen in this comics. It is a work of two men (not forgetting the colourist and inker, and lettering) at the top of the pack. It is funny, interesting, sad and dynamic. But I felt like I had read all of it before despite the differences between the original origin of Robin and what is presented here. The last page is superb and offers an interesting take on the motivations behind Batman taking on a partner/successor.

I give this a high mark because it really is a quality comic; the writing and art are both spot on. I did feel the issue ended too soon, and again, we have read it before. The use of the Vicki Vale narration helps to spice up the comic and change the pacing. This is good. I look forward to the next issue, but I am counting down the days until All Star Superman!

Jason Sacks

DC Comics is smart. Three weeks after their blockbuster Batman Begins premiered in the movies, they’ve launched their blockbuster Batman comic book by Frank Miller and Jim Lee. Miller and Lee are each tremendously popular, tried-and-true creators who have become legends in the comics industry. It’s a masterstroke to bring the two together, and DC is guaranteed huge sales from the book.

So is it any good? Yeah, it’s pretty good. The book starts with Robin, a very young Dick Grayson who is still part of his parents’ high wire circus act. He’s happy and content with his loving family, and looks to be on top of the world. Cut to Vicki Vale, the sexy newspaper reporter who gets invited to go to the circus with Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s most eligible bachelor. On the night that Bruce and Vicki go to the circus, a terrible act
happens: Dick’s parents are murdered. And thus starts another chapter of the Batman legend.

I’m not a fan of Jim Lee’s artwork. To me, his slick style distorts people in bizarre ways. His Vicki Vale looks like a mannequin to me, and I just don’t think he does action scenes well. Still, the last page depiction of Batman is awfully cool.

Miller’s story is quite nice. He’s the master of the interior monologue with his characters, and here he proves his talent in that area. For as bizarre as she looks, Vicki seems like an interesting character, and he seems to have hit Bruce spot-on.

It’s not the greatest comic ever, but Miller has written some of the greatest comics ever. That means this book has the potential to reach those levels. So far it has potential.

Mike Storniolo

I love it. I’m a HUGE fan of Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Batman and just DC in general, so it’s no surprise how much I enjoyed this. Miller establishes the “All-Star” Gotham in a very traditional way. Gotham City, as it is now, is a low place. The cops are crooked and insincere, the people live in poverty and those few lucky ones, like Bruce Wayne, have Gotham for the taking. I can just see, throughout the series’ duration, watching Batman and Robin transform Gotham; restore the police force, bring hope to the people and attempt to weed the city of crime. I simply can’t wait to read the next issue(s). We all know it’s been way too long since Dick Grayson has been Robin. As Robin, Dick always brought about a fresh perspective and enthusiasm to the role. In the brief circus scenes that we see Dick performing, you can tell just how well he’ll slide into the role of Robin, how well Miller utilizes the characterization; but Dick isn’t all fun and games. Towards the end, his tone changes after his parents’ murder, how he’s set on justice. With the right guiding hand from Batman, Dick will transform into the character that he’s always meant to be.

In some of the Batman books, the prestige and allure of being Bruce Wayne is sometimes lost. It’s quite easy to get caught up in the mask, and forget just how highly people regard Bruce Wayne; case in point, Vicky Vale, her thoughts and opinions of Bruce show how crucial that part of his life is in his eventual quest to restore Gotham. This first issue isn’t so much about Batman, but in the brief scenes that provide a glimpse of Batman and his thoughts. Clearly, Miller’s handle on the character hasn’t diminished in the slightest bit.

Now, Jim Lee, where do I even begin? I simply love the man’s work. I couldn’t think of a better artist that I would have rather seen take on this job than Lee. His style is dynamic, detailed and brings about the perfect balance to Gotham City and how it should be. Transforming Miller’s script into a display of genius, Lee nails every character and every scene and makes the book a treat to look at. I’m at a loss of words for what else to say. My one, only and miniscule complaint about the book is the logo…I can not stand it. It does nothing for the book, doesn’t give any attempt to jump at the reader and bring them into reading it. But hell, I’ll deal with a bad logo for the amazing things inside…good outweighs the bad.

Overall, All Star Batman & Robin blew me away, plain and simple. Two of my favorite creators taking on my favorite character is nothing short of amazing. Give the series a try, whether you’re a longtime fan, a new fan or somebody looking for something different. Buy an extra copy and pass it on to your non-comic reading friend; spread the
love! well deserved, as Miller & Lee craft a piece of work comparable to none and worthy all its own.

Dave Wallace

It’s Batman. With Frank Miller. And Jim Lee. You can’t lose, can you?

Well, strangely enough, this isn’t the perfect first issue that many fans were likely expecting from two such favourite Batman creators.

However, just to quell any fears of a Dark Knight Strikes Again style disappointment, this isn’t the meandering, unfocussed, avant-garde Frank Miller we got used to seeing during that series. If anything, I was surprised at how quickly the pace of this issue moved, as the issue fits in Batman’s relationship with Vicki Vale, a trip to see the flying Graysons, the murder of Dick’s parents, a subplot about police corruption and, by the issue’s end, the drafting of the young Robin into Batman’s war on crime in Gotham City. Whereas it’s commendable to see a writer who’s happy to move things along to get to the point where things get really interesting, the fast pace leaves little room for any subtleties of characterisation this issue. Bruce Wayne and a somewhat ineffectual, slapstick Alfred never share the page (let alone a conversation), there’s no opportunity for any real insight into Batman’s general mindset or the point in time in which this tale takes place in the caped crusader’s history, and Vicki Vale comes off as a selfish, two-dimensional hard-nosed female reporter stereotype who goes giddy at the thought of a date with a playboy billionaire. Ultimately, the series relies on your already being familiar with the story of Batman’s early years and just being eager to see Miller and Lee create stories about Batman and Robin, and this issue at least sets up the new status quo of Bruce’s young ward with a minimum of fuss.

However, if I sound a bit down on the issue it’s probably as much due to weight of expectation as any real problem with the quality of the work. Although Jim Lee isn’t my favourite artist (I can’t quite understand the massive devotion he inspires in so many comic book fans, but to each his own) he pulls off some truly impressive shots here, most notably during Dick Grayson’s aerial acrobatics at the circus. The opening page splash is as beautifully proportioned, perfectly poised snapshot of a moving moment as you could ask for, and the joyful exuberance of that young boy contrasts sharply with the stark tableau which shows his parents death later in the issue. If there’s an occasional tendency towards gratuitous T&A shots of Vicki Vale, it serves the need to set her up as an obvious love interest for Bruce, and the darker shots towards the end of the issue are moody enough to set up a second chapter which looks to be quite different in tone.

The biggest surprise with this issue is perhaps that Frank Miller doesn’t go out on a limb with his writing, doesn’t try to be too radical or stamp his mark on the character again – rather, the hero feels very much like the classic Batman, stoic and serious but not quite the paranoid headcase that Miller wrote him as towards the end of his crimefighting career. Indeed, perhaps it’s due to Miller’s high-profile past successes with the character that he this time chooses to sit back and let the story write itself, resulting in a story which is never ground-breaking or shocking, but instead tells a well-known tale in an effective, classic-feeling way.

This book doesn’t look like it’s going to reinvent the characters again, or be anything truly exceptional – but then again, perhaps that was never the point. In one issue, the seasoned creators Miller and Lee have set the stage to tell a decent set of stories about Dick Grayson’s evolution into the Robin we know and love. I’ll be interested to see how the series progresses from here.

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