All Star Batman and Robin Volume 1
Presenting a dramatic new perspective on the relationship between Batman and the original Robin, Dick Grayson, All Star Batman and Robin is a gutsy attempt to redefine many of the most iconic characters and themes of the DC universe. However, it doesn't take long for you to realize that this episodic collection of loosely related tales is about to fall flat on its face, and the overly cynical, occasionally spiteful manner in which so many beloved characters are written cripples a book with a handful of good ideas and first rate artwork.
Told over a span of 9 issues (dubbed episodes in the trade edition,) All Star Batman and Robin is at its heart the tale of Batman's recruitment and training of young circus performer Dick Grayson. Along the way though, there are plenty of worthless diversions that simply detract from this initial premise and do nothing more but serve up more opportunities for the art team to tackle a few more characters. Expect to see episodes focusing near exclusively on the Justice League, Black Canary, the Green Lantern, and Batgirl. All this time spent looking at the re-telling of various mythologies isn't any fun, and this book feels very disjointed and bloated for trying to cram in so much useless stuff that is never tied together.
It doesn't help that there is no over arching narrative or conflict beyond that between Bruce and Dick. While this could have been an interesting dynamic to explore, instead it takes a hideous turn when Bruce is portrayed as being utterly uncaring towards Dick and treats him like a prisoner. Dick has no choice in becoming Robin, so there is no connection to be made between the two there. Even the more traditional superhero dilemmas are very muted here. The only antagonist of note is the Joker, and he shows up for one episode where he alludes to doing something later. If you like surreal situations like Superman being an idiot or Batman/Robin painting themselves yellow to thrwart the Green Lantern's powers, this will be a great comic for you. If you want something a little more substantive and meaningful, this work of unintentionally, stupidly hilarious moments will disgust you.
What leads me to believe that this book is more unintentional comedy than deliberate parody is the atrocious dialogue. People looking to earn laughs would probably not use words so poorly and in such a repetitive manner. Expect to see obvious things pointed out, redundant discussions, and horribly cheesy catchphrases. The internal diatribe of each character is easily the worst. Pretty much everyone is voiced in the exact same manner that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has read any of Miller's other work on Batman. Expect lots of deliberate repetition and clumsy attempts at character development, and very little information of meaningful substance. This is a very angry, exceptionally awkward book that is at its most amusing when it is wearing its sternest expression.
The characters in this book are a total joke, and easily the biggest reason that the story falls flat on its face. We are treated to several pages of Wonder Woman traveling about the city and thinking about how useless men are and how much she looks down upon her comrades in the Justice League. I don't even know what this portrayal was getting at, but it was especially disappointing to see a feminist cultural icon reduced to making disparaging comments about men. Superman is shown to be something of an idiot, as is the Green Lantern (Hal Jordan.) Superman's role is actually very minimal, but Lantern shows up quite a bit in the final episode. Of course, both are ultimately minor players, but the real factors in this book are where the truly disgusting stuff comes into play.
This is one of the most surreal portrayals of Batman ever. Miller has shown great care and thought when dealing with the character in the past, making his rendition of the character in this book all the more baffling. Batman in this book is thoughtless of other people's lives, caring not for Dick Grayson except as a tool to advance his own ambitions. He is all too eager to excessively injure and even attempt to kill the various henchman he encounters. He is an arrogant, obnoxious character who does things because he can and not because it is right. He is so bizarre for the entirety of the comic book that it is truly baffling that something like this was allowed to happen. We aren't talking a wayward bit of dialogue or two, or perhaps an out of character scene, but a consistent and horrifying attempt to trample everything Batman stands for in order to make stupid jokes about him being "the Goddamned Batman" and therefore being able to do pretty much anything he wants. Dick Grayson is more of an understated character, though he doesn't do much until the final two or three episodes, spending quite a bit of time sitting around in the Batcave. The only character I liked was Alfred, who is as sturdy as ever, though he benefits from being quite younger in this book and is generally unchanged personality wise from the best of his appearances in other works.
|Angst ridden and immature text, a horribly out of character Batman, and a writer that refuses to let art tell the story. This page is a prime example of everything wrong with ASBAR|
There isn't much to say about the artwork in All Star Batman and Robin, though a lot of that is due to the overbearing nature of the story being presented. There is very, very little room here for artist Jim Lee to get in on telling the story and having an impact in his own right. The constant narrative renders facial expressions needless, and what little action there is in this book is similarly explained through the narrative text. This is not a book that advances its story in any sense through artwork. The story does really come back to haunt the art in a few places though. A scene where everything is yellow in order to thwart the Green Lantern's powers makes for a very ugly couple of pages, and several pages consisting of nothing but slight variations on talking heads make for unattractive reading too.
|The Joker might not show up much in this book, but I am a fan of his new look|
None of this means that the art is bad though. In fact, it is far from it. Everyone looks good to great, and while most characters look very similar to their "mainstream" universe counterparts, there is some fun reimagining that presents iconic characters in a totally new light. Lee's Joker in particular looks absolutely stunning, being a nice mix of charisma, attractive looks, and alternative sensibilities. This Joker looks utterly unlike any concept of the character I've seen before and it works wonderfully even though the character is only briefly featured in this piece. Wonder Woman also gets a slightly different costume that I again prefer to her usual trappings, and the Bat suit is a perfectly acceptable, if a bit bland, style that captures the low key and functional side of Batman very well. If you are looking for basic but top notch drawings of legendary characters with a few strong action panels and the usual use of dark and gritty stylings to characterize the world of Gotham, then this book's art will be right up your alley.
All Star Batman and Robin has certainly earned its reputation as one of the most disappointing comic books ever. With its offensive characterization of many iconic character, juvenile monologing, and crude humor, the writing behind this project seems to be almost intentionally awful. There is no overarching plot, there are plenty of unimportant details, and not even a successful and occasionally exceptional performance on artwork can redeem this utter wreck of a story.