“Episode One”

Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Jim Lee
Publisher: DC Comics

The All-Star line is DC’s answer to Marvel’s successful Ultimate line. The premise is to get rid of the baggage of years of continuity and essentially start over outside the know “universe” of the characters to re-tell a lot of the old tales in a modern setting. They are trying to mine fresh stories from familiar and dated material so it becomes a game of bringing a fresh perspective, and new spins, on the classic stories. Classic stories, mind you, not sacrosanct scriptures (this is actually a reminder to myself whenever I read re-treads on tales that I grew up reading and loving). To tell the stories, the creators have to keep the essentials (the heart) of the well established mythos, while not necessarily sticking too closely to them.

The All-Star formula (much like the Ultimate line formula) is simple: take two fan favorite creators (writer Frank Miller and artist Jim Lee), team them on the book of an iconic character, and let them re-work the history and spin the mythology as they want. Frank Miller after years away from the spandex set, working on books like Sin City and 300 (which is also preparing to make the leap to the silver screen), returns to the character that he helped refocus in the late 80s.

Jim Lee remembers all the lessons that made him such a popular creator over at Image Comics, drawing beautiful, painfully well-endowed women, often posing (scantily clad) for pages on end. Not really delving into the character nor propelling the plot, but giving something for the presumed teenage male fanboys to gawk at. Though he probably takes his cues from the script that he is given.

The story is a familiar one. The circus comes to Gotham City, featuring among its acts, the Flying Graysons. The young aerialist, Dick Grayson, has caught Bruce Wayne’s attention. Vicki Vale, the Lois Lane-styled reporter, prepares for her first date with millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, which finds her overly dressed for the circus. Vicki Vale vacillates between a ditzy dame (“I have a date with Bruce Wayne” whatever shall I wear?) And something just shy of the tough broad reporter she’s meant to be. Dick watches his parents get gunned down and Batman arrives in time to save him from a gruesome fate at the hands of the Gotham police department.

This book may not please a lot of fans. For a start, Frank Miller finds himself operating in a post Warren Ellis and/or Mark Millar runs on the seminal book, The Authority, which kind of upped the ante when it comes to the superhero genre and what passes for edgy and action. You can kind of feel Miller pressing a little too hard around the edges. Plus, this book is supposed to be accessible to new and young readers. Um, not exactly Frank Miller’s forte when dealing with the dark knight. The best you can expect is a Sin City-lite.

Once more we have a taste of the candy-coated nihilism (kind of a Nietzsche for pop consumption) that makes Batman the ultimate hardass. The book has the feel of taking place early in the Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns universe, though there are hints that the focus of the book will be Robin. Miller gives Robin an origin that resonates more with Bruce Wayne/Batman, witnessing his parents gunned down at the circus where they performed. However, with Batman as the uber-mensch, taking brooding intensity and self-reliance to an extreme, he’s unable to be in true relationship with others. He’s remote and often sub-human in his responses and how he deals with people. And not the best parental figure/model for a newly orphaned child. Frankly, there is a seeming creepiness to the fact that a wealthy playboy (read: single guy) is keeping his eye open for young talent. This air of creepiness is matched by his alter egos willingness to draft and train boy targets in his war on crime. It will be interesting to see what sort of Robin Miller writes: a young Batman in training/a young soldier or the comic/humanizing Robin who resists being molded in his mentor’s image.

“On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. This is war.”

In this telling of the origin of their partnership, Robin is drafted into this war, he doesn’t pester Batman to train him in order to seek justice for his parents’ untimely death. With Robin being so pivotal to the interpretation of Batman, one can’t help but address the issue of drafting one so young into this war on crime.

Many people look around our society and see that we are in both a cultural and spiritual war (one a reflection of the other). The issue that we then have to struggle with becomes the matter of how long do we wait to teach our children about the rules of combat/engagement in this war. Advertisers target kids as young as four to train them in rampant consumerism. Sexual imagery dominates the cultural media landscape to such a degree that it is nigh unavoidable, training kids up in society’s definition of beauty (self-image) and sexual relations. As corruption works its way throughout society, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines hoping that it doesn’t get to us (or moving at the first sign that “bad elements” are getting too close to our neighborhoods). The younger we realize this and are trained in how to engage this battleground, the better off we may be.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is a little uneven, probably due to the high expectations that a Miller/Lee team-up on Batman would generate. The terse dialogue wasn’t working for me, but it might be a matter of giving Miller room to develop the proper tone for the book. There is enough of a sense of intrigue and potential to let me be willing to buy the hype machine (trained since the age of four consumer that I am) and ride out at least the first story arc.

Who am I kidding?

It’s Frank Miller on Batman. I’ll be buying this.