All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 10. Two reviews. First my more abstract comments on the All Star line generally, and then Scott with something more specific on the issue.
Ping33 and Scott and I are in the minority loving All Star Batman. With everyone knowing that Morrison's All Star Superman is the best Superman comic book of all time, this means that for us, the All Star line has been a total success. People complain about the lateness, but in letting only brilliant people work on these books DC has created something really lasting and timeless. When the idea was first announced years ago, everyone assumed it was a late-to-the-party attempt to do Marvels Ultimate line: continuity free, movie-like versions of their most famous characters. But the Ultimate line sports more than a hundred issues of Ultimate Spider Man alone, the line has too many titles and creators. DC wins, as far as I am concerned, and I would love to see Marvel do the same thing.
At the center of the tenth issue of Miller's Year One sequel are five pages of glamour shots of Batman and Robin - shots that do not advance the plot at all. There have been many such images in Millers project. Gordon, Batgirl, Black Canary, and to a lesser extent Catwoman get most of the attention in the surrounding pages. I have written in the past about small tensions between All Star Batman and All Star Superman (click the label below), but now I am starting to think they are up to the same thing. Both books -- in other words the entire All Star line -- use the most famous comic book characters of all time and focus on the idea that they inspire people to be like them. What they do matter's less than who they can inspire, and in Miller this means his man characters are just "posters" a lot of the time. In Morrison's optimistic liberal magical view, Superman is the vision of the human potential for godhood through a combination of imagination and kindness. In Miller's pessimistic conservative view, Batman inspires people to act as crazy as he does -- "impressionable" women in particular? -- but lacking his moral center they also lack his self control. I have friends who are vaguely offended that I like both the conservative 24 and the liberal Wire, and that conflict is playing out again with these books, both of which I really love, especially as counterpoints, and I love them more in that they are part of a kind of walled off prestige universe quarantined from events like Final Crisis and non-sense like fill in artists.
Here is Scott on All Star 10:
First off, this issue is paced much differently than most of the previous issues. As I’ve noted before, other issues in this series actually read very quickly. I can usually finish one in about 10 minutes (about half the time of a standard comic). This issue is denser; most of this can be attributed to a lot more dialogue (mostly internal) than the previous issues. Speaking of which, Miller’s hard-boiled style is in fine form here:
“A fog settles. Made for lonely walks and stolen kisses. Gotham floats, a cloud city, her million plaintive cries muffled, her predators moving freely, silently, leaving not even shadows.”
“Take an airplane over Gotham at night and she looks like diamonds against black velvet.”
“…. Every scurrying rat sounds like Satan’s claws….”
“A six year-old boy screams as bullets turn his mother’s brain into a wad and, almost two decades later, he still screams. He still screams and he’ll never stop screaming.”
A lot of people have criticized Miller as being particularly over-the-top on this series (one critic, apparently, suggested that the only way to save the series was to reprint it sans dialogue and let the reader fill in their own words) and, while there have been some cringe worthy moments, this issue is CLASSIC Miller. Sure, it’s melodramatic… but Miller has always been melodramatic. How is this any more over the top than lines like “The rain on my chest is a baptism” or “It’s the night when the city smells call out to him” from The Dark Knight Returns? To Miller, this is the kind of language he loves; it’s Hammet, Chandler and Spilane, these are his great poets. To him, this is poetry and, at times, I’m inclined to agree.
Miller makes great use of Gordon here as well who, as he did in Year One, takes center stage for much of the issue. Geoff has noted that Miller doesn’t like cops, actually that’s only partially true: he hates a) corrupt cops or b) clean cops who are too naïve to see the corruption around them (i.e. Superman and Green Lantern). However, he likes “good cops”; especially when they are ‘hard men’ like Gordon. Miller, by the end of the issue, will call back to hints dropped in Year One about Gordon’s past when, after Barbara tells him that “he has never done anything to tarnish [his] badge” he thinks:
“I wish on my soul that were true, my darling. But there’s no need for you to ever know about Chicago.”
This is something that, as far as I know, neither Miller nor any other writer has really followed up on; even in Year One he leaves it vague, all that we know is that Gotham is meant to be a fresh start after some sort of ‘trouble’ Gordon was involved with in Chicago (I think there was some implication in Year One that he was on the take but, after his conscience got the best of him, he turned on the other, dirtier cops).
