Friday, March 23, 2007

All-Star Batman and Robin #2

Suddenly Joel Schumacher's Batman seems subdued and well-executed.

Well, I’ve already given an introduction on both the subject of the All-Star series and of Frank Miller, so instead I direct you to the first review to catch you up on everything you’ve missed.

All caught up? Good.

This time, besides for the awesome Jim Lee cover depicting Batman standing over a distraught Dick Grayson, an alternate cover was made available by Frank Miller himself. Confusingly, it features Dick Grayson as Robin with Batman’s shadow over him while a blood splatter is spread across the comic page. Symbolic of the violent struggle of adolescence being forced to grow up in a harsh and violent world or just a really lame cover? You decide.

When last we left off, Batman had picked up a frightened young Dick Grayson by the collar, only a scant hour or so from his parents having been shot in front of him, and announced to him that he had been drafted into a war. We open the book on a confusing angle of the Batmobile driving up a REALLY big hill (or a mountain, neither of which I knew were near Gotham) and overlooking the city below. Frank’s schizophrenic writing is in full force here as he begins: “From up HERE, Gotham City is beautiful.” Awww, well, now isn’t that just nice and- “Beautiful. Like EDGAR ALLEN POE’S sweet LENORE,” Okay, that’s kind of weird, but- “before her small COUGH brought a spot of BLOOD to her lip and the poet KNEW she was PLAGUED. DOOMED.” All right, now he’s just freaking me out here.

“I’ve just KIDNAPPED a traumatized youngster. Strong boy. For his age, he’s damned strong.” And then I see the muffled “Mmfff” word balloon coming from the Batmobile window and suddenly my theory of Bruce Wayne: Agent of NAMBLA from the previous review takes on a horrifying new reality. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go jab out my eyes and get brainwashed so I can get the horrible thoughts out of my head. “As good and pure a superhero as you can find,” eh, Frank?

On the next page, he continues his stream of consciousness writing as we see a rather confusing image of Batman’s glove over half of Dick’s face while air jets within his glove [??] expel some sort of gas from them (I suppose this is meant to be some sort of calming agent, but then why is he covering his mouth and nose?): “Dick Grayson. AERIALIST. Twelve years old. Brave boy. Damn strong. Not that he’s got a PRAYER of ESCAPING my GRIP -- but he’s STRONG.” Is he strong? Listen, bud – he’s got radioactive blood! “Very promising. He just might do. He just might.”

Meanwhile, Alfred’s trying to fix up Vicki Vale. For those of you that remember, the previous issue of ASBAR ended with Batman going completely off his rocker and smashing a cop car in half with the Batmobile. It seems in the aftermath of Batman’s murderous rampage, Vicki crashed Bruce’s car and banged herself up rather severely. Vicki’s still in bad shape, but she tells Alfred that she remembers “every goddamned thing. Every goddamned moment.” And every goddamned line makes me wish I could forget every goddamned thing. Every goddamned moment. “I remember the kid. Dick Grayson. Age twelve.” If you were confused about why I started to always refer to him as Dick Grayson, Age Twelve, your answer’s right there – henceforth, any time a character refers to Dick, they always have to mention his age. It makes me wonder why “Dick Grayson, Age Twelve” didn’t become as popular a phrase as the oncoming “Goddamned Batman.”

Once again Alfred refers to Vicki as “love” even though he’s only known her for like one night and tells her to stop moving or she’ll bleed all over herself. Well, actually, he says it twice because even Alfred isn’t immune to the disease that’s making everyone repeat themselves, but that’s not important. I mean, it makes sense for Vicki to do it because she’s in shock, but what’s Alfred’s excuse? Vicki exposits for those who were smart enough not to buy the first issue: “I saw it all. Dick Grayson. Age twelve. He was brilliant. Brilliant... Somebody murdered his parents. Right before his eyes. Brutally. Brutally. It was brutal.” So, was it brutal? The narration captions explain to us who this is: “Vicki Vale. Columnist. Bearing witness.” Lewis Lovhaug. Reviewer. Bearing the pain of this comic.

Vicki continues to explain how Dick was taken by the cops like they had something to hide (and once again reminding me how if the cops had been responsible for the murder, they had less common sense than the Watergate burglars) and then Batman showed up and kidnapped him. Oh, and it was brutal, apparently. As Vicki wonders why Batman would kidnap Dick Grayson, she thankfully falls unconscious and we get what I can only presume to be an homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 as Alfred holds a limp Vicki Vale.

