Friday, November 30, 2007

All-Star Batman and Robin #6

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Man, remember when the idea of Frank Miller writing Batman seemed awesome? Those days are gone forever.

Well, once again I’ve dropped the ball. I’ve considered just turning Atop the Fourth Wall into a general comics blog site to encourage myself to post more, but I fear that defeats the point of a site designed to make fun of bad comics. Besides, I don’t read as many books as others.

In any case, here we find ourselves once again to another issue of All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. Thanks to Jim Lee’s timely efforts to get a few issues in the can before they’re released, we now have a few issues that have been released every month or so for the past few months. Mind you, most of them seem to be most two-page spreads, but hey a book is a book. And a bad book is still a bad book.

Frank Miller has been laying the groundwork for several issues now of just saying “screw the Batman and Robin angle; I’m doing the whole friggin’ DC Universe!” and this issue is no different, as we see Black Canary return after her 14-page stint back in issue 3 as well as bringing in yet another supporting character from the bat family. Ah well, once more unto the breach, I guess...

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Ah, nothing like a good Jim Lee cover featuring two characters that aren’t even integral to a book titled Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, eh? While beautifully drawn, I do have to mention that Batgirl’s head seems a tad on the large side. However, I would just like to reinforce Jim Lee’s talents here with the fact that he can take a Miller drawing and just do it in his own style instead of reinventing the entire costume. In this case, he does it with the Miller-style Batman logo and the... interesting costume for Batgirl. While I applaud Miller for a lack of exposed cleavage, I do wonder why about the functionality of lots of dangly bits on a superhero costume. Sure, she’s a teenager, but come on, where did she get all the little metal bats?

Anyway, we now return to the comic that keeps on giving us a crazy guy we call BINO. “Sometimes I wonder why I never sleep anymore. But not TONIGHT.” Considering the messed-up timeline we’ve got for how long ago you kidnapped Dick Grayson, Age Twelve, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he doesn’t sleep. “It’s been the kind of night that DREAMS are made of. The kind of night I was BORN for.” Yeah, I dream of kidnapping young children to put them on a war against crime and then beat up criminals, too. What, don’t you? Anyway, all of this BINO narration is coming on a one-page spread of BINO’s head. I see they’ve reduced the time it takes for Jim Lee to do pencils but just having huge spreads of small parts of the body so we don’t need as much detailing.

Flip the page and now a two-page spread! Admittedly, this one’s got more detailing on it, but still... Anyway, it’s a two-page spread of Irish Canary, who apparently has been driving around lost for six months until she finally made it here from issue 3. Actually, when we consider comic book time vs. real time here, considering the lengthy gaps between issues, it’s probably plausible that the events of her book took place six months ago.

BINO’s internal monologue continues: “Just what I NEED. Some damn AMATEUR showing up out of NOWHERE.” With a roaring lion between her legs, too! “Crazy kid. She’ll get herself KILLED, here. She’ll get herself KILLED.” Maybe if I go ride a motorcycle and wear fishnets I can get killed, too? “Where the hell are all these damn wannabes COMING from?” Ask the writer, BINO, since apparently Frank Miller didn’t understand that a book called All-Star Batman and Robin should be about Batman and Robin.

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We cut to “Three hours ago.” Now, let’s go to the flowchart here of timelines – apparently, fifteen hours before he’s kidnapped, Dick Grayson, Age Twelve’s picture appears on a milk carton in Metropolis, causing Superman to get angry and smash it (or possibly he’s lactose intolerant and is sick of Lois picking on him for it). Then we have five hours ago, where we had the man-obsessed Wonder Woman in her pointless high heels talk about killing Batman with other members of the Justice League before inadvertently kissing Superman, who finally says something other than “Damn!” And now we’re at three hours ago. Based on the timescale seen here, BINO has constructed an entire plot around kidnapping this poor, frightened child, and sent clues to everyone else ahead of time for no particular reason. And now trying to think about all this has made my head hurt.

