All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder
by Frank Miller, Jim Lee (DC Comics, 2008)

There's no question that Frank Miller is a creative genius.

Unfortunately, Miller's gift is never a sure thing. For every Dark Knight Returns, there is a Dark Knight Strikes Again. And for every Batman: Year One, there is an All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder.

This could, I suppose, be titled Robin: Year One, except that Chuck Dixon beat Miller to the punch several years prior, and he did a great job with it, too. This effort, which takes us from just before the murder of Dick Grayson's parents through his early days of training in the Batcave and first few outings as Robin, is a story only a sadist could love.

All-Star gives us a Batman who is brutal, maniacal and without conscience. He doesn't rescue Grayson: he abducts him, then subjects him to mental, emotional and physical torture. He doesn't work with Gotham City's police department in any capacity; figuring the cops are all corrupt anyway, he beats them or kills them if they get in his way.

And Jim Gordon, Batman's only ally on the force, doesn't seem to mind too much if a few cops get wasted on his watch. Meanwhile, Miller continues to show his disdain for the other DC heroes: Superman is a pompous oaf, Green Lantern is a talentless idiot, Wonder Woman is a raging man-hater. Other characters are rewritten to suit Miller's whims: Black Canary is now an Irish bartender who goes on a rampage after one too many customers called her "sweet chunks," Jimmy Olsen now works in Gotham, Vicki Vale is a hard-hitting columnist who goes damp at the mere mention of Bruce Wayne's name and Batgirl is just an eager girl with a gimmick.

The text -- both the dialogue and Batman's, Robin's and everyone else's inner monologues -- is endlessly repetitive and needlessly profane. The plot is simple and shallow, lacking any real direction beyond Miller's attempt to shock his readers. But, after so many stories that have actually shocked us with some purpose, this bland and witless parody falls flat. It's not edgy, Frank, it's just violent.

On the plus side, Jim Lee's art is simply fantastic.

review by
Tom Knapp

25 July 2009

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