In the issue’s opening, Miller also uses Gordon to make fun of his own hard-boiled verbosity as Gordon delivers a very noir-ish monologue (cue lonely saxophone music in the distance), seemingly to no one, only to have it revealed that he has actually been talking to Batman who has been walking just beneath him on the docks (Panel Watch: page 3, Gordon leaning against the flashback panels. This is straight out of the Spirit. Just as Jason noted that Miller’s Eisner influence shaped Claremont’s economy of words in the Wolverine mini-series, so here does it influence Lee’s visuals).
And then, in my favorite moment from the issue, Gordon thinks:
“And does Mister Goddamn Batman say so much as “thanks”? Of course not, that’d hardly be GRIM AND GRITTY, would it? The jerk…”
First of all, Miller is acknowledging his own part in what would become the “Grim and Gritty” era of comics while simultaneously ridiculing it by having Gordon dismiss it by calling Batman a ‘Jerk.’ It’s also important to note that Gordon’s assessment of Batman as a ‘Jerk’ is important for how Miller views Batman; he has always felt that Batman should NOT be your buddy. He’s supposed to be scary, he’s not your friend but he’s the first guy you’d want to have your back in a dark alley. This informs so much of the way that Miller has portrayed the character, particularly in this series.
Miller gives us an interesting bit of background on Batman and Catwoman: they knew each other and were romantically involved in their adolescence. Hmmm, two people who share a young romance and grow up to be on opposite sides of the law? Sound familiar to anyone?
Batgirl is back in this issue and I get the feeling that Miller likes her a lot more than Robin and is using her as a sort of Carrie Kelly stand in. I also love that she is the ‘Fucking Batgirl’. I love the contrast of this with ‘The Goddamned Batman”. “Goddamned” is a very adult swear; it is a blasphemy and, as such, it carries weight. “Fucking” is a child’s curse word; it is shocking for the sake of shock and exactly the kind of thing that a rebellious youth would say to rail against the world.
I also like how, later in the issue, Gordon decides not to come down hard on his daughter because, as far as he’s concerned, she’s being hard enough on herself but, just a few issues earlier, you’ll remember that she was boasting about how great she was at bullshitting her dad. She’s playing him like a violin.
Black Canary shows up again, this time busting up a ring of internet pornographers and taking their money. She considers gathering her own group of “merry men” to assist her in her Robin Hood style crusade, quite appropriate when one considers that her main love interest has always been none other than Green Arrow (this really makes me hope Ollie is going to show up in the series… and maybe even the Question, I always loved that bit between the two in The Dark Knight Strikes Again).
So why has Miller decided to bring in Batgirl, Black Canary and Catwoman into a story that is, basically, supposed to be a Batman and Robin tale? It’s because Miller knows his comics history, particularly in terms of its controversies. He hasn’t addressed it directly yet, but I think he’s playing with something that is an inescapable part of the history of the Batman and Robin partnership: Frederic Wertham’s assertions that they were a “wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” DC answered Wertham’s original accusation by having Batman and Robin start hanging around with girls a lot more and the original Batwoman was, in fact, created specifically to address this concern (in a bit of what I am sure is intentional irony [is such a thing possible] the new Batwoman is a lesbian). Miller dodged the issue in The Dark Knight Returns by simply making Robin female; here, he does just what DC did over fifty years ago: he gives the boys some girls to play with.
The last page of the issue is great. A distraught Gordon, his wife in the ER and his daughter in Jail, phones Sara Essen (who we all know will one day become his wife) and says to her:
“Right now. Just tell me about your day. I just want to hear your voice…”
Then, in his internal monologue, thinks:
“She washes over me and there’s no pain or guilt in the world.”
This is a pretty powerful (and powerfully fucked-up) moment that highlights how well Miller writes Gordon. In many ways, his Gordon is a much better character than his Batman. He’s far more complex in some ways and much more human. As a result, he gives us someone we can relate to.
We also see the hints of Gordon’s deepening friendship with “The Goddamned Batman” when he thinks that:
“There is one man I’d love to talk to. To tell all my problems to. One person. A man. […] and I’m not even supposed to know his real name.”
I love that he says he isn’t ‘supposed’ to know his real name; this is something many Batman writers, including Miller, have played with: the fact that Gordon has probably long since figured out who Batman is but, for the sake of their ‘professional relationship,’ plays dumb.
All in all, All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder might be the tightest issue yet. This is, possibly, the best issue of Batman Miller has done since Year One. In much of the previous issues, Miller verged (and quite possibly crossed over into) self-parody. Here, he comes across much like his earlier work. Each issue of this series just keeps getting better and better… and I don’t care if I’m the only one who feels that way.