Back to Batman, where he explains about his world: “My world. Welcome to MY world, Dick Grayson. BATS and RATS and WARTS[??] and all. You poor boy. You poor little bastard. Welcome to HELL. Hell. Or the next best thing.” Jeez, can you imagine anyone narrating their own life like this? ‘I entered the dentist’s office. It was cold. Cold. COLD. Cold like the night my parents got their heads blown in. It’s full of CAVITIES and GINGIVITIS and SHARP, POINTY THINGS. But this is MY world. And my-’ Okay, that’s enough. I can’t keep writing that without bursting into laughter; I don’t know how Frank Miller does it. Anyway, Batman explains that the gas was supposed to knock Dick unconscious (well, maybe you shouldn’t have put your hand over his mouth and nose then, moron!) and instructs him to sleep: “The world I’m gonna(sic) wake you up to will be no better than the world you already know.” Well, he could’ve still had a fun, prosperous life if the circus had adopted him, but you kind of screwed over that after you kidnapped him, you jerk. Actually, I think he was planning on doing this even if his parents hadn’t been killed – he did say that he had an eye on him.

Dick realizes that Batman’s not speaking with his own voice, but a fake one: “It’s like he’s doing some lameass(sic) CLINT EASTWOOD impersonation.” Not being a Clint Eastwood fan, I was unaware that he routinely kidnapped young boys for his war on crime. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Frank. The worst part of all of this is that he keeps talking about putting Dick through hell and he’s smiling about it. Forgive my squirrelly ignorance, but didn’t Batman swear that he’d make sure that no one had to go through the same kind of crap he had to go through when his parents died?

On the next page, the moment of truth – the moment everyone remembers this comic for. Dick Grayson asks, “Who the hell are you, anyway, giving out orders like this?” To whit Batman, the man who can breathe in space, the man who could take out Galactus if he had a week to plan, and the man who will never quit as long as he can still draw breath responds, “What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman.Ding-ding-ding! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a catchphrase!

Dick Grayson, age twelve, is unimpressed with the goddamned Batman as he slowly comes to realize that his parents were killed a few short hours ago: “My parents were MURDERED. Somebody BLEW their BRAINS out.” And as if Frank Miller realized that he was giving Dick Grayson, age twelve, too many lines and not enough goddamned Batman, Dick also thinks: “(No. Don’t go there. Not now.)” Yeah, Frank, save the angsting for a comic that doesn’t suck. Batman grumbles that the kid isn’t getting scared no matter what he does. Umm... Bats? You just kidnapped him, shoved him in a car, and yelled at him about how you’re going to make him your “ward” and were grinning about it. I think the kid’s crapping his pants right now but just doesn’t want you to know about it.

All of a sudden, police cars and motorcycle cops appear and start chasing down the Batmobile. Dick tries to get Batman to pull over, but he realizes that they aren’t interested in arresting him anymore. “I guess somebody on the FORCE put out a KILL ORDER on me. Cool. It’s about damn TIME.” AGH. How many things are wrong with those sentences?! First of all, Batman doesn’t say ‘cool.’ Ever. He doesn’t have to – he’s so cool he doesn’t need to acknowledge coolness anywhere else (besides the point that he’s too friggin’ serious for it). Next, he’s never going to be happy that the police are chasing him down – he wants to have a good relationship with the Gotham PD so they don’t get in his way when he’s trying to take down criminals. And finally, Frank Miller has stated that this book takes place in the same universe as his Year One and Dark Knight Returns stories – except during Year One, he didn’t have Robin with him and by the end of it, he was actively working with Gordon. As such, how in the hell did his relationship with the police get so sour after that? Oh, I’m sorry, I must be dense or retarded. I forgot that this comic makes no sense. Never mind, let’s continue.

Batman goes completely batshit then, swerving around and driving towards all the cops while he laughs in maniacal glee. Dick Grayson, age twelve, is panicking of course as the “pure, good hero” Batman just smashes into cop cars. Once again we finally get a moment where the Torgo-syndrome actually makes sense, with Dick repeating phrases in his head because he’s sitting next to a murderous psychotic who talks to his car and is laughing as he causes wanton destruction and no doubt kills a couple law enforcement personnel. To make the scene even more unbelievable, the Batmobile suddenly converts into a plane. No, I’m not kidding here. Seriously, I’m only two issues in and almost every scene has a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Suddenly I long for the stupid, clichéd double entendres and nonsensical physics of a Joel Schumacher Batman. Even the ice skates inexplicably coming out of the boots of Batman and Robin make more sense than this stuff.