In any case, we cut to some new narration captions which seem to be a combination of the pretentious narrator from Thunderstrike and the voice of Coleman Francis from The Beast of Yucca Flats. “The human spirit is indomitable. Even here--in the rain-soaked, blood-caked canyons of Gotham City--Even in Gotham, there is youthful joy.” Well, I’m glad somebody is happy. Me, I just feel bored. Barbara Gordon runs up a flight of stairs, looking just as psychotic as the woman from the previous issue of ASBAR. “Barbara Gordon. Age Fifteen. Listening to her Dad.” Frank Miller. Physical age Fifty. Writing-style age Thirteen. Driving us insane.

To my utter sadness, it seems Jim Gordon has now entered the foray. And since all the characters in ASBAR can be summed up in pretty much with a few words each time we see them, his defining characteristic is “talkative.” Due to the sheer amount of words we see him speaking here, I’ll save some space here and just tell you the gist of it: he reads to his kid and is worried that his son will probably end up like “some kind of artist type with a ring through his lip.” Nice to see he’s so open-minded in this book. The ever-helpful narrator returns: “Human nature is indomitable.” Wait, I thought it was Human Spirit? “But Life is complex.” I can’t wait for Frank Miller’s philosophy book to come out – Life and its Goddamn Complexities.

“She’s listening to her Dad. Who’s just happening to be talking on the phone to the woman of his dreams while his wife sits in the next room texting somebody.” Along with this emphasizing of random words, Frank Miller will teach you about how to laugh while fighting off criminals and having affairs in his book. Barbara comes into the room and kisses her dad, swearing it up while Jim Gordon talks with Sarah Essen, who would later become his wife in the comics and was featured in Batman: Year One where she had an affair with Gordon. Apparently, like all women in Frank Miller’s universe, she’s just another whore.

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Gordon doesn’t believe that Batman would kidnap a little kid (tell me about it) and here we see Gordon’s wife come in, grab some booze, and then leave again. I want to make a joke about Frank Miller’s feminism here, but I just remembered I already made that joke in another ASBAR book. Seriously, everything wrong with these books just gets repeated over and over each issue and it’s harder to find new material to work with since it’s all just a one-note joke that can be explained thusly: FRANK MILLER CAN’T WRITE BATMAN ANYMORE.

Anywho, Gordon mentions how he’s not upset that BINO’s smacking cops around, but that “The goddamn Batman has become a goddamn urban legend.” Hmm... “I’m the goddamn urban legend!” doesn’t really inspire the same effect, does it? “And he’s inspiring copycats. Some of them are just girls.” Oh n0ez! They might get into our secret ‘boys only’ clubhouse! “Some of them are young enough to be my own daughter. Really. It’s that bad.” And in a ‘humorous twist’ we see Barbara playing around with a grappling hook as she prepares to become the Goddamn Batgirl. Seriously, Frank, stop it. Leave non-Batman and Robin characters alone. The book is called All-Star Batman and Robin, not Former Comics All-Star Screwing around with the DC Universe however freaking way he wants!

“Youth. Hope. Inspiration.” Hot momma. Hot mamma. Hot mamma. Oh, and of course, this oh-so useful page featuring those three individual caption boxes shows a couple Batman posters and little parts of Barbara’s room, which are completely useless and superfluous and we see a shadow her putting on the costume, but it took me a minute to realize there was a shadow there at all, since the room’s so dark to begin with. Barbara puts on her costume and now her narrating voice is added to the schizophrenia of narrators in this book. “DAD would KILL me if he knew about this. But only if he KNEW. And he’ll never KNOW. I’m REALLY GOOD at BULL(Censored with a bar, sic)ING my DAD. And I LOOK AWESOME.” And then back to the other faceless narrator: “Youth. Hope. Inspiration. Purpose... and mischief.” Frank, you’re not Scott Beatty and you’re sure as hell not Geoff Johns and this isn’t All-Star Batgirl! CUT IT OUT.

Erg, sorry there, it’s just this book is really starting to get to me. I mean, it’s not like it can really get worse than- oh, no. Now it’s “Five hours ago.” Where’s Mr. Peabody and the Wayback Machine when you need it? We’ve gone back in time five hours to a hospital where, get this, a Superman supporting character has decided to introduce himself into this mess. Frank really had no bloody idea what he was supposed to be writing, did he? “Olsen just got a message from Vicki Vale. Vicki Vale. He can’t believe she even knew his name. Vicki Vale.” It’s a lot more interesting to read these narrations like they were being read by that guy who does advertisements for monster truck rallies – ‘SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY! Sunday at the Metrodome - it’s Vicki Vale!’

