Thanks in part to Ping33, who has been commenting here, I have tried, yet again, to try to like Frank Miller's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. With the fourth issue, I finally succeeded.
As I discussed in an earlier post on Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Frank Miller has joined a handful of American writers -- like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor -- that go for the grotesque. I like Miller's absurd art in DKSA, in which, for example, Lex Luthor has huge hands as big as his torso, like a cartoon ape. He is monstrous and so he is drawn like a monster. Dark Knight Strikes Again looks weird and wild, stylish and unique, and these are good things. Batman must be invented again and again, and we should applaud bravery in this arena, and condemn unimaginative stuff like Batman Begins.
All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, written by Frank Miller but drawn by Jim Lee, has a story to match Miller's art in Dark Knight Strikes Again. Everything in the story is grossly out of proportion, like Lex Luthor's gigantic hands. And that's really wild, and a good thing.
The first issue has five full pages -- nearly twenty five per cent of the comic -- in which Vicki Vale dances around in bra and panties. It is the storytelling equivalent of drawing a woman with huge out-of-proportion breasts (a drawing style Jim Lee has some experience with): the time devoted to her is as out of proportion as Miller's women usually appear visually.
Exacerbated by the slow publishing of All Star Batman Robin has been in the car with Batman for 11 months of my life. And don't think it's just a publishing issue: even monthly, four issues is a long time to keep your two title characters in a car. Miller intended this. Drawing attention to the gap, Batman has grown stubble between issue one and two, though surely very little time has passed. That's how much of a man he is. Hilarious. Miller's jacks up his already famously hyper-masculine characters.
Look at the proportions of issue three: the first 15 pages are dedicated to the Black Canary, an aside that violently interrupts the Batman-meets-Robin story with fish-net stockings and nonsense; the book ends with two pages about Superman; in between we get a full page shot of the Batmobile, a full page shot of Batman and Robin in the Batmobile, and a two page splash image of the Batmobile underwater. (The advanced tech of the Batmobile is also intentionally out of whack with Miller's "Year Two" framework). Those three images, which have minimal dialogue, hardly advance the story at all even though they are the only images that star the title characters. It is even more audacious to do this only three issues in.
The hilarious greatness of all this hit me when I saw, in the fourth issue, the six page glamour shot of the Batcave, followed by one more single page glamour shot of the same thing: in a 22 page comic book these pages -- two images of the same thing -- take up nearly a third of the book. Even the title, eight words long, is, like Lex Luthor's hands, completely out of proportion. It's hilarious. (But notice the continuity with Dark Knight Strikes Again: The cave is making the robot T-Rex that Batman will use to attack Superman in that book.)
The writing is not just repetitive, its absurdly repetitive. To quote from the first issue (copying the book's repetitions rather than repeating myself), Robin says "They're always there for me. They always catch me. Mom and dad. They always catch me. They're always there for me. They're always there for me." The identical sound of "They're" and "there" makes it much worse; this is intentional. In the next scene Vicki Vale says "I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. How cool is that? I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. How cool is that?" Cut back to Robin: "They're always there for me. They always catch me." Cut to Vale: "I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. Hot Damn." Miller wrote those words on paper before they were put in word balloons in the comic books. Try typing them out on Word, as I just did, and you will see that no one can write like that and intend it to be taken seriously. Miller knows what he is doing (which should not surprise anyone who has read Dark Knight Returns).
Complaining about the weird proportions of, say, issue three, or the dialogue, I realized, is like complaining about the weird proportions of the eyes of anime characters, or how ugly Rugrats looks. Miller is developing a new kind of story here, one to match the grotesque proportions so many superhero characters are drawn with, one to match his own visual weirdness in DKSA. Jack Kirby's weird art style leads right here, to Miller's weird story style.
Frank Miller. Batman. The Grotesque. I get it now. Batman has been done to death, even by Miller himself. So this is the next step. Absurdity. Great superhero creators reinvent the genre. Frank Miller reinvents the genre TWICE.