How To Drop The Ball In Comics: All-Star Batman And Robin (It’s Miller Time)
Sometimes, comic book companies will try different ways of getting new readers who might be interested in their characters and stories, but are a little intimidated by years, even decades, of continuity to go through. One method that seemed to work pretty well for Marvel was the Ultimate Universe, which was basically taking those same characters, distilling them down to their core traits, and retelling their origins in a modern setting. DC attempted something similar with the All-Star comics, and the greatest of them was All-Star Superman, a story that, while possessing elements that one could criticize, nonetheless presented the main protagonist and his greatest elements in a story where the reader didn’t need to know everything that ever happened in his history. This…is not that comic.
Welcome to the newest installment of How To Drop The Ball In Comics. Say… … … It’s Miller Time. ^_^
With the final issue of All-Star Batman And Robin reviewed on Atop The Fourth Wall, and the adventures of Crazy Steve and Dick Grayson (Age 12) forever put away, I figured now’s a good time to discuss my own thoughts on the comic and exactly what went wrong. So…yeah, this is really just me giving my own thoughts on ASBAR, after having watched reviews of every issue on AT4W, on my blog as opposed to filling up poor Linkara’s comment section with my ramblings. lol But, for the sake of those who have never heard of this book, let’s do a quick recap of the concept.
What Is It?: As I alluded to earlier, DC was trying to cash in on the same success that Marvel was having with the Ultimate Universe. As such, they laid out a plan wherein they would do something similar with the characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl (the latter two series being cancelled when the All-Star line ultimately went belly up). For reasons that are best illustrated within the pages of All-Star Batman And Robin, though, I’m not sure that the intent was for these books to all exist in the same universe, but to each be their own unique take on the characters in question without being bogged down by three-fourths of a century’s worth of continuity. And while the All-Star line did eventually become cancelled, we now have a similar line-up of books entitled Earth One, although these ones are graphic novels only. And while I haven’t read them, I will admit that at least Superman Earth One addresses certain issues I’ve had with Superman’s back story (namely how the Kryptonians were seemingly so advanced and yet still died with their planet), and is clearly popular enough that it warranted not one but THREE graphic novels.
How Did It Have Potential?: Well, like I said before, there DO exist people who would like to read comics, but because their stories have gone on for so long, there’s so much information to go through. Granted, most of us on the internet can look this stuff up, which makes the necessity of stories that have all past continuity stripped away a little pointless if that’s the point behind doing it, but not everyone has that time. And while some of us might scoff at the idea that retelling the same origin story with a few tweaks will result in a well-selling story that people will buy, let me again remind you of the success of Ultimate Spider-Man, a story that set off a chain of events leading directly into stories that are STILL being told to this day, nearly 16 years later. However, the thing is, that’s because the overall quality of the books and the storytelling in them was so good that the success far exceeded anyone’s expectations…which of course leads to…
How Did It Drop The Ball?: Well, for one thing, because Jim Lee’s schedule is kinda funtastic, the book was outright PLAGUED with delays. In four years, they only managed to release TEN ISSUES. However, whereas that would usually be enough to kill a book, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what went wrong. The rest? Two words: FRANK MILLER. Yes, Frank Miller has written some great works for Batman that, while having points one could take issue with and point out as being problematic, were at least well-crafted takes on the character. However, that was a while ago, and since then, Frankie’s pretty much become one of the most sexist, bigoted, racist, appalling, homophobic, classless, and downright moronic HACKS to continue to get work within the comic industry to this day. The same man who once had Batman rescue a cat in the middle of a firefight was now using words like “retarded”, taking glee and beating up thugs and damned near (if not outright) killing people, was cruel to the people who cared for him, and was pretty much Batman in name only. Or, as the memes refer to him, “The Goddamn Batman”. We who watch AT4W prefer to refer to him as “Crazy Steve”, crazed hobo/escaped mental patient/potential pedophile with homicidal delusions who found Batman’s costume and a winning lottery ticket, and decided to become the Dark Knight. But, as horrible as that is for anyone who considered Batman their childhood hero, that’s not all that went wrong. The pacing is awful, the dialogue repetitive and stupid to the point of hilarity, every single female character is written to be either over-sexualized or inspired by Batman to the point of near-cultism, and the Justice League are included and written as being completely ineffectual so that Crazy Steve is the only seemingly competent superhero among them, even though he pretty much, in every way, violates what it means to be a hero, or more specifically, what it means to be Batman.