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Jimmy comes running in with some flowers and a laptop, but upon noticing that someone else already has filled the room with flowers, he quickly disposes of the roses and just plugs in the laptop. Vicki asks him if he was able to get what she needed. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve downloaded everything we’ve got on the Flying Graysons, Dick Grayson, and the Bat-Man. It’s all here.” “Thank you, Mr. Olsen. My column just got a reason to exist.” I thought your column was Comparative Superhero Batches? Our narrator once again makes our heads hurts as he chirps in: “He should tell her to just call him “Jimmy.” Everybody else does. But he really gets off on the breathy was she says “Mr. Olsen”...” I get off on the various ways I can think of to destroy this comic.

And man-oh-man do I wish we could have another script copy of this comic, because we now have another comic that features Vicki Vale’s buttocks talking to us. “He tries to take his eyes off her. He really tries.” the narrator says as we get a little homage to the Graduate with Vicki Vale’s leg propped up as she gets out of bed with a nervous-looking Jimmy Olsen behind it. She tells him to fetch her clothes as somehow her hospital gown has suddenly become so tight and changed into some sort of glass-like material that causes her rear to be outlined against it. As she starts to strip right in front of Jimmy (hurray for male gaze, I suppose) and the narrator informs us: “He gets her clothes for her. He doesn’t watch as she slithers out of her hospital gown. He doesn’t watch as she gets dressed. Really. He doesn’t.” Frank Miller doesn’t write bad comics. Really. He doesn’t.

And I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that in this comic I have eight pages of ads by Mad Magazine and Ball Park (Hot dog company, for those unaware) that depict human beings with arms coming out of their stomachs to grab food and eat it and these advertisements are actually less disturbing than all of the ASBAR pages I’ve had to read.

We cut to “Meanwhile... Back On The Docks...” We of course don’t know if this is still five hours ago or we’re three days ahead or, as the excellent Booster Gold series has stated, time is just broken. The Irish Ninja Black Canary has confronted a couple of... well, I don’t know who they are. I’m sure they were supposed to be criminals, but it’s a bunch of criminals who are apparently standing around the docks doing nothing at all, since we get no indication if they were planning on stealing something or shipping drugs or what. All of a sudden, Black Canary is as chatty as Jim Gordon back a few scenes from three hours ago- I’m sorry, I was trying to make sense of the timeline again, wasn’t I?

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She speaks generic Irish stuff like “lads” and “colleen” and “saloon” (I’m actually not sure if that’s an Irish term or not, but frankly I don’t think Frank Miller does, either). More or less she talks about some guy who used to brag at her old job about how he was a fence and how there was a particular stretch of shoreline where someone could sell anything. One of the guys she’s talking to points out she sounds “like a goddamn Leprechaun” and tells her to leave or else there’ll be trouble. Then Black Canary demands that they give her all their money [!!] and finally they get sick of it and decide to shoot her, but not before they call her the trademark name she despised back in issue three – love chunks. In a panel that I’m sure was supposed to show intense anger and concentration (but instead only seems to indicate pouty and flirtatious annoyance), she asks “What did you just call me?”

And now we have, you guessed it, another two-page spread! “All that training-- all those years-- it finally counts for something.” Yeah, all those years waiting for ASBAR issues to come out gave us a fantastic ipecac. In this case, the two-page spread is of Black Canary wielding some kind of triple nunchaku that’s supposed to look badass, with one bar between the two other bars and linked together by chains. She slams it across the face of a guy in a Mohawk while another guy pulls a gun out of the front of his pants [!]. She dispatches that guy with the same weapon, crushing his forearm in what looks like very twisted, Rob Liefeld-esque anatomy before she swings the weapon over her head and slams it down on the guy.

