Thursday, December 06, 2007

Scott on All Star Batman

[Scott sent me some observations on each issue of Miller's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and I thought he should join the ranks of our guest-bloggers. I have edited this to avoid repeating things myself and Scott have already pointed out.]

[I apologize for my lack of a substantial contribution today, but I am very busy grading. This was one of the reason's I wanted guest bloggers in the first place, so thanks to Streebo and Scott. I will return as soon as I can.]


I got a special retailer’s edition of this issue that includes Miller’s script to Lee; it’s obvious he’s having fun with this. It’s also worth noting a few of his instructions describing the Vicki Vale dressing scene:

“Detail her bra; it’ll drive them crazy, Jim.”

“She knows what she’s got. Make them drool.”

“Ok, Jim. I’m Shameless. Let’s go with an ASS SHOT [his caps, not mine]”

Miller knows what Lee is good at and one of those things is hot women!

I think the “I’m Shameless” line reveals a lot about Miller’s approach to the series as a whole.


During this conversation, Dick notes that, “That’s not his real voice. He’s faking it.” I think there’s something deeper and more important going on here than the traditional “he changes his voice when he’s Batman” motif. In a way, I think Miller may actually be saying that no one is as badass and tough as the image we’re getting of Batman; not even Batman! This is the first time Miller has given us a Batman in his prime (except for maybe Batman/Spawn); In Year One he was a rookie and in DKR he was an old man. This is Batman at the height of his hubris; he’s in his physical prime and he’s had enough time to cultivate and grow comfortable with his over-the-top personality. It’s not a complete act, some of it is very much part of who he is but it is an exaggeration of who he really is (it’s also worth noting that we’ve only seen two panels of Bruce Wayne in the series so far). Also, part of the reason he resents the kid is that he feels that the kid might see through the façade, to the fact that there is a man underneath bat.


When Batman tells Grayson that he calls his car ‘the Batmobile’, Grayson replies by rolling his eyes and saying: “That is so queer.” What makes this even more interesting is that in DKR Miller credits Robin with naming the Batmobile. More than likely, this is just a slip on Miller’s part, but I do like the idea of an older and wiser Batman placing the blame for his car’s queer name on Robin.


We get another hint that there might be more to Miller’s Batman than he’s letting on when Dick request some fresh clothes so that he won’t have to wear the ones with his parents blood on them, Batman recalls his own parents murders and his own mother’s blood on his hands and then:

“His hand lands on my [Grayson’s] shoulder. Weightless like a falling leaf. Those big ass fingers squeeze like a gentle caress.” Then he says: “Yeah, kid, I’ll see to it you get some new clothes.” Grayson notes that: “His voice is a croak. Like he’s about to cry or something” (Miller’s Batman crying? Surely you jest!). And then: “His voice goes all cold again” and, once again, Dick points out to us “That it wouldn’t fool anybody.”

I also love how, in this issue, Batman is using Superman as his errand boy. When I first read this issue, I wondered why Superman was running across the ocean instead of flying but Miller has revealed that this Superman doesn’t even know he can fly yet and that just makes it that much funnier! Think about it, Batman knows he can fly yet still makes him run to do his bidding for him. That’s how badass this Batman is; he’s not just ordering around the man of steal, he’s toying with him.


A thing worth noting at the JLA-BAtman meeting is Green Lantern’s outfit; it’s the old Gil Kane version of the costume. For Miller, GL represents a simpler more innocent time in superhero comics (a time that he was somewhat responsible for bringing an end to). As a result, his Hal Jordan speaks in an antiquated fashion saying things like “all we’ve seen is [Batman] tossing the young fella into the car…” He is a simple, nice guy. The way superheroes used to be. Miller has gone on record several times stating that he was upset several years back when they gave Hal a DUI (in the Emerald Dawn II storyline, I’m such a dork for remembering that) and, a few years later, they would make him a mass murderer. He felt that it was unnecessary to add that level of darkness to that character (i.e. Batman is a character that lends himself to a darker treatment; there’s no need to do that with GL). SO, he puts him in the Gil Kane costume; important because this is the one he wore before the Adams/O’Neil run, before superhero comics developed a social conscious, before it all went downhill.