Dick Grayson echoes my own sentiments as he cracks, unable to take the grief and pressure any longer and cries about his dead parents. And the Batman that Frank Miller wrote, the guy who caught Carrie Kelly in the air and told her she was a “good soldier,” promptly slaps Dick Grayson. The next three pages are all twelve-panels each and manage to fit a surprising amount of dialogue in them (albeit most of it is just them repeating themselves over and over) and I’ll try to recap them as best as I can, otherwise this is going to be even shorter than the last ASBAR review.

Batman scolds himself as he realizes he’s being completely insane with Dick: “What I DOING to this kid? Who the hell do I think I AM?” You’re the goddamned- ah, screw it, you know where that was going. “I’m torturing this boy. TORTURING him.” So, wait, are you torturing him? “It’s a TERRIBLE thing to do. But it’s the only WAY. It’s the only WAY. If I don’t keep the PRESSURE up, he’ll find time to GRIEVE. I can’t let him GRIEVE. GRIEF is the ENEMY.” I thought crime was the enemy? Seriously, grief over his parents is what kept Batman going – his anger about the horrible way his parents died. This is even stupider when one considers that one does not need anger to fight crime, not even Batman. In the pages of 52, Batman found solace and acceptance over his parents’ death by removing all the anger from the Batman persona, but he still had the drive and need to fight crime. And why not? While it may seem crazy to put on a costume and go beat up criminals, the drive to do justice doesn’t require a dark, tragic past. Hell, just look at Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, or Stephanie Brown – dark crap happened to them during their lives as superheroes, but it wasn’t tragedy that drove them into becoming superheroes in the first place. They all grieved at some point in their lives and yet they’re all still driven to do justice.

“Oh, HELL. Just LOOK at him.” Look at that adorable little face; Awwwww... “STOP it. No DOUBTS. Remember the MISSION. NOTHING MATTERS -- except the MISSION. HE doesn’t matter. YOU don’t matter. NOTHING MATTERS -- except the MISSION.” Honestly, is he speaking in haikus now or something? Of course he matters! Seriously, Frank must’ve been researching Batman during his ‘dark loner’ periods when channeling this Batman character. In fact, this guy is so much NOT like Batman, I’m not going to refer to him as Batman anymore. He is Batman In Name Only. BINO.

Dick Grayson, age twelve, wonders about the policemen: “Those were cops, down there. Back there. They were cops. What’s with that?” BINO tells him he’s got a lot to learn about fighting crime and Dick totally OWNS BINO by pointing out that Cops fight crime and BINO totally wasted a bunch of cops back there. As if Frank suddenly realized that nothing so far has made us want to empathize with BINO whatsoever, Dick speculates in his thoughts that ‘Batman’ is so lonely in his world and that when he doesn’t talk, it’s so quiet in the Batmobile. “We listen to ourselves BREATHE for what feels like a DAY.” Yeah? Well, I’ve been reading this for what feels like DAYS.

More Sin City-inspired lines ensue: “He SUCKS air and for a SECOND it looks like he’s got a RAZOR BLADE stuck between his TEETH--” Umm... ew? “--then he TALKS and it sounds like every WORD he SAYS is a jagged chunk of GLASS that SCRAPES his THROAT on its way OUT.” And if ever there was a reason why you shouldn’t be smoking, kids... Anyway, BINO talks about cops in Gotham: “Never talk to cops. Not in Gotham. Never let a cop get near you. Not in Gotham.” Jeez, he really needs to get over that incident with the cat. Dick Grayson, age twelve, acknowledges what he’s saying and BINO says that, “There’s only one cop worth a damn in Gotham City and he’s nowhere near this case.” What’s this? A reference to Jim Gordon in this fiasco? And here I was hoping he didn’t exist anymore in Frank’s confused little mind, because there’s no way in hell Gordon would ever agree with anything BINO has been doing here.

BINO talks about how he knows Dick has seen cops in other cities across the world and that most of them are decent, but Gotham City isn’t like those places and that’s why most cities don’t need him. BINO, there’s no place in the world that needs you. They need Batman, not the crazed lunatic who’s using his name. Bruce says that Gotham might need Dick, too: “Be brave, Dick Grayson. Be brave.” I don’t know, dealing with you this whole time has shown that the kid’s rather brave so far.