Following that, she quickly searches the criminal and pulls out a wad of 20-dollar bills. “No harm in playing a little ROBIN HOOD, now is there?” she asks in a narration caption. Oh, I’m sure. So, which charity will you be donating that drug money to, ma’am? Anywho, a bunch of people suddenly pulls guns on her and tell her to drop the sticks. Suddenly we cut to *Groan* five minutes ago. Look Frank, if you can’t decide what time your comic takes place in, just give it up, okay? We’re back with BINO, who’s down at the docks himself watching a cop car drive in as he notes that Jocko-Boy (Dick Grayson, Age Twelve’s murderer) is free:

“With TWO WADS of STEEL-JACKETED LEAD, he turned a wide-eyed TWELVE-YEAR-OLD into an ORPHAN. I’ve got a real PROBLEM with things like that.” 132 pages of paper-jacketed ink, Frank Miller has turned a book about all-star creators doing a fresh take on popular characters into “What if the DC Universe really, really, really sucked?” BINO continues: “And here he comes, escorted to FREEDOM by one of GOTHAM’S FINEST...” We see that Jocko is still suffering from the snake poison BINO pumped into him back in issue 1 as he’s hallucinating, seeing the cop as having worms coming out of his nose and mouth while a cobra slithers around his head.

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Ah, another two-page spread! Now we’re back on track. BINO kicks through the window right into the cop’s face while proclaiming, “Eat glass, lawman!” While I could point out the problem of physics with this picture, frankly my brain has shut down three times thinking about this whole thing and I think it’s best to just move on. Oh, and BINO’s five o’clock shadow has now officially turned into a full-force twenty-five o’clock shadow with as thick as it is here. “Sometimes a fellow just can’t HELP himself.” Ah, the Frank Miller motto.

BINO pulls Jocko-Boy from the car, who proclaims quite soundly: “Blagg”. BINO seems confused by this guttural moan. ““Blagg”? What’s with “Blagg”? I’ll give you some talking to do, Jocko-Boy--” He’ll give him some talking to do? You’d think with both an editor and an assistant editor on this title that someone would point out the grammatical problems with that sentence... Anyway, BINO suddenly hears gunfire and realizes that Black Canary has gotten into some trouble. “That AMATEUR. It’s GOT to be that AMATEUR. Getting herself in DEEP.” BINO knocks out Jocko-Boy, promising to come back for him later. He proclaims proudly, “Blegg!” Oh, I get it! Jocko-Boy speaks the alien language from Red vs. Blue! Hey, Frank Miller - Blarg Blarg honk. Yeah, I said it. I won’t unsay it, either.

Black Canary manages to evade the bullets being fired by automatic weapons as she uses her magic triple nunchaku to choke one guy. “She’s got SKILL, this one. She’s QUICK. And she’s RUTHLESS. KILL a man soon as LOOK at him. None of which will keep her LIVING for too awfully long.” Oh, I don’t know, killing them will prevent them from shooting more bullets and- oh, right. Trying to find sense in an issue of ASBAR. Gotcha. Black Canary ducks down behind some boxes and yells, “Damn your eyes!” And your nose, too! Oh, and your ears! I find your ears really damnable! BINO jumps down and tells her to keep her head down and he’ll take care of things. As BINO leaps into the fray, Black Canary swoons as any woman in Frank Miller’s universe would and yells, “Oh sweet Jesus. It’s the Goddamn Batman!

And with that, the issue ends once again at a stupid point. Oh, look! An advertisement for Booster Gold to the left of this page! Man, I wish I was reading Booster Gold instead of this. In fact, I’m going to go do that. Hopefully it won’t be six months until the next review!


Unknown said...

Glad to see you review the title again! :)

Anonymous said...

One of the biggest WTF moments in the series was Black Canary's idea of vigilantism. Sidle up to some guys in a high-crime area and mug them? What?

Anonymous said...

This Irish reader enjoyed this, and would just like to say:

No, people in Ireland do not actually speak like the Canary did in the sample you provided. AT ALL. That's more equivalent to a parody of cliched stereotypes that went out of style decades ago.

And no, saloon is not an Irish word. :)

Lewis Lovhaug said...

Frank Miller - Feminist, Thesaurus, and now Top Researcher for regional dialects and accents.

Thanks for the info, Anonymous Irish Reader! ^_^

Avalon's Willow said...

Oh sweet, sweet mercy.

I kind of want Laurell K Hamilton and Frank Miller to write a comic together now.

There'd be bodily JUICES and BLOOD and GRIT and THE DEAD likely feeding on the pliant flesh of WHORES.

Though I'm guessing the comic would stall forever, because Frank would want to guy to get all the girls and LKH would want to girl to get all the guys and there'd be conflict.