As I’ve pointed out before, I think its absolutely brilliant that the first thing we have Batman say after a year between issues, a year in which the series was critically panned and “I’m the Goddamn Batman” became a phrase synonymous with everything that was wrong with the series, is “I LOVE being the Goddamn Batman.” This is a nice little ‘Fuck You’ to all of Miller’s critics, one that he takes to ridiculous extremes over the next couple of issues.

The most significant sequence in this issue, as far as establishing the character of Miller’s Batman, is Alfred’s workout. During this scene, Alfred reminisces to when Bruce was a boy, before his parents were murdered. It is hinted at that, even then, “There was SOMETHING about the boy […] something DARK and WILD behind those eyes.” Basically, Miller is saying that Bruce was already nuts before his parents’ murder; the Batman aspect was already there and, had his parents’ murder not given him focus, he may have become something even worse.


In this issue, we’re introduced to Miller’s Batgirl and we get to see the Black Canary in action. It’s worth noting that with both Batgirl and the Canary following in Batman’s footsteps and Batman’s preparing to train Robin that, whether he likes it or not, Batman’s got his own army now. This is exactly what the League was afraid of in the previous issue: that Batman would inspire others to join his crusade. Gordon’s conversation with Sarah reveals that there are others; Batman has now got his own ‘Justice League’, one that doesn’t require super-powers as a prerequisite (I just hope Green Arrow and The Question show up at some point; I love the way Miller depicted them in The Dark Knight Strikes Again)

We get to meet Jimmy Olsen in this issue. Miller has him working as a cub reporter in Gotham. Many people might wonder where he’s going with this but I think I know: If the series culminates with Batman getting his kid sidekick then it may very well end up by giving Superman his. I can see it now: at the end of the series Superman saying to Olsen “Hey, I know some people at the Daily Planet… I can get you a job there; just ask for Kent”


When Canary gives him a tough time about calling his car “The Batmobile” he replies by saying: “Not one word. I’ve taken enough grief about calling my Goddamn car the Goddamn Batmobile. I’m the Goddamn Batman [I feel like this should be followed by a Trademark at this point] and I can call my Goddamn car whatever the hell I want.” This is Miller saying, “I’ve taken enough grief about ‘The Goddamn Batman’, I’m Frank Goddamn Miller and I’ll call him ‘The Goddamn Batman’ if I want to!” Albeit, I think Miller is probably much more tongue-in-cheek about it in reality than Batman is here.


The most important thing in this issue might be when Batman says: “I’m talking to myself. That’s NEVER a good sign.” First of all, this is another affront to Miller’s critics since Batman’s internal monologue is pretty much a trademark of Miller’s Batman. It’s Miller saying, “Uh-oh, here we go again…” However, more importantly, this is essentially going to be a story about why Batman needs Robin. As Black Canary pointed out in the previous issue, Batman could benefit from just having someone to talk to and, if you look it up, that’s exactly why Robin was created in the first place: Bill Finger was tired of having Batman talk to himself in order to explain plot points to the audience so they gave him a partner that he could explain things to. In addition to this, Robin is there to lighten him up. In this issue there’s a great conversation where, after being ordered to come up with a costumed identity Grayson says:

“Ok. I’ll work on it. But first you’ve got to answer me a question”

“Sure, kid. Fire away.”

[dramatic pause as we turn the page]

“What’s with this big robot T-rex. I mean as cool as all hell, but what’s with that?”