See, here’s the thing that Frank Miller has clearly forgotten about Batman, and I know I’m getting on a soap box for the sake of a fictional character, but just hear me out. Yes, the phrase “I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!” can make him sound harsh, dark, and cruel, but the real Batman knows how to temper those things with the ideals of justice and compassion. Yes, he is the man who engages in brutal, bloody fights with thugs, recruits teenage sidekicks over and over even after one of them got killed, and keeps hidden contingency plans for shutting down the other members of the Justice League, his friends and allies, if need be. However, he is also the man who is always there for his city and his friends when they need him most. He is a man who fights day in and day out, pushing himself past his natural limits, not for the sake of inflicting pain, but for the sake of a world where no other 8-year-old child will ever lose his parents because of a punk with a gun. And, and this is the big one for me personally, he is a man who once sat on a swing next to a little girl who was dying, and held her hand until her time came. Above all else, for his faults, Batman is not just a crusader, or a detective, or a ninja, but ultimately, he is a hero. Crazy Steve is not.
So, what would I have done differently? Well, the heart of this story was very clearly supposed to be about how, in a city that was so cruel and corrupt that it took a young boy’s parents and didn’t care, there was one man who was there for him. One man who, while tortured, was compassionate for that boy, saw himself and his own trauma in him, and offered him a chance to join in his crusade, while also letting the boy’s youth and optimism keep him grounded. If you are seeking to distill Batman and Robin to their most basic formula, THAT is the story of the Dynamic Duo to me, and what should’ve been the heart of the story. And there ARE times when it delves into that. See, while issue 9 is overall abysmal, with Batman and Robin painting themselves and a room yellow and making Green Lantern out to look like a complete tool (and even I don’t think Hal Jordan is THAT big a moron), the ending of that issue, where Batman recognizes he never gave Robin a chance to grieve over his parents’ death and takes him to see their graves, was perfect. Even the last few lines of the book, which usually is badly written in nearly every way, perfectly captures the moment: “We mourn lives lost. Including our own”. If we had more of that from the very beginning, and the book focused on Batman and Robin without adding the Justice League, Batgirl, Black Canary, and a bunch of other mischaracterized characters, it’d be a much better story. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind the change of making the Joker the man behind the Grayson killing if it kept to the themes and character motivations of everyone involved. Towards the end, you could see how it was at least building towards SOMETHING, that there was a point they were trying to reach. The problem was, by that point, nobody was left to care, and the reason is that, if that WAS the heart of the story, then clearly, Frank Miller forgot that. He forgot WHY Batman is, as he once put it, “as good and pure a superhero as you can find”.
But, I have to be completely fair on this. If I’m gonna judge Frank Miller for what went wrong, I have to be equally judgmental of Jim Lee. While his artwork in this book is gorgeous at times, except when he has to depict stuff like Vicki Vale seemingly literally talking out of her ass, his schedule ultimately hurt the book as well. He seemed to get back on schedule after a while, but much of that came from making splash pages and two page spreads that, while a visual marvel, could’ve been used for advancing the story, or what story there was. And I suppose I should also point out that Bob Schreck, the editor for the All-Star line, was seemingly all too happy to let most of the content of the books through, with the only exceptions being stuff like swearing…which is hilarious, when you consider what happened with issue 10. lol
Bottom line, for various reasons, this series is pretty much the epitome of what it means to drop the ball in the realm of comic books. Or, if I may borrow a phrase (and why not at this point), as we say in my favourite corner of the internet, “This comic sucks!” If you’ve got your own opinion on the book, feel free to leave it below. Or, if you wanna know more about the book and what went wrong with it, as I’ve said numerous times, Linkara has now officially reviewed all ten issues, so feel free to go to his website and check ’em out, plus his reviews of similar Frank Miller titles like The Dark Knight Strikes Again and Holy Terror. Ja né!
Early Preview of Justice League Infinite Chapter 5 + Step-by-Step Designs for The Trinity
Well, it’s that time again! Here’s an early preview of chapter 5 of my fanfic, Justice League Infinite, as we see the team returning to Earth to try and save Batman from the spreading cells of Starro trying to transfigure him, assuming he even survives such a process…
Baz blinked in utter bafflement as the shuttle descended through the skies slowly toward the edge of Gotham City. “I can’t believe he pushed us all the way back to Earth.”
“I can’t believe the heat shields held as well as they did,” Diana added.
“And I can’t believe where we’re headed!” Ivy finished, pointing out the window.
As Superman moved under the ship, instead carrying it through the skies above Gotham City, the team inside watched on as they headed toward a cliff near the edge of the city. However, what astonished them was the VERY well-concealed steel hatch on the cliff, and, more importantly, where this hatch and the ensuing tunnel seemed to lead: Right underneath Wayne Manor, quite possibly the most luxurious mansion in the United States, save for those owned by politicians and presidents.
“…Uhh, does Bruce Wayne know you’ve got a cave under his ma-” Flash started to ask, turning back to face Batman, just in time to see him pull back his cowl.
“I think he’s okay with it,” Batman replied as he revealed the half-infected face of Bruce Wayne himself.