Yes, I'm rambling because - Sweet Mercy! The Horror! BC mugs folk at some point in broken time and Batman's poisoning people.

shikome kido mi said...

Wait, use of poisons, maniacal laughter, kidnapping and torturing children (and a Robin at that), are we sure this isn't the Joker pretending to be Batman?
Nah, the Joker usually has more class. And he's funnier.

Donel Răuțoiu said...

I had a thought about this comic. Maybe we didn't quite understood it. Maybe it wasn't meant for us. I mean, all kinds of stories have been told about the Caped Crusader, if not all the stories ranging from gothic, noir, steampunk, religious, philosophical, psychological, horror, surreal, and Frank understood that there it was nothing more he could do for Batman, and that certainly he couldn't exceed his earlier work on the character. And in the end he would end up, in the best case, with a decent batman story, that retold some other better story. And so, he thought that a twelve issue comic won't kill the character, but it may make a statement.

A statement about the way comics are evolving. Gore, grit, mindless killing of characters for the sake of shock(and afterwards the shameless resurrection) stories so dark that they become stupid. And Miller isn't one that doesn't see this. He may have made Sin City, but he also made Year One. I think that what he is trying to say is that if we are going to kill the comics, to kill everything that is innocent and fun about them, we may also start with the purest superhero of them all.

Just take a look at something. Dark knight, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and some other titles that don't pop into my mind now, if not started, at least made popular the dark and MATURE atmosphere in comics. What fallowed then? Wolverine and Punisher(fell free to complete or reorganise my list, I'm not making it out of experience, but research, so I might have got my date wrong). And after that? Witchblade, Spawn and the dreaded Youngbloog. And the thing is, this attitude into the mainstreem, keeping the dark and gore, but forgetting the mature part.

So, i better start making some sense, right? Maybe I just want to see this because I loved Dark Knight Returns, Year One and even DK2, but i think Miller wrote All Stars Batman not for our enjoyment, never wanted to do that, but for our illumination. He is showing us what comics might look in a few years.

Donel Răuțoiu said...

Ah, another thing. You said somewhere, that maybe he is just fed up with writing Batman stories. I think he already was when wrote Dark Knight Strikes Again. It`s chaotic, satirical, dense in subplots and ideas, and mindlessly fun, but not about Batman. It is far from the clever, and sometimes touchy exploration of his character we had in the first one. He just appears sometimes out of the blue as somekind of plot device. I think he appears in less panels than Wonder Woman in Amazons Attack.

PenguinFactory said...

Whenever I see images of "Batman" in this comic all I can think of are those Calvin and Hobbes strips about Stupendous Man that satirize "gritty" comics. Maybe that's what Frank Miller had in mind as well.

Also Re: Black Canary's dialogue. Irish people don't talk like that. Especially not when they're from Monoghan. For the love of God people, if you don't know how to write slang just don't write it. Or hell, grab an Irish tourist in off the street and ask them to give the dialogue a quick once-over.

(Incidentally, the only context I've ever seen "saloon" used in over here is by bus bus companies to refer to the upper and lower sections of a double-decker bus.

I'm sure this totally random fact has enriched all of your lives).

TimeTravelerJessica said...

There's a fan theory I read on tvtropes that this is a thought experiment by Frank about what would happen if Batman and the Joker switched personalities for a little bit. I think somewhere along the way, Jim Gordon got the "breaking the fourth wall" ability from the Joker, since he's lampshading how OOC Batman is.

But yeah, I find Jim worrying about his son being a hippie artist incredibly hilarious given the recent turn of events where Jimmy is a supervillain now.

Speaking of that, would you consider doing that storyline? I know a lot of people enjoyed and no offense if you did too, but I personally thought turning Jimmy - I'm sorry, James Jr. - into a supervillain was really stupid and his plan is based on really, really stupid fake science and the author obviously can't tell the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath, and Leslie never should have trusted him since they weren't subtle about him being evil AT ALL and he practically had "supervillain" tatooed on his forehead. (Not to mention the first time I read it in summary, I totally flashed back to Doug's review of the Care Bear movies, since giving babies a drug that attacks empathy totally sounds like something the villain would do in a gritty Care Bear reboot.)