Throughout the series, Miller has shown us that Grayson sees the cracks in the Batman persona, as a result, he’s the only one capable of getting through to him and the only one who dares to talk back to him. Even though Miller’s Batman consistently laments his decision to take in Grayson, calls him “a snot” and “a brat”, and repeatedly says how much he doesn’t like him, I think he, in fact, is starting to like the kid. What we have here is a classic example of “The Unreliable Narrator” at work. We’re not being presented with all the information and have to read between the lines to get at what the character is really about. People have consistently pointed out that Miller’s Batman is too over-the-top; that ‘no one is that extreme’ and I don’t think he really is. It’s a persona that he puts on to fight crime, it’s the “striking terror” part of the job that he enjoys so much. It could be that Miller is working towards Robin eventually being the one who mellows him out (exactly as he did with the character when he was originally introduced). It’s been pointed out again and again in the comics that the reason that Batman needs Robin is that, without him, he’d be too extreme. So, ultimately, what Miller may be doing with this story is showing us exactly how extreme Batman would be without Robin. He has created a Batman that needs to be chilled out.


scott91777 said...

Yay! Go Me!

Thanks for the editing Geoff! I'd forgotton a lot of what I had and hand't posted on in the past... I just got in one of those modes where I just kinda spilled it all out!

Chad Nevett said...

"Basically, Miller is saying that Bruce was already nuts before his parents’ murder; the Batman aspect was already there and, had his parents’ murder not given him focus, he may have become something even worse."

This brings to mind a connection I've always seen between Bruce Wayne and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (even before Christian Bale was cast as Wayne). Almost as if Wayne didn't have that positive outlet, Bateman is the sort of guy he would have become: rich, vapid, mysogynistic, a total sociopath... Hell, you could argue he's already like that (or, appears as such), it's just that instead of torturing and killing people, he dresses up and fights crime.

James said...

scott: Great observations, especially the Green Lantern stuff. And I never got why Jimmy Olsen shows up, but of course he's Superman's Robin, well spotted.

chad: Nolan's Batman has its detractors in these parts, but I think Bale was a really smart choice for that very reason.

Chad Nevett said...

Oddly enough, though, I was less impressed with Bale actual performance because it didn't have that edge I was hoping for. I still liked him and the movie, but I think I was expecting more because of American Psycho.

scott91777 said...

I think the Patrick Bateman comparison is dead on (Anyone actually read the book? I actually had to put it down a few times... and I read Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted without blinking).

Just curious, does anyone know what the original or earliest explanation for the 'Robin' identity was in the comics? I know the design was inspired by Robin hood and that there have been various explanations over the years from Batman using the identity himself as a child learning to be a detective to Robin being Dick's nickname but I was wondering what the 'first' explanation was.

James said...

A panel in Detective Comics #38 (Robin's first appearance) refers to Robin Hood as the basis for his name.

Jason Powell said...

I recall reading that -- even though the "Robin Hood" thing might be the in-story reason -- the reason in the real world was that he was named after Batman artist Jerry Robinson.

neilshyminsky said...

I'm gonna admit here that I found the first issue of this series dreadfully boring - I also hate Jim Lee's drawings - and while I've flipped through a few issues since, I find analyses of the comics much more fun than the comics themselves. It feels like Frank Miller could've written a tremendous essay - but I just can't stomach it in this painfully self-indulgent comic book form.

Christian said...

I think the series works pretty well metatextually, but is, unfortunately, really, really bad on an entertainment level. Casting aside the noted satire.

Streebo said...

"I recall reading that -- even though the "Robin Hood" thing might be the in-story reason -- the reason in the real world was that he was named after Batman artist Jerry Robinson."

Jason Powell speaks the truth on this.

scott91777 said...

I think I'd heard the same thing about Jerry Robinson; is he the one who is thought to have designed Robin (can't say given credit, because Kane seemed to make damn sure no one but him got credit for anything).

I also think it was smart for Miller to avoid a common explanation for the Robin costume in more recent comics, where teh robin costume is a variation of his 'Flying Grayson's' costume. Not a good way to keep a secret identity.

Jason Powell said...

I remember reading the sentence, "Robin is named after Jerry Robinson, who created the Joker."

No idea where I read that or if it's true, but I'm positive I read those exact words.

If it's correct, then it kinda makes sense that in ASBRTBW, Batman names Robin in the same issue that introduces the Joker.