Jesse was stunned, her jaw hung low for what felt like a full minute before finally saying, “…So, I guess I’m not the ONLY rich person in a mask, huh?”
“Actually, I think he just redefined rich superheroes by comparison,” Khalid suggested, likewise astonished.
“Are communications working?” Bruce asked, getting a quick nod as Flash flipped a switch. “Penny-One, authorize entry hatch opening.”
“Opening now,” a rather British-sounding voice replied, the large steel doors slowly opening. “Are you alright?”
“Alfred, I’ve been infected,” Bruce moaned, leaning on the console slightly. “Prep for blood testing, possible surgery.”
“At once,” the man, Alfred, replied, sounding quite concerned, all the while Superman carried the shuttle inside. The group inside watched as they passed through a long, wide tunnel, before arriving in what looked to be some sort of cave under the mansion. The cave housed several large computers, storage tanks, a small airship in the shape of a bat, and what looked to be memorabilia of various sorts and sizes. And, of course, the upper area of the cave looked to be a nest for what had to be at least hundreds of bats.
“Those must be a pain to look after,” Diana suggested, motioning to the bats.
“…A giant penny?” Ivy inquired, her eyes fixed on said object. “Please tell me Two-Face did NOT try to kill you with that.”
After a few moments, Superman finally eased the shuttle down into as clear a spot as he could find, landing next to it. Opening the hatch, Baz quickly created a green staircase leading down from it to the floor as he and Diana helped Bruce down and out of the ship. The Dark Knight groaned as he felt the infection getting worse, the green patches on his skin beginning to spread.
“BOSS!” a female voice screamed. Within seconds, a young girl, no older than 15, came running toward the group, wearing a red, black, and yellow costume, cape, and domino mask. Her hair was dark, almost completely black, save for the neon red streaks in the front. Her belt, clearly a utility belt of some sort, had a large yellow R on the red buckle. Her eyes clearly gave away her terror at the sight of Bruce in such a state. Much like a lot of what she’d seen in the last couple of minutes, the sight of this girl shocked Flash.
‘Boss’? Jesse wondered, watching as the girl came to a halt in front of Batman, seemingly fighting the urge to cling to him. Is this girl his…sidekick? Since when has the Goddamn Batman had a partner?
…Yeah, you knew I couldn’t resist calling him that at least once. 😛 Speaking of Batman, though, I’ve come to a decision on his costume design, as a step-by-step mashup of several different Batsuit designs.
Beyond those details, the Batsuit is a kevlar/nomex blend, making him bullet and fire proof, but still is light enough to allow him plenty of flexibility and agility. The cape is made of a likewise fireproof memory fiber; when an electric shock is sent out into it through the gloves, it causes it to form the bat wing-like paracape. The cowl possesses flip-down lenses with various vision modes, and has a comm system used to keep in constant contact with Alfred. The symbol can actually light up (like with the Batman Incorporated suit’s), providing him with a mini-Bat Signal that can sometimes be used to scare criminals. The boots come equipped with hidden ultrasonic emitters that summon nearby bats. And, of course, there’s the utility belt, which can at any time contain a various combination of gadgets and equipment, like multi-purpose Batarangs, taser knuckles, the Batclaw grapple gun, smoke pellets, and much more. And lastly, in lieu of deciding on which Batmobile to give him, I instead decided that the far more useful vehicle for Batman would be an airship version of the Batwing, roughly the same size as the Owlship from Watchmen. We’ll get more into that another time.
So, that’s a lot about Batman, but what about the designs for Superman and Wonder Woman, which were also mix-and-matches from various costumes they’ve worn? Well, let’s take a look.
And before anyone asks, yes, I’m aware that the updated New 52 Superman costume has been revealed. While I’m a bit sad they didn’t add the trunks, and the improvements seemed somewhat minimalistic in my opinion, I will admit that it is still an improvement. Regarding this costume, though, not much else to say except that I’m thinking of giving him El emblem tracking devices hidden in his belt that are set to a frequency that only he can hear, and other more advanced tech that he’ll bring into the field from time to time when his usual powers aren’t enough to get the job done.
I’m sorry, I just love the ponytail! It looks GREAT on Wonder Woman! lol But yeah, I also added the blue covering and collar to her costume, and gave her the red cape she wears sometimes, because I don’t care what the movie The Incredibles says, capes are awesome (although I suppose you might wanna be sure you’re near-invulnerable for some of the things that happened in those examples). Equipment-wise, of course Diana has the Lasso of Truth, her unbreakable bracers, and her sharpened tiara. If necessary, though, she is skilled in armed combat, usually preferring a sword and shield, but would just as soon avoid that if possible.
Anyway, leave a comment letting me know what you think so far, and be sure to check out chapter 5 when it’s finished. Ja né!