Dick thinks to himself about how BINO wants him to join his “nutso CRUSADE of his” and that fighting crime is a “Good way to get myself KILLED. And I wouldn’t have any CATCHERS this time.” I’m sorry, what’s a Catcher? “Nobody to CATCH me.” Okay, thanks, I was confused by that word. Wait a second, come to think of it, at no point during the first issue did either of his parents catch him. In fact, when Dick did fall, he pulled a grappling hook out of his armpit and caught himself, so why in the heck is he so broken up about the catching thing? Anyway, Dick speculates in his head and asks his parents what to do and we get a shot of his eye getting angry as he asks why they died and who killed them. Well, BINO might know considering he caught the loser and pumped him full of snake poison, but somehow I doubt he’ll mention that to Dick. Dick gets a determined look on his face and the last line of dialogue is, “Yes, sir. I’ll be brave.”

Thus Issue 2 ends with an angled-off Robin ‘R’ symbol and the words “To Be Continued...” across the bottom. I’m not sure how I should feel about this last page. On one hand, this page could’ve been utilized earlier for honest character development for Vicki Vale or even poking in on the criminals behind this nonsense. On the other hand, Frank would’ve probably screwed that up somehow, too, so it’s probably good that we didn’t get more of his insanity.

Sorry about this one being so short, folks, but honestly, while a lot of this comic is dialogue, most of it repeats itself in one manner or another and there’s very little actual content (besides for BINO screaming his head off about how awesome he is or murdering people). So, then, I must ask again: More ASBAR or move on to something else already? I mean, don’t you want to read more about such a pure and good hero like Batman? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m confusing Dark Knight Returns with this trash. Here’s an easy guide to know the difference:

Frank, what the hell happened to you?


karen said...

Alfred's british. Maybe he's from the south west of England. A lot of the older people round here call everyone "love". In fact I've had the granny in the bakery refer to me as "moi luvverrr" which was a little disconcerting the first time. I mean, I was only in there to get some buns.

Lewis Lovhaug said...

Okay, that might be an explanation, but from what if we're going on the history of Alfred that he's supposed to have, he's been living in the USA for years if not at least a decade or two. While it's possible he may have hung on to the same regional dialects he had back in England, given how much time he's been in the USA, it's more likely he would've dropped them by now.

I still prefer to think that it's just poor writing on Miller's part. ^^;

Coffeespy said...

Awesome, awesome review. And BINO?! Instant classic! I so declare.

ASBAR is a lot like puncturing a lung - it occurs infrequently and always sucks.

Lotus Prince said...

I am aware that these comics are poorly written to hilarious proportions, but I would like to point out that Frank Miller seems to be doing a sort of parody, and actually did some things solely to communicate directly with the fans. Some things were goofy on purpose. Apparently it took forever and a day for this second issue to come out. My friend told me that as a result of that, Dick's face shows up on milk cartons, despite the fact that he was kidnapped seconds ago, and the scan you posted has stubble on Batman's face. Obviously this is impossible in the continuity, but it was Frank Miller's way of saying "Yeah, this took awhile."

Also, though I haven't read your review for issue 3 yet (I'll do that next), I was told that Batman says "damn" like ten thousand times, BECAUSE Miller got complaints from fans about "goddamn Batman." So, while the comic technically sucks, it's like it's sort of taking the piss, and being a parody of itself. I can appreciate it solely because it seems to be aware of its shortcomings in some cases.

ben said...

Lotus Prince, realizing that your comment is several months old, and it's unlikely that you will read this reply, but Linkara stated several times that he is aware of Miller's admittance of this being a twisted parody of the characters. Now whether he decided to claim this to save face after going to far to turn back, or he was genuinely trying to craft some ridiculous Bizzaro Bat-Man is debatable.

I think Miller just had a hard time getting back into the mind set he was in during his other more balanced Bat-Man runs. I still believe he is a genius in the comic book medium, and that he is still capable of producing a few more classics(as long as he stays away from directing films... unless Robert Rodriguez is involved. ). In almost every picture I have seen of him he looks absolutely miserable, angry, or depressed. I hate making excuses for people who truly are talented but maybe his personal life was spilling into his work much more then usual.

caswin said...

I desperately want to see that one shot of Dick Grayson's eye in a better comic. Who did you say the artist was, again?

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca said...

I thought The Dark Knight Returns was complete excrement- and sinfully ugly too boot (so many pastel colours...). This just confirms for me that Frank Miller is the second worst thing to happen to comics after